Byssus and pure linen –
The burial cloths of Christ
The sudarium of Oviedo, the holy coif of Cahors, the shroud of Turin, the napkin of Kornelimuenster – a noteworthy number of textile relics are connected with the burial of Jesus. In his Easter Gospel, John mentions a bundled (or folded – the Greek word “entylisso” is used) sudarium in addition to multiple linen cloths:
“and saw the linen clothes lying there, but did not enter. Then came Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulcher. He saw the linen clothes lying there, and the napkin that was about Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” (John 20:5-7)
In ancient times, the use of multiple cloths and the covering of the deceased person’s face were not uncommon in Jewish burials. The narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus also mentions winding cloths and a napkin:
“The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44)
The shroud of Turin and the sudarium of Oviedo (northern Spain) have undergone extensive scientific research. The bloodstains on both cloths come from a dead male with type AB blood.
In Hebrew tradition, blood is holy, because it is considered the seat of life. When a person dies, all blood should be collected and buried together with the corpse. Thus, the sudarium of Oviedo was placed over the head of Jesus immediately after his death to stop the bleeding from his mouth and nose. Later, the holy coif, made of eight layers of gauze and preserved in Cahors, France, was pulled over his head. Then the entire body was wrapped in the shroud of Turin.
Obviously the absorbency was not the only criterion in the choice of burial cloths, but quality also played a major role: “Joseph took Him down and wrapped Him in fine linen.” (Mark 15:46)
Thus it is conceivable that cloths such as the sudarium at Manoppello or the napkin at Kornelimuenster, which are made of byssus and do not absorb any liquid whatsoever, were used for Jesus’ burial solely because of their quality. They were used as the outermost wrappings, as their fabric has no bloodstains, and there is no image at all on the napkin of Kornelimuenster.
- The Holy Coif, Pala d’Oro, St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice
- The Holy Coif, Codex Egberti, 980 – 983