How a cunning 14th century visuo-semantic marketing ploy helped establish the ‘authenticity’ of the Shroud – and corrupted the French language into the bargain.

Late addition: the face on Machy mould above "SUAIRE" (left) and one contender (right) for title of surviving Veil of Veronica (from wiki entry for latter), i.e. the Holy Face of Jaen.

Late addition: the face on Machy mould above “SUAIRE” (left) and one contender (right) for title of surviving Veil of Veronica (from wiki entry for latter), i.e. the Holy Face of Jaén..


visuo-semantics  (also given as visuosemantics)
“The creation and addition of meaning through the semantic integration between text objects and the presentation of those text objects in visual relation, denoted both visuospatially and with relational symbols, with each other.”

Hello  Shroudosphere (blogospheric annexe): I shall be advancing a simple thesis in today’s posting, simple  yet profound in its consequences. It will take careful marshalling of the evidence, and since I’m no  great fan of writing posh essays, I’ll do it in my preferred way, as a born “commentator” not blog poster,  posting in small incremental additions.

Do I hear you say “time-waster”? Well, I anticipate that quite reasonable charge to those who have arrived here early, maybe too early to find any real substance.

So here’s a brief summary of what I intend to say.

(ed. oh,  and if  you don’t care for the anti-authenticity message, the summary may be all you need to know, or are willing to stomach. Just remember please that we scientists (retired in my case) continue to pick up newspapers with headlines about “scientists” claiming that the TS may not be medieval after all, that it could  (always could) have been the result of earthquakes, neutron bombardment,  bla bla more sciency-looking bla bla. It was one such headline back in  late 2011 (uv lasers, supernatural flash of light etc.)  that made this blogger neglect and finally desert his pop topical science site to focus attention almost entirely on the circus known as Turin Shroud so-called science. This site  btw is NOT  an attack on religious belief or any particular doctrine.  It’s a running critique of those who systematically employ pseudo-science to promote their agenda-driven fantasies, religious or otherwise.  We rightly condemn quack medicine. Why not quack science as well?

Anyway, here’s that summary:

(Let’s cut to the chase)

 The simple addition of the French word “suaire” to a variant of the Lirey Pilgrim’s badge, cast from the recently-discovered Machy Mould, above which was an image that was UNMISTAKABLY that of Jesus, was a brilliant 14th century marketing ploy (Holy Relics-U-Like). It  served as the visual cue, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, for most viewers  to assume that the Lirey Shroud was, nay, simply had to be! the real McCoy, the genuine, no kidding you on,  burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

The face above "SUAIRE" (reversed) on the Machy Mould for an assumed Lirey badge (Mark 2, or possibly pre-Mark1).

Click to enlarge:    The face above “SUAIRE” (reversed) on the Machy Mould for an assumed Lirey badge (Mark 2, or possibly pre-Mark1).

But the term “suaire”  originally referred to entirely different relics, each known as a ‘face -cloth’ or napkin  in English, or ‘sudarium’ in Latin,  such as the Sudarium of Oviedo,  or the Veil of Veronica, which apart from being much smaller have facial imprints, allegedly of Jesus,  that are bodily secretions, blood and sweat respectively,  NOT the peculiar and altogether more enigmatic scorch-like images (frontal and dorsal)  like those on the Shroud.

The simple addition of  a face-cloth image of Christ was sufficient  (and probably INTENDED) to make viewers assume that the double-image of the recumbent man on a Lirey badge,  laid out on a herringbone weave, was that of the crucified Jesus and logically so must the Man on the Shroud too.  But it almost certainly was not, being  the image (most likely in my view) of a Knight Templar condemned to a painful and prolonged death by roasting over hot coals  in the manner of the earlier martyr, St. Lawrence of  Rome (died AD 258).  Interestingly the latter  is also represented naked or nearly so in the early art of Christendom, sometimes with hands preserving modesty, making an uncanny resemblance to the Shroud image. (How come I seem to be the first to have spotted that?)

