‘The Sudarium of Oviedo, or Shroud of Oviedo, is a bloodstained piece of cloth measuring c. 84 x 53 cm (33 x 21 inches) kept in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The Sudarium (Latin for sweat cloth) is thought to be the cloth that was wrapped around the head of Jesus Christ after he died as described in John 20:6–7.’
The cloth has been dated to around 700 AD by radiocarbon dating. However, at the same conference at which this information was presented, it was noted that in actuality the cloth has a definite history extending back to approximately 570 AD. The laboratory noted that later oil contamination could have resulted in the late dating.‘ Wikipedia
These traces of contact with a body are understandably venerated. I was brought up drinking the blood of Christ and eating his body at my family’s Anglican church every Sunday. There was no taboo or disgust. But the fluids of mortal strangers are another matter. All the more so in the time of Covid 19.
Along the Thames foreshore, on the inside banks of its various bends, are tens of thousands of similar looking cloths, also stained with bodily fluids. These are wet wipes, secular relics being laid down in bands for future archeologists to find.
Designed to be super-clean, re-assuring and single-use, they rapidly become a foul and permanent part of the fabric of the Thames foreshore. Thames21 have been monitoring their build up in Hammersmith:
‘Bathymetric surveys, published for the first time, reveal that one of the largest mounds, in front of St Paul’s school in Barnes, has grown by 0.7m in the past few years, and is now 50m wide, 17m long and stands at more than 1m high.’
I am photographing these rectangles of plastic fibre on location, arranged to seemingly hover above the ground on which they settled.
At once intimate and horribly ‘other’. They have transitioned from private and immaculate, to public and abject. Wet wipes are probably the most defiled and disgusting plastic waste to be found in the Thames.
We are bequeathing these odd little scraps, with their cargo of DNA and river life, to future generations. Perhaps one day they will appear, carefully lit, in museum cases alongside crusty pieces of Roman sandals and the like.