It is very rarely seen by the public, but it is perhaps the most important and significant relic of the Church. It is kept in a vault in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Many believe it is the very burial cloth of Jesus. It is a long 3 dimensional linen cloth with the reverse (negative) image of a man, who has been crucified, scourged, beaten, and had a crown of thorns placed upon his head. In 1988 the Vatican allowed a small corner-piece of the cloth to be analyzed by radio carbon dating. The problem was that the very process of analysis would destroy the piece being analyzed. Nevertheless the Vatican allowed the procedure. The results did not place the cloth even near the date of the Resurrection. The shroud was dated only as far back as the Middle Ages. It was only years later that the scientists realized that the piece of the shroud cloth analyzed was in fact not the original cloth, but a patch—from the 13th century. This would allow for the fact that there were pollen and dirt samples from Jerusalem where Jesus was buried. This places the shroud itself in the city of Jerusalem. This would explain why there is reference in art and tradition long before the Middle Ages. How could the shroud be in art and tradition if it had not yet existed? Clearly the shroud itself was around before the 13th century.
The odd thing is what we do not know about the cloth. Science cannot reproduce the cloth. For all our knowledge, we do not know how the image of the man got onto the cloth. It is not painted onto the cloth; it is not scorched onto the cloth. We simply do not know how the image got onto the burial cloth. I however, have an idea.
I remember looking at the image of the shroud and asking myself where I had seen that image before. Then I realized it was on the other side of the world. On the streets of Hiroshima, Japan there are images of people who are no longer there. On streets and buildings there are permanent images of people who were in the presence of the greatest force on the planet on August 6, 1945. As a result of the unleashing of that immense atomic nuclear energy, their images were transmitted onto the streets and walls of buildings. Some energy—some force from beyond this world came from within every cell of the dead body of the man in the shroud. Some force from beyond this world instantly burst forth from every dead cell of that body. We call it “resurrection.”
Recently scientists using newer infrared analysis have examined the shroud from Turin. They now estimate that the shroud dates somewhere from between 300 BC and 400 AD. This places the shroud right in the center of the Resurrection of Jesus.
If you wish to see this image, you will find it in the sanctuary of the church. You are, with all probability, looking into the actual face of Christ.
Next Lent we will have an evening devoted to a presentation on the Holy Shroud of Turin. I hope you will come.