Amazingly, the modern French still use suaire to mean either face cloth OR shroud, despite them having a separate word for shroud (linceul).  I thank Alain Hourseau,  French scholar and now owner of the Machy Mould, for pointing this out, and for inspiring this post.

That unhelpful ambiguity re “suaire” probably began with the Lirey badge, and is “explained” in dictionaries by saying that “suaire” for shroud is “Old French” or “literary”. Nope, there’s more to it than that.   Let’s be candid.  It was an ‘accidental’ corruption of correct French  by those wishing to promote a (probably) Templar-era memento to holy relic status, a by-product if you like of misleading advertising.  But one suspects that the cunning visuo-semantic ploy may not have been necessary anyway, given that the 2D scorched-on image of the dead Templar was probably derived by thermal imprinting off a  bronze of the crucified Christ. That particular customised combination of pyrographic art/technology  that we now call the TS may, for all we know,  have been one of convenience initially.  Some deft re-branding,  human imagination,  a degree of suggestibility, a willing suspension of disbelief etc etc over the centuries has now  landed us with  bequeathed us the ‘unsolved mystery’ of the Shroud, one that continues to defy science (bla bla),  to foster a never-ending stream of pseudo-science, and which (as a lexicological footnote) has left modern French with an altogether uncharacteristic and I have to say needless ambiguity in their otherwise splendidly precise and logical language.


I hope to find time to flesh out with more details later, and early birds may find graphics missing that are still to be added.


Time now to set out how the ideas expressed above  developed.

(Incidentally, I was expressing these ideas as long ago as Feb 28 last year, but getting no attention. Who’d be a blogger?).

Sample cut-and-paste:  “I’ve spent the last half hour looking closely at the mould for a Lirey badge – the one now (fortunately) in the possession of  scholar Alain Hourseau. If I’m not mistaken there’s a strong clue as to how the non-Christ-like image of the Man on the Lirey badge was gradually melded with that of the Man on the Shroud to identify BOTH in the minds of pilgrims as that of the crucified Christ. How was that achieved? It was very very clever. It was done by adding a third image to the Lirey badge (Mark 2, Mark 3?) of a facecloth, but not the Oviedo-type one, with blood only, but a recognizable  Christ-like face (not dissimilar to the Secondo Pia reversed image!!!!).  This gets more interesting by the minute.

Firstly, here’s Alain Hourseau being quoted by Mario Latendresse on his sindonology (Shroud Scope)  site:


Note Alain’s reference to “suaire” meaning face-cloth, not shroud, at least pre-Shroud.  See too the lettering of SUAIRE on the Machy Mould (left) and Alain’s sketch thereof (right).

Now look at the wiki entry (French language) for the Shroud of Turin.


Click to enlarge and sharpen

Note that the TS is  always referred to as Le Suaire de Turin (yellow underlining), but whenever a reference is made simply to “shroud”, separate from “Turin” it becomes “(le) linceul” (yellow underlining).  So why you may ask did the French, centuries ago, decide to call it, effectively, “the Face Cloth of Turin”, knowing (a) it wasn’t a face cloth but something covering the entire body  and (b) there were other relics that were face cloths, and referred to as such, for example le Suaire d’Oviedo – or as well call it, the (Latin-derived) Sudarium of Oviedo? There’s even the biblical reference to there being a head cloth in the tomb, separate from the linen shroud. Why would anyone wish to blur the distinction between the two, and if so, with what motive? What say you, Jacques, Pierre,  Marie, homme ou femme inconnu(e)?

To see how confusing things can get, look at the wiki (French language) entry on the Sudarium of Oviedo:


Click to enlarge and sharpen image

Note how we have references in the same passage to both Le suaire d’Oviedo AND le suaire de Turin (underlined in red).

