A Souvenir from Lirey

Copyright Mario Latendresse (June 2012)
The Cluny Museum in Paris, front. The museum has a large collection of medieval art, including the impressive tapestries of the “Lady and Unicorn”. The Lirey Medallion representing the Shroud in Lirey is part of their collection.

The Cluny Museum

In April 2007, I visited the Cluny Museum in Paris, dedicated to the Medieval Age. And in June 2012, I visited it a second time to renew the photographs I had taken in 2007, in particular of the medallion of Lirey, the oldest known artistic rendition of the Shroud of Turin in Europe. Unfortunately, the medallion of Lirey was not on display in June 2012, but I was given access to the documentations available about the medallion from the museum archives. Most importantly, I was given permission to reproduce a high definition photograph of the medallion on this web site. From that photograph, as discussed below, we can see very instructive details that, not only show the high accuracy of the artist who produced the mold of the medallion, but also the high precision and realism of the Shroud image. This shows how important high definition photographs of the Shroud itself could deliver so much more information than we have today about the Shroud.
Photo Copyright Mario Latendresse (June 2012)
The Cluny Museum, inside court.

The Medallion of Lirey

The medallion (see Figure 1, below) was found in the Seine river, under the “Pont-au-Change” bridge, in 1855. This medallion was most probably from a pilgrim who went to Lirey, France, to see the Shroud, and lost it, or intentionally tossed it, in the Seine river thereafter. This is the only known exemplar to have been found. It is interesting to note that several similar medallions were also found around the same time in the Seine, one representing the Sainte Tunique. But this is a completely different subject.

On the medallion of Lirey, the reproduction of the Shroud is unmistakable as we can clearly see the frontal and dorsal of a body very similar to the Turin Shroud along the coats of arms of the families (i.e. de Charny, de Vergy) who owned the Shroud in France around 1350-1450. It is difficult to date the medaillon precisely, but based on coats of arms, it was likely produced between 1350 and 1418, the period that the Shroud was in Lirey. The medallion's dimensions are 4.5 cm high and 6.2 cm wide. Interestingly, it is one of the largest medallions in the Cluny's museum collection. Perhaps this large dimension attests the importance that was given to the relic by its owners.

Important note: in the following, it is important to correctly identify the left and right arms on the Shroud of Turin. We interpret the image on the Shroud as if the body imprinted itself on the cloth (some parts did this impression at a small distance, a few centimeters, from the cloth). When looking at the image on the Shroud, the left arm is on the left of the image (correspondingly, the right arm is on the right of the image). The error would be to interpret the image as in a photograph (i.e., a positive photograph): the sides would be inverted, which is not correct. In that sense, the Shroud image is like a negative photograph. It is more precisely an imprint.

Photo Copyright RNM
Figure 1. The Medallion of Lirey (front). We can easily identify the Shroud of Turin on the medallion. The medallion's dimensions are 4.5cm high and 6.2cm wide.

The Complete Arms Were Visible

Some of the details on the Medallion are very instructive. When the Medallion was created, the Shroud was not heavily damaged by the fire of 1532, so that the arms, front and back, were completely visible on the Shroud, which is no longer the case nowadays (we can see part of the arms nowadays).

The most fascinating details are in the 3D representation of the back of the arms (see Figure 2). We can easily see that the back of the left arm was closer to the Shroud than the back of the right arm as the former is represented with a more prominent 3D form. This is coherent with what we see, nowadays, on the front of the Shroud of Turin: the right arm appears longer than the left arm (see Figure 2). That's understable if we take into account that the right arm was more retracted to the back. This detail shows that the artist who created the mold for the medallion took great care in reproducing as closely as possible the image on the Shroud and it leaves no doubt that the medallion is based on the Shroud of Turin.

