Was the blood on the Shroud applied with a monkish felt-tip pen (well, a somewhat primitive version thereof)?

“Oh Lord, what can we use instead while waiting for felt-tip pens to be invented?”

So how was the medieval forerunner of your modern felt-tip marker pen fashioned? Simple. Make a little pouch out of felt* or other absorbent material. Place some freshly drawn blood inside – a plentiful commodity in medieval times given the cure-all resort to bloodletting. (Macerated  blood-fed leeches was a possible alternative to blood – don’t laugh, there is some serious science in that suggestion).

LATE ADDITION: I have just done a follow up post on that leech idea – methinks it has quite a lot going for it!!!!

If using plain blood, add a little soap, close off the pouch with a knot or draw string, and hey presto you have your medieval marker pen.  It was probably called an “applicator” to begin with – or something more techie-sounding  like “dabber thingy”.  It was probably used in conjunction with a stencil, cut from absorbent felt, cloth or similar to get a soft edge. You would have one stencil that was shaped like a reversed three – see main graphic – the bloodstained forehead of the Man in the Shroud – or what your monk with his rudiments of a classical education would no doubt have called an epsilon … and other stencils for other “bloodstains”.

Felt pouches still find uses to this day…

I believe this intentionally felt-filtered blood could account for some peculiarities that Adler and Heller observed – like the paucity of potassium (adsorbed/absorbed into my felt), the absence of blood cells (lysed/filtered out). Their own complex theory in fact also incorporated filtration, albeit accidental filtration, a process to which they alluded, but it was never really clear that the mechanism proposed, involving clotting, clot retraction,   exudation of serum, transfer of serum with haemolysed red blood cells to linen etc etc  would really deliver re-solubilised “blood” in a sufficiently controlled fashion to produce the too-good-to-be-true figures, flows and  patterns of blood we see on the Shroud.

My method also incorporates filtration, but it was controlled, technological filtration, probably monk-developed, monk-executed,  designed to get around the problems of blood clotting, That’s as distinct  from relying on clotting – which unenviably HAS to be part of the authenticist’s mechanism to explain how blood shed on the Cross was still available for imprinting hours later in liquid form.

“Haemography for Beginners” had a somewhat limited circulation. Sadly, there is no surviving copy…

I’ll be back to later to expand on the science bit. First I shall let The Other Site  pirate what I have written so far, as is its wont, allowing time for its blogmeister and regulars to toss it around among themselves, working in the inevitable putdowns, Matt being a welcome exception.  See most recent example.

I shall keep my own (seriously scientific) powder dry a little bit longer.

To be continued…

*Felt (from wiki)

Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing woollen fibres. …

Many cultures have legends as to the origins of feltmaking. Sumerian legend claims that the secret of feltmaking was discovered by Urnamman of Lagash. The story of  Saint Clement and Saint Christopher relates that while fleeing from persecution, the men packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters. At the end of their journey, the movement and sweat had turned the wool into felt socks.”


About Colin Berry

Retired science bod, previous research interests: phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, membrane influences on microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, defective bilirubin and xenobiotic conjugation and hepatic excretion, dietary fibre and resistant starch.
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One Response to Was the blood on the Shroud applied with a monkish felt-tip pen (well, a somewhat primitive version thereof)?

  1. Pingback: How good is the match up between the Sudarium and the Shroud? « Shroud of Turin Blog

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