So how do the famously logical and rational French defend this uncharacteristic lapse into ambiguity? I don’t know if  L’Académie française has ever deliberated on this issue (strange if it had not, given its 24/7 lookout for  linguistic sloppiness or contamination). But here’s what the Larousse dictionary has to say:


Click to enlarge and sharpen image

So, it’s as I said earlier. its original (“antiquity” ) meaning was as Alain Hourseau states, to mean a cloth that covers just the head, but through literary licence it can also be used interchangeably (and confusingly!) to mean a “linceul” i.e. a shroud that covers the entire body.  So here we see semantic redundancy writ large.What the Larousse dictionary fails to point out, at least in this pocket internet edition is that it is shroudology (probably) rather than literature that has taken this liberty with language. But is/was it more than that? Was it a liberty not just with language, but crucially with meaning too, an assault on language, , a deliberate and self-serving attempt to blur the distinction between a small face cloth on the one hand and a large burial shroud? Was the French word “suaire” deliberately hijacked and given not just one meaning but two, in order to create a confusion in people’s minds between a  cunningly added feature on a pilgrim’s badge that may well have represented a face cloth (e.g. the Veil of Veronica – allegedly depicting Christ with no alternative candidates) and the  figure reposed on the Lirey Badge (and the Shroud) who might be that of Christ, but who there again might be someone completely different and/or simply presented to look like Christ (or maybe St.Lawrence?)

St.Lawrence on grid iron. AD 258.  Artist, date unkown to this blogger..Does anyone know who, when it was painted?

St.Lawrence on grid iron. AD 258. Artist, date unknown to this blogger. Does anyone know who, when it was painted?

(Sorry, this is getting wordy and bit convoluted – I knew at the start that this posting would be a tricky one to write).

More to follow.

(Re topical science: if I still had an active sciencebuzz site, I’d be posting today on those so-called piezonuclear fission reactions that release neutrons, or so we are assured by the editors of that Italian journal Meccanica who have strayed into shroudology. I can’t speak for the nuclear fission aspects, but have long had an interest in the radiant energy that accompanies fracture of certain substances. Years ago (the mid 70s)  there was an article by Daedalus  (or Ariadne?) on the back page slot on the New Scientist, describing the Polo Mint effect (flashes of light when you snap them in the dark). I was able to tell him that I’d come across the phenomenon in the old-fashioned type of inorganic chemistry tome they don’t write any more.  It’s called triboluminescence, and it’s a property of grinding sugar crystals and (interestingly) uranium salts. I had a very nice personal letter back. Since then, I’ve always said to myself that if I had my time over again, and had done a PhD in chemistry, rather than biochemistry, I would have snapped crystals under the surface of different liquids to see what new chemical reactions might be initiated.  If there’s really nuclear fission from mechanical fracture and/or compression*  alone (which I somehow doubt, feeling there has to be different mechanism at work) then the entire project could become quite interesting if the brief extended to nuclear chemistry as well).

*triboluminescence requires fracture, whereas the piezoelectric (and presumably piezonuclear) effect requires compression and its accompanying deformation only (apparently: I’m no expert).

Update: have just this minute spotted an article in the Washington Post on the earthquake/neutron fantasy-science. The title mirrors my long-expressed feelings about ‘pseudoscience’.

Will register, compose a comment, and insert it here later.

Back again: here’s the thread, thus far:

