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The Shroud of Turin is perhaps one of the more famous so-called Medieval mysteries that has caught the attention of popular culture academia. For centuries, historians, scientists and religious figures have battled it out over whether the Shroud is really an imprint of Jesus Christ. It first appeared in 1354, and just over 30 years later, was branded a fake by the local bishop of Troyes.
This didn’t stop many believing the linen was in fact the burial shroud in which Christ was wrapped following his crucifixion.
A more conclusive answer appeared to put the debate to an end in 1988.
It was here that scientists, through carbon dating, established the Shroud to have been created in the Middle Ages, between 1260 and 1390.
The results were inevitably fiercely contested, with many arguing the results were skewed because of material dating discrepancies.
The Catholic Church has avoided taking an official position on the authenticity of the Shroud, with the Pope merely stating that he “venerates” it; while the Church itself has never gone beyond describing the linen as anything more than an “icon” of Christian devotion.
Dr Seb Falk, a Medieval historian, has something of a similar take on the Shroud, telling Express.co.uk that the true significance of such relics have more often than not been lost to time throughout the ages.
He wants people to place themselves in the period from which the Shroud would have been revered, explaining: “You’ve got to try and understand these things in a Medieval context.
“What did belief in these sorts of things do for people?
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“The first thing you have to understand is that something like the Shroud of Turin, it’s a little bit like a tool for thinking with.
“It’s a kind of way of understanding the world around you.
“People see the world through a certain lens and that lens in the case of Medieval Europe is the lens of God interacting with the world, God having an active role in the world.
“All of these miracles, all of these strange events that people encounter are seen through that lens of the active intervention of God in the world.”
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Just as people in the Middle Ages would have travelled to visit the Shroud, today, around two million pilgrims each year flock to Northern Italy to see it for themselves.
Measuring 14.5 by 3.9 feet, the Shroud shows the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, while the surrounding material appears to be covered in droplets of blood, presumably from the wounds found in the wrists, feet, and side.
Another explanation for the relic was floated in a 2014 study, suggesting that it might have been used in Medieval church plays about the Resurrection of Jesus.
Others still say it is a photograph, a painting, a natural chemical process or it perhaps made by some sort of unknown energy release.
Yet, again, Dr Falk said the countless explanations may only look to satiate our desire to know and solve the mystery.
He said that relics like the Shroud have had the label “mystery” placed on them by modern humans.
He said: “It’s people of the present who have a particular hang-up about the Shroud of Turin – this wasn’t something that was particularly outstandingly famous in the Middle Ages.
“It’s a modern question, and in the Middle Ages there were thousands of relics like this which were important parts of people’s beliefs.”
Despite this, historians, scientists, religious believers and the general public are likely to wage debate and discussion on the Shroud – a dialogue that might continue long after the truth has been found.
Seb Falk’s new book ‘The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery’ is published by Allen Lane and out now.
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