The earliest textual record we have of the TS is a document that claims the shroud is a forgery.
The History of the Shroud of Turin begins in the year 1390 AD, when Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote a memorandum where he charged that the Shroud was a forgery. Historical records seem to indicate that a shroud bearing an image of a crucified man existed in the possession of Geoffroy de Charny in the small town of Lirey, France around the years 1353 to 1357. The history from the 15th century to the present is well documented.
This is often cited by skeptics as evidence the shroud is a fake.
The first certain mention of it comes from the 14th century when Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote a memorandum to antipope Clement VII in which he stated that the shroud was a fraud and that the forger had confessed.
Other evidence that the Shroud is a fake includes (c) the fact that the first creditable mention of it is in 1357 C.E., (d) the fact that Bishop Pierre d’Arcis and his predecessor Bishop Henri, of the 1300’s, told the Pope it was fake and even (e) had a confession by the forger.
Here is the complete translated text of the D’Arcis Memorandum:
Memorandum of Pierre d’Arcis, Bishop of Troyes
To The Avignon Pope Clement VII
Written circa 1389
Translated from Latin by the Reverend Herbert Thurston
“The Holy Shroud and The Verdict of History”
The Month, Volume CI (101), pages 17-29, 1903
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, Collection de Champagne,
v. 134, folio 138.
Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, Collection de Champagne,
v. 154. folio 137.
The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Some time since in this diocese of Troyes the Dean of a certain collegiate church, to wit, that of Lirey, falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Saviour Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb, and upon which the whole likeness of the Saviour had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore. This story was put about not only in the kingdom of France, but, so to speak, throughout the world, so that from all parts people came together to view it. And further to attract the multitude so that money might cunningly be wrung from them, pretended miracles were worked, certain men being hired to represent themselves as healed at the moment of the exhibition of the shroud, which all believed to the shroud of our Lord. The Lord Henry of Poitiers, of pious memory, then Bishop of Troyes, becoming aware of this, and urged by many prudent persons to take action, as indeed was his duty in the exercise of his ordinary jurisdiction, set himself earnestly to work to fathom the truth of this matter. For many theologians and other wise persons declared that this could not be the real shroud of our Lord having the Saviour’s likeness thus imprinted upon it, since the holy Gospel made no mention of any such imprint, while, if it had been true, it was quite unlikely that the holy Evangelists would have omitted to record it, or that the fact should have remained hidden until the present time. Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed. Accordingly, after taking mature counsel with wise theologians and men of the law, seeing that he neither ought nor could allow the matter to pass, he began to institute formal proceedings against the said Dean and his accomplices in order to root out this false persuasion. They, seeing their wickedness discovered, hid away the said cloth so that the Ordinary could not find it, and they kept it hidden afterwards for thirty-four years or thereabouts down to the present year. And now again the present Dean of the said church with fraudulent intent and for the purpose of gain, suggested, as it is reported, to the Lord Geoffrey de Charny, Knight, and the temporal lord of the place, to have the said cloth replaced in the said church, that by a renewal of the pilgrimage the church might be enriched with the offerings made by the faithful. Acting upon the Dean’s suggestion, who was thus treading in the footsteps of his predecessor, the knight went to the Cardinal de Thurv, your Holiness’ Nuncio and Legate in French territory, and suppressing the facts that the said cloth at the time above referred to was asserted to be the shroud of our Saviour, and that it bore the Saviour’s likeness imprinted upon it, and that the Ordinary had taken action against the canons in order to stamp out the error which had arisen, and that the said cloth for fear of the Ordinary had been hidden away, nay even, it is said, conveyed out of the diocese, he represented to the Cardinal that the said cloth was a picture or figure of the shroud, which many people came to visit out of devotion and which had previously been much venerated and resorted to in that church, but on account of the war and other causes, by the command of the Ordinary, had been placed for a long time in safer keeping, petitioning that he might be allowed to set up in the said church this picture or figure of the shroud which so many out of devotion desired to see, so that it might there be shown to the people and venerated by the faithful. Then the said Lord Cardinal, without entirely approving the petition, but probably acting on the facts before him and so far prudently, granted to the petitioner by Apostolic authority that without asking leave of the Ordinary or of any other person he might set up this picture or figure of the shroud of our Lord in the said church or in any other decent place. And under cover of this written authority the cloth was openly exhibited and shown to the people in the church aforesaid on great holidays, and frequently on feasts and at other times, with the utmost solemnity, even more than when the Body of Christ our Lord is exposed; to wit, by two priests vested in albs with stoles and maniples and using the greatest possible reverence, with lighted torches and upon a lofty platform constructed for this special purpose; and although it is not publicly stated to be the true shroud of Christ, nevertheless this is given out and noised abroad in private, and so it is believed by many, the more so, because, as stated above, it was on the previous occasion declared to be the true shroud of Christ, and by a certain ingenious manner of speech it is now in the said church styled not the sudarium but the sanctuarium. which to the ears of the common folk, who are not keen to observe distinctions, sounds much the same thing, and crowds of people resort there as often as it is shown or is expected to be shown, under the belief, or more truly the delusion, that it is the true shroud. Moreover, it is currently reported amongst them that it has been approved by the Apostolic See by means of the letters of the said Lord Cardinal.
