These week we’re continuing with our look at aspects of the life of Geoffroi de Charny. Like most of his contemporaries, de Charny was very pious. In the 1340s he started planning the building of a church on his estate at Lirey. He wanted to have five clerics in the chapel who would pray and say masses for himself, his family, the king and the royal family. It was in relation to this church that the Shroud of Turin was first mentioned and De Charny was probably its first owner, if not the person the commissioned its creation. He’s certainly the first verifiable owner.
The first mention of it being in his possession was in a papal letter written not long after his death, when de Charny’s son had inherited the shroud. De Charny junior gave exhibitions of it to the public to no little scandal, since he gained financially from it. It’s possible that de Charny himself exhibited it around 1355 to 1356. The exhibitions were subject to an episcopal investigation at the time, led by Henri de Poitiers, the bishop of Troyes. It seems that the church was worried that the shroud was being passed off as a relic of Christ. Following the episcopal investigation, the family were told that they had to announce that the shroud was not a relic whenever they exhibited it. This doesn’t mean that it was created with the intention of deceiving people, but that people can convince themselves that something is a relic, even when it clearly isn’t.
A pilgrim badge has been found showing the shroud with the arms of de Charny and his second wife. They might, of course, be the arms of de Charny’s son, but the badge certainly shows that there were sufficient pilgrims wanting to see the shroud around the middle of the fourteenth century that it was worthwhile to have lead badges manufactured to sell to them as souvenirs.
This sounds trite, but in the days before photography, a badge was proof that someone had arrived at and returned from a recognised site of pilgrimage. This might be particularly useful if the pilgrimage was being carried out as an act of penance. It was also a way of recognising another pilgrim.
It’s possible that de Charny purchased the shroud while he was on crusade in 1345 to 1346, although unlikely due to the way in which the linen thread was spun. It’s more likely that it was made and painted at his or his wife’s request by an artist local to Lirey for an Easter service, in which a linen sheet representing Christ’s shroud was carried to the altar and laid on it ready for mass. This was a recorded part of the Easter liturgy in some places. Most scientific tests have dated the shroud to between 1260 and 1390. The width of the cloth is certainly standard for the fourteenth century loom. It would have been created as an icon, an aid to devotion, rather than a false relic, something deserving reverence of itself. It was only later that it was considered to be a relic.
The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny by Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy
The Origins of the Shroud of Turing by Charles Freeman, History Today November 2014
April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.