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Customer Review

on 7 April 2012
(I must make a disclosure.The following review actually belongs - but for minor editing to neutralise the wording - to Charles Freeman. The background is that it was originally posted on 3rd April,disappeared on 6th April, was re-entered by Charles without success on the 6th April, still had not reappeared twenty-fours later. So this is a test as to whether Amazon.co.uk is fair in its handling of texts and authors.)

I just don't know where to start with my critique and may add no more to this review other than take apart one tiny section of the author's speculations, the transfer of the Turin Shroud, alias, in de Wesselow's argument, the Mandylion from Edessa, from the Chapel of the Pharos in Constantinople to the west in 1204 after the Crusader Sack of Constantinople.

De Wesselow mentions two descriptions of shrouds in Constantinople in the years just before this Crusade (pages 175 and 176), one in the Church of the Virgin Mary at Blachernae on the northwestern corner of the city, another in the Chapel of the Pharos which was within the imperial palace. The one at Blachernae was a sheet ( singular) 'in which our Lord was laid', which apparently 'raised itself up every Friday with the figure of Our Lord on it'. The other in the Pharos Chapel was ' the funerary sheets( plural) of Christ 'they are of cheaper and easy to find material, still smelt of myrrh' as an account of 1201 puts it. There is no mention of any image on them. De Wesselow unconvincingly tries to explain why there was no image mentioned but argues that the two descriptions refer to the same 'shroud', despite the singular and plural distinction, that one is described as having an image and the other has not and the fact that they are in two completely different places. Already on pages 108-9 de Wesselow has argued that the weave of the cloth in the Turin Shroud is of a rare type, - 'herringbone weave which is exceptionally fine'. (p. 110), so this in itself seems to militate against the Pharos Chapel 'sheets' described as of 'cheap and easy to find 'material, as being the Turin Shroud. (N.B. It was common for relics created in medieval times to be made of materials far finer than the original could ever have been - was the Turin shroud in this category?)

There is the added problem that not only does de Wesselow want to combine these two apparently different 'sheets' as one but he also claims that they are the same as the Mandylion, the 'face of Christ' bought to Constantinople in the tenth century from Edessa. Yet the description of the of the Pharos 'sheets', above, is by one Nicholas Mesarites in 1201. In the full description of the relics of Constantinople by Holgar Klein, accessible online as 'Sacred Relics and Imperial Ceremonies at the Great Palace of Constantinople' (2006), Klein suggests that in the very same speech about the 'sheets' in the Pharos Chapel, Mesarites gives a SEPARATE mention of the Mandylion as ALSO being in the Chapel. So the Mandylion can't be the same cloth as the Pharos sheets!

Next de Wesselow goes on to suggest that no one knows what happened to the 'sheets' in the Pharos after the Sack of Constantinople. In fact we do know. We have a list by the Crusader Conrad of Halberstadt (quoted in Michael Angold's The Fourth Crusade, 2003, p. 232) which lists them among the relics of the Pharos. Conrad, writing shortly after Mesarites,in 1204-5, tells of 'the shroud and sudarium (face cloth)' in the Pharos so clearly these are the 'sheets' mentioned by Nicholas Mesarites. Conrad gives the impression that he took the relics for himself but in fact they passed to the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin I. Baldwin and his immediate successors began to flog them off. The most famous example is the Crown of Thorns, offered as a surety for a loan from the Venetians and then bought by Louis IX of France and housed in his wonderful Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. (One point de Wesselow makes is that 'his' (Turin) shroud was hidden when it arrived in the west because people were embarrassed by the looting but hell they were. The Greeks were heretics since the Schism of 1054 (a point I can't find de Wesselow making) and so taking their relics to good Catholic homes was encouraged and many were displayed openly in churches.)

We know that Louis IX bought other relics from the Pharos and we know which ones they are because we have an engraving of the main Chasse or display chapel of relics in the Sainte-Chapelle before the French Revolution which lists the relics on the altar. And there among the relics is the St.Suaire ( a sacred shroud-which must be the 'sheets' from the Pharos as we have no record of Louis getting a shroud from anywhere else)! So we have a full account of how the Pharos sheets survived until 1790 soon after which the relics in the Chapelle were looted by the revolutionaries.

For all of us working on images of Christ, the Virgin Mary ,etc, the 'bible' is Hans Belting's Likeness and Presence : A History of the Image before the Era of Art (1994). On p. 218, Belting tells us that 'the image of the Holy Cloth' from the Pharos was donated (not sold as I suggested above) by the emperor Baldwin to Louis IX in 1247 and was recorded 'in all inventories of the Sainte Chapelle until 1792' -see my point above about the engraving of the Chasse of 1790. Belting says it is unclear whether this is the Mandylion or not but whatever, it fatally ,in my opinion, undermines de Wesselow's argument that the Turin Shroud came from the Pharos- it clearly did not- that particular shroud went to Paris. There is a mountain of other evidence about the Mandylion in Belting's superb study which is listed by de Wesselow in his bibliography but which he does not appear to have used ( or he would have noted that the shroud in Constantinople he thinks is the Turin Shroud is documented as going to Paris in 1247). As Belting says , the Mandylion was eclipsed by the veil of Veronica, another image of Christ's face on a cloth, which was the star relic in Rome in the fourteenth/ fifteenth century ( see Chapter Twenty-One of my Holy Bones for a description).

So if you have followed this long argument, the shroud in the Pharos is not the Shroud of Turin nor is it the Mandylion and this part of de Wesselow's argument collapses completely. His argument that the Turin Shroud is the same as the Pharos sheets, which are the same as the Blachernae shroud, both of which are the Mandylion is implausible in the extreme, The only possible Shroud that could be the Turin Shroud is the one in the Blachernae Chapel - so perhaps he could have developed that further. Many of the relics in the Blachernae Church, including a robe of the Virgin Mary, were placed there by Pulcheria, the sister of the emperor Theodosius, in the first half of the fifth century.

I find De Wesselow's argument that the Shroud is the Risen Christ even less convincing. In fact I have not been able to find any relevant evidence in its support. To make the argument work both Paul and the Galilee disciples, from totally different cultural backgrounds, would have to 'mistake' the Shroud for the Risen Christ. De Wesselow's argument, expressed in an interview, that images were rare in the ancient world is nonsense. There were certainly Jewish inhibitions with images but classical cities were crammed with images and Paul in his travels would have continually been aware of them. Surely he would not have seen all images an animate and would the disciples, who had their differences with Paul, have shared the precious Shroud with him so that he could display it to the 500 of 'Corinthians'.

On balance of probability the Turin Shroud was created , like thousands of other relics relating to the Passion and Crucifixion, in medieval times, probably in the fourteenth century, as the carbon -14 tests suggest, by a method that we still have not worked out. De Wesselow does not seem to have done any original work on the Shroud himself- other than visiting it in Turin- he relies on lots of speculative and often contradictory 'reports' -some of which may have some relevance -but his fatal flaw is to insist that he has solved the mystery- this, I would suggest, is not what a true scholar would do without a lot of support from academics who have expertise in images in the classical period , which he does not seem to have. I note that he does not even list in his Bibliography the seminal Paul Zanker's The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus'. Reader ,just treat this book with caution!!

This book must be taken with great caution- sadly because , despite all my doubts, it is engagingly written. I just think de Wesselow should have not kept all his speculations secret and shared his arguments with people who have worked in the field of relics before he went public.
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