From April 10 to May 23 the Vatican will put the Shroud of Turin on display. Over this 44-day period, it’s expected that up to 2 million visitors will line up to catch a 3 to 5 minute glimpse of this controversial artifact. The shroud is currently housed in a bulletproof, climate-controlled case in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. It’s expected that Pope Benedict XVI will make a visit to the shroud on May 2. Organizers have said that a million people have already placed a reservation to view the shroud.
For the Christian faithful, the shroud is a testament to the historical veracity of Jesus’ existence; the shroud is a physical record of the suffering Jesus endured, from the scourging, the crown of thorns, and finally to the Crucifixion and the piercing of his side by a Roman spear. The evidence of these wounds are claimed to be on the shroud itself. Based on the wounds, blood flow patterns and alignment of limbs, many modern forensic examiners have agreed that they uniquely identify a scourging and crucifixion as the main sources of physical trauma suffered by the individual who was enfolded in the shroud. The whole body bears evidence of blood-letting caused by a two-thonged lash, bloodstains on the forehead indicate that the skin had been pierced by a sharp instrument, and the retraction of thumbs is consistent with the median nerve in the wrist having a sharp object driven through it.
But dispute still rages as to what the imprint biologically consists of, and chemically it’s unclear whether the residue is blood. The most accepted explanation for how the imprint biochemically etched itself onto the linen is that a reaction on the cotton fibres took place between various compounds given off during a body’s decomposition. These stained the cotton fibres a caramel color, and we were left with the imprint we see today. Whether the individual imprinted on the linen shroud was Jesus of Nazareth is the question. And therein lies the faultline that divides the faithful from the skeptics.
For the skeptics, the shroud’s biblical origins is at best ambiguous, and at worst utterly wrong. Carbon-14 dating in the 1980s has placed the shroud’s origin as being in the middle ages, and this in turn has fueled speculation that it’s a forgery, or a brilliant piece of art, possibly even created by a master like Michelangelo. Critics of the carbon-14 provenance have countered that the sample of linen used for the dating was a restoration piece that originated in the middle ages, hence the dating period. Other Shroud faithful have offered the explanation that a fire in a church where the shroud was once housed added a carbon residue to the fibres that contaminated the carbon-14 dating process.
The debate continues to rage to this day about whether this is the real shroud of Christ, involving the AB blood type, pollen grains found in the Middle East, blood clotting behavior, and different pieces of linen which the shroud consists of. It’s also been suggested that the ghostly figure is actually Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, who was arrested for heresy in 1307. Before he was burned at the stake in 1314, de Molay was flogged and tortured by crucifixion, and then wrapped in linen to recover before being burned at the stake in 1314.
As with all things religious, there are some matters to be decided by faith alone. The Shroud of Turin is no different in that respect. Perhaps it warrants a closer look for a final decision. And if that’s the case, book your viewing reservation now, and get in line with more than a million people this April.
You can inquire about and book online reservations through the Shroud Exhibition’s official website (or copy and paste the link below into your web browser.)