The Passion’s Holy Relics

Book review of Witnesses to Mystery

Witnesses to Mystery

Investigations Into Christ’s Relics

By Grzegorz Gorny & Janusz Rosikon

Ignatius Press, 2013

336 pages, $34.95

To order: or (800) 651-1531


Most everyone has heard of the Shroud of Turin, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

But how many know about the Tunic of Argenteuil in France — the seamless garment Jesus wore — that is venerated at the Basilica of St. Denis and displayed on certain days of the year?

Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon set out on a two-year pilgrimage to investigate and photograph these and many other relics of Christ’s passion and death in Europe and the Holy Land.

The result is the incredibly beautiful and meticulously researched Witnesses to Mystery — with hundreds of photos, along with illustrations. In-depth text explains both history and scientific findings behind the relics in an easy-to-understand narrative style that’s like a conversation rather than a textbook. Readers are fellow pilgrims.

Many know St. Helena discovered many holy relics in the fourth century in the Holy Land. But this book introduces us to many other famous people and saints who connected with the various relics. Learn about Constantine and the Holy Nails, as well as 13th-century collector St. Louis IX, king of France, who built Sainte Chapelle in Paris to house several of his relics.

Sadly, we also learn that many relics from Christ’s passion no longer exist because of the wanton destruction of holy things during the French Revolution.

The authors approach this pilgrimage with reverence. They want to show that these relics are not just a historic display, like artifacts in a museum, but sacramentals that lead people to greater devotion and contemplation of what Jesus Christ suffered in order to save us — and how great his love for us is.

The authors use a colorful way of introducing each chapter, often with an expert setting out to examine a relic and then make a new discovery. One chapter begins: "In 1997, German historian Michael Hesemann stepped inside a Roman church and visited a chapel situated to the left of the nave, where he stood contemplating the religious icons on display. He smiled, knowing that he thought of a way to prove the authenticity of Christianity’s holiest relic — the True Cross. Upon entering the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, Hesemann surely had no idea … of the sensational discoveries that would be made regarding the True Cross, and which he initiated."

Naturally, the Shroud of Turin receives a long look. The abundance of enlightening photos includes several super-close-ups. Among many new facts shared, the authors relate that around 600 wounds were found on the skin’s surface.

In another exceptionally illustrated chapter on the Veil of Manoppello, revealing photo comparisons become evidence witnessing to the relic’s authenticity, including expert conclusions that it was the master icon for the earliest images of Christ’s face.

This is a book to treasure, read and use to ponder the passion of Christ over and over as "witnesses to mystery."

Joseph Pronechen is a

Register staff writer.