On Viewing the Shroud of Turin
As fragile as the portrait of a ghost ... sketched by light it seemed.
Five years ago I helped my friend Joseph Pearce lead a pilgrimage to England. We had a marvelous time together with a busload of pilgrims, but I jumped ship at Oxford and made my way to Rome to meet a friend named Sid for an extension of the pilgrimage.
The famous Shroud of Turin was on display in the cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin. For a long time I had been fascinated by the shroud and longed for the chance to see it. As I was on that side of the Atlantic I decided it was “now or never.”
Sid and I met up and spent a few days in Rome and Norcia before getting the fast train north to Turin. We had tickets for an early viewing of the shroud, so after a decent meal and conversation, and a good night’s sleep we got up early, grabbed some breakfast and walked the few blocks to the cathedral.
Because we had tickets for an early morning admission we strode straight through the channels arranged to accommodate the lines of pilgrims. After viewing a short film about the shroud we were ushered, with about 20 other people, into the presence of the famous relic.
There it was in the shaded room, framed and hanging before us with its famous ghostly image. There were no candles or crucifixes, no baroque paintings or marble statues. In utter simplicity it was displayed before our eyes to make of it what we might. I was suddenly moved with a great emotion. Could it be that this ancient cloth held the body of our crucified Lord? Could it be that the mysterious image was imprinted on the cloth with a blast of radiation from the miracle of the resurrection?
I had come to believe so. The more I studied the evidence, the more mysterious the relic became. The Shroud of Turin is the most studied, examined and researched ancient relic, and as our scientific knowledge increases and we have an increasing range of forensic tools to hand, the mystery only becomes deeper. Although skeptics have purported to have solved the mystery none of them has. No one has been able to replicate the image on the shroud and the more the scientists study it the more baffled they become.
What a delicious irony that, after all these centuries, it is now, in the modern, atheistic age that we have the technology to truly study the mysterious relic of the Lord’s death and resurrection. It was, after all, only with the first photographs of the shroud by Secondo Pia in 1898 that it was revealed that the image on the shroud is, in effect, a photographic negative. From then on the examinations of the shroud have unlocked an ever increasing mountain of evidence which, taken together, brings us closer and closer to real scientific proof of its authenticity.
However, even if the shroud should be proven to be of a crucified man from the Jerusalem area and dated to A.D. 33, there would still be room for doubt and therefore still be room for faith, for faith without room for doubt is not faith at all.
When all is said and done, the experience of the shroud of Turin is unforgettable. It is an experience of the heart as well as a gathering of evidence for the head. Therefore, the personal expression of the experience through poetry is perhaps a good method to move from examination to veneration — from fascination to adoration and from curiosity to life changing encounter.
Therefore, I would like to share with you the poem I wrote after my encounter with what I believe is the true burial cloth of the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary.
I tried to lay aside the arguments
and just view the evidence before me.
Of course the case for authenticity
matters, but direct experience
is where reality and theory meet.
We stood silently in the darkened room:
thirty strangers—all travelers far from home
drawn to an ancient linen winding sheet
singed with the image of a tortured man.
As fragile as the portrait of a ghost
sketched by light it seemed. Suddenly I’m lost.
The bloodstains, the wounds, the face—I’m shaken
by the violent tenderness of the sight.
Full of dread, I’m un-mightied by the shroud.
Like death I kneel; like death, I can’t be proud.
Done, I rise Into the morning, clean and white.