Accordingly, most holy Father, perceiving this great scandal renewed amongst the people and the delusion growing to the peril of souls, observing also that the Dean of the said church did not keep within the terms of the Cardinal’s letters, obtained though they were by the suppression of the truth and the suggestion of what was false, as already explained, desiring to meet the danger as well as I could and to root out this false persuasion from the flock committed to me, after consultation with many prudent advisers, I prohibited the said Dean under pain of excommunication, by the very act sufficiently published [eo ipso latael] from exhibiting this cloth to the people until otherwise might be determined.
He, however, refusing obedience and lodging an appeal, in defiance of the prohibition went on with the exhibition as before. Moreover, the knight, maintaining and defending this behaviour, by holding the said cloth with his own hands on a certain solemn feast, and showing it to the people with the observances above described, caused himself, by a royal warrant [salvagardia], to be put in formal possession and occupation of the said cloth and of the right of exhibiting it, and had this notified to me; and so under cover of the appeal as well as of the said royal warrant this delusion is shielded and propagated, to the contempt of the Church, scandal of the people, and peril of souls – all which I am powerless to remedy – nay more, to the defamation of my above-named predecessor who denounced the abuse in his time, and of myself who to the best of my poor ability am also anxious to take such prudent action as I may. But, alas! The scandal is upheld and defended and its supporters cause it to be spread abroad among the people that I am acting through jealousy and cupidity and to obtain possession of the cloth for myself, just as similar reports were circulated before against my predecessor; while, on the other hand, others aver that I move too half-heartedly in the matter and that I make myself a laughing-stock by allowing the abuse to continue. But though I have earnestly and humbly cited the said knight and besought, him that he would for a time suspend the exhibition of the said cloth until your Holiness could be consulted and should pronounce upon the matter, he paid no attention, or rather without my knowledge he had representations made to your Holiness in the same sense as those already made to the said Lord Cardinal, adding that I refused to defer to the said Cardinal’s letters, that I disregarded the appeal and went on launching inhibitions and sentences of excommunication against those who exhibited the cloth and against the people who came to venerate it. But with all deference to the author of these representations, my action in thus proceeding against those who exhibited and venerated the cloth was in no wise derogatory to the said Lord Cardinal’s letters, obtained though they were surreptitiously. This authorization of his by no means conceded that the cloth could be exposed with publicity or venerated, but only that it might be restored to or lodged in the said church or some other decent place. And because they would not keep to the terms of the Cardinal’s permit therefore it was that I proceeded against them according to the ordinary forms of law, as in my duty I am bound, and not without much asking of counsel, with the view of removing the scandal and the said popular delusion, believing that I should be gravely in fault if I connived at such abuses. Moreover, having to look to my own security in this matter, I was compelled, acting always upon the advice of prudent counsellors, to have recourse to the aid of the secular arm, and this more particularly because the said knight in the first instance had begun to place the matter in the hands of the civil authorities by causing himself to be put in formal possession of the right of exhibiting the cloth by the King’s warrant, as said above, which seems a sufficiently absurd proceeding. Accordingly I took measures to have the cloth placed in the custody of the King’s officers, always with the same end in view, viz., that at least until I could bring the whole story to the notice of your Holiness there might for the time being be an end of these exhibitions. And in this request I prevailed without any difficulty with the court of the King’s Parliament when once they were fully informed of the superstitious origin of this shroud, of the use to which it was put, and of the delusion and scandal to which I have called attention. Indeed it is a wonder to all who know the facts of the case that the opposition which hampers me in these proceedings comes from the Church, from which quarter I should have looked for vigorous support, nay, rather have expected punishment if I had shown myself slothful or remiss. However, the knight above mentioned has been beforehand with me, and, having represented the matter as I have explained, has obtained from your Holiness a Brief in which the said Lord Cardinal’s letters are substantially confirmed ex certa scientia and permission is granted that in spite of all prohibitions and appeals, the said cloth may be shown and exposed for the veneration of the faithful; while, as I hear, – for I have not been able to procure a copy of the said Brief, – perpetual silence is enjoined upon myself.
