The Rev. Albert R. Dreisbach, Jr.
Copyright 1995 All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission.

As early as A.D. 325 during a council at the Baths of Trajan, Pope Sylvester with the Emperor Constantine and 327 bishops in attendance established:

that the holy sacrifice of the Mass be celebrated on a cloth of linen consecrated by the Bishop, as if it were the clean Shroud of Christ [Emphasis added.] (Labbe, Scr. Conc., p. 1542. Cited by G. Ricci, Guide to the Photographic Exhibit of the Holy Shroud (Milwaukee: Center for the Study of the Passion of Christ and the Holy Shroud (1982), p. XX).

According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Pope Sylvester appears prominently in a later legend which:

asserts that he baptized Emp[eror] Constantine (cleansing him from physical leprosy)" (F.L. Cross (ed.), 1961, p. 1312).

What makes this legend potentially significant for sindonology is that once again the Shroud is connected with a major secular ruler in the cure of the latter's "leprosy." Shroud historians can point to this recurring motif in the healing of King Abgar of Edessa when presented with the "portrait of Jesus on cloth" by Jude Thaddeus (i.e. Addai) (See Wilson, 1979, pp. 274280) and with the Emperor Tiberius when presented with the Veronica according to the Cura Sanitatis Tiberii (M. Green, "Veronica and her veil: The growth of a Christian legend" (The Tablet, Dec. 31, 1966), p. 1470).

The earliest liturgical clue may well be The Hymn of the Soul/Pearl which was written in the vicinity of Edessa and can be found in the Acts of Thomas (NTA Vol..2, 433-441. Text: 428-504. Cf. Kuryluk. Veronica and Her Cloth, 216-220). Note that the very title, like the Acts of Peter and the twelve Apostles, the use of the symbol of the pearl (i.e. a white "stone" where white connotes both victory and joy) could conceivably been developed on the basis of the symbolism used in a passage like Rev 2:17 - "I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it"). While Ewa Kuryluk would date it from the early third century, Judah Segal sees this hymn Composed originally in Syriac, [as antedating] the main text of the Acts of Thomas and may go back to the first century A.D. n ( 1970, 31 & 68). Jean Danielou, in an article entitled "Christianity as a Jewish Sect", seems to settle this debate when he declares:

The earliest documents we have on Edessan Christianity - namely the Gospel of Thomas, the Song (Hymn) of the Pearl contained in the Acts of Thomas, and the Odes of Solomon - go back, in part, to the end of the 1st century and display the characteristic features of Judaeo-Christianity (The Crucible of Christianity. Ed. Arnold Toynbee. New York: World Publishing Company, 1969, p. 277).

The story's narrator, the Soul, is personified as the king's son who in turn is modelled after Christ. Kuryluk concludes that:

The Hymn of the Pearl assimilates into an ancient tradition the new theology of Jesus' incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration by transforming Christ into a soul. His dual nature [Note: "the imprints of this dead and risen man from the Mozarabic Rite, p.9ff below.] rendered by his splitting into a humanlike animal a son clothed in skin and into a divine soul, an iconic dress of paradise. In the Syrian poem the essence of divinity resides in God's clothing a heavenly double of the mortal human skin (p. 218). [For full text of the Hymn, see NTA Vol. 2, 498-504.]

Pregnant with potential implications by and for the Shroud is the following brief sample from the Hymn itself:

The [splendid robe] became like me, as my reflection in a mirror [Note: the "reversed image" on the Shroud as if it were a photographic negative.], And in it saw myself [quite] apart from myself, so that we were two in distinction And again one in single form (Hymn 76-78)... I clothed myself with it and mounted up [i.e. the "ascension"] to the gate of greeting and homage. [Note: For Edessans, the West Gate of their city would have had special significance. It was through this gate that which Abgar's designated messenger, Annanias entered the city with the alleged "Letter of Jesus" (Segal,1970, 186). It was this gate to which the pilgrim Egeria was taken by Edessa's saintly bishop who informed her: "From the day when the messenger Ananias entered this gate with the Lord's letter up to the present day, they take care that no unclean man or any man in grief should pass through this gate, and further that no body of a dead man should be borne through this gate" (Egeria: Diary of A Pilgrimage. Trans. George E. Gingras. New York: Ramsay Press, 1970, p. 80) Note also that it is in a niche above the West Gate that the Shroud is rediscovered following repairs on the walls caused by the flood of A.D. 525 (Wilson, 1979, 254) ] I bowed my head and worshipped The splendor of the father [who] had sent it [the robe] to me (Hymn, 8899) (Kuryluk, 217218)