Photo Copyright RNM
Figure 2. A close up view of the Medallion of Lirey. Notice the back left arm (near the top, on the right side) appearing closer to the viewer than the right arm, barely visible, if at all, near the bottom of the photograph. That is, the back left arm protrudes more than the back right arm. This must have been based on the Shroud image showing the left back arm darker than the right back arm and interpreted correctly as closer to the cloth when the image formed. Compare this view with Figure 3.
Photo Durante 2002, taken from the Shroud Scope
Figure 3. A close up view of the Shroud of Turin. Parts of the arms are no longer visible due to the burn holes caused by the fire of 1532 in Chambéry. The back arms, on the right of this photograph, are no longer visible although they were visible when the Medallion of Lirey was made.

Details of the Frontal and Dorsal Images of the Man of the Shroud

The reproduction of the frontal image of the man of the Shroud. One forearm was damaged but both shoulders are clearly visible which is no longer the case on the Shroud today. In 1532, the Chambery fire damaged large parts of the frontal image near the shoulders. The reproduction of the dorsal image of the man of the Shroud. On each side of the feet, the artist of the medallion reproduced the major blood stains as 3D forms resembling strings similar to the blood stain representations across the hips.

The Coat of Arms of Jeanne de Vergy and Geoffroy I de Charny

Two essential elements represented on the medallion were used to date it: the two coats of arms (or emblems, ecussons, blason) of the families owning the Shroud in 1353. Jeanne de Vergy was the spouse of Geoffroy I de Charny. Geoffroy I de Charny died on 19 September 1356. His grandfather on his mother side was Jean de Joinville, a close friend of King Louis IX and also the author of his biography.

Coat of arms of the family de Charny. It appears on the left on the medallion of Lirey.Coat of arms of the family de Vergy. It appears on the right on the medallion of Lirey.

Representation of the Tomb

In the center surrounded by a circle: Empty Tomb, Crown of Thorns, and Cross coming out of the tomb. Wip on each side of the circle.

Back of Medallion

The following photograph shows the back of the medallion. One interesting aspect is the presence of trellis. It was probably intentional to look similar to the weaving technique used to produce the linen cloth of the Shroud.

The back of the medallion.

Discovery of a Mold to produce Medallions near Lirey

Alain Hourseau recently (2012) published a monograph (in French) on the collégiale de Lirey and on the life of Geoffroy de Charny. The monograph describes in great details his life, his numerous trips in France and abroad, his “faits d'armes” (successes) and failures at war.

The creation of this monograph was prompted by an important fortuitous discovery, in 2009, by a jogger in Machy near Lirey: a mold to produce pilgrim's medallions (dated to the 14th century) representing the Shroud of Lirey (See Figures 10a and 10b). The mold shows the coats of arms of Geoffroy de Charny and Jeanne de Vergy. We can therefore date it back to the 14th century. It is damaged but we can clearly see parts of the Shroud. Very interestingly, the face of the man of the Shroud is also reproduced in the bottom part. This mold is clearly different to the mold that produced the medallion kept at the Cluny Museum. This mold and the Medallion at the Cluny Museum are the only two types of Lirey medallions found so far.

The inscriptions found on the mold were analyzed by Mark Guscin and Dr. Sarah Blick. The three Greek letters iota (ι), eta (η), and terminal sigma (V) would abreviate the sentence “the Shroud of Christ”. Two more letters, partially erased on the mold, appear below the right and left columns near the coats of arms. Sarah Blick proposes that near the coat of arms of Jeanne de Vergy, it is an E and near the coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny, it is a C, which could mean “Ecce Crucio” (here is the Crucified).

Figure 10a. A mold to produce medallions found at Machy near Lirey. In the upper part, the partial depiction of two chanoines, in the middle part, the Shroud (damaged), and at the bottom, the face of the man of the Shroud with the coat of arms of Jeanne de Vergy on the right and the coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny on the left. Note that once a medallion was molded, the images and inscriptions were inverted, for example, the coat of arms of Jeanne de Vergy would be on the left and the coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny would be on the right. See Figure 10b. Please, click the photograph to display a high definition version.
Copyright Alain Hourseau (2012).
Figure 10b. A drawing of what would have been the complete view of a medallion from the mold in Figure 10a. The coat of arms of Jeanne de Vergy is on the left and the coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny is on the right. The coats of arms are reversed on the Lirey Medallion kept at the Cluny Museum. We can clearly read the word “Suaire” (Sindon) below the face of the man of the Shroud. It is followed by the three greek letters iota, eta, and sigma which would be the abbreviation for “the Shroud of Christ”. Note that in French, it is more precise to describe the Shroud of Turin, and the shroud that was kept at Lirey, as a “linceul” since a “suaire” is typically only a face cloth.
Copyright Alain Hourseau (2012).

