My fascination with the Shroud of Turin goes back to the early 1980s when I first read Ian Wilson’s book, The Turin Shroud. At the time this book seemed to answer the question I had often pondered, “Why does everyone think they know what Jesus looked like?” “Everyone” does not of course think they know, but it seemed to me as if there must be some compelling reason why so much art, from at least the first millennium, depicted the face of Jesus in much the same way – the face we see today on those famous photographic negatives first taken of the Shroud in 1898 by Secondo Pia.
Since its first publication in 1978, Wilson has updated his book – most recently in 2010 – which is still, in my opinion, the best and most readable account of the Shroud’s history, such as we know of it.
But what about those years when the “Shroud,” (or at least what Wilson and many others believe must have been the Shroud) disappeared from history? Who were the people who protected it, where did they take it, and how did it pass from one hand to another, and why? These are questions about which we can only speculate. And many have done so. Some of these speculations are based upon historical data; others are pure fantasy. Although my own early training was as an historian, I will leave the former explorations to those far more qualified than I. Instead I have been inspired to set out on an odyssey of my own in which I follow the fate of the Shroud through the lives of those it touched throughout the ages when it was “lost.” In doing so I have been inspired by the great contemporary historical novelist, Bernard Cornwell, who commented that a holy relic exaggerates both the faults and virtues of those who seek it. For this as for so much else I am in his debt.