Colin Berry
There is an alternative kind of ‘shroudie’, one who eschews the sensationalism and pseudoscience, and in the case of this retired scientist is patiently exploring alternatives ones that might explain how that length of linen with its scorch-like image appeared in medieval France when it did.I’ve been at it for some two years, but only recently, after experimentation with different types of heat scorch (contact, radiation) have the pieces of the jigsaw begun to assemble into some kind of pattern.Briefly, here’s the current working hypothesis: Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Knights Templar and his closest associates, e.g. Geoffroi de Charney, were all slow-roasted on the same day in Paris 1314. The method of execution closely mirrored that of the martyred St. Lawrence, for which there is much very Shroud like devotional artwork showing a naked or near-naked man forced down onto a grid iron. The surviving Templars wanted to create a tribute or memorial, and having an existing penchant for images on cloth (see Barbara Frale’s finding in the Vatican secret archive) decided to scorch a double front and back image onto linen, as if a ‘hot Templar’ had been wrapped in a shroud. But what to use as a hot template? Here’s where the ambiguity began – they chose a recycled bronze of the crucified Christ, i.e. a life-sized crucifix, which was heated and then had linen pressed against it, with damp overlay, to leave a faint, superficial NEGATIVE image. Maybe they thought that no one would be able to say, looking at a light/dark reversed negative:”Hey that’s Jesus”. Or maybe they wanted folk to make a connection with Jesus, or maybe St.Lawrence.A few decades later, that shroud is now in the hands of the Lord of Lirey, one Geoffroi de Charny, probably de Charney’s nephew (see above) and the possibilities were quickly spotted and realized for morphing the scorched-on image with that of the crucified Jesus. The rest as they say is history. More? Just ask.
See more
Bob S.
2:52 PM GMT
It’s at least as much fun as any other patiently-explored alternative theories.
2:53 PM GMT
Thanks, Colin! That actually makes some sense.
Colin Berry
3:53 PM GMT
I say – a compliment. That’s almost unheard of in shroudie land . That’s if you wear a 10 gallon sceptic’s hat as I do, lead-lined so as to soften the impact of brickbats. Even the more guarded comment from Bob S. would have been regarded as gold dust on most days in the past.I don’t know if you like flow charts that avoid a plethora of words. If you do then check out this recent page on my site.…Update: the thread is still going strong, and as I have just said there, I’m most impressed with  tone  and solid content of comments (putting most of  our home-based  MSM sites  to shame). However, this thread is already too long, so I don’t propose to do any more cutting-and-pasting, much as I would like to, given the stones that are being lifted and examined to see what’s underneath.

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.
This entry was posted in Shroud of Turin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to How a cunning 14th century visuo-semantic marketing ploy helped establish the ‘authenticity’ of the Shroud – and corrupted the French language into the bargain.

  1. Robert says:

    Well, having seen your comment relating to the “Suaire d’Oviedo” article in French wikipedia (to which I am a regular contributor) I have undertaken some changes to the structure of this article:

    It will definitely not look anymore as what you have shown in your blog.

    Now with respect to the reasons why in French the words “linceul” and “suaire” are both used for designating the shroud of Turin, it is difficult to provide a logical explanation. It is clear that they had different signification and have once meant different objects which is not really the case anymore.

    As I am a French speaking Belgian (who lives in Geneva) please do not ask me to answer the question “So how do the famously logical and rational French defend this uncharacteristic lapse into ambiguity?”. As a matter of fact a language changes over the centuries and French is no exception. It is therefore difficult to know whether this confusion between “suaire” and “linceul” is due to the shroud of Turin (which is indeed usually – but improperly – named “suaire de Turin” and not “linceul de Turin”) or to other reasons. One would need to get the help of a linguist to have more information on this topic.

    I seize this opportunity to tell you that I appreciate your blog even if I do not necessarily share all your theories. For instance if I agree that the shroud is an artifact from the 14th century I do not think that the men of the shrould could be Jacques de Molay or his fellow Geoffroy de Charnay. First of all because to the best of my knowledge all know relations of de Molay et de Charny death say they were burned at the stake. I have never read that they could have been roasted on a grill like Saint Lawrence.

    Beside one can also question the existence of any link between Geoffroi de Charny – named according to the French city of Charny (,_C%C3%B4te-d%27Or ) and Geoffroy de Charnay (there are several cities names Charnay in France). I am not aware of any records that would make a familial link between these two men.

    I hope my comment was not too long.