The medallion in 2007

Photo Copyright Mario Latendresse
Enseigne de pèlerinage/Pilgrims' badge Saint Suaire du Christ/Holy Shroud of Christ (today in Turin) Made of Lead and Tin. (click to enlarge)

Photo Copyright Mario Latendresse
The entrance of the Cluny Museum in Paris, France, where the Lirey medallion is kept.

I reproduce on this web page the text of the catalogue of the museum describing this medallion. It is written in French. Note that the author of this text takes it for granted that the Shroud of Lirey, i.e., today's Shroud of Turin, is genuine.

Catalogue Musée National du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny

Saint Suaire de Lirey

Aujourd'hui déposé à Turin, le saint Suaire est le linceul dans lequel le Christ fut enseveli et sur lequel apparaît l'image de son corps meurtri. Du Ier siècle de notre ère, où le Suaire est attesté par les Évangiles, jusqu'au Xe siècle, la relique apparaît selon des sources diverses à Jérusalem. C'est dans doute en 944, sous le règne de l'empereur byzantin Constantin Porphyrogénète, qu'elle arrive à Constantinople où elle reste jusqu'aux premières années du XIIIe siècle. De cette époque jusqu'en 1353 — date à laquelle Geoffroy Ier de Charny ordonne la construction d'une église à Lirey (Aube) pour conserver la précieuse relique — la situation du Suaire reste inconnue. Cette date de 1353 est pour certains la première et véritable mention du saint Suaire. Pendant un siècle, la relique fut vénérée à Lirey. En effet en 1453, Marquerite de Charny la cède à Anne de Lusignan, femme de Louis Ier duc de Savoie, qui dépose alors la relique tout d'abord à l'église Saint-François de Chambéry puis dans la Sainte-Chapelle du Palais ducal. Ce n'est qu'en 1578 que le saint Suaire est transféré à Turin où il figure toujours.

Une délicate enseigne de pèlerinage, provenant des fouilles de la Seine, aujourd'hui conservée au musée national du Moyen Age, apparaît comme l'un des rares témoins des dévotions médiévales vers le saint Linceul du Christ.

Enseigne de pèlerinage : saint Suaire

Lirey, seconde moitié du XIVe-première moitié du XVe siècle (avant 1453)
H. 45 mm; L. 62 mm


Trouvée à Paris dans la Seine au Pont-au-Change en 1855; anc. coll.
Forgeais. Acq. 1861-1862.

Enseigne de forme oblongue malheureusement incomplète au niveau des parties supérieure et inférieure. Malgré l'absence de certains détails, il est possible de reconnaître la représentation d'un autel ou plus précisément d'une châsse flanquée de deux montants architecturés.

Les petits éléments au-dessus du reliquaire représentent, quant à eux, deux personnages dont les têtes ont disparu. Revêtus chacun d'une chape — sur laquelle les bandes de leur étole respective semblent se croiser —, les deux ecclésiastiques soutiennent une — surface oblongue comme s'ils la tiraient délicatement du reliquaire pour la présenter. Le fond de ce rectangle est orné de bandes hachurées alternées reproduisant une oeuvre tissée. Sur cette dernière repose, têtes affrontées et de part et d'autre d'une axe de symétrie, la figure de deux hommes figurés nus, pieds et mains liés. L'un est couché sur le dos, l'autre sur le ventre ; ceci montre qu'il s'agit en fait du corps du même homme représenté de face et de dos. Ces derniers détails révèlent l'identité du Christ sur son linceul déployé.