While the Manichees may well have known this Hymn and adapted it to meet their specific needs, this work was also ideally suited for a Christian interpretation - especially by those aware of the Shroud and its image(s) and even more significantly for those with such knowledge who lived in Edessa the repository of this cloth [Note: For Christianity the pearl, as the most precious jewel, is used as a symbol of salvation This symbolism is incorporated by Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-215) in Nicetas' Catena on Matthew v. [re. Matt. 13:46] when Jesus is compared to a pearl in the following fragment:

A pearl, and that pellucid and of purest ray, is Jesus, whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore For as the pearl, produced in flesh and the oystershell and moisture, appears to be a body moist and transparent, full of light and spirit; so also God the Word, incarnate, is intellectual light, sending His rays, through a body luminous and moist (ANF, Vol. viii, p. 578).

A further clue to the Shroud's significance and impact on the Church's worship may be hinted at in the works of Ephraem Syrus or Ephraim of Edessa (ca. A.D. 306373). This ecclesiastical writer and biblical exegete settled at Edessa where most of his extant works were written. Is it merely by chance that it is in Edessa, the City of the Shroud, where Ephraem develops a system in which a particular piece of Jesus' clothing was designated for each stage of his stay on earth? Is it mere coincidence that Ephraem - living in the very locale of both the text of the hymn and the iconic textile developed such a "systems uninfluenced by either or both of these contributing factors? It seems highly unlikely!

[Note: Just before the Image of Edessa-Mandylion-Shroud was rediscovered in A.D. 525, a new Hagia Sophia was planned specifically to house this sacred linen "portrait." Wilson calls our attention to a Syrian hymn some forty-four years later which paints an evocative picture of a water-circled, stone-built shrine of outstanding beauty, capped with a dome that would seem reminiscent of Hagia Sophia, Constantinople, built at the same period...The Syrian hymn... remarks cryptically, "Exalted are the mysteries of this shrine... it contains the very essence of God." ...The Mandylion... as the building's greatest treasure, was kept in a special sanctuary to the right of the apse ...Twice a week only, the doors of the sanctuary were opened and pilgrims allowed to glimpse the casket containing the cloth, protected by a special grille. And twice a year only, the cloth was removed from its sanctuary and carried within its casket in an elaborate procession... Each step of the procession represented a stage in the life of Christ, the entry into the church, for instance, symbolizing his entry into the world. [Emphases added.] [1979,pp. 144-45. Cf. Andre Grabar, "Une hymne Syriaque sur 1'architecture de la Cathedrale d'Edesse," from L'art de la fin de l'antiquite et du moyen age (College de France Foundation Schlumberger pour des estudes Byzantine, 1968); original text thirteenth century Codex vaticanus syriacus, 95, fol.. 49-50. Cf. English translation of Syriac hymn in J.B. Segal, Edessa the blessed City (Oxford, 1970), p. 189.]

This connection of stages of Christ's life being expressed liturgically and eventually via the Mandylion itself is most strikingly expressed in an eighth century sermon by Pope Stephen III who states that on Good Friday the Mandylion appeared: the first hour of the day as a child, at the third hour as a boy, at the sixth hour as an adolescent, and at the ninth hour visible in his full manhood, in which form God went to his Passion when he bore for our sins the suffering of the Cross (Wilson, 1979, 162).

Returning to the fourth century, Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. A.D. 350-428) - takes us beyond Ephraim of Odessa when - in describing the liturgy - he notes in his Cateches that the deacons:

When they bring up (the oblation at the offertory) they place it on the altar for the completed representation of the passion so that we may think of Him on the altar as if He were placed in the sepulchre after having received the passion. This is why the deacons who spread the linens on the altar represent the figure of the linen cloths at the burial [Emphasis added.] {Cited by Dom Greogory Dix. The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Dacre, 1960) p. 282).

Not only do we have mention of a figure on linen; but that figure is specifically identified as a post-passion image of Jesus on the linen burial cloths in the sepulchre. How many clues are required for scholars to finally sit up and take notice that the Shroud not only survived and was highly significant in the life of the Church; but even more powerfully its importance is both acknowledged and incorporated in the Church's principal sacrament - the Mass?

