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Kat posted what seems to be a major story in her Monday News Briefs: “Knights Templar hid the Shroud of Turin, says Vatican“. So much so that I thought it might have been an April Fool’s story with an incorrect date (see for example this Daily Grail effort from a couple of years ago) – the first paragraph hits you right in the face:

Medieval knights hid and secretly venerated The Holy Shroud of Turin for more than 100 years after the Crusades, the Vatican said yesterday in an announcement that appeared to solve the mystery of the relic’s missing years.

The key discovery in this story is that made by Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, while looking into the history of the Knights Templar. Her investigation…

…brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

This isn’t Frale’s only discovery in the Big V’s secret archives – she previously unearthed the Chinon Parchment, which provides a record of the trial of the Templars. Imagine what else she might find if she digs around…

While the Sabbatier account is certainly fascinating, not all are impressed. This critical article points out that there are still some issues to be resolved given the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud, which suggests it wasn’t made until the 14th century.

Also worth noting is that the Turin Shroud is not the only ‘image of Jesus’ going around (for example, see the Image of Edessa), and so the Sabbatier story may not actually be referring to it – although the full body-image, versus just a face, would suggest the Turin Shroud.

Frale’s discovery of a pre-14th century story concerning a shroud of Jesus is also not without precedent. A tenth century codex found in the Vatican Library, the Codex Vossianus Latinus quotes a man called Smera in Constantinople in the 8th century as saying that “King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body.”

What do you think? I’ve changed the poll over so that you can give your opinion*, you can vote here or by scrolling down to the poll in the right-hand block of the page. Feel free also to leave a comment, given that the poll is quite restricted in its answers – for instance, the medieval fake choice has a whole range of sub-topics – who made it, why does it look so much better as a negative, etc.

The previous poll on best evidence for an afterlife has been archived. Before it was hijacked** by a certain site, most Grailers seemed to think that the Near Death Experience offered the most intriguing possibilities for investigating life after death (subtract around 1600 votes from “No Evidence” if you want the pre-Pharyngula poll result).

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* Yes Mr Myers, it’s people’s opinions. We’re not in danger of thinking that it’s scientific in any way. Breathe dude, breathe.

** Yes it was hijacked, P.Z. is on the record regarding his intentions when poll-crashing. As for restricting it to members if I want it private, that would be an option – but that would also cut out a lot of regular readers who don’t wish to be members (for various reasons – privacy, etc). Sometimes it would just be nice to think that people are intelligent and thoughtful.