Without a doubt, the inception of the scientific study of relics is the first photograph of the Shroud of Turin, taken in 1898. When the photographer wanted to check the success of the process at the point of fixing the negative, his hands were shaking so much he almost dropped the photographic plate. The story goes that images had appeared of the front and back of a man – a man who was without a doubt real. The photographer was seeing the real photograph of the man shrouded by the Holy Shroud – according to tradition, the real photograph of Jesus of Nazareth. The conclusion was as obvious as it was shocking: the shroud behaved as though it were a photographic negative since its negative turned into a real positive. But how was it possible that a cloth supposedly from the First Century AD could act as a negative if photography had only been invented at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century? This photograph kicked the atheists and agnostics into action because the conclusions drawn from the photographic evidence were simply inacceptable to them. That day Sindology was born (the term for the study of the Shroud of Turin, with “sindon” being a term for cloths but particularly used for shrouds) and Sindology paved the the way for the study of other relics which are traditionally worshipped.
In recent years, many relics have been studied by science apart from the Shroud of Turin – among these the Shroud of Oviedo, the Holy Chalice of Valencia and Rome’s Titulus Crucis. To the present day, science continues to ratify their more than possible authenticity….. One of these relics, with a direct relationship to Jesus of Nazareth, is that which is traditionally known as the “Tablecloth of the Last Supper” and which appeared around 1370 – certainly before 1400 – preserved in some coffers found during construction work below the floor of the Cathedral of Coria. In 1961, Miguel Muñoz de San Pedro, Count of Canilleros y de San Miguel, wrote about the matter in his book Coria and the Tablecloth of the Last Supper:
Then came the already-mentioned Papal Bull issued by Pope Benedict XIII in 1404, which specifies that it was found in some coffers and that it was already being worshipped by many believers on the 3rd of May, all of which indicates that time had elapsed since the discovery. Our earliest possible date should be 1370 because in that year, on the 3rd of April, the Statutes of the Cathedral of Coria were enacted; this details the religious festivals celebrated by the parish without mentioning that of the relics. Thus there can be no doubt that the coffers were found after 1370, in the last third of the Fourteenth Century. In those coffers, amongst the material already referred to, were the Tablecloth and the Lignum Crucis. For the latter, the day of worship was set on the 3rd of May, festival of the Invención de la Santa Cruz (or Invention of the Holy Cross).
Popular zeal and devotion grew up around the relics in the following years and centuries and, around 1540, the so-called “Balcony of the Relics” was erected on the right side of the north door to the Cathedral of Coria, from which the relics were displayed for public worship. The focus was the Tablecloth, which from there could be unfolded so that the people might touch it from below since it measures 4.32m in length and 92 cm in width. Alongside the relic a popular market was built up thanks to the great influx of pilgrims from neighbouring regions and Portugal who attended the temple to pray and petition for divine favours.
The problem was that the people were not happy with only seeing the Tablecloth from below the balcony: they started wanting to touch it, and the crowds which formed ended up creating public order issues. In the Eighteenth Century the decision was taken to exhibit the relics from the altar instead of showing them from the balcony. But this was even worse, for people ended up invading the presbytery and passing the Tablecloth from hand to hand, resulting in it being ripped on several occasions. In 1791, to preserve the linen from the growing barbarity, the Cathedral Chapter was forced to suspend all public worship.
After several decades of the relic not being exhibited, it was forgotten. Even so, every Bishop of the dioceses of Coria (its historical term) and of Coria-Cáceres (since 1959) has maintained a special veneration for the Tablecloth by using it on the altar on Maundy Thursday or exhibiting it on dates specified for public worship.
The Count of Canilleros, Miguel Muñoz de San Pedro, in his book Coria and the Tablecloth of the Last Supper, describes the first studies in 1960 supervised by University Professors Francisco Hernández Pacheco and Alfredo Carrato Ibáñez:
Previous arrangements by His Excellence the Bishop of Coria-Cáceres, Doctor Don Manuel Llopis Ivorra, with the involvement of the author of the present work, in October 1960 and in the laboratories of Madrid’s Museum of Natural Sciences, supervised by the University Professors Francisco Hernández Pacheco and Alfredo Carrato Ibáñez, have analysed and examined through microscopes the fibres out of which the Tablecloth is made…
This analysis – which was documented with exhaustive technological and scientific reports – has specifically pointed out that in the fabric of the Tablecloth there is no other material than linen, white in one part and dyed in another. Therefore the fabric is made of thread, meaning that the date of its creation could perfectly well reach back to the period we are interested in checking since humans have been using this vegetable fibre to make fabrics since centuries before the birth of the Lord.
And he continues to narrate:
After the scientific analysis, the first Spanish fabric specialist – the illustrious archaeologist and academic Don Manuel Gómez Moreno – undertook a study of the Tablecloth in the presence of the aforementioned professor Hernández Pacheco and about which this text writes. After the lengthy and meticulous examinations, he concluded that, without a shadow of a doubt, the material is Oriental, precisely of Arabian origins; this conclusion was guaranteed by the structure and technique of the fabric, which were not used in the Occident.
