One of the most treasured relics in Christendom is the Shroud of Turin. Countless people believe it is the burial cloth of Jesus.
Not many people can travel to the Turin cathedral, where the shroud is kept. Even if pilgrims could go to Italy, the shroud is rarely displayed for the public. The April-May 2010 showing was a result of Pope Benedict XVI’s giving special permission to “move up” the showing originally scheduled for 2025.
The faithful here in America can pray before a replica. My wife, Mary, and I headed 30 miles west of Manhattan — on a knoll at an intersection a stone’s throw from downtown Summit, N.J. — to Our Lady of the Rosary Monastery (NunsOPSummit.org) to see for ourselves what’s known as a “true copy” of the Shroud of Turin. The monastery’s cloistered Dominican nuns have been its guardians since April 6, 1924.
The story begins nearly 400 years ago. It was then that Maria Maddalena of Austria, the grand duchess of Tuscany and the wife of Cosimo de Medici, wrote to Margherita of Savoy, duchess of Mantua and daughter of Carlo Emanuel I, to request two copies of the Sindone — the Holy Shroud — be made for her.
Since 1453, the House of Savoy had control of the Shroud of Turin before it was transferred to Turin in 1578.
Maria’s request was granted, and a painter composed two copies on linen, bearing an inscription: Cavato Dall’originale in Tvrino L’anno 1624 (Taken from the original in Turin, the year 1624).
Duchess Maria, whose relatives include St. Casimir and Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella, gave a replica as a gift to nuns in Rome at what was then St. Catherine Monastery. (It is unclear where the other replica is.)
They were its guardians for 300 years; then they gave it to the New Jersey convent as a thank-you for the help the American nuns gave to the Rome monastery in the wake of World War I.
Providentially, we met Edward Insinger at the shrine. He has studied the Dominican archives and wrote about this replica in 1986 for the journal Shroud Spectrum International. Among details he brought to attention: After the replica reached America and the Dominican procurator general researched and re-authenticated its history, Bishop John O’Connor of Newark, N.J., granted its public veneration for the first time in America on Palm Sunday in March 1926.
Later, the replica was stored on rollers with only part of it visible; then it was moved to an area for private-invitation viewing only.
“But it bothered the sisters it was downstairs in the chapel hall,” Sister Mary Catharine, the monastery’s novice mistress and vocation director, told us. No spot in the church-sized chapel seemed appropriate to permanently display it without distracting from adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — until a simple solution dawned on them last fall.
“We think it was in God’s providence,” Sister Mary Catharine said. Removing a small section of pews at the rear of the chapel proved the perfect place for the custom-built wood-and-brass case that protects this precious relic.
There, with the replica now on permanent public display, visitors can easily recall Our Lord’s passion and death.
But more than age makes this New Jersey replica significant. It was placed directly on the original shroud for a time.
When this copy was removed, the wound marking where Christ’s heart was pierced left a miraculous stain on the replica. In March 1987, 15 scientists from the Association of Scientists and Scholars International for the Shroud of Turin arrived at the monastery to study this copy. Among their findings, they confirmed this stain was not only human blood, but the same blood type as found on the Shroud of Turin.
Chapel of Prayer
The nuns arrived in New Jersey in 1919. In 1925, they started building their neo-Gothic church on the foundation of what they originally intended to be a 15-altar basilica.
The monastery’s grotto was officially blessed on May 22, 1921, becoming the earliest record of a pilgrimage and procession to honor Our Lady of the Rosary in the United States. By the mid-1930s, up to 10,000 pilgrims arrived on the first Sunday in May and on each first Sunday through October. In those days, there were many physical healings, and people would leave their crutches in the grotto as evidence of their cures.
We hope vast crowds will soon come again. In the chapel, visitors can pray before the exposed Blessed Sacrament and at prayer times hear the celestial singing of these nuns who devote themselves to perpetual adoration and the perpetual praying of the Rosary.
In the chapel, the light of the Rosary shines down on everyone through clerestory windows picturing each mystery.
They’re like smaller versions of the traditional Munich-influenced, vibrantly colored scenes.
Here, I recalled Pope Benedict’s words when he visited the Shroud of Turin on May 2, 2010. He explained how people venerating the shroud and those contemplating it through images — like the copy — “see in it … not so much the defeat of life and of love, but, rather, victory: the victory of life over death, of love over hatred. They indeed see the death of Jesus, but they also see his resurrection.”
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.