Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Shroud of Turin: Yes or No?

One day during my high school years a friend and I went to the home of another of our classmates to listen to music and just hang out. It was there that for the first time I saw a poster of Christ's face hanging on his wall in the bedroom. It wasn't the ordinary, artist's rendering of Christ's image that caught my attention for I had seen many pictures of Christ before, but something totally different. It was black and white and very crude for the lack of a better word, but also it looked like a photograph. It was years later that I found out just what this image was, or where it came from. It was the image that was taken of the Shroud of Turin by a photographer, and as I researched more about this shroud I realized that many had come to believe it was the burial cloth of Christ. Just as an aside, my classmate did not have this poster hanging in his room because he was a believer. He, as well as many of us in those years, had picked up this poster only because it looked 'cool'. It hung on his wall among other posters of Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, The Doors and the like.

The more I read about the Shroud of Turin the more I began to wonder of its authenticity or lack thereof. Most of the theories about the image and its history started weighing heavily in favor that it was the real thing, at least for me and for many others as I found out in my research. Questions as to its origin, how the image got there, why it was actually a negative image instead of the positive that any artist would have rendered, how it could have been done without pigment, and the piece de resistance, how the image was actually rendered as a 3D image really got me thinking  about what it was I was actually looking at. I know it depicts a man who was flogged and crucified as Jesus was and its history seemed to indicate that it originated from the 1st century, but was I really looking at the face of the crucified Christ? Could it be possible?

Then in 1978 scientific tests were done by a team of international scientists to determine its age with carbon 14 dating. The results were in: the cloth was determined to be no more than about 800 years old. In other words, it could not have originated from 1st century Israel, and it began to be seen as more of a medieval hoax than anything else. Yet, despite these tests the big question was still unanswered. How did this image come to be? Photographic, negative images were not known 800 years ago, yet here it was, unknown of its negative qualities until the 'positive image' of a photograph had been taken. There was absolutely nothing to indicate how a man or woman could have created this image with the techniques known during medieval times or...in our time. Yes, there is speculation, but nothing concrete. Scientist just don't know how it happened.

Now it seems that a new discovery has been made. I've known of a study conducted a few years back that determined the pieces of cloth on which the carbon 14 dating had been done had actually been rewoven in order to repair damage to the shroud during the Middle Ages. Within the test pieces were cotton fibers from medieval times interwoven in the cloth that now has scientists wondering how skewed the carbon 14 tests in 1978 actually were.

Though I never really committed myself in fully believing or denying that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Christ, the results of the 1978 testing left me a bit disappointed but certainly not in despair. I have to be honest. I wanted the shroud  to be real. I wanted to believe that I actually looked into the face of Jesus when I saw the photograph on my classmates bedroom wall,  the image of this man who had been tortured to death on a cross. I know what the testing concluded, yet there was something within me that still believed that it was authentic despite what science said.

I am a faithful Catholic and contrary to popular beliefs about Catholics, I have no problems with science except its insistence by some scientists that God had nothing to do with the universe as we have come to understand it and the belief that science has license and the ability to change life down to its genetic level for reasons contrary to what God intended, I believe is a grave error.  Other than that I love what science teaches us about our world and all its different facets. With that being said I know that scientists can err. Scientific tests are conducted by humans and the results are interpreted by humans and humans make mistakes. Were the results of 1978 an error on the part of scientists? No, I don't believe so for they tested a piece of the shroud as they wanted and in a scientific manner with more than one scientist present, but if their carbon 14 tests were done on material that was not part of the original cloth, then as the new studies attempt to show, the cloth's origin is again up in the air.

Again, in being honest, I am more than elated with the prospect that the shroud could again be the cloth that was wrapped around Christ's body after the crucifixion in preparation for his burial. Though science may prove the cloth is indeed 2000 years old and from the area around Jerusalem what will it do for my faith? It still won't prove that the image is of Christ. It could be the image of someone else, but with everything taken into consideration as to how the image came to be, its provenance and if finally the cloth is proven to be from the time and place of Christ's crucifixion, to me at least, it would give me another physical connection to the object of my faith.

The Catholic Church holds many relics in its possession that helps us in our faith and it is possible that the Shroud of Turin is one of those true relics. At least Pope Benedict thought it was authentic. I have not dismissed its authenticity out of hand. In fact, I've come to believe more and more that the picture of the man I saw on my classmates bedroom wall is the actual face of Jesus.

What if it's all a wash? What if there is conclusive proof that it could not be nor could it ever have been the shroud to cover Jesus? What will it do to my faith? The answer to that is nothing. Nothing at all. The faith I hold in God will continue and hopefully continue to increase as it always has. The object of my faith does not lie in a shroud of death, but in the Author of Life.




2 comments:

  1. My faith does not rest on the Shroud of Turin. I believed in Jesus before I ever heard there was such an object.

    Next, there's no way one can scientifically prove (or disprove) that the Shroud is Turin is the burial cloth of Christ, because there's no scientific test for the one-time presence of Jesus in a piece of cloth.

    I've heard about the C-14 tests of 25 years ago supposedly saying the cloth is of later age than first century. BUT there are other tests indicating a first-century Judean/Palestinian origin.

    This does not surprise me, as the miracles of Jesus have ALWAYS stirred up controversy and defied scientific categories. If you don't believe me, just read the Gospels.

    However, if the Shroud of Turin gets people to think about the Passion and Resurrection of our Savior, and especially leads them to faith in Him, then it has served its purpose, whether or not it is what it is reputed to be.

    I guess I'm saying the same thing that you are.

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  2. It would be logistically impossible to hold such a large, sagging piece of cloth over a large and irregular heated metal sculpture in such a precise way that the resulting image shows 1) depth gradient on the surface of the fibres 2) on only one side of the cloth 3) without scorching any part of the image area of the cloth 4) with the only "chemical residue" on the cloth the pollen of plants from the Jerusalem area.
    Anum
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