The Sudarium of Oviedo, or Shroud of Oviedo, is a Christian relic currently housed in a cathedral in Oviedo, Spain. Less than three feet square and blood-stained, its historical provenance and modern forensic investigations strongly-indicate the Sudarium was once paired with the Shroud of Turin as the burial garments for Jesus Christ. It is described in the Gospels and has a known history of preservation dating back at least until around A.D. 700.
The Sudarium is small, about 33 x 21 inches in size. Once white, the cloth varies from a light tan to a dull brown due to age, and is heavily wrinkled. Patches of blood stains and fluid cover one third of the cloth's area. Unlike the Shroud, the Sudarium does not bear a facial image, despite being used to cover the face.
If indeed it is proven that the Sudarium is part of the burial garments of Jesus Christ, then its first appearance has been written down in the Gospel of John, 20:6-7; according to the writer, the disciples heard rumors of the Resurrection taking place, and John and Peter hurried to the tomb:
- Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
- And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. (King James Version)
The Latin word “sudarium” comes from the Greek σουδάριον (“soudarion”), which means “face cloth”, “handkerchief”, or “napkin”. In ancient times, as in today, such cloths are used to wipe away facial perspiration; but are also used to cover or bind the face of the corpse, as indicated in John 20:7.
The early history of the Sudarium comes from a 12th-century bishop, Pelagius of Oviedo, who is generally accepted as a competent historian in his works ‘’Chronicon Regum Legionensium’’ (“Chronicle of the Kings of León”) and ‘’Liber Testamentorum’’ (“Book of Covenants”), despite being labeled “prince of falsifiers” for his attempts to forge or falsify documents. Pelagius stated that the cloth stayed in the Holy Land until 614 AD, when Jerusalem was attacked and conquered by the Persian king Chosroes II. It stayed in Alexandria for less than two years before Chosroes attacked there as well, then went across North Africa to Gibraltar, when it was taken into Spain at Cartegna. Both the relic and refugees fleeing the Persians were welcomed into Spain, and the Sudarium – which was then contained inside a small, elaborately-carved chest - was surrendered to the bishop of Seville.
A man by the name of Isidore would later become the bishop there, and he in turn would teach Ildefonso; both men would eventually be declared saints by the Catholic Church. When Ildefonso was appointed to be bishop of Toledo, the Sudarium went with him, and there it stayed until 718, when it was moved further north to avoid its loss at the hands of Muslims who had conquered much of southern Spain. About ten kilometers south of Oviedo it was kept in a cave known as the Monsacro, in part while King Alfonso II of Asturias had a small chapel constructed to house the relic; this chapel – the Cámara Santa – is now part of the larger building complex of the Cathedral of San Salvador, and has stayed ever since. The most important date, as well as the most famous viewing of the Sudarium, was March 14, 1075, when a list was created of all relics within the chest in the presence of King Alfonso VI and his sister, the princess Doña Urraca; also in attendance as a witness was the Spanish mercenary, Rodrigo of Vivar (El Cid). The chest would acquire silver gilding, and with it encouragement for the masses to come and venerate it.
Scientific studies on the Sudarium would begin during the late 1970s, in the wake of the more-publicized tests done on the Shroud. Max Frei, the Swiss criminologist who recovered pollen samples from the Shroud using sticky tape in 1976, repeated the process during his visit to Oviedo in 1979, recovering samples from plants native to Oviedo and Toledo in Spain, northern Africa and Jerusalem; the species included ‘’Quercus caliprimus’’, a thorny shrub native only to the Holy Land. These samples were confirmed again by two laboratories in Tucson, Arizona and Toronto, Ontario in 1994. All pollen samples confirmed the route the Sudarium had taken to get to Spain via North Africa as set down by Pelagius.
Dating the cloth produced different results. A 1991 seminar in Barcelona reported a carbon date range between the first and seventh century AD; in 1994 at the First International Congress on the Sudarium, the date ranges were somewhat later, falling roughly from 653-786 AD (Toronto laboratory), and 642-869 AD (Tucson laboratory); both disagree with the historical documentation.
The medical research revealed links to the Shroud of Turin. The cloth bears actual blood stains; like those on the Shroud, the Sudarium contains AB-type blood. Traces of pleural oedema fluid stain the cloth as well; this water-looking fluid builds up within the lungs of a crucified person, and when alive it can be released from mouth or nostrils as a result of sudden jolts on the cross. After death, Jesus' body was lanced by a Roman soldier to confirm He had died "...and forthwith came there out blood and water." (John 19:34) Pollen found on the two shrouds match.