Is This the Face of Jesus? – The Holy Shroud of Turin

photos: NC News Service

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The year was 1898. Secondo Pia, an Italian master of the new art of photography, had been given permission by King Umberto of Italy to take the first photos of the Holy Shroud of Turin. The Shroud was a famous and cherished relic of Christendom. According to tradition it was the Shroud in which Jesus was wrapped after he was taken down from the cross.

Pia bent over his tray and watched as small silver particles slid off his negative. He would use the negative to make the first print of the Holy Shroud. But something strange – stranger than anyone could imagine – happened. Suddenly, Pia found himself staring at a face – a face which no one had seen in 1900 years. If this was the Shroud of Jesus, Pia realized, he must be staring at the face of Christ.

So began decades of scientific investigation of the Holy Shroud of Turin. The Shroud showed literally a picture of a man, approximately five feet eleven inches tall, and 155 pounds. (The Shroud itself is 14 feet, five inches long by three feet eight inches wide). The man on the shroud had been crucified, whipped, and crowned with thorns. His side had been pierced with a lance. Such torture had not taken place since the days of the Roman Empire – the days of Christ.

In the gospel account of St. Mark we read that when Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea, with the permission of Pilate, had removed the body of Jesus from the cross. Since the sabbath was approaching, the usual Hebrew burial rites could not take place. Instead, a few spices were sprinkled on the body as Jesus was reverently wrapped in a burial cloth and placed in a tomb.

On Easter morning Peter and John went to the tomb only to find the discarded shroud – Jesus was gone. Apparently, they picked up the shroud and brought it back with them to the Cenacle where the rest of his disciples were hiding.

From that point, the exact history of the shroud is clouded in mystery. There are a few references to it in the early centuries after Christ, but nothing definite is again mentioned of it until the 12th century. For this reason alone some have doubted that it is an authentic relic from the time of Christ. In 1204, the shroud was removed from Constantinople and later entrusted to the care of a French knight, Geoffrey de Chiany, who brought it to France in 1353. In 1453 it was taken to Italy where, on Good Friday, in 1503, it was plunged into boiling oil and water in an attempt to remove the deep brown stains that were on it. In 1532, a fire almost destroyed the shroud. It was saved by two laymen and two priests who burst into the burning cathedral, tore open the silver case in which it was kept and raced from the church. Damage was minor, but some molten silver left a series of burn holes on the edges of the shroud. The shroud was brought to Turin, Italy in 1578 and has remained there ever since.

The shroud of Turin had long been the center of popular devotion. But many people discounted it as actually being the shroud of Jesus because it was a well-known historical fact that a good number of such relics from the Middle Ages were fakes. But Pia’s discovery of the face and body imprint of a man long dead brought world-wide attention to the shroud – both from the scientific community and Christians. How did it happen? What caused the imprint to appear on the negative?

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