  2. colinsberry says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply (even if puzzled by the second sentence beginning “I will not look anymore etc…”). Have I said something to offend – you personally or the French nation? Does that mean no return visits? If so, that’s a pity, since it’s good to get a French/Belgian perspective on this hypothesis, which is admittedly somewhat daring. (But one has to ask why so conservative a language as French has permitted unconstructive change, so maybe the embrace of Shroud authenticity was the overpowering force that met the otherwise immovable object. Something had to give – so the suaire/linceul ambiguity survives as a linguistic anomaly, dare one say time capsule?

    De Charney/De Charny? It was our genealogist Noel Currer-Briggs, sadly no longer with us, who claimed that they were uncle and nephew respectively. However, for my hypothesis, it would not matter if they were not related by blood. One is still left to wonder why a particular knight (with hints there of a knightly code of values, to say nothing of a liking for clubbishness, given his membership of that short-lived Star order in Paris that Ian Wilson mentions) should be the one to have come into possession of the Shroud, and why it took so long for its ‘authenticity’ to be recognized and acclaimed.

    Hopefully you’ll be back, and I can respond to some of your other points, once I’ve had time to deliberate.

    Au revoir.

  3. Robert says:

    It seems that my intentions were not understood. I just wanted to stress that the changes I have introduced to the article will make it different from your copy. This is probably due to the fact that I am not a native English speaker/writter. Conversely I did not feel any offense in what you have written.

    This being said I doubt that the embrace of Shroud authenticity was the overpowering force might have the reason why the French langage does not really make a difference in suaire/linceul. I have however not evidence to show it or to show the contrary.

    As to the reason why de Charny came into possession of the shroud I would like to stress that during the Middle Ages relics fabrication (or forgery) has been an industry.

    In his Treatise on Relics John Calvin lists at least half a dozen shrouds of Jesus, af course all given as the authentic one by their holders.

    Furthermore it seems that the shroud has neve been mentioned as being the ownership of Geoffroi de Charny but only as being owned by his widow Jeanne de Vergy. The tradition (what does this mean?) reports she said to have received it from her ancestors. I must however acknowlege that one cannot exclude that she could have said this because she did not want to openly make a link with Jacques de Morlay of Geoffroy de Charnay (assuming the later was indeed the uncle of his dead husband – which I am still not convinced).

    Beside I have also found this story ( ), but maybe you have already seen it.

    • colinsberry says:

      Thanks for getting back so soon. I’m pleased you are not offended. If there are problems finding the right English words, feel free to use French (my wife and I between us will know what you are saying).

      There’s much food for thought in your reply, but I’ve had a long day, so if you don’t mind I’ll put off giving an immediate answer and get back to you, hopefully by tomorrow evening, trying to respond to as many of your points as possible.

    • colinsberry says:

      There are two issues here: the curious anomaly re semantics (suaire v linceul) and everything else (ownership of shroud(s) etc).
      Could I suggest we focus on just the first of those, at least for starters.
      Why should something as large as the TS come to be known as a face or head cloth, when that term has a separate and specific meaning in a biblical context (the headcloth being in a separate place from the major burial garment) and when there were celebrated face cloth relics like the Veronica Veil attracting pilgrims before the Lirey exhibition in the mid 1350s. Do you not consider it extraordinary that this semantic confusion was allowed to take root and persist to this very day? One is entitled to seek causes, and attempt to link with or relate to any other anomalies that one encounters in which the term “suaire” makes an early appearance in the context of the Shroud. The Machy mould is precisely the kind of thing I have in mind, and it was its present owner, a Frenchman, who was quick to flag up the semantic anomaly, not me. I’m just saying: here’s a likely explanation as to why a shroud came to be wrongly labelled as a facecloth.

  4. HEIMBURGER says:
    As early as 1175 or 1273 (in an epic poem: “le sac de Rome”), the term “suaire” has been used as equivalent to shroud. It comes from the the latin word “sudarium”, which in the ecclesiastic Latin (as opposed to classical Latin) referred to “the linen that was used to bury Christ”.
    Even today, most if not all of the French people understand “suaire” as meaning a burial cloth and not as a “face cloth” (there is no word in modern french for “face cloth”) !!

