It happens only once in a decade — and this is the year. From April 10 through May 23 the Shroud of Turin will be on public display in the cathedral of this Olympic city in the Italian Alps. Already over one million people have made reservations to spend three to five minutes with the incredible relic of Jesus’ burial cloth. At least another million are expected to reserve their spots before the exposition.
What exactly is it that draws such huge crowds of pilgrims from all over the world? The Shroud is not just a relic, it is arguably the most fascinating relic of Christendom. Not only is it the actual cloth that covered Jesus after His crucifixion, it is a relic that provides evidence of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ! In fact, the Shroud is the single most studied artifact in human history! Scientific interest in the holy relic began in 1898 when the Cathedral in Turin was about to relegate the Holy Shroud to a museum. On that occasion, a photograph was taken of the cloth for catalogue purposes by Secondo Pia. Once he developed the photos he was astounded to discover that the image looked exactly like a typical negative of a black and white photo. Historically no other picture of any subject has ever been discovered with these same photographic qualities.
The image has the anatomical precision of a graphic detail of death by crucifixion. This is apparent in the rivulets of human blood running from the feet, wrists and side. The Shroud also shows clear evidence of more than 160 wounds from a severe scourging with a weighted whip, a large wound in the side of the chest as from the thrust of a spear, and streams of blood in the hair and on the brow from a crown of thorns which was a unique torture invented to mock Christ. Therefore, the Shroud provides us a picture with photographic accuracy showing in detail the Passion of Jesus, which parallels the Gospel accounts in every detail.
Given the peculiar properties of the photograph produced by the Shroud, it has long been of great interest to scientists wishing to understand the burial cloth relic. And they are never disappointed. Scientists at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, for example, were stunned when they placed a photograph of the face of the Shroud in a VP8 computerized image enhancer that had been designed for the Mariner Space Program. The Shroud photograph mysteriously contained encoded information which produced an uncanny three-dimensional image. It is therefore possible that the image of the Shroud contains X-ray information, which is not possible with any ordinary photographic technique. These relief pictures reveal the existence of two small disks on the man’s eyelids. These disks have been identified through high magnification as coins which were minted by Pontius Pilate in Palestine between October 28 A.D. and October 31 A.D.
Investigators working with computers from the Viking Space Mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, established that the image was not made by pigments, and appears to be strictly a surface phenomenon similar to a scorch. Because of this, scientists theorize that the image resulted from a very brief but intense burst of radiant energy called “flash photolysis,” of unknown origin but certainly like no other. It somehow emanated from the body under the cloth. The Resurrected Christ is usually pictured in just such a transcendent light. Thus it appears the picture was formed at the very moment of the Resurrection. If the body in the Shroud had decayed in the normal manner, or even remained in the Shroud for more than a few days, the Shroud would have been discolored and eventually itself have decayed.
Professor Max Frei, Director of the Scientific Laboratory of the Swiss Police, detected and identified 48 classes of pollen on the tissue of the Shroud. Some belong to plants, long extinct, which flourished in first century Palestine; some to plants from Syria, Anatolia, Constantinople; some from France and Italy. Thus, the new branch of microbotanics, called Palinology, has fixed the date and itinerary of the Holy Shroud in its origins and migrations.
History of the Holy Shroud
Some years before St. Thomas the Apostle left for India, in the city of Edessa in northwestern Mesopotamia King Abgar had been stricken by a dread disease, probably leprosy. He had heard of Jesus and His healing miracles. He sent a message to Jesus, begging for a cure.
When the message arrived, Jesus had already ascended into heaven. So the apostles decided to send instead the apostle Jude with the Holy Shroud. The cloth seems to have been folded and decorated so that it showed only the portrait-like image of the Holy Face of Jesus.
Jude brought the Shroud to Edessa. King Abgar was cured and baptized, and Jude established Christianity in Edessa. The Shroud remained there. But in 57 A.D. a persecution of Christians broke out. The portrait-like Shroud was hidden away for safekeeping in a hollow place in one of the city gates, so well hidden that its whereabouts were soon lost. It was not rediscovered until the sixth century, when an earthquake damaged the walls and revealed the hiding place. By this time Edessa was once again Christian, and the Shroud was enshrined in its main church.
Edessa was in the territory conquered by the Moslems, but the Arabs had not harmed the Shroud since they honored Jesus as one of their prophets. The Shroud was still regarded as a miraculous portrait and not known to be the burial cloth of Christ.
In the year 943, the Byzantine Emperor Romanus Lecapenus wanted to bring the miraculous portrait to Constantinople. He persuaded the Moslem emir to release it to him by promising Edessa perpetual immunity from attack. This event was most providential. Two centuries later, Edessa was sacked by the Turks who would surely have destroyed the Shroud if it had remained there.
The portrait was then kept in the royal chapel in Constantinople but never shown to the general public. At some point someone finally unfolded the cloth and realized that it was the holy Shroud and not just a portrait. We know this because there was dramatic change in representations of Jesus’ burial, showing the Shroud.
During the sack of Constantinople in 1204 the Holy Shroud disappeared from public view and reappeared around 1356 in the possession of the DeCharney family in Lirey, France, where it remained until 1453 when it came into possession of the House of Savoy in 1453.
In 1532 a fire engulfed the chapel of Sainte Chapelle in Chambrey, France, where the Shroud was kept, and it came dangerously close to being destroyed. The fire was so intense that part of the silver on the reliquary holding the Shroud melted, and a drop of molten silver fell on a corner of the folded linen. This set one of the Shroud's edges on fire, burning through all of the folds before it was doused with water. When the Shroud was opened up, the characteristic geometric set of scorch marks visible today was seen, and yet the part of the Shroud containing the image was scarcely touched by the fire. The burned material was later repaired by sewing linen patches over it. In 1578 it was taken to its current location in Turin.
Since May of the jubilee year 2000, the Shroud has been wrapped in red silk and kept in a special silver chest in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in Turin’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. On April 11, 1997 that same chapel was destroyed by a fire. By the heroic efforts of firefighters the Shroud was saved from destruction in the blaze. Mario Trematore was hosed down by his fellow firefighters as he entered the burning chapel, with chunks of marble and fiery debris falling all around him. He used a sledgehammer to break the four layers of bulletproof glass protecting the silver box containing the linen shroud. After collapsing outside the chapel, Trematore said: “God gave me the strength to break the glass.”
Every time a public exposition of the Shroud is scheduled, the skeptics come out with alleged sensational “discoveries” proving the Shroud a fake, a kind of forgery something created as a hoax sometime in the Middle Ages. The most famous controversy erupted in 1988 when the Shroud was subject to carbon dating. Scientists conducting the analysis claimed the cloth actually dated to the 12th century. But these findings are now generally dismissed due to problems in the carbon dating process that can throw the test off by thousands of years. These 1988 findings are now generally dismissed by scientists as unreliable. It is clear that the lack of methodological rigor deployed during these dating tests has resulted in its losing its credibility. The Russian scientists who conducted the carbon tests won’t even defend their findings any longer.
Pope Benedict XVI has long been a believer in the authenticity of the Shroud and he has already made plans to view the most studied artifact in history during a one-day trip to the northern Italian city in May.
If you plan to view the Shroud of Turin, be sure to make reservations soon by visiting the website: http://www.sindone.org. See you there.