I am writing this, not in Turin but in Milan. It is a sun-drenched Autumn afternoon that can only be described as “fabuloso !”. Sitting here in the sidewalk café facing the Duomo, sipping my double Cappucino (the Franciscan Connection) and a San Benedetto Acqua Minerale Naturale (instead of the Glenlivet which would have been my choice before I went on the wagon), I am overwhelmed by the beauty and busyness of the vast Piazza del Duomo and the gleaming multispired magnificence of the Cathedral.
We did not count the 3200 statues nor the 135 spires, but as typical tourists we “did” the Duomo in style. We even paid our respects to St Charles Borromeo in his glass casket, his skull and face hidden by a golden mask, and discovered nearby the ruins of the 4th century baptistery. Milan is not to be missed, especially for the Duomo. You can even visit the church of Santa Maria degli Grazie but don’t count on seeing Leonardo’s “Last Supper” unless you made two-day advance bookings. We didn’t.
Yesterday we were in Turin. You will have to wait another ten years before you can get to see the real Shroud but we did see its box and the curtain covering it in the Cathedral, and a splendid full-size photocopy of it in the nearby octagonal church of San Lorenzo. It is displayed in a side-room, where a volunteer guide is happy to describe in approximate English the story of the Shroud. Fortunately a leaflet in English is available to fill in the details.
You can get the drum yourself from the Net. What struck me was the mention of another Shroud on display at Orviedo, Spain. It would appear that this is supposedly the head-cloth mentioned as separate from the Shroud in John 20:7. But, inevitably, the leaflet speaks also of the 1988 scientific analysis of a small piece of the Shroud which revealed through Carbon 14 testing that the cloth dates from 1260-1390. Obviously the research conducted by experts in Tuczon, Oxford and Zurich had to be rejected if the cult was to continue : “That finding is no longer believed reliable, as it is thought that the pollution and contamination the cloth has suffered during its varied history over the centuries could have influenced the results”.
So … no worries ! The Shroud of Turin is A-OK, genuine, authentic ! The scientific analysis is dismissed as unreliable for the reasons mentioned and others like the discovery of traces of pollen common in the Middle East at the time of Christ. The leaflet finds an additional argument for authenticity in the identification of the blood in the stains on the cloth as of the group AB, the same as that on the altar-cloth from a bleeding host at Orvieto. This last detail does nothing to enhance the Shroud’s claims. Many people find the Shroud itself credible. The gory myth of Orvieto invites accusations that Holy Communion is cannibalism; the eucharistic legend is too incredible to … swallow.
The Shroud is, per se, an impressive argument for its authenticity. It is not a painted forgery : experts have ascertained that the image on the Shroud was produced by blood and not by paint. Moreover, if you take into account the conformity of the Gospel accounts with the traces of scourging, crucifixion and piercing the Crucified’s side with a lance, you have enough “evidence” to assert that the Shroud is indeed that employed to wrap both the front and the back of a mutilated corpse : perhaps that of Jesus crucified … or the dead body of someone used as the model for the creation of a unique “relic” of Jesus taken down from the Cross. There remains the major problem of the triple, independent Carbon 14 dating, since put into question, notably in a BBC video. The Shroud’s recorded history began only when it was the prized possession of Geoffroy de Charney in the fourteenth century at his property in Lirey, 190 km east of Paris. There are suggestions, however, that there is evidence for its existence two centuries before in Constantinople and even earlier. However I, at least, can imagine that in an age when relics were worth considerably more than their weight in gold, when the “authentic” Crown of Thorns was already enshrined in St Louis’ Sainte Chapelle in Paris, when every city in Europe sought relics of Saints to attract pilgrims to their Cathedral and CBD, their marketplace, where relics of the “True Cross” exposed in churches throughout the continent would have constituted “a beam stretching across Europe” – as the Proto-Protestant Martin Luther famously said two centuries later – some devout souls, perhaps with the purest of intentions went to enormous extremes not necessarily to create a fake, forged Shroud, but a pious object, like paintings and statues, sure to serve effectively as a means of increasing devotion and gratitude to Christ who suffered atrociously and died to redeem mankind.
It would have taken exceptional skills and attention to detail to have produced such a unique “relic”. So exceptional that it is scarcely believable that anyone could, or would, go to all that trouble – and succeed so spectacularly ! Q.E.D. ?
Additional “evidence” is found in the bit about the surprising quality of the negative image produced by the photography of Secundo Pio in 1898, considered by some devotees as little short of miraculous.
But even if it were PROVEN that the Shroud is in fact the actual cloth used to wrap the body of a victim of crucifixion, it would constitute only a powerful presumption for the historicity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion and Death. It would obviously not establish that the “event” on which Christian faith is based, the Resurrection, ever took place. It would just provide probable evidence that Jesus was crucified. Of course, we are a long way from that pipe-dream’s realization. Even the authenticity of the Shroud would not establish the authenticity of the Gospel claim that Jesus was divine.
People who reject the myths supposedly establishing Jesus’ divinity, let alone people who deny the very existence of God, would welcome further research on the Shroud, but would not find their rejection of religion in any way weakened even in the extremely unlikely event that the Shroud were proven to be that of a man crucified in the fourth decade of the first century.
It is however understandable that millions would be impressed and convinced by the Treasure of Turin. For the rest of us, it is one more example of the “leap of faith” many people are prepared to make, because they want and need to believe.