But whereas the canon law requires me to see that no man be imposed upon by false representations and documents for purposes of gain, and because I am certain that this Brief was obtained by suggestion of what is false and suppression of the truth, and that otherwise it would never have been issued, while I was neither cited nor heard, especially as the resumption ought to stand in my favour that I would not interfere in such a cause without reason, or disturb any man in any practice of devotion which was harmless and free from extravagance, I do most confidently trust that your Holiness will bear with me if in view of the foregoing facts I still oppose the said exposition until I have fuller instructions from your Holiness yourself, now better informed of the truth of the case. I would ask you then, most blessed Father, to vouchsafe to bestow your attention upon the foregoing statement and to take measures that such scandal and delusion and abominable superstition may be put an end to both in fact and seeming, in such wise that this cloth be held neither for sudarium nor sanctuarium, nor for an image or figure of our Lord’s sudarium, since our Lord’s sudarium was nothing of the kind, nor, in fine, under any other ingenious pretext be exhibited to the people or exposed for veneration, but that to express horror of such superstition it be publicly condemned, the surreptitious letters above spoken of being recalled, or more truly declared null and void [for fear that the keen-eyed persecutors and detractors of the Church should rail at the Church’s discipline and say that a more prompt and efficacious remedy against scandals and impostures is found in the secular tribunals than in those of ecclesiastical authority]. I offer myself here as ready to supply all information sufficient to remove any doubt concerning the facts alleged both from public report and otherwise, in order to exonerate myself and also to discharge my conscience in a matter which I have greatly at heart. Moreover, if health had allowed I should have presented myself personally to your Holiness to state my complaint to the best of my poor ability, for I am convinced that I cannot fully or sufficiently express in writing the grievous nature of the scandal, the contempt brought upon the Church and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the danger to souls; still I do what I can, chiefly that I may be guiltless before God, leaving all else to the disposition of your Holiness, whom may the Almighty long preserve, &c.
It is interesting that one of the top arguments would be textual evidence to argue against the authenticity of the shroud. So, skeptics rely on textual evidence as a leading form of evidence.
Significantly, the letter is unsigned, undated, and there is no record of it ever sent to Antipope Clement VII. So, would skeptics consider an anonymous letter of unknown date to be reliable? And since it was never sent, why should we consider it any more seriously than finding a document in the trash can?
Why would skeptics accept the testimony of a bishop? Would skeptics accept the testimony if a bishop said it was authentic? Highly doubtful.
Further, the alleged forger was not named. So, it is meaningless to say someone confessed to creating it if nobody was specified. That’s like a lawyer saying to a judge, “Your honor, we have an eyewitness who saw the crime. But we don’t know his name and we can’t bring him in to take the stand.” So, it’s pretty much a useless statement.
Also, how do we know they are referring to the TS? It could’ve been referring to a replica of the TS.
Even if everything written in it was true, that an forger created the TS, it does not explain how he did it. It would go back to the argument that the TS is a work of art, which I have argued against in the past several pages. This artist would be a super genius artist that we completely ignore today.
The letter itself is also suspect. From what I can tell, there is no other document written by anybody else complaining to the Pope about a relic not being genuine. During this era, relics were everywhere.
Once, the western world was full of relics. The bones and skin, fingernails and even heads of saints were preserved, bought and sold, stolen and cherished. Relics of holy people and of Jesus Christ were at the heart of medieval Christianity.
Way back in the Middle Ages, relics were all the rage. Such objects were thought to be religiously significant and were said to have magical properties, healing and helping those who possessed them. There was a thriving market centered on holy relics, and people jumped at the chance to spend money acquiring them.
Relics and pilgrimage churches played a large role in religious life in the Middle Ages, and had a significant economic impact on both the church as well as the city where it was located. Towns that possessed important sacred relics were popular destinations for spiritual tourism, and the offerings these pilgrims made to the church as well as the money they spent at local businesses made relics an important commodity.
The competition to obtain relics quickly lead to merchants and agents who located, bought, and sold them. And as inevitably happens, most areas had a network of unscrupulous riffraff who dealt in counterfeits.
In those days it was impossible to tell if you had the skull of Saint Bernard or Bernard the bartender. Protestant theologian John Calvin famously remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship.
Why would the only medieval text we have complaining to the Pope that a relic is a fake be about the Shroud of Turin (which ironically is probably the only genuine relic from the first century)?
It all doesn’t add up.