Shroud Gathers Crowd

Shroud Gathers Crowd
Who could he be?

In celebration of Easter, Fr. Robert Healey gave a presentation on the Shroud of Turin to a packed group of about 70 attendees at the Parish Hall at St. Francis Xavier on April 9th at 6 PM.

A complimentary dinner of sauerkraut, salami, cheese, and chips were served before the presentation. Fr. Brian O'Brien opened the event by introducing Fr. Robert Healey. This is Fr. Healey's second presentation on the Shroud, following the high turnout at his initial presentation last year.

Many believe the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. Fr. Healey presented a full-scale replica of the Shroud printed on canvas. "This is actually what the Shroud looks like – size, color, dimensions, everything. This is the best replica you can get. And I'm not just bragging; it's actually true. If you find a better replica than this, it's not a replica," said Fr. Healey.

The Shroud depicts a faint front and back image of a man bearing marks of scourging, crucifixion, and bleeding on the head. It takes its name from Torino, Italy, where it rests securely in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. 

He mentioned Secondo Pia, who in 1898 was the first man to take a close-up photograph of the face in Shroud. To the naked eye, the face on the Shroud is blurry, a faint sepia-like color. However, when Pia was developing the negative, an accident occurred. "What he saw was so stunning and so sharp an image that it scared him so much he dropped the piece of glass." The negative was so lifelike, showing the face's cheekbones, eye-sockets, eyebrows, and beard, that Pia decided "that his photograph was actually the photopositive."

The photograph drew interest from some of the world's leading scientists and eventually culminated in a research expedition in 1977 called the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP). 

STRP conducted transmitted light studies, where lights are placed behind the cloth with instruments on the other side capable of indicating if anything is blocking the light that is not the fibers. "The whole point of the transmitted light studies," said Fr. Healey, "was to see if there was anything on the Shroud, and the only thing on the Shroud is blood. There's no paint, there's no pigment, there's no dye. 

"In fact, in the high-resolution photographs of the burns, we see that there's a charring of the fibers, very definite burns. The blood is definitely, very, very clear...But when we look up close at the actual Shroud itself at the actual face, this is right in the middle of the face in a spot where there isn't really any blood right there."

STRP concluded that nothing on the fibers created the image. Instead, "the tone of the face is actually a discoloration of the fibers of the cloth, and it's only the first two microfibers depth. It doesn't penetrate all the way through the cloth. It's just the very surface. If you took a razor blade and scraped it along the edge, you would shave off the whole image."

"Another crazy thing they discovered is there's no image under the blood. Wherever there's blood, the fibers in no way show any discoloration, which would indicate that the blood came first in the process. That the blood was there before the image." 

There is a world of scholarship and hard science that examines all aspects of the Shroud, from the weaving to linen decomposition to blood analysis to medieval iconographic art to UV light to spectroscopy, building a solid case for its authenticity. However, in 1988, results from radio-carbon dating put the Shroud somewhere between 1260 and 1390. This announcement seemed to make the Shroud a hoax – a medieval wonder and a relic, but not the authentic burial shroud of Christ. But Fr. Healey pointed out that the cloth tested came from a small strip at the corner nearest to the right foot of the man in the image. 

That strip was cut into three pieces and sent to three labs for testing: one in Tucson, Arizona, another in Zurich, Switzerland, and another in Oxford, England. The results were averaged into the aforementioned year range, with a 95% confidence. While the science of the radio-carbon dating process was indisputable, the fitness of the sample taken has been a cause for questioning the validity of the conclusion that the Shroud is a hoax.

Some think medieval repair, contamination from smoke and fire, or hundreds of years of being touched on the edges offer reasons to question the carbon-dating sample used. 

"The whole study of the Shroud has changed since then," said Fr. Healey. "Because any serious scientist who wants to study the Shroud first has to make an argument why the carbon dating is flawed. And so what's fascinating to me is since the carbon dating, there's been a tremendous amount of study that not only shows that the carbon dating had flaws to it, and here's why, but they're also bringing out really interesting details about the Shroud that I don't know that we would be still mining."

Whether authentic or hoax, for decades, scientists had no idea how the image of the man on the Shroud was made. 

Finally, studies led by Italian scientist Paolo Di Lazzaro showed that a sufficiently intense yet brief blast of ultraviolet radiation could discolor the linen fibers, possibly forming the imprint of the man in the Shroud. They estimated that a blast of 34 trillion watts would be needed to create that image. 

"Let me put this in perspective," said Fr. Healey. "You can't imagine 34 trillion watts. So, an average lightning bolt can carry a dinky 10 billion watts ... We're talking about 34 trillion watts—three thousand four hundred lightning bolts shaped like a crucified man. Good luck."

Such an intense yet brief burst could break molecular bonds of the cellulose of the linen without burning them. "It might be made in the medieval ages. Then it would be a medieval miracle," said Fr. Healey.

If you're looking for a quick million dollars, attention! David Rolfe, the British filmmaker of the documentary "Who Can He Be?", challenged anyone who still thinks the Shroud is a forgery to create an exact replica of the image of the man. Three copies of the linen will be provided for practice. The catch is you can only use the technology from 1260-1390. If you can pull it off, you're a millionaire. So far, he has not had any takers in England, so now the challenge is open to America.

It is a lot to take in, but one thing is sure: there's nothing quite as mystifying and fascinating as this Shroud, an artifact that has uniquely enticed curiosity and veneration from scientists and believers alike for centuries.

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