The Turin Shroud as “Decus et Tutamen” – an Ornament and a Protection?

Site banner: see how a simulated sweat imprint (my wet hand pressed down onto dark fabric) responds magnificently to 3D-rendering computer software (ImageJ) before and after tone-reversal (negative back to positive image). Remind you of anything? Like those supposedly “unique”  and “encoded” 3D-properties of the Shroud of Turin body image? For a more realistic aged/yellowed sweat imprint, see the many postings on this site since 2014 obtained with the aid of my Model 10 (imprinting off  parts, notably head and hands, of a real body (mine!) onto linen with white wheaten flour, followed by heat-development of the image to generate carbon-based and thus bleachable straw-coloured melanoidins via Maillard reactions between wheat proteins and reducing sugars). 

decus et tutamen two separate pound coins

The edge of this GB sterling £1 coin says “DECUS ET TUTAMEN”.  It means  “an ornament and a protection”. Though introduced in the 17th century as a security measure to counter then prevalent shaving of slivers from real silver coins, the  phrase is attributed to an epic poem by Virgil – “viro decus et tutamen in  armis”, describing an item of armour – a breast-plate interwoven with gold.

An interesting idea appeared this morning among the last tranche of comments to Dan Porter’s shroudstory site (see previous posting re Dan’s bowing out).  It was from Hugh Farey,  Editor of the BSTS newsletter:

Here is the comment in full. I’ve bolded the portion that sees the mid-14th century Lirey-housed Shroud as a a “liturgical illustration” , or as I would say, devotional  “ornament”:


  • Hugh Farey
    December 21, 2015 at 5:57 am

    I agree with your position, Thomas, in that an artist wanting to forge a miraculous image would have no cultural context or tradition to produce a double front-and-back portrait. At this late stage (the 14th century was towards the end of the relic making – or discovering – craze), he might have decided not to produce an out-and-out painting which was simply declared miraculous (like most of the other imaged cloths), and, as a sop to the increasing rationality of the age, produced one in monochrome that could be thought of as a ‘sweat’ or ‘blood’ imprint, but at first sight there seems no reason to produce a long thin cloth (most un-shroud-like) with a double image.

    However! If he was not producing a ‘relic’, but a liturgical illustration, for the particular purpose of being displayed across the Sanctuary of a church, held in front of or behind an altar on Easter Sunday, having wrapped a wooden body of Christ (quietly removed by clerics on Saturday evening) lying in a side chapel since being placed there on Good Friday, then he might well have produced a long thin cloth, with a representation of what a real body might have produced had it laid within it.

    This explanation would seem fanciful if we did not have countless accounts of just such a re-enactment occurring in monasteries, churches, and then outside during the development of mystery plays. The ‘Shrouds’ undoubtedly existed, and in vast numbers across Europe, although, in common with almost every other similar mystery play prop, not a single one remains. It is true that we have no description of any such Shroud, imaged or otherwise, and the few paintings of the scene do not show an image either, but such vestiges as remain can hardly be considered representative of the whole.

    I struggle myself with non-authenticist scenarios, as it happens, but this seems to me both sensible, possible, and

Thanks Hugh.  A wooden statue as a visual aid, making the double imprint a ‘thought experiment’?  NOT a forgery, not intended to deceive, at least while the statue is in situ, or even temporarily removed on key calendar dates, then promptly replaced. By Jove, I do believe you’ve got it! It’s certainly a highly credible scenario…

But might there have been an auxiliary reason for that image to have been created, one that is the “protection”, also translated from the Latin as “safeguard, as in the graphic above”?

Yes, I strongly suspect there is, though I don’t undersestimate the difficulty of defending it. It’s the idea of the Shroud having been produced not just as a “ornament” but a “safeguard” too.  This blogger also used Dan Porter’s site to flag up that dimension a few days ago in the following  comment. Unfortunately  the key passage  (again highlighted) comes near the end but in the interests of preserving context I’ve cut-and-pasted the entire comment.