In the year 2001, John JACKSON became interested in the Tablecloth. He was the American scientist directing the STURP Group in 1978, which in that year made the most tests on the Holy Shroud of Turin. At that time he became aware that a town in Spain, called Coria, preserved the relic traditionally worshipped as “The Tablecloth of the Last Supper”.
In this regard it must be clarified that John JACKSON has always considered that the Holy Shroud must have been one of the two ritual tablecloths which Jesus would have used at the Last Supper, his team recognising accordance with the Jewish tradition of Easter Supper. One, the more decorative, would be below (the Tablecloth of Coria), and protected the food – like the manna – from the sands of the desert; the other, on top and more simple (The Shroud of Turin), protected food from dust.
In this way, having become interested in news of the Tablecloth of Coria, John JACKSON requested that the Spanish Centre for Sindology (C.E.S), to which he belongs, should go to Coria to see the Tablecloth in case it deserved their consideration.
On 14th July 2001, Don Guillermo Heras Moreno (Director of the Investigation team of C.E.S: E.D.I.C.E.S) and Don Felipe Montero Ortego (Assistant Coordinator of E.D.I.C.E.S) headed to Coria, accompanied by their wives, their appointment already arranged with the Dean of the Cathedral Chapter, Don José Antonio Fuentes Caballero. They were received in the Cathedral by Don Lucas Salazar Ávila, Director of the Cathedral Museum, in whose presence they made direct observations of the Tablecloth: its warp and weft threads were analysed, and the researchers were authorised to take samples of white and blue threads.
When the members of E.D.I.C.E.S told him the approximate dimensions, John Jackson felt that his intuition might be confirmed: that the Shroud of Turin was, in reality, the second ritual tablecloth used in the Last Supper, being used on special festivals, like Easter. As an extension of this visit by the C.E.S members, Don Felipe Montero Ortego, Assistant Coordinator of the Investigation Team of C.E.S (E.D.I.C.E.S) compiled a “Report on E.D.I.C.E.’s actions with and recommendations for the “TABLECLOTH OF THE LAST SUPPER” in the Cathedral of Coria (Cáceres)”, dated 31st May 2006 in Getafe. Amongst the conclusions are:
– In 1960, the Museum of Natural Sciences did not have a laboratory set up
– In the archives of the work carried out by Don Francisco Hernández-Pacheco de la Cuesta, no reference to the Tablecloth has been found.
– The inquiries made into Don Alfredo Carrato Ibáñez’s accomplishment of the analysis have likewise been negative.
– We have not received a response about the possible research carried out by Don Manuel Gómez Moreno.
– By the Sixth Century tablecloths were already used and there are references to cloths being used in the First Century AD for this purpose.
– The white and blue threads are both twisted in a Z shape.
– The threads are made of linen fibres. No other type of fibre has been detected.
– The tint used on the blue threads is natural indigo.
– It does not seem that mordent dyeing with iron salts or aluminium was used when dyeing the threads.
– The dyeing was irregular; there are fibres on the supposedly dyed threads which are not themselves dyed.
– Fungal growth has not developed with the swabs taken from the stains on the fabric.
– The fabric has parts which are very worn; these could be due to biological effects (F. Montero) or physical thinning and weakening due to being washed (S. Manilla).
In the Diocesan Cultural Heritage Delegation meeting dated 22nd December 2005, his Excellency the Bishop of Coria-Cáceres, Don Ciriaco Benavente Mateos, charged Don Ignacio Dols Juste, member of the Commission and of C.E.S, with getting in touch with E.D.I.C.E.S to have a first interview and propose an investigation to analyse the Tablecloth of the Last Supper´s fabric.
This interview took place on 11th March 2006 in the Cathedral of Coria’s sacristy. In attendance were: Don José Antonio Fuentes Caballero, Dean of the Cathedral; Don Lucas Salazar Ávila and Don Julián Carlos Pérez Domínguez, members of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Coria; Don Florencio García Mogollón, lecturer at the University of Extremadura (UEX) and member of the Diocesan Cultural Heritage Delegation; Don Ignacio Dols Juste, architect and member of the Diocesan Cultural Heritage Delegation and of C.E.S; Doña Socorro Mantilla de los Ríos y Rojas, Chemical Sciences graduate and former Director of the Textile Department of the Institute for Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Goods and member of E.D.I.C.E.S; and Don Felipe Montero Ortego, Chemical Technical Engineer and Assistant Coordinator of E.D.I.C.E.S.
