The Holy Shroud Exposed in Turin: Really?

Pope Benedict XVI kneels before the Holy Shroud, now exposed to the public in Turin, Italy and meets young people. A moment of deep emotion for the Pope who, nearly moved, talks about the holy sheet as a “symbol of God’s concealment in the XXI century” and confesses that, throughout the years, he is becoming “always more sensible to this sacred icon.”

During his day, the Pope insists on social issues in a city which has severely been hit by the financial crisis. During the morning homily he expresses solidarity towards unemployed workers and foreigners in Italy and towards all those who live the drama of precariousness. He exhorts politicians and administrators to “be united in pursuing a common wellness and make cities more livable.” He also encouraged priests in the often difficult pastoral path.

The location is fantastic: Turin, piazza San Carlo, the biggest and, historically, the most important square in the city. It is crowded, there are more than 25’000 people. The highest institutions take part to the ceremony: the mayor Sergio Chiamparino and the president of the region Roberto Cota. A huge screen is set next to the Royal Palace, where thousands of people witness the celebration. A flag with the colors of Germany, on one side, and the colors of the Vatican, on the other, waves upon the square.

The speech of the pope focused on some points: first of all, working culture and precariousness: “I know that even here in Turin people have to face enormous daily difficulties, problems, concerns. I mainly think about all those who live in precarious conditions, due to the lack of work, uncertainty towards the future, physical and moral suffering; I think about the families, the young and the elderly people who often live their solitude, I think about the social outcasts and immigrants”. “Yes – he added – life takes us to face many big difficulties, several problems, but it is the actual trust that comes from the faith, the certainty that we are not alone, that God loves everyone without any distinction and is close to anyone with his love which gives us the strength to face, live and exceed the pain of daily problems.”

He also described modern society as a society “split by rancor, divisions and resentments”, within a speech regarding the biggest issues of the Church and society. “As I have loved you – he adds, inspired by Christ’s example – you all have to love each other”. A commandment which has to be followed, even if “we are obviously weak and cramped with our minimum strength”. “There is always a resistance against love in us – he explained – and there are too many difficulties in our being, that only trigger division.”

Then, he fixed an ideal common purpose: “We have to make every city always more human and livable and those who are called to administrate the country have to cooperate in order to achieve a common welfare. I also want to encourage the often difficult efforts of these people, as the cooperation aiming towards those goals is a clear sign that the Christian humanitarian thought is never acting against men’s freedom, but always aiming to a bigger fullness which finds its realization only in a society of love.”

The pope also encouraged priests and deacons: “I would like to spend an encouragement word especially for the members of the Church who generously commit themselves to the pastoral work. Sometimes, being workers in God’s vineyard can be difficult, commitments multiply, requests are many, problems are not missing: you have to know – Benedict XVI solicits – how to draw daily from the relationship with God the strength of the prayer, which can carry the prophetical salvation announcement”. “You have to re-calibrate your existence in relation with the Gospel’s main principles, build up a real brotherhood dimension and testify in accordance with the power of love coming from above.”

Finally, the pope also spent some words concerning the Holy Shroud: “It reminds us in a very eloquent way that the One who was crucified and shared our suffering is the one who is risen and wants to gather us all in his love. It is a marvelous experience, strong and solid. Doesn’t the Holy Shroud communicate the same message? It shows us, as mirrored, our suffer in Christ’s suffer: passio Christi, passio hominis. That’s why it is a sign of hope: Christ faced the cross to state a margin to the evil, to let us glimpse, in his resurrection, the anticipation of that moment where, even to us, every tear will be dried and there will be no death, mourning, pain or anxiety anymore.”

Let’s be clear from the beginning: if anyone wants to believe in God, in papal infallibility, in a heaven with 77 virgins or whatever, he is absolutely free to do it, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people’s freedom.

But trying to convince the people that a sheet, dated XIV century by several scientific studies, can be the veil used to cover Jesus once he had been pulled down from the cross, is a real insult to our intelligence. Sometimes the behavior of the Church traces the attitude of some pre-historical social groups, which felt the need to revere something as a material externalization of the gods, by worshiping some tribal idols and actually inventing some proper relics in order to allow people to kneel before something tangible.

