Christ’s Passion ‘Written in Blood’
New Shroud of Turin replica is unveiled in D.C.
WASHINGTON — The display of a replica of the Shroud of Turin at the Catholic Information Center in the nation’s capital opened on March 28 at a most appropriate time — just ahead of Holy Week, the liturgical time when the Church commemorates Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.
Myra Adams, who leads the National Shroud of Turin Exhibit (NSTE) project, first saw a depiction of Christ with all the markings of his passion on the crucifix in the historic St. Peter’s Chapel in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
She said the graphic crucifix, which depicts wounds similar to those reflected in the image on the shroud, brought home to her the reality of Christ’s sacrifice.
The NSTE project advocates for greater awareness of the Shroud of Turin and a permanent shroud exhibit in Washington. Adams told the Register that people “don’t really understand how horrific” the suffering of Christ was. But “when people see the shroud and really understand what all the marks mean, they can’t even believe what he endured.”
The replica of the Shroud of Turin was installed at the Catholic Information Center in partnership with the Museum of the Bible, NSTE, and the International Center for Sindonology in Turin, Italy. The shroud, an artifact that many believe to be the burial shroud of Christ, is a 14-foot-long cloth — stained with the image of a deceased man who had been tortured and crucified — stored in Turin, Italy.
Opus Dei Father Charles Trullols, director of the Catholic Information Center, told the Register that he is happy to have the life-size replica of the shroud on display for six months because he believes it “transmits the suffering of Jesus in a very palpable way so that we can understand the love of God for us when Jesus died on the cross and suffered so much for our sins.”
He said that contemplating the shroud has the power “to impact our spiritual lives so that we can somehow give back to Jesus and to God with our own lives.” He was hopeful that more people viewing the replica and learning about the shroud would “transform lives.”
Nora Creech, a lecturer on the shroud’s history who completed the “Shroud Studies” course offered by the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, called the shroud “a perfect complement to the Scriptures.” She quoted the words of Pope Benedict XVI that the shroud is an “icon written in blood,” saying that the shroud “tells us so much information about the whole Passion.”
The Marks of Christ’s Passion
During the Catholic Information Center’s March 28 opening of the shroud exhibit, Creech went through the details that the shroud reveals about Christ’s passion and death.
She began by pointing out that Jesus’ sweating during his agony in the garden was likely part of a medical condition called hematidrosis, which also causes skin to become extremely sensitive to touch, something that would make the subsequent hours of his passion far more painful.
Afterward, when Jesus was turned over to the Jewish guards and was beaten, as the Gospel of Mark recounts, “this is the first injury that we see reflected on the shroud,” as “the right eye is very swollen, and scientists have been able to determine that he was either hit in the face with a fist or perhaps with a rod.” The image of the man in the shroud also has a broken nose.
Another graphic element of Christ’s passion shown in the shroud is his scourging, Creech said. “Wounds related to the scourging are located all over the body,” she pointed out, except that “the soles of his feet were not scourged nor his head.”
Referencing the biblical account of the Crown of Thorns, she said that, in reality, it was likely actually “a cap” of thorns driven into almost the entire head of Jesus, based on the wounds indicated on the shroud that cover the head and extend into the neck. Creech pointed out that testing on this part of the shroud found pollen from a plant native to Jerusalem called Gundelia tournefortii, which has thorns between one and a half and two inches long.
Creech said that while we often imagine Christ carried a full cross, the reality is that “the upright portion of the cross would have stayed in the place of execution and the person who was sentenced to death would carry the crossbeam known as the patibulum,” which “weighed between 75 and 120 pounds.” The shroud shows abrasions “at the right shoulder and left shoulder blade” from the carrying of the crossbeam.
She brought up an account of how Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope St. John Paul II, met with Padre Pio and asked him about the most painful wound of his stigmata. Padre Pio replied that it was the wound on his right shoulder, which he said “was like a knife piercing him all the time.” The shroud, she said, “bears out this abrasion on the shoulder.”
Creech added that testing on the shroud also confirms the Catholic tradition, in the Stations of the Cross, that Jesus fell three times, as “the greatest concentration of dust and dirt were on the feet, and then also on the knees, and then on the tip of the nose.”
Due to the way in which he was likely tied to the crossbeam, Jesus would have fallen “to his knees and have no way to break his fall, so he would fall on his chest and then on his face into the dirt.” Testing revealed that the dirt is “a type of travertine aragonite, and it has levels of strontium in it, which match exactly with the grottos or the tomb areas in Jerusalem.”
Creech also highlighted the fact that after “crucifixion was outlawed by Constantine in the fourth century,” there was not “a lot of information about what crucifixion entails.” While sacred art in the Middle Ages depicts the wounds of crucifixion through the palms of Christ’s hands, “the shroud tells a different story,” with the nail wounds “not through the palms of the hands, but through the wrists.” She cited the work of French Dr. Pierre Barbet in 1950 who discovered, through experiments on cadavers, that a crucifixion through the palm of the hand “could not support the weight of the human body,” but at “the base of the hand, with an exit at the back of the wrist,” it would support the weight of the body.
Studying the Shroud
The shroud’s authenticity is still hotly contested, with skeptics insisting it is a medieval forgery rather than the actual burial cloth of Jesus.
Creech highlighted the detailed study by a team of researchers completed in 1978 by the Shroud of Turin Research Project, known as STURP. Based on the findings of their scientific investigations, they concluded that “the shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin.”
Regarding the image of a person on the shroud, “the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery,” the STURP team concluded. According to the researchers, “there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image, nor can any combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances explain the image adequately.”
However, radiocarbon dating done in 1988 appeared to discredit the shroud’s authenticity, as it placed the shroud between A.D. 1260 and 1390. Creech pointed to more recent studies critical of those findings, based on the samples being taken from the shroud not being reflective of the whole due to repairs made to it over the centuries.
Adams noted that beyond the mystery of how the image came to be on the shroud at all, a related mystery of the shroud occurred in 1898, when it was photographed for the first time by Secondo Pia. His developed glass plates revealed an even clearer image of a man because the image on the cloth has the properties of a negative — dark where it should be bright and vice versa.
Adams and Creech said they would both like to see more testing of the shroud, given modern scientific advances. Creech suggested the image “was left for us for this time because there are things that are being revealed that we couldn’t understand 100 years ago.”
“As long as studies continue,” she added, “there’s information in the shroud that is being revealed, that deepens our faith and deepens our understanding of what Christ suffered.”
Pontiffs on the Shroud
During a pastoral visit to Turin in May 1998, Pope John Paul II called the shroud “the precious linen that can help us better to understand the mystery of the love of God’s Son for us,” adding:
"Before the shroud, the intense and agonizing image of an unspeakable torment, I wish to thank the Lord for this unique gift, which asks for the believer’s loving attention and complete willingness to follow the Lord.”
In that same address, Pope John Paul II said the questions raised “about the sacred linen and the historical life of Jesus” are not a matter of faith, so “the Church has no specific competence to pronounce on these questions. She entrusts to scientists the task of continuing to investigate, so that satisfactory answers may be found to the questions connected with this sheet, which, according to tradition, wrapped the body of our Redeemer after he had been taken down from the cross. The Church urges that the shroud be studied without preestablished positions that take for granted results that are not such; she invites them to act with interior freedom and attentive respect for both scientific methodology and the sensibilities of believers.”
In April 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis wrote that he was turning his gaze “to the Man of the Shroud, in whom we recognize the features of the Servant of the Lord, that Jesus realized in his passion: ‘A man of suffering, and familiar with pain. … Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. … But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.’”