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Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: An interview with Janice
Bennett about the Sudarium of Oviedo | August 6, 2005
by her profound interest in Spanish literature, culture and relics, Janice
Bennett has written two books on sacred relics, and is currently working
on a third. Sacred
Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo was originally published
in 2001 and then redistributed by Ignatius Press in 2005. It unfolds the
historical, scientific, cultural and Biblical investigations surrounding
the Sudarium of Oviedo (the ancient blood-stained cloth believed to have
covered the Head of Christ after the crucifixion).
Currently running her own publishing company in Littleton, Colorado, Libri
de Hispania, Bennett devotes her efforts to publishing non-fiction books
about relics and religious sites. She has a strong background as a graphic
artist, typographer, and reporter, holding degrees in Graphic Design and
Journalism, as well as in Spanish, Spanish Literature and Theology.
She has taught university-level Spanish Literature, and is a member of the
National Hispanic society, Sigma Delta Pi, the Modern Language Association,
American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and Catholic
Book Publishers Association. She also holds a certificate in Advanced Biblical
Studies from the Catholic Biblical School of Denver.
IgnatiusInsight.com recently spoke with Janice about Sacred Blood, Sacred
Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo and its possible connection to the Shroud
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the Sudarium of Oviedo? How did you first become
aware of it and interested in it?
Bennett: The Sudarium of Oviedo is a small linen cloth about
34 by 21 inches that is believed to have covered the head of Jesus
after the Crucifixion, as mentioned in Scripture and in accordance with
Jewish law and custom. It contains washed-out bloodstains that manifest
the wounds of a crucified man, and has been in Spain since the beginning
of the seventh century, where it was taken when the Persians invaded Jerusalem
in 612 AD, after being safeguarded for short time in the large Christian
community at Alexandria, Egypt.
I became aware of this important Christian relic after reading an article
about it in the Spanish magazine !Hola! in December of 1993. I was
immediately captivated by a cloth that I had never even known existed, and
was now being studied by scientists because of its possible relation to
the Shroud of Turin. I desperately wanted to find out more, but it took
years for that to happen. Three trips to the Cathedral of Oviedo yielded
nothing, because those involved still knew little about what this relic
actually was, or how it had been used. Im sure that some of them even
doubted its authenticity. I was later told that the Archbishop of Oviedo
granted permission to study the relic in 1986 so that he and the other priests
involved in using it for public benediction three days each year would know
if it had any chance of containing the blood of Christ. They wanted to know
if they were using a fake relic.
When I discovered the website of the Spanish Center for Sindonology in 1998,
I immediately obtained copies of their studies published in Spanish in 1994
and 1997, and painstakingly began to translate them. The work was overwhelming
at times. I would say that my motivation was primarily personal, but underlying
my individual quest for information and affirmation was a deep sense of
its importance for Christians all over the world. It wasnt until I
had spent more than a year working on it that I became convinced that this
knowledge was too important not to share with others.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is some of the evidence historical, scientific,
biblical, cultural, etc. that the Sudarium was the cloth that wrapped
Bennett: As it turns out, the evidence in all of these areas is overwhelmingly
in support of the traditional belief that the Sudarium was indeed the actual
cloth that wrapped Jesus head after the Crucifixion. Historically,
there are many documents of great importance. Two mention that St. Peter
was the first custodian of the Sudarium, and one of these, written by Isodad
of Merv around A.D. 850 , states that Peter took it from Joseph of Arimathea
and put it on his head whenever he laid hands on someone, as an aid in curing
the sick. According to another manuscript, San Antonino Mártir,
the chronicle of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land written by an anonymous
Italian pilgrim in 570 , the Sudarium was being cared for by seven religious
women in a cave close to the Monastery of St. Mark, on the other side of
the River Jordan. This verifies the existence of the relic in Jerusalem
not long before the Persian invasion of 612, when the cloth was first taken
to Alexandria in Egypt for safekeeping, and then to Spain after the Persians
followed them. This odyssey to Spain is mentioned in so many documents that
it is indisputable, as is the history of the relic once it arrived in Spain.
The events that occurred after the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 have
been repeated in similar fashion with many other relics, including the Holy
Cup of the Last Supper. I know from personal experience in climbing Monsacro
that this mountain would have provided a perfect hiding place for the Sudarium.
The vantage point from its summit is such that its caretakers could see
for many miles in all directions, and there is even mention in an Arabic
manuscript that the Christians fled to the north with their relics, hiding
them in a well on a mountaintop. The well can still be seen in the tiny
hermitage on its summit.
The profound respect displayed toward this relic throughout its history
in Spain makes it quite evident that it was always believed that this was
the true Sudarium of Jesus. King Alfonso II opened the chest for the first
time in 1075 with great fear and trepidation, after ordering the entire
population to fast and pray. After donating many expensive gifts to the
Cathedral, King Alfonso XIs request to see the Sudarium in 1345 was
denied. No one even attempted to open the chest again until Bishop Cristóbal
de Rojas y Sandoval in 1547, but he became so fearful that he changed his
mind. It is written that it seemed as if his hair was standing on end as
he attempted to insert the key, and he felt faint. In fact, scholars are
not aware of a single case of the chest being opened until Ambrosio de Morales
did another inventory of its contents in 1765, the only one to do so since
King Alfonso VI in the eleventh century. For those who like to devise strange
scenarios of falsification, this is very significant. The relic was not
accessible to anyone, not even kings, particularly during the time when
some argue that the Shroud was fabricated.
