Monday, July 4, 2016

Resurrection and the Shroud: A Wildly Mistaken Geography

 Damien F. Mackey

Mistranslation of a key Latin word can be the source of some confusion, concerning the Shroud of Turin and associated legends.

According to the following informative blog, the Venerable Bede re-cast the Latin word britio, referring to a citadel, as a reference to ancient Britain, thereby opening the door to wild theories connecting ancient Britain with the Shroud of Turin, and even the Grail legend of King Arthur (

The Venerable Bede (c. 672-735), an English monk, learned from a friend Nothelm in Rome that in the 6th century Liber Pontificalis (“Book of the Popes“), Pope Eleutherius († c. 174-189) “… received a letter from Lucio Britannio rege asking for assistance in converting his lands to the Faith.” Bede wrongly included this in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in c. 731, as “Lucius King of Britain” and cited it as evidence that Britain had become Christian in the second century. But German Church historian Adolph Harnack (1851–1930) knew there were no British kings in second century Britain when it was a province of Rome. And that there was only one King Lucius who converted to Christianity in the second century: Lucius Abgar VIII of Edessa, who had visited Rome in the time of Pope Eleutherus. Harnack also revealed that Edessa was sometimes referred to by the name of its citadel: in Syriac Birtha and in Latin Britium. The late second century Church Father, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c.215) had written that the tomb of St. Jude-Thaddaeus (1st-2nd century) was known to be in Britio Edessenorum, the citadel of Abgar.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100–1155), an English historian, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (“History of the Kings of Britain”), did not mention Bede’s King Lucius, but did mention a first-century British king named Arviragus, whom he found in the Roman satirist, Juvenal (fl. 98-128), who wrote in jest: “Veiento … will capture some king – perhaps Arviragus will tumble out of his British wagon”. Since, like Lucius, there never was a King Arviragus in Britain, Juvenal presumably was referring to Edessa’s King Abgar VII (109-116), pronounced “Avgarus”, who had led a failed revolt against Rome in 116. But since Geoffrey placed Arviragus between AD 44-54, he presumably had in mind Edessa’s King Abgar V (r. BC 4-AD 7, 13–50) of the same period.

In the version of the Abgar story current in Geoffrey’s time, the Acts of Thaddaeus, E
dessa’s King Abgar V had suffered a crippling ailment, and sent his agents to the Roman governor at Eleutheropolis, a town near Hebron in Israel. Abgar V was then healed by a portrait of Jesus’ face painted in “choice pigments” on a “towel” which was “acheiropoietos” (“not made by hands“), and was further called a “sindon tetradiplon,” (“linen sheet fourdoubled“). This can only be the Shroud as the Mandylion/Image of Edessa (see my “Tetradiplon and the Shroud of Turin“). However, this can only be a reference to Edessa’s King Lucius Septimius Severus Abgar VIII, who (as we saw) sent a letter to Pope Eleutherus asking for missionaries to come and preach the Faith in Edessa and had also paid a visit to Rome in Pope Eleutherus’s time (174-189). This is because it was only in Abgar VIII’s time that Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (145–211) renamed the town of Beth Gubrin in Israel to Eleutheropolis in c. 200, and it was Abgar VIII who took that Emperor’s names as his own. Geoffroy also included in his “History of the Kings of Britain” stories about another non-existent British king, “King Arthur,” who according to folklore led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century.

Chrétien de Troyes (1130-91), a French poet, in his c. 1191 romance, Perceval, the Story of the Grail, introduced the Grail into Western literature as a large platter or dish holding only a single communion wafer, representing the body of Jesus. Although French, Chrétien set his story of the Grail in Britain, presumably ultimately based on Bede’s misunderstanding of “Lucio Britannio rege” to mean “Lucius King of Britain,” when it actually meant “Lucius [Abgar VIII], King of Britio [Edessa]” (see above). The grail dish was carried in procession to a crippled king, reminiscent of the crippled King Abgar V in the Acts of Thaddaeus. The theme of the poem was the quest for the Holy Grail by Perceval, a knight of King Arthur.
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