Friday, June 11, 2010
Christian History on the Holy Shroud
Here was a recent posting on Christianity Today's "This week in Christian History." While I'm inclined to believe in the authenticity of the shroud (the mere fact of the photographic negative image is a bit overwhelming to me), but the history and debate is fascinating.
Clement VII, one of the rival popes of the fourteenth century, after first trying to hush up those who would expose the shroud of Turin, signed papers declaring it a fraud. Supposedly, the artist who painted it acknowledged it as a forgery. According to contemporary documents, certain men, for hire, had pretended the "relic" cured them, giving it a reputation, because the forgers desired to make money off it. At that time Bishop Pierre D'Arcis excommunicated those who showed it, but they were raking in so much money they found ways to get around his decision.
The Dukes of Savoy guarded the lucrative object. In 1502 the current Duke requested and obtained papal permission to build a chapel to exhibit the "holy" relic. The Sainte Chapelle of the Holy Shroud was officially completed on this day, June 11, 1502. With great fanfare the Shroud was exhibited and then locked away. Pope Julius II established a feast and mass for the shroud. Countless pilgrims visited the site.
The shroud was reputed to have marvelous powers of protecting people. It could not, however, protect itself, and on December 4, 1532, its chapel caught fire. Brave individuals rushed in to rescue the cloth which had supposedly covered Christ in his burial. Before they could reach it, silver had melted and scorched the cloth and even burnt holes through it.
When the Dukes of Savoy transferred their headquarters to Turin, the shroud went with them, and it is as the Shroud of Turin that it is best known. A black marble chapel was built for it there.
The shroud was first photographed by Secondo Pia. He was astonished when he beheld the negative from his camera. It had reversed the negative image of the shroud and made it look lifelike. He claims he nearly dropped the photograph. This led to claims that the work must be an authentic negative image somehow made by the radiance of Christ at his resurrection.
More than one scientific committee studied the relic. The scientific conclusion, which it must be emphasized is by no means unanimous, is that the shroud is indeed a forgery, painted in tempera. Bits of paint were found on the cloth. The blood looks red; real blood turns brown or black. The tempera technique has been reproduced by several modern artists who claim to have created shroud-like "negatives" using only the materials available to the forgers of the 14th century.
Most conclusive of all were three carbon dating tests done by separate laboratories which first carefully cleaned off the samples. The church announced that the results placed the shroud's earliest possible date at 1,000 AD and most probable date between 1260 and 1390, the very time period in which the shroud had emerged into human view. One of the arguments for the shroud's authenticity was that pollens were found on it which originate only in the Mid East. Experts replied that the microscopic power used was insufficient to resolve the grains which could have been of several types found outside the holy land. Bishop D'Arcis' warnings and Clement's declaration appear to have been vindicated by modern technology, but the issue remains hotly contested and new arguments and tests are constantly suggested by each side.