Over the centuries, a large piece of linen popularly known as the Shroud of Turin has been the subject of fierce debate as to when it was created and what could cause what appears to be the image of a man on the cloth. Many believe it was the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth and that his resurrection caused the image to become imprinted on the material.
Much less known, but still quite puzzling, is a related and smaller piece of cloth now known as the Sudarium of Oviedo. Some contend that this fabric was the piece of cloth that was wrapped around Jesus’ head as he lay in the tomb (or while he was dead on the cross). There is actually a biblical basis for this belief: in chapter 20 of the Gospel of John it explicitly says that there was a cloth, separate from the burial shroud, that was used to wrap around Jesus’ head.
As with the Shroud, the Sudarium of Oviedo has a colorful history and has its believers and its skeptics. The first mention of its existence occurred in 570CE when the enigmatic sixth-century pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza claimed the cloth was housed in a monastery near Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was apparently not a safe place for the relic, and it was taken from that city in the 610s just ahead of the invading Persian armies. It was then carried to Spain by way of Northern Africa. It eventually found permanent housing in the northern Spanish town of Oviedo.
Unlike the Shroud, there is no “photographic image” of a human head on the cloth, but some believers have stated that the bloodstains on the Sudarium match up to apparent wounds on the head of the image on the Shroud. Using a method called Polarized Image Overlay Technique, scientists have matched more than 100 bloodstain locations on the Sudarium with identical bloodstain sources on the Shroud. It is also purported that the position of the stains on the cloth shows that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position.
The all-important carbon-dating test estimated the Sudarium to be from the 7th century, but immediately after this result the scientist who performed the tests called them imprecise and stated that further tests were needed to arrive at a definitive dating.
An intensive study by the Investigation Team of the Spanish Centre for Sindonology concludes that the staining on the Sudarium was made in several different body positions, and they created artificial heads to attempt to replicate that stains on the cloth. Their study also found small pointed bloodstains on the section that would have been on the back of the head which believers contend are from the crown of thorns. Another scientist examined the pollen attached to the Sudarium and found examples from Palestine, North Africa, and Spain (but no other European countries).
Interest in the Sudarium as a possible relic and scientific object of study is gaining momentum, even though it is doubtful it will ever equal the interest of the Shroud. There was a conference on the Sudarium in 1994, and further studies are waiting in the wings.
In the meantime, pilgrims and the curious can go to Oviedo’s Cathedral of San Salvador, where the ark containing the Sudarium is displayed year-round and the cloth itself is shown three times a year.