The Shroud From Outer Banks Is Actually Kinda Real

It’s based on a controversial Christian artifact.

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After losing the Royal Merchant gold to Ward Cameron in Outer Banks Season 1, the Pogues find themselves hunting down another artifact in Season 2. When Pope is mysteriously contacted by the wealthy Carla Limbrey, she accosts him at her home in an attempt to retrieve a key left behind by freedman Denmark Tanny, who Pope later learns he’s related to. The key leads to the Cross of Santo Domingo, which Limbrey believes contains something she calls “the shroud” — a mystical cloth she thinks can heal her mysterious terminal illness.

Though both the Royal Merchant gold and the cross are fictional, it’s likely that Outer Banks based the shroud on a real relic called The Shroud of Turin. Depending on who you ask, The Shroud of Turin (called La Sindone in Italy) is either an actual Christian artifact or a very clever medieval forgery. It’s a 14-foot, yellowed linen cloth that appears to bear an image of a crucified man. Some believe it’s the robe that Jesus Christ was buried in, while others think it’s just a religious icon that has manifested the image of Jesus on its surface.

The first mentions of the Shroud of Turin appeared in France during the 1350s. Per, a French knight named Geoffroi de Charny allegedly presented it to the dean of the church in Lirey, France as Jesus Christ’s burial robe. But there is no record of how Charny got his hands on the shroud or why it would be in France when Jesus was likely buried outside of Jerusalem.

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Per a 1981 New York Times article, there were numerous claims of religious relics during the Middle Ages in Europe. As a result, the authenticity of the shroud has been debated for decades, starting from the moment it was discovered. In 1357, the Bishop of Troyes, France proclaimed it was a forgery, with his successors saying he believed the cloth “had been cunningly painted” and was more “a work of human skill” rather than a miraculous artifact. If it was in fact painted by an artist, that person would have singlehandedly changed the way Jesus is depicted today. As Duke professor Dr. Alan B. Whanger told New York Times in 1982, Jesus was initially drawn without a beard to resemble Greek gods. But because of the shroud’s image, he’s now typically depicted as a tall, thin man with long hair, a beard, and deep-set eyes.

The Pope appointed a team of experts to study the shroud in 1969, and in the 1980s, it was pored over by countless scientific teams. Finally, in 1988 the Roman Catholic Church announced it was not the authentic cloth that Jesus Christ was buried in, as the linen was radiocarbon dated back to the Middle Ages. But the church didn’t discourage the belief that the shroud still somehow manifested an image of Jesus Christ, and thus is capable of performing healing miracles.

That should have been the end of the discussion, but debate continues to this day about its authenticity. In 2013, scientists in Italy used infrared light and spectroscopy to date the shroud between 280 B.C.E. and 220 C.E., which is much closer to when Jesus supposedly died. Per CNN, a member of the 1988 radiocarbon dating team said in December 2013 that he was willing to retest the shroud. And in 2018, a forensic scientist found that the shroud could not be authentic, as the blood patterns on the material are not consistent with how a crucified body would bleed.

Today, the Shroud of Turin is housed in the Duomo of Torino in a climate-controlled case in a chapel built just to hold it. Because it’s extremely fragile, it’s not viewable to the public except during very rare exhibitions (the last of which was in 2015). Still, the belief that the shroud is holy and can heal serious ailments (or even demonic possession) persists. We’ll have to see if Outer Banks leans more into that supernatural angle, or if Big John is just sending Carla Limbrey out on a wild goose chase for a fake in order to save John B’s life.