December 18, 2015 at 1:12 am

Before addressing your points in detail re the crown of thorns, or rather its more or less gorey end-stage manifestations, David G, let me first expand on what I was saying earlier re the strategic decision-making that preceded the simulation of a sweat/blood imprint on a look-alike proxy for Joseph of Arimathea’s linen (proxy rather than forgery, note, not knowing a thing about the motives its creators).

It was decided, mainly for practical reasons, to keep the basal background body image as simple and straightforward as possible, the only detail being in the face (bas relief?) and the crossed hands. Elsewhere everything else was blurred and ill-defined. But there was a theoretical rationale that could be deployed in the event of a medieval sceptic or know-all claiming the body image was too simple. It would be pointed out that it was created from sweat, and sweat is a mobile and runny substance, even oily sweat, so could not be expected to produce a sharp imprint that incorporated fine details of body anatomy or wound damage.

Having made that decision to keep the body image simple, there was a price to be paid in the imprinting of the blood. There had to be a compensating overkill – one that would dispel any foolish notion that the figure represented was merely a stylized artwork. Quite the contrary, there had to be a gut clenching paramedical immediacy and impact that in modern day reporting would have resulted in a sensibility-preserving pixellated photograph on the newspaper front page. No, for our secretive goal-oriented medieval imprinters, there was to be no prissy pussyfooting around in the manner in which blood was applied to the image. It had to be done in a manner that looked like the man had REALLY been flogged to within an inch of his life (even if the Bible gives no indication of that) crowned with deep penetrating thorns, nailed, crucified and finally lanced. There were to be no half measures. Indeed, nothing short of 100% reality-imprinting would do, given the imperatives of what they had set out to achieve, the motives for which one can only guess at (though King John the Good’s Order of the Star offers fertile ground for speculation, especially if he(Geoffroy de Charny)  had had a premonition that he or his King would be captured and held to ransom at the Battle of Poitiers,1356.

As it happened, late edit, Geoffroi died defending his KIng, the latter then being captured and held to ruinously high ransom.  Maybe widowed Madame de Charny (Jeanne de Vergy) had not been fully apprised of her late husband’s and King’s game plan, using the ‘genuine’ Shroud as a down payment, and more concerned post-Poitiers disaster to provide for herself and her orphaned children?

This comment is already quite long and starting to deviate, so I’ll post this as a prologue and then return with the detailed haematology later this morning (my time zone). King John and his close buddy Geoffroy de Charny of Lirey will have to go onto the post-Apocalypse back burner for now, with maybe a speculative posting on my own site, sometime in the New Year.

(ed. I’ve altered my previous spelling of ‘Geoffroi’ to ‘Geoffroy’, the latter being more common in the sindonological literature that  I shall be cutting-and-pasting  in the coming days and weeks)

Yes, the Shroud of Turin, correction, the neophyte Shroud of Lirey as an “ornament and a protection” – that will be the thesis on this site for some time to come.

The problem is how best to present it, bearing in mind that this is a blogsite, not a scholarly “dot-the-i’s and cross the t’s”  pdf or peer-reviewed paper,  this investigator now seeing himself more as don’t-let-the-grass-grow-under-your-feet detective than plodding academic.

I’ve decided on a change in tack. I shall be using my own Comments section to develop the thesis in small bite-size instalments. It helps to prevent the site becoming unsightly and/or unwieldy, as happens if constantly adding postscripts, and who knows, may even improve  its present pitiful search engine ranking (it’s rumoured that Google does not like what it sees as constant editing of content, which may or may not be true).

Feel free to comment folks (first timers may have their maiden comment to this site held up briefly for my approval). Be quick if you want to appear as first comment – I’ll be adding my own, once I’ve got my head round some of the disjointed fragments of  recorded history immediately preceding the first display of the Lirey Shroud in the mid 1350s (approx).

