Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Epitaphions! News at 11:00!

Apparently, according to a story in the news media, a Church historian from Italy has written an article claiming that prior to the French Revolution there were as many as 40 proported medieval "shrouds" (resembling the Holy Shroud of Turn) in various cathedrals and monasteries throughout Western Europe. The conclusion, (no surprise) is that the existance of these multiple medieval burial cloths demonstrate that the Shroud of Turin is a medival forgery.

Shroud of Turn
I'm only an artisan, not an academic but my guess as an iconographer is that the "astonishing 40 so-called burial cloths of Jesus" are in fact multiple 'epitaphion' icons . The epitaphion, which means, 'burial cloth' are used by Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic Christians that follow the Byzantine rite) on in the liturgy of Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The epitaphion is then reverently placed on the altar for the entire Easter season.   

Byzantine Epitaphion
circa 1300
These icons feature the figure of Jesus laid out in death on the burial cloth after being taken down from the cross. Some of them are painted on cloth, others are beautifully embroidered. It's quite possible that the prototype for this icon was the image of Jesus on the Shroud (now residing in Turin, Italy, but originally venerated and displayed in Constantinople).  

Icon of the Holy Face
(Contemporary Russian Icon)
Some believe that the relic of the shroud was usually displayed folded in such a way that only the face was visible and that this image of Christ's face may be the prototype of the icon of the Holy Face (Christ-Made-Without-Hands).
Because they are necessary for the Holy Week and Easter services, epitaphion icons can be found in all Orthodox and Eastern Catholic church, so it is not surprising that at least 40 would have made their way west, either from Sicily, Southern Italy, Greece or the Slavic lands during the Middle Ages. (I would expect a much larger number to have been in circulation during the medieval period, actually, given the brisk trade in relics and icons between Western Europe and the Middle East during the Crusades.)
But of course, "Christians Use Burial Cloth of Jesus Icon in Their Liturgy" is a lot less exciting than "Shroud of Turin is Proven to be a Fake".

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