The Shroud’s confirmed and undisputed historical trail begins in Western Europe when it first appears in Lirey, France in 1356. Read about it here.
Prior to 1356, the historical trail is not continuous. There appears to be a gap between 1204 and 1356 when little is known of the Shroud’s whereabouts. Some historians believe, and recent 2009 Vatican research supports long-time rumors that the Shroud might have been in the possession of the Knights Templar.
However, there is significant evidence that a shroud-like cloth was in Constantinople before 1204 and was stolen by the French during the Fourth Crusade. This evidence is known as the Hungarian Pray Manuscript or Pray Codex.
The codex was written between 1192 and 1195. One illustration in the manuscript shows Jesus being placed on a burial shroud. In another panel he is wrapped in his burial shroud. The top panel shows a naked body, as we see on the Shroud and Jesus, with hands folded over his pelvis, showing only four fingers and no thumbs--also consistent with the Shroud.
The second panel shows a long narrow burial cloth--same as the Shroud--with the identical pattern of burn holes found on the shroud. The artist has also drawn the very unusual three-hop herringbone weave like that of the Shroud of Turin.
Given these distinctive markings, there is no question the Pray Codex from 1192 depicts the same cloth that is in Turin today. If the Shroud of Turin can be clearly linked to the one that disappeared in 1204, this is the smoking gun that provides a definitive link and clearly falsifies the questionable 1988 carbon-14 dating that found the Shroud dates from 1260 at the earliest.
Earlier evidence indicates this same cloth arrived in Constantinople in 944 when it was retrieved by force from Edessa, a city in current day Southern Turkey which had fallen to Islam. Going further back in time, legend and folklore speak of a mysterious cloth with healing power, bearing an image of Jesus that arrived in Edessa circa First Century AD accompanied by the Apostle Jude Thaddeus.
Here is a more detailed four-part early history of the Shroud from BibleArchaeology.org
Aside from its history, the Shroud poses a profound either-or proposition:
The Shroud is either the authentic burial cloth that wrapped Jesus in the tomb or it is the work of an artist. Yet there is no evidence of the cloth being produced through a deliberate artistic effort.
Historian John Walsh described the dichotomy this way:
“The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relic of Jesus Christ in existence or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever products of the human mind and hand on record. It is one or the other, there is no middle ground.”
A Sign From God Foundation Inc., we characterize it a little differently and perhaps more to the point:
The Shroud of Turin is either the greatest hoax ever perpetrated...
...it is a deliberate and purposeful sign from God.
The Shroud asks us all the same question Jesus asked Peter:
“Who do you say that I am?”
The mission and purpose of The Sign from God Foundation is to explore the meaning of this question as it relates to the Shroud, Jesus, and you.