The Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Christ, went on public display in the city’s cathedral today, providing a valuable opportunity for the truth about the relic to become better known to the public.
That’s according to John Iannone, an American author who is an authority on the shroud. He told the Register Feb. 23 that the display, which takes place through May 23, is “particularly important” because it will provide an opportunity to present evidence, which today is “overwhelmingly in support of the shroud’s authenticity.”
More than 2 million people are expected to visit the shroud while it’s on public display for the sixth time in 100 years. The last showing was during the Jubilee Year of 2000. Pope Benedict XVI will also view the sacred burial cloth on May 2 after a day of events in the city.
Traditionally, the public is allowed to see the shroud every 25 years, but according to Fiorezo Alfieri, Turin’s councilor for culture, Church officials agreed with civic authorities to bring the date forward because they understood “the importance to the economy and employment” in the industrial city.
Debates have long taken place whether what is said to be the most-studied artifact in human history bears the image of Christ or is the skilled work of a medieval forger. “For those of us who have studied the shroud for many years, we have gotten used to hearing far more anti-shroud news than anything,” said Barrie Schwortz, executive director of the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association. “This new exhibition will help to offset that, at least for a while.”
He said that, together with many resources online and elsewhere, “any public attention drives those who are truly interested in the subject to dig deeper and find out what is truly known about the shroud, rather than relying solely on the misinformation typically reported in the media.”
Schwortz would have liked the shroud to be also available for a planned scientific examination (the Archdiocese of Turin has said the showing will be for pastoral purposes only), but added that any exhibition of the shroud still serves a “very positive” purpose. “I have never met anyone who has actually seen the shroud claim that it is a painting, so the more who get that opportunity, the better,” he said.
Iannone pointed out that this showing is the first since 1988 carbon-dating results, which purported to show the shroud was a medieval hoax, were debunked. “The public exposition provides a vehicle for getting the truth about the shroud to the world that was misled, in a major way, by the media reports of 1988 and following years,” he said. Schwortz said the 1988 research “has always been the primary piece of scientific evidence that disputed the shroud’s possible authenticity.”
In a video made shortly before his death three years ago, Ray Rogers, a chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said that despite wishing to prove the shroud a fake, he found that the “worst possible” sample of the shroud was taken for the 1988 carbon dating. The research, he said, was performed on an area of the relic that was repaired in the 16th century.
Rogers, who helped lead the Shroud of Turin Research Project and had once strongly argued in support of the carbon dating research, said in the video made in March 2005 that after dismissing the carbon-dating claims, he came “very close to proving the shroud was used to bury the historic Jesus.”
Schwortz said that since Rogers’ discovery, “several more peer-reviewed articles” have corroborated Rogers’ findings.” In 2008, he said, nine scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory independently re-examined Rogers’ work and further corroborated his conclusions. The findings, he added, are also very significant because the bulk of scientific evidence gathered before 1988 favored the shroud’s authenticity, but all of it was summarily discarded after the carbon-dating finding. Rogers’ work “is probably the most important scientific contribution made supporting the shroud’s authenticity in more than 20 years,” Schwortz said, adding that any future carbon dating, if it is to be taken seriously, must be “accomplished openly, with complete transparency.”
Interest in the shroud is immense and crosses every Christian divide.
“I can tell you an exciting fact,” Iannone said. “Although I am a Catholic and have spoken at over 100 Catholic churches in the U.S. and Canada, I have also been invited to talk at Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and Greek Orthodox churches. The shroud is a truly ‘ecumenical’ phenomenon.”
He added that his website attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world which, to him, reveals the “worldwide interest in this precious gift of Jesus.”
Asked recently why he thought the shroud should be understood by Christians, Iannone replied: “If you accept the authenticity of the holy shroud, you must ask Why would Jesus have left his images, mysteriously, on the linen? It is because the holy shroud tells us in compelling images what the Gospels tell us in dramatic words. It is the ‘visual Gospel.’”
Announcing the public display of the shroud last year, Pope Benedict said it will be an occasion to “to contemplate the mysterious face, which silently speaks to the heart of men, inviting them to recognize in it the face of God.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.