    The idea that the term “suaire” makes ” an early appearance in the context of the Shroud” is false.

  5. colinsberry says:

    The etymology link you cite would at first sight appear to discount my thesis. But let’s not be over-hasty. Etymology (admittedly not my forte) can throw up some other interesting possibilities re morphing of one term into another if one is prepared to think out of the box.

    Example: the term “le suaire” (burial shroud, from Latin “sudarium”) is quite similar to “la sueur” (perspiration, sweat from the Latin “sudorem”).

    So we need to be absolutely certain that we are tracing “le suaire” back to the correct Latin root. I suspect that we are not, and that early references to face cloths in a biblical context, used to absorb and imprint sweat (Veil of Veronica etc) or even blood, were originally based on the Latin “sudorem”, not “sudarium” and that maybe early French “sueur” became confused with “suaire”, given that the Latin roots are so similar.

    I’ll continue to read around, but for now I’d say the plot thickens.

    PS. If one googles (sudarium etymology) one gets back a totally unexpected answer, with no mention of shroud, but a clear link with sweat AND napkin (face cloth) viz:

    Sudarium etymology

    Latin sudor (sweat) to sudarium (napkin) to sudarium (early 17th century)
    Early 17th century from latin, literally napkin, from sudor (sweat)

    This gets more interesting by the minute. Initially I thought it was just the French that had been manipulated to serve an agenda. Now it looks as though the Latin was manipulated too in order to legitimise the morphing of one French word into another. I’m not usually given to embracing, far less initiating conspiracy theories, but there’s an increasingly bad smell about the way the Machy mould and the badge it would have produced (assuming it did successfully produce Machy/Mark 2? Lirey badges) came to acquire that label “suaire” immediately under the ‘inset’ image of what would appear to be a face-cloth, e.g Veil of Veronica, NOT Shroud.

  6. HEIMBURGER says:

    There is no doubt that suaire comes from sueur which itself comes from sudarium.
    But what is the question?
    Your question, if I understand well was: why do we see the term suaire and not the term linceul on the Lirey badge?
    Because in old French suaire was the only word that could point to the linen sheet that was used
    For Jesus burial (in the context of the Lirey shroud)
    They did not use the term linceul because at the time, the term linceul referred to every kind of sheet

  7. colinsberry says:

    “But what is your question”?

    I’m not asking questions. ( this precise moment in time). I’m providing a considered explanation as to why there is that curious addition of the face, presumably that of Jesus, to the Machy mould, above the word SUAIRE, and suggestive of a graft of the Veil of Veronica, an image reputedly formed from sweat, and named accordingly.

    If the artist had wished to make clear he was referring to the shroud, not a grafted-on face cloth, added for dubious motives, e.g. to borrow on the reputation of the Veil, he could (and surely SHOULD) have used the term “linceul”, contrary to what you state. The evidence is there on that same etymology site. Enter the term “linceul” and you will find the following:

    2. 2emoitié xiiies. [ms. xives.] « drap servant à envelopper un cadavre pour l’ensevelir

    That says that the term “linceul” was in use to mean a burial shroud well before the Lirey exhibition (some 100 years), i.e. the second half of the 13th century.

    PS: I am assuming that the inset image added to the Machy Mould above “SUAIRE” is that of the Veil of Veronica. You may or may not agree, but see the comparison I have just added to the top of the posting, with more than a hint, methinks, of the give away ‘triple point’ beard between hair. So in that sense, it becomes irrelevant whether the artist should or could have used “linceul” instead of “suaire” if, as I believe, the intention was to label an image of the Veil – not that of the Shroud itself higher up (albeit with the intention of creating ambiguity, indeed confusion, in the viewers’ minds).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s