Let’s see why the Holy Shroud is nothing more than a funny joke:

1. The radiocarbon dating, operated by three different centers in 1988 has proven that the Shroud was crafted around the XIV century. An article appeared on “Nature” on the 16th of February 1989 (Vol.337, No. 6208, pp. 611-615) and presented the results of the investigation led by a group of American scientists, led by professor, P.E. Damon, department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson and professor D.J. Donahue, department of Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson. It would clearly say: “The results of radiocarbon measurements at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich yield a calibrated calendar age range with at least 95% confidence for the linen of the Shroud of Turin of AD 1260 – 1390 (rounded down/up to nearest 10 years). These results therefore provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval. The results of radiocarbon measurements from the three laboratories on four textile samples, a total of twelve data sets, show that none of the measurements differs from its appropriate mean value by more than two standard deviations. The results for the three control samples agree well with previous radiocarbon measurements and/or historical dates.

2. The first documents that describe this Shroud belong to the XIV century (1353); it really seems that it has magically appeared in the hands of a knight, Gottfried of Charny, who donated it to his town’s church, that he had built by himself.

3. Some studies have found no trace of blood, while some other ones have noticed some microscopic particles, testifying an AB blood group, which wouldn’t even exist at the time of Jesus’ death, since it appeared only one thousand years later, as demonstrated by a research made by the STURP research group, led by professor B. Bollone in 1981.

4. Even the pope Clement VII issued a bill in 1390, which prescribed that every time the Shroud was exposed, it was necessary to declare with loud voice, in order to stop every fraud, that that representation or depiction is not the real Shroud of Jesus Christ, but a simple painting made on imitation of the Shroud.

Finally, a real blind faith is necessary not to see how the face of Jesus on the Shroud perfectly coincides with the classical representations made by artists and a lot of courage is needed to think that a veil which had been missing for 1300 years might magically be found intact and taken to a safe place in northern France.

There is a strong group of convinced “shroudologists”, though, who aim, against any evidence, to demonstrate the authenticity of the Shroud, no matter the cost (it seems it is just a hundred people, though). These people claim they got to some serious discoveries that, anyway, demonstrate an actual unwavering need to believe in “the reasons of the heart” instead of experimental evidences (there are some who spot Roman coins in the veil, some who think the radiocarbon dating was somehow altered, since the Shroud had been contaminated, some who say it is a miracle that Jesus’ blood group was AB, some who indicate that the chemical dating contrasts with the radiocarbon one, etc).

At the end of the day, what can we expect from the Church, as it claims the existence of:

1. Traces of blood belonging to Jesus, hidden in the churches of Mantova, Ferrara, Sarzana, Weingarten, Bruges and Fecamp.

2. Young Jesus’ foreskin (circumcised, according to the Gospels, like every Jew), preserved in the church of Calcata, a few kilometers from Rome, Italy. Sadly, this sensational relic is currently missing, as it was stolen by unknown bombers of the faith and never found again, but, to satisfy your curiosity, we can mention that, during the middle ages, 14 churches would certify they were preserving the Holy Foreskin. 14 of them. At the same time, though.

3. A rib of Jesus, stored in a precious reliquary in Cannobio. This was recovered in such an extraordinary way: it seems it is coming from a painting which represents the removal of Jesus from the cross. Eventually, around the year 1500, the painting started sweating blood and, somehow, it delivered the bone.

4. Seven thorns belonging to the crown of

Jesus spread all over Italy.

It is curious to notice that, throughout the 300 years that followed Jesus’ death, the Christians have been persecuted mercilessly and it is incredible how they managed to keep all these relics intact and far from such a hard persecution.

The pope, in his speech, asks: “Isn’t the Holy Shroud communicating a message?”

The answer is: yes. A message of incoherence and fake idolatry, as we could expect from an institution that has lost its guiding light and its meaning. Besides, we all should be shocked by the empty resonance of Ratzinger’s words: how can we distinguish the traits of a meaningful moral message among the words of an institution that demands to “moralize” others consciences in relation with outer problems and issues, while doesn’t even look at the inner questions, as proven by the fact that the pope did not spend any single word concerning the recent scandals which are devastating the integrity of the Church and seriously undermining the unity of the faith.

Whilst the German/Vatican flag waves and the Holy Sheet is exposed people stare at it with an absorbed and ignorant expression. The pope preaches words on the wind while the Church is still sinking.

We can only appeal, as the Italian tradition teaches, to some apotropaic ritual. Oh, wait, the Church has already found one. Ok, we can appeal to the Holy Foreskin.