And there is yet another clue to its significance provided by the venerable Dom Gregory Dix:

[Following the kiss of peace] One or more deacons... spread a linen cloth which covered the whole altar. This preparatory act, which is mentioned at this point, before the offertory, by more than one early writer [E.g. Opatus of Milevis, adv. Donatistas, vi.2 (Africa c. A.D. 360)], soon received various mystical interpretations, such as that which saw in it a likeness to the preparation of the linen grave-clothes for the Body of the Lord on the first Good Friday evening. But it is in reality a merely utilitarian preparation, 'spreading the table-cloth' when the table is first wanted, to receive the oblation. The Eastern rites have now removed it to the very beginning of the liturgy and changed the old plain cloth for the elaborately embroidered silk cloths of the antiminsion and the eileton. But it still survives in the Roman rite at its original point, as the spreading of the plain linen corporal by the deacon before the offertory of the bread and wine. In some such homely form this little ceremony must go back to the beginnings of the liturgical eucharist. [Emphasis added.] (1960, p. 104).

Dix apparently was unaware of the council at the Baths of Trajan cited above. Had he been, he might not have so cavalierly dismissed the spreading [of] the [linen] tablecloth as a "merely utilitarian preparation." That council had identified this linen cloth with the linen burial shroud of Christ. One wonders if an even earlier connection between "transfiguration" and the Mass was alluded to by Tertuallian (c. 160-220) who interpreted "hoc est corpus meum" as "figura corporis," for according to C.H. Turner, "figure" in the sense of symbol only was exactly what he did not mean.

I will cite one final example from as late as the sixth century to emphasize the continuing significance and role of the Shroud in the Church's liturgical life. If one has ever wondered if Peter, like the "other disciple", ever saw (Jn. 20:3;8. Cf. Lk. 24:12;24) anything at the Empty Tomb, the answer may well be found in Spain's Mozarabic Rite. In the illatio (i.e. preface) for Saturday of Holy Week, we find the intriguing:

Peter ran with John to the tomb and saw the recent imprints (vestigia) of the dead and risen man on the linens [Emphasis added.] (M. Green. "Enshrouded in Silence" (The Ampleforth Journal, Vol. 74, Part 3 ( p. 329).

Though one may debate the meaning of vestigia (i.e. footstep, footprint, trace or marks - meanings virtually unchanged since the seventh century), the simplest and most logical interpretation of this passage is that indeed there were some kind of physical marks and/or traces on Jesus' burial linens (i.e. the Shroud).

It is Msgr. Pietro Savio who translates vestigia as imprints, though Fr. Green warns that:

Vestigium (footstep, footprint, trace or mark: meanings unchanged since the seventh century) could permit this, but the more figurative traces would indicate merely the wrapped state of the cloths as though still enfolding the absent body, without implying any knowledge of the imprints (p. 329).

As important as the word vestigia may be, it would seem that "the" key words for correctly deciphering this passage are the dead and risen man on the linens.

A. On the linens. Whether defined as imprint, trace or mark,the simplest and most logical interpretation of this passage is that there were some kind of physical marks or traces on the (i.e. the Lord's burial) linens.
B. The Jesus' death having resulted from a crucifixion, which was preceded by scourging, included nails in the wrists and feet and ended with a lance wound in the side, one would expect to see bloodstains on these burial linens. Then as now, the most straight forward deduction would be that these bloodstains were in fact traces or imprints (i.e. vestigia) of the man who was dead. Neither Peter nor Mary Magdalene who had preceded him in discovering the collapsed burial shroud was expecting to encounter the Resurrection. The Magdalene surmised that someone had "taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (Jn 20:13). Peter himself according to Lk. 24:12, went home wondering at what had happened."
C. The...risen man. Those who fail to acknowledge either the Shroud's authenticity or the significance of the Image(s) which it bears have had little or no need to consider the possibility of actual ventral and dorsal images of a body physically present on the linen. Like Stephen and Constantine Lecapeni on the night of the Shroud's arrival in Constantinople in 944 C.E., Peter initially may have perceived only a Rorschachlike image which was "extremely blurred...a moist secretion without coloring or artificial stain...(which did) not consist of earthly colors" (Wilson, 1979, p. 255). Only later would John be able to point out to him the "likeness" of the Lord and Master who had risen from the dead.

Should objection be made with respect to the relevance of a sixth century source in support of what Peter actually saw, history tells us that St. Leander (c.550-600/601) "spent time in Constantinople [and] may have influenced its composition" (M. Green, 1969, p. 329). It is this Leander, later Bishop of Seville, who about A.D. 582 went on an embassy to Constantinople where he made the acquaintance of Gregory the Great (F.L. Cross, (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford, 1961), p. 793).

The above assignment would have placed Leander in Byzantium only fiftyseven years after the mandylion's (i.e. Shroud's) rediscovery at Edessa and only thirty-eight years after this miraculous cloth was alleged to have preserved that city from an attack by the Persians in 544 A.D.


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