Culturally speaking, there is also ample evidence for the case of authenticity.
Christ has never been portrayed wrapped in a sudarium, which indicates that,
although mentioned in the Gospel of John 20:7, no one has ever really understood
how it was used. We now know that in the case of Jesus, Jewish law and custom
mandated use of the sudarium. The use of a sudarium was required when blood
flowed at the time of death, because blood was believed to contain the soul
of the individual as the "seat of life," and was considered just
as much a part of the body as the flesh. Any blood spilled at the time of
death had to be buried, which would have included clothing, soiled linens
and blood-soaked earth. The scene in Mel Gibsons film The Passion
of the Christ that portrays Jesus mother mopping up his blood
after the scourging is not pious fiction. This practice was necessary so
that the blood could be buried.
In the case of crucifixion, death is caused by suffocation from pulmonary
edema, and this bloody serum produced in the lungs is then forced through
the nose and mouth after death occurs. It was therefore critical to cover
the head to avoid losing the blood, and this cloth would have then been
placed in the tomb, as mentioned by John. Furthermore, a disfigured corpse
could not be moved from the place of death to the tomb without being covered
first, for reasons of propriety and decency.
Two questions inevitably come to mind. First, why would Jesus disciples
save and venerate a worthless and unclean bloody cloth unless they believed
that their Master had risen from the dead and was therefore truly the Son
of God? Secondly, if later no one understood exactly what John was referring
to when he spoke of the "cloth that covered Jesus head,"
why would anyone try to fabricate a relic that no one knew anything about,
especially one that would necessitate killing someone? The fact is that
by the eleventh century all of Christianity knew that the Sudarium was in
Oviedo, long before the time of Leonardo da Vinci and medieval forgeries.
Even if they didnt know exactly what purpose it had served, they did
believe that it contained Christs blood, as King Alfonso VI had engraved
in 1113 on the silver plating that still covers the chest. This knowledge
greatly contributed to the popularity of the Camino of Santiago, the third
most important pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages, after Rome and Jerusalem.
It would have been utterly impossible to fabricate the Sudarium to match
the Shroud of Turin for many reasons. Aside from being found together in
the tomb, the Shroud and the Sudarium were never in the same place, and
the Sudarium was not accessible to pilgrims. There is absolutely no possibility
whatsoever that Christians crucified a living person in order to create
a fake shroud, as even the Catholic Encyclopedia suggests, because
they would have had to fabricate the Sudarium at the same time so that it
would match. In the Middle Ages this companion cloth was being venerated
in Oviedo, Spain by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, hidden
from view in the Holy Chamber. The first-century linen cloth contains the
human blood, type AB, of a crucified man, and it has been safeguarded and
venerated as the Sudarium of the Lord since the time of St. Peter. Its bloodstains
do not match those found on the Shroud by coincidence.
The scientists involved with the Spanish Center for Sindonology have discovered
an abundance of information since they began their investigation in 1988,
and they have not found a single thing that might indicate that this relic
is not authentic. On the contrary, all the evidence fits together so well
that the odds that this cloth did not cover the head of Jesus of Nazareth
are astronomically small, as is the possibility that it did not cover the
same crucifixion victim as the Shroud of Turin.
The pollens are a silent witness to the authenticity of its documented historical
route, the bloodstains are those of a crucified man from first-century Jerusalem,
the wounds match those mentioned in the Bible as suffered by Christ, and
we know of no other individual in history who was crowned with thorns and
then buried. Even such details as the length of time the cloth remained
on the head, the two positions required for formation of the bloodstains,
and the time required for transfer of the body to the tomb all evidenced
on the cloth itself are consistent with Scripture and what we know
about Jesus passion and entombment. Based on these scientific studies,
the estimated timetable of events for crucifixion, death and burial have
been calculated with great accuracy. Every single detail coincides with
Christs passion as written in Scripture.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What is the history of the Sudarium compared with what
is known of the history of the Shroud of Turin?
Bennett: As mentioned, we know that the Sudarium was safeguarded in
the vicinity of Jerusalem in A.D. 570, where the priceless relic was not
venerated publicly, but rather cared for by women who apparently spent their
entire lives in this service. In 612 it was taken to Alexandria to avoid
profanation at the hands of the Persians during their destruction of Jerusalem,
and when they attacked Alexandria only two years later, the relic was already
on its way to Spain where St. Isidore took custody of it, bringing it to
Seville. When he died in 636, St. Ildephonsus transferred it to Toledo,
the city that had become Spains new Christian capital.
Some of St. Ildephonsus relics were placed in the ancient chest believed
to have been carved by Jesus disciples, including the chasuble that
was said to have been given to him during an apparition of the Blessed Virgin.
The chest came to Spain filled with many other relics, including one of
the wine jugs from the wedding at Cana. The large clay jug is kept in the
Cathedral of Oviedo, but is only exposed to the public one day each year.
The deep scratches on its face testify to the fact that medieval pilgrims
were allowed to touch it, because they used their scallop shells to scrape
off bits of the clay. Oviedos other famous relics included one of
St. Peters sandals, and its two famous crosses. The Cross of the Angels
was believed to have been made by angels during the time of King Alphonso
II, and the Cross of Victorys gold and jewels cover the original wooden
cross used by Pelayo during the first battle of the Spanish Reconquest in
A.D. 718 .
Read part two of
this interview with Janice Bennett >>
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