The Shroud's Silent Partner


by Janice Bennett

Ignatius, 2005

220 pages, $19.95

To order: (800) 651-1531


Since the eighth century, a bloodstained cloth, 21 inches by 34 inches in size, has been kept in the Cathedral of Oviedo, in northern Spain. It is venerated as the Sudarium, the “napkin” spoken of in John's account of the Resurrection:

“When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place” (John 20:7).

Unlike the Shroud of Turin, the sudarium has generated very little publicity. Only within the last two decades have researchers and scientists obtained permission to study it, hoping to learn, among other things, what bearing this cloth might have on the shroud.

The results of the investigations are now available in English. Drawing from the latest findings and from her own research into the history of the cloth, Janice Bennett offers a fascinating read for anyone interested in relics, the shroud — or simply a better understanding of the death and burial of Jesus.

Part One delves into the history of the sudarium. After legend is sorted from sober narrative, all evidence points to the relic having been kept in Jerusalem until the Persian invasion of 614 A.D., when it was taken to southern Spain. Then the Muslim invasion there caused Christians to flee north with the sudarium. It eventually came to rest in Oviedo in 761, where it has been ever since.

The second section of the book details the investigators’ findings. They were able to determine the precise function of the sudarium. The word itself was a generic term for a small cloth used for multiple uses — towel, turban, apron. The researchers disposed of previous theories that it was either a chin-band or a cloth placed over Our Lord's face beneath the Shroud. Using replica cloths and both head casts as well as live models, they determined that the bloodstains suggest that the sudarium was wrapped around the head of Christ while his body still hung on the cross, and not removed until after his body was anointed and the shroud put in place.

Both the sudarium and the Shroud of Turin contain blood of the type AB. This type is rare among Europeans and common in the Middle East. Although the sudarium's bloodstains do not form a clear image of a complete face, the areas of the nose, mouth, chin and beard can be determined. Measurements of these areas match the size of these features on the shroud. The back of the cloth shows puncture wounds on the head, and wounds to the neck and upper back consistent with scourging. The team's conclusion: “The probability that [both cloths] did not cover the same crucifixion victim is extremely small.”

The Sudarium of Oviedo is a remarkable relic that has added to our knowledge of what happened on Good Friday. Considered in relation to the Shroud of Turin, it may come to be considered as the independent, historic “document” that authenticates the shroud, much as the histories of Josephus verified the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Daria Sockey writes from Cincinnati.