La précision remarquable de cette scène et la reproduction fidèle des deux faces du corps du Christ et du linceul attestent le talent de l'artisan qui dessina la matrice sur le moule original. Dans la partie inférieure de l'enseigne, précisément sur la face antérieure de la châsse, figurent, de part et d'autre de deux écus armoriés, les instruments de la Passion du Christ : dans un cercle apparaît le tombeau vide, sans couvercle, duquel s'élève la Croix devant la couronne d'épines. D'autres Arma Christi (deux fouets, la colonne de la Flagellation, les clous et la lance) y sont aussi représentés.

Quant aux deux écus armoriés apparaissant sur cette partie de l'enseigne, Arthur Forgeais reconnaissait sur la figure héraldique de droite les armes de Vergy qui étaient de gueules à trois quintefeuilles d'or. Il concluait que l'enseigne de pèlerinage avait été réalisée sous le pontificat de Guillaume de Vergy, archevêque de Besançon (1371-1391) et qu'elle était précisément à l'image du Suaire de Besançon. Il est vrai que la cathédrale de cette ville conservait autrefois un saint Suaire, mais Jules Gauthier dans ses Notes précisa que la relique représentée sur l'enseigne était bien celle conservée à la collégiale de Lirey (Aube). En effet, le linceul de Besançon ne reproduisait qu'une seule face du corps martyrisé alors que celui de Lirey montrait — comme sur l'enseigne — les empreintes pectorale et dorsale.

En 1922, Max Prinet identifia le deuxième écu — à trois écussons d'argent — qui n'avait pas retenu l'attention de Forgeais : il s'agit des armes de la maison de Charny, puisque le saint Suaire avait été donné à la collégiale de Lirey par Geoffroy Ier de Charny. Quant au premier écu, à juste titre attribué par Forgeais à la maison de Vergy, Max Prinet reconnut plus précisément les armes de Jeanne de Vergy, femme de Geoffroy Ier de Charny.

La double représentation du Christ et les identifications héraldiques permettent d'attribuer cette enseigne de pèlerinage à la collégiale de Lirey et non à la cathédrale de Besançon, comme l'avait suggéré Forgeais.

Fixée au vêtement d'un pèlerin — sans doute par des annelets, aujourd'hui disparus —, l'enseigne montre l'ostension du saint Suaire, moment privilégié du pèlerinage pour les fidèles. La présentation de cette considérable relique était d'autant plus appréciée par les foules pèlerines qu'elle ne se déroulait qu'une ou deux fois durant l'année. Le revers de l'enseigne est orné, plus modestement, de bandes parallèles alternativement hachurées.

Vraisemblablement coulé en de nombreux exemplaires, ce modèle d'enseigne du saint Suaire n'est connu que par l'exemplaire du musée de Cluny. Cependant, une enseigne de pèlerinage plus tardive, en bronze, présente une iconographie assez similaire à celle-ci. Sous une triple arcade soutenue par deux colonnes, trois évêques, reconnaissables à leur mitre, soutiennent des deux mains le saint Suaire entièrement déployé sur lequel apparaît à nouveau la double image du Christ. Au-dessous, l'inscription S. Suaire lève le moindre doute quant à l'identification de la scène. Par son style, l'enseigne appartient à la seconde moitié du XVe siècle. Cette datation permet toutefois de préciser que l'enseigne ne peut provenir de la collégiale de Lirey, puisque le saint Suaire quitta la Champagne en 1453.

L'enseigne de bronze apparaît donc comme un excellent exemple de transmission de modèle iconographique d'un sanctuaire à un autre. L'ostension du Suaire est l'image du moment le plus attendu du pèlerinage ; en récupérant cette iconographine d'une enseigne de Lirey, l'exemplaire de Chambéry révèle que le contact avec les reliques était toujours, à la fin du Moyen Age, la véritable quête des pèlerins.

Photo Copyright Mario Latendresse (June 2012)
The Cluny Museum at sunset.