28 April 2015

On the Shroud of Turin

At a length of 14.3 feet, the Shroud of Turin is the longest piece of fabric surviving from the ancient world, no small feat for a piece of cloth almost destroyed by fire in 1531.

The image of the body is not easy to see from a distance.
In many ways, the image of the Crucified on the Shroud is easier to see in photographs than it is in the Shroud itself (which I found a little surprising), but standing before the Shroud it was very easy to see the various holes in the fabric and the areas damaged by fire, which are not always so clear in photographs.

The Shroud has been housed in several different locations over the centuries. Today, it bears pollen from each of these documented locations, including pollen from the Holy Land from plants that only bloom around Passover. Blood - testing AB+ - is found on the Shroud of Turin (a blood type that, as I am told, matches that present in the Eucharistic miracles). Though the cloth bears the image of a man who suffered greatly, there are no pigments on the cloth (which means it is not painted) and the image is only on the upper part of the fibers.

Following a brief discussion of the historic and scientific evidence of the Shroud of Turin in his excellent book The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello, Paul Badde writes:
In the pages that follow, therefore, I intend to pursue a reverse inquiry. Not the question of whether the shroud is genuine but rather the question: What if it is? The shroud, then, in this book, will not be defended against the arguments of its many opponents but rather will serve as a foil for a completely different experiment. For Christ's tomb is described by John in only twelve verses. He does not say that it was empty. Instead, in that brief passage he spends four verses writing about the cloths that he found there. Opponents of the shroud therefore say that it was fabricated so as to correspond to the text. It was a forgery to substantiate a lie. I say, on the other hand: This cloth is the relic of a true statement. Against all probability it has survived. There was talk about cloths already in the first documents of Christian history - and now here we have a cloth that corresponds perfectly to that talk. All the Gospels speak about this cloth. What a weight of converging evidence! Not one contradictory indication separates it from the hypothesis that we truly have that cloth before our eyes in Turin. If we were in a court of law, the shroud would easily win any circumstantial case. It would be confirmed officially that it is identical with the "clean linen" cloth that Joseph of Arimathea bought for Jesus (16-17).
It goes without saying that Badde is right. Even the radio carbon-14 test performed by Oxford University 1988 was false (the scientists mistakenly tested a patch put on the cloth in the middle ages, which explains why the test erroneously dated the Shroud to 1320; how they made such a mistake is anyone's guess, unless it was purposeful).

When His Holiness Benedict XVI venerated the Shroud of Turin in 2010, he spoke of the power of the Shroud:
This is the power of the Shroud: from the face of this "Man of sorrows", who carries with him the passion of man of every time and every place, our passions too, our sufferings, our difficulties and our sins Passio Christi. Passio hominis from this face a solemn majesty shines, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks. It is itself a word we can hear in the silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that huge stain near his rib, made by the blood and water that flowed copiously from a great wound inflicted by the tip of a Roman spear. That blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that murmurs in the silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday.
These were the sentiments of my heart as we made our way to Turin. I wanted to look upon the wounds the Savior received for us as a way of completing, if you will, my experience of the Holy Sepulchre. Already I had looked several times upon one of the four cloths taken from his tomb, the napkin that covered his face and now bears his living image. In Manoppello, where it is housed today, it is called il Volto Santo, the Holy Face. At Turin, I was able to look at a second of the cloths, which so clearly shows him dead.

The Shroud of Turin is a clear reminder of Jesus' own words, which we heard this past Sunday: "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

Indeed, I brought with me five pages of intentions from my friends, and most of these intentions concerned one of form of suffering or another. Even on the way to Turin more sufferings were added to these intentions as we learned of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal and killed more 4,400 people (and maybe as many as 10,000). The sufferings of the Lord's people are great and numerous, but so are his own sufferings. I wanted to unite their sufferings and mine to the sufferings of the Jesus by meditating upon his wounds, but the Lord seems to have had another idea for me.

Despite my best intentions, I found my eyes continually drawn to his face; I could not focus on his wounds, but had to look at his face. Having seen his face, having looking upon the face of mercy and into the eyes of love, what more is there to seek?

As I looked upon his face in death, I could not help but recall my first experience before the Veil of Manoppello:

As I continued to contemplate the image it seemed to shift ever so subtly as people moved behind it or the light hit at a different angle.  At one point, I could see very clearly the image of the Lord's face from the Shroud of Turin imposed about it; the face on the two cloths is the very same face.
You can see a superimposition of the face of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin and the face of Jesus on the Veil of Manoppello here.

The Shroud of Turin proves, in a certain sense, that what Gospels recount of the Lord's Passion is true. He was scourged. He was crowned with thorns. He was crucified. His side was pierced by a lance. But that is all. The Shroud of Turin can only prove that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." The Veil of Manoppello, on the other hand, offers a certain kind of proof that "on the third day he rose again from the dead." Without the Veil of Manoppello, the Shroud of Turin only tells half of the story.

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