Saturday, July 12, 2008

Oviedo: Wish I had Known

Found a book in our center yesterday about the "Sudarium of Oviedo," a bloodstained linen cloth that has been venerated in an historically ascertainable way for at least 1400 years as the "cloth that covered the head" of Jesus after his death. Interestingly, although this cloth was locked in an wooden trunk in Spain and maintained in one place since 1041, the bloodstains match those found on the Shroud of Turin (which never passed through Spain). Sudarium and Shroud feature the same microscopic pollens. And blood type AB (common in the Middle East; rare in Europe). The sudarium was moved from Jerusalem to Alexandria when Muslim armies were conquering the Holy Land; two years later, they were at Egypt's door, and the relic, in its oaken trunk, was spirited off to Spain. As the Muslims advanced through Spain, the trunk was sent off to more and more remote places, finally being secured in Asturias (the one region of Spain that was never under Muslim rule). Finally it was moved in 1041 (or 1014? memory fails me) to what became the capital of Asturias, Oviedo, and a Cathedral was built up around the royal chapel where the trunk of relics was kept.
I visited that Cathedral in 2006. With Karen (see picture taken with her magic camera).
I didn't know what I was missing as we were hurriedly shown around the church (whose guardians wanted to lock up for siesta). We should have been in adoration, but it seems that the caretakers of the relic were only following historical precendent in not alerting us to its presence or significance. (This makes sense, given the need to protect it from destruction. Even in the 20th century, it wasn't safe; during the Spanish Civil War, the relic chapel was fire-bombed. The oaken trunk, though, was not destroyed.)
Turns out that medieval pilgrims to Compostela would make a detour through mountains (Asturias is Europe's prime mountain-climbing region) to visit the Cathedral of Oviedo. A couplet that was common at the time (and that appears in various forms in other languages than Spanish) said that one who went to Compostela and the tomb of St. James without visiting the Cathedral of Oviedo was focusing on the "servant" and not on the "Lord."

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