During this meeting, Doña Socorro Mantilla de los Ríos y Rojas examined the tablecloth with the naked eye. Her observations are summed up thus:
Weave: the fabric texture is comprised of a combination of “twills” which make up the design of symmetrical lozenges stretching across the whole piece of fabric. The decoration is different at the two ends. At one, blue lines – some continuous, some fragmented – make small rectangles. At the other, double broken lines run horizontally through the blend. Selvages in the proper sense of the word do not exist on this fabric, so the edges are folded inwards. There are many breaks, gaps and weakened areas in the fabric which look as though they may have come from someone trying to get rid of stains or marks.
John JACKSON and the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado took the decision to study the Tablecloth themselves, requesting the express authorisation of the Cathedral Chapter with a written commitment to:
– Keep the results confidential.
– Tell the Chapter first of any potential findings.
– Get authorisation from the Chapter to publish the results
On 23rd and 24th November 2006, John JACKSON and the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado (accompanied the whole while by Don Ignacio Dols Juste, architect and member of the Diocesan Cultural Heritage Delegation) studied the Tablecloth for twenty consecutive hours in the Cathedral of Coria’s Archive room. During this time, they carried out a range of tests and photographs with different techniques but the focus was solely on the front of the fabric:
– Analogue microphotography to build up a photomosaic of the linen fabric
– Digital microphotography using a microscope (50X and 200X)
– Photography in ultraviolet light
– Photography with backlighting for transparency
– Measuring the dimensions, thickness and weight of the fabric
– Sample collection of blue and white thread
– Sample collection of embedded solid remnants
– Sample collection of dust with sticky tape
On the 17th of April 2017, John JACKSON and the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado (once again, with the constant presence of Don Ignacio Dols Juste) returned to Coria to study the Tablecloth for twelve hours in the Cathedral of Coria’s Archive room, on the way to Oviedo to study the Holy Shroud together with Italian scientists and Spanish E.D.I.C.E.S researchers. The Tablecloth was hung up with special clips and wooden splinters were used to stretch the fabric without harming it. Photographs were taken of the front and back using a range of techniques:
– In transmitted light
– In reflected light
– In oblique light
– In ultraviolet light
On the 26th of February 2011, in the Cathedral’s sacristy, Guillermo Heras Moreno (Director of C.E.S.’s Investigative Team, E.D.I.C.E.S) and Felipe Montero Ortego (Assistant Coordinator of E.D.I.C.E.S) accompanied Pilar Benito García (who has worked as a textile conservationist with National Heritage and the Royal Palace in Madrid since 1998) in her examination of the fabric; she was recommended by Doña Socorro Mantilla de los Ríos y Rojas to continue the textile study of the Tablecloth.
Pilar Benito García believes that the Tablecloth could be given the following technical definition: “a fabric in twill weave made up of lozenges, striped, with one weft released resulting in open weave”. The textile expert notes a potential link between the Tablecloth of Coria and the so-called “paños peruginos” (“Perugian cloths”) since they share the same technical and decorative classifications. The “paños peruginos” are cloths with ecclesiastical uses (altar cloths, sacristy handtowels) and secular uses (tablecloths, serviettes and towels) made in the Italian region of Perugia from the middle ages until now. The prototypes which might be the most direct ancestors of this specific type of Perugian textile were fabrics – silk or linen – made in the Muslim textile factories set up in Islamic Spain and Sicily in mediaeval times. The oldest preserved artefacts of this type have been catalogued as being from the Fifteenth Century although iconographic sources evidence representations of such textiles existing from the second half of the Thirteenth Century.
Curiously, there are paintings in which the depiction of the tablecloth at the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and his Apostles has markings similar to those on the ends of the table – such as in “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, Ghirlandaio, Andrea del Castagno, Fra Angelico, Simone Martini and Giotto.
In Extremadura, references to this type of cloth appear in the fabrics of the Taller de Bordaduría del Monasterio de Guadalupe (the Monastery of Guadalupe’s embroidery workshop).
The Coria-Cáceres Cathedral Chapter, backed by the Bishop, Don Francisco Cerro Chaves, has inaugurated the CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF THE TABLECLOTH OF CORIA, with Don Ignacio Dols Juste as Director. This was established in the Chapter meeting of 28th October 2011 with the aims of:
– Assisting the Chapter with everything related to the Tablecloth of Coria
– Raising awareness about the Tablecloth in all areas of Science and History
– Directing and coordinating the studies which might be undertaken about the Tablecloth by any organisation or person, whether these be physical or legal entities
– Helping to share the knowledge which is gained
– Advising on best conservation and safeguarding practices for the fabric
The CENTRE FOR THE STUDY OF THE TABLECLOTH OF CORIA boasts the support of the SPANISH CENTRE FOR SYNDOLOGY, PILAR BENITO GARCÍA (National Heritage Conservationist) and the TURIN SHROUD CENTER OF COLORADO (directed by John JACKSON).
We continue researching…
Cáceres, 23rd February 2019
Ignacio DOLS JUSTE
Centre for the Study of the Tablecloth of the Cathedral of Coria