The Shroud of Turin’s Singular Significance

What is believed to be the 2,000-year-old burial cloth of Christ continues to intrigue. And a livestream will air on Holy Saturday.

Exhibits on the Shroud of Turin, a centuries-old linen cloth believed to have wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ, are seen at The Shroud Center of Southern California.
Exhibits on the Shroud of Turin, a centuries-old linen cloth believed to have wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ, are seen at The Shroud Center of Southern California. (photo: Courtesy of Lee Sweeney)

The Shroud of Turin is the single most studied artifact in human history. The 14.5-by-3.5-foot-wide linen cloth bears the front and back silhouette of a man who has been scourged and crucified and is believed to be the 2,000-year-old burial cloth of Christ. This relic, which the Vatican deemed worthy of veneration, can be a valuable aid for meditation in Holy Week and beyond.

Since 1578, it has been kept in Turin, housed there at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and brought out periodically for public veneration. 

On Holy Saturday, the shroud will be displayed via livestream at 5pm local time April 11

According to Vatican News, its next scheduled public display will be Dec. 28, 2020, when youth affiliated with the Taizé community will gather for an annual meeting.


Positive Negative Proof

A key moment in the shroud’s history occurred in 1898, when photographer Secondo Pia became the first to view the shroud in the negative, which Father Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center describes as “a perfect three-dimensional photographic negative image on a non-photographically sensitive linen cloth.”

The shroud presents the image of a powerfully built man, perhaps 5’10” or 5’11,” which, according to shroud expert Barrie Schwortz, is “a document of the Passion and the torture Jesus suffered.”

Features include his face, severely beaten and swollen around the eyes, which Schwortz compares to a professional boxer who has just lost a fight. The back and chest indicate that he suffered a severe scourging; there is also a spear wound on one side, and the head and scalp are covered with wounds.

The back of one hand (which covers the other) shows a nail wound, not in the center of the palm but an inch toward the wrist. His beard has a v-notch, indicating that it had been plucked, and he had a small ponytail, common among rabbis of the time. The cloth itself is of high quality, leading many to believe that the rich Joseph of Arimathea had originally purchased it for his own burial and used it for Christ when the opportunity arose.

The first-ever in-depth scientific study of the shroud occurred in 1978 — which Schwortz participated in as a photographer, despite being Jewish and a skeptic — and was known as the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). The researchers could not offer any scientific explanation for how the image on the shroud was created, but did declare it was not a painting, a burn mark or a photograph. As Schwortz continued, “It took me 17 years of studying the evidence and finally became convinced that the shroud is authentic.”


Faithful Science

Schwortz’s is a good starting place for those interested in reliable background materials on the shroud; he also offers a listing of shroud centers nationwide ( that offer information on the shroud.

The Shroud Center of Southern California is one of the centers on Schwortz’s list; and Father Spitzer serves on its board of directors. It is a nonprofit group based at the Santiago Retreat Center in Silverado, California, in the Diocese of Orange; as many as several hundred people visit the center in a single month.

“In our culture, society places science and faith at odds with one another, and it is impacting our children in a negative way,” said Lee Sweeney, the director of The Shroud Center of Southern California. “The shroud combines science and faith in a unique way and shows that there can be harmony between them.”

Sweeney believes the visual, graphic nature of the shroud can make the story of Christ’s passion more real to the public in the same way Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ film did. 

Joji Taketa, a catechist at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church in Lomita who took 60 confirmation teens to the center, agreed: “I think, for all of us, in particular teens trying to figure out what they believe in, tangible evidence of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection can go a long way.” 

But in addition to the imagery and scientific fact, Sweeney believes a visit to the center ought to include a simple reading of the Gospel passages relating to the shroud. As visitors read, Sweeney said, “I ask them, ‘Does the shroud match what the Gospel says or not?’ They stop questioning whether or not the shroud is real and start hearing the Gospel. It has a dramatic effect. It begins to break through to their hearts.”


One in Mind and Heart

Sweeney noted that he himself was once a “militant atheist,” but came to faith in Christ when he was able to combine the intellectual knowledge he had acquired by studying apologetics and the desire in his heart for a sign or miracle with an openness to what the Gospel was telling him. 

He points to 1 Corinthians 1:22-23: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified …” and explained, “I was both the Jew looking for a sign and the Greek [looking for] wisdom, but when I considered Christ Crucified as related in Scripture, it reunited my mind and heart and led me to faith.”

He continued, “We’ve honed our message at the center around that concept. What does the shroud reflect?  We see what God did for us. We see his love. It gives us hope for resurrection. It brings together the basics of our faith that so many of us have drifted away from.”

Jim Graves writes from

Newport Beach, California.