Next posting in this “Decus et Tutamen” series?  Barring misfortune it will be this side of Christmas, taking a close look at an article which the formidable lately-deceased Dorothy Crispino penned in the very first issue (1981) of her Shroud Spectrum International.

Shroud Spectrum Int Issue 1, 1981 Crispino, de Charny change mind


It’s in pdf format, the link to which can be found in the SSI Index on the site.



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 contact imprint, Shroud of Turin, Turin Shroud. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Turin Shroud as “Decus et Tutamen” – an Ornament and a Protection?

  1. Colin Berry says:

    Here’s a comment from Thomas that’s just appeared (22 Dec am) on the winding-down shroudstory site. It dovetails neatly with the ‘ornament’ view of the TS as a 14th century innovation, and takes a pop at the dreary repetitive dogma coming from a certain quarter. It’s from the generally pro-authenticity Thomas, but there you go… You can’t have everything…

    Thomas commented on Thank You, Everyone.

    in response to Charles Freeman:

    I agree with Hugh. The Quem Queritis ceremony early on Christmas morning required a burial cloth to be held up to show Christ had risen. Some were known to have been painted though we don’t know exactly how. In a large church and in the dim early light the priority must have been impact and […]

    Charles I have to say you have a quite nice theory but I am afraid to say it falls down on many counts, in my opinion. So where do I start?
    ‘The Quem Queritis ceremony…required a burial cloth to be held up to show Christ had risen’
    – the Shroud image is not one of a glorified risen Christ
    – people such as yourself argue that the silence of history in describing an imaged shroud is a problem for the authenticist’s case. But then you argue for an imaged (front and back for good measure) shroud to be held up in a ceremony as opposed to say a non imaged but bloodied shroud. I think this is logically inconsistent. Why show an imaged burial shroud ‘to show Christ had risen’ if there was no tradition of a full body imaged shroud?

    – the Shroud itself is of such length as to be quite a nuisance to ‘hold up’
    – why ‘manufacture’ a front and back image? A frontal image would have been enough and a lot easier to manage. Your theory suggests a purely ceremonial origin for the shroud but the ultra realistic front and back image flies in the face of this.
    – the nude image goes against the art history grain….yes yes there were one or two rare exceptions but they were discrete images not things for widespread public display. And sorry I don’t buy your argument at all that there was originally a loin cloth on the image that wore off.
    – I just don’t buy your argument that the image is the product of a faded painted image. For many reasons. A painted shroud makes sense for an Quem Queritis object, a novel and as of yet inadequately explained image does not (when a painted image would be all that was required for an abstract and symbolic ceremonial use)

  2. Colin Berry says:

    Why, one might ask, would those college chaplains at Lirey (all 5 or 6 of them!) choose to place their wooden statue on a ‘mock-up’ of a shroud (whether Joseph of Arimathea’s transport shroud, or final burial shroud, assuming the two were different)? It’s not as if there’s an imperative to do so, there being no biblical record of any image imprints on linen.

    But there is a practical rationale in the context of what was on display, whether one calls it a “liturgical illustration” or “ornament/protection” or – as an afterthought – a visual aid. A wooden statue will always look like wood, unless very expertly painted to look like real human flesh (which might be too much given the naked state of the subject and medieval sensibilities). If it looks like wood, then there’s no point in carefully applying blood in all the right locations, in an attempt to show it’s not just any naked male, but a particular one who had been scourged, crucified etc etc.

    That’s where the shroud comes in. One can paint one’s blood onto the basal body image – the latter modelled as ‘sweat’ – making the shroud as realistic-looking as one wishes. Being a completely independent artefact from the wood means there isn’t then the same illusion-destroying clash as would be the case if blood had been painted on wood. The apposition of 3D statue with 2D imprint in the same field of view makes for a visual feast, with main course (statue) and afters (image) albeit a somewhat stomach-churning one for finer sensibilities. Clever, those chaplains. But then they must have had a lot of time on their hands.

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