An interesting category of textile relics associated with Jesus are those that are thought to bear the True Image of Christ. As early as the 6th century there are records of relics that supposedly were acheiropoietos, images of Christ not made by human hands. These are self-portraits by Christ left by the imprint of his face against the cloth. Over the Medieval period in Europe, there have been forty-three relics purporting to be the True Shroud of Christ that covered him after death and that bear his imprint. This number shows the particular power and attraction of the possibility of having a true picture of Jesus held for Christians in the Middle Ages. Besides the more famous examples listed below, the Holy Face of Genoa and the Holy Face of San Silvestro also still survive. The most famous textile claiming to be the True Image of Christ is the Shroud of Turin, which appeared in Lirey, France in the 1350s with no provenance information and which generated skepticism about its authenticity almost immediately. Much like photographs do for the people they depict, these traces left behind by the body of Jesus mark his corporeal absence. These relics both bring the body of Jesus closer to the beholder and also signal its absence; they serve to remind the pilgrims of his time on earth and his place in heaven.

The Veil of Veronica

Both the True Image of Saint Veronica and the graves clothes in which the body of Christ was wrapped for entombment were both held in the Church of the Blessed Virgin in Constantinople. In 1203 French crusader Robert de Clari gave an account of seeing a shroud with the features of Jesus imprinted upon it in Constantinople.  The second Holy Shroud of Constantinople was torn into pieces and distributed throughout France and Germany, one reaching the King of France in 1247. In the fifteenth century, Father John van Bollard and Saint Bridget advocated for the authenticity of the veil. The Veil of Veronica was seized from Rome in the raid of 1527 by the troops of Charles the V. When the reliquary holding the veil, was opened by John Wilpert in 1907, he saw only a small square of faint material with irregular brown stains on it. The veil is now housed in Saint Peter’s Basilica and not visible.

The Veil was represented often in artworks of the medieval period.

Hans Memling, 1470-74Austrian, c. 1490

(left) Hans Memling, Saint Veronica, 1470-1475, oil on panel, (right) A Family Group Adoring the Veil of Veronica, c. 1490, Austrian, oil on panel

Image of Edessa

The Image of Edessa is known in Eastern Orthodoxy as the Mandylion. The first record of the Image was written in the 6th century. The Image was associated with the tale told in the The Doctrine of Addai, a mid-fourth century manuscript describing how Jesus imprinted his image upon a washcloth and sent it to the King Agbar to cure his leprosy. In the 10th century it was moved to Constantinople. In 1204 it is recorded as a relic in Sainte Chapelle in Paris but vanished during the French Revolution.

In 544 it protected Edessa against a raid by the Persians.

Czechoslovakia, c. 1410Vienna, 15th century woodcut

(left) Vera Icon, 15th century, Czechoslovakia, tempera on parchment (right) The Sudarium, 15th century, Vienna, woodcut

Sudarium of Oviedo

The Sudarium, or sweat-cloth, of Oviedo is a cloth that supposedly covered the head of Jesus after his death. It has dark marks arranged on it, but they do not give a clear picture. The Sudarium is dirty and in very poor condition but believed to be stained with the blood of Christ. Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The Sudarium is contained in the Arca Santa, a large gilt oak reliquary that depicts the twelve Apostles in the Romanesque style. This reliquary has been dated to 1075. Besides the Sudarium, the Arca Santa contains pieces of the True Cross, pieces of the Crown of Thorns, bread from the Last Supper, some of the Virgin’s breast milk, Moses’ rod, and the cloak the Virgin gave to Ildephonsus of Toledo.

Sudarium of Oviedo

gilt oak, 1075

Arca Santa, 1075, gilt oak