The Shroud of Turin: A Study of the Passion

Whenever I think about the Passion of our Lord, I think back to a paper I did for my undergraduate thesis. I was told I could write about any subject I liked, and just prior to that I had heard about the Shroud of Turin. The Shroud is believed to be the actual burial cloth of Christ in which He was wrapped in He was taken down from the cross. While the Shroud has been clouded in controversy for centuries and many people would like nothing better than to prove that it is a fake as if doing so would degrade religion or belief in general, the Shroud has eluded rational thought time after time and analysis after analysis.

The Shroud is a rectangular cloth measuring 14.3′ long by 3.7′ wide. The cloth is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill composed of flax fibrils. The brownish image of a front and back view of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin grace the length of the cloth with the heads meeting in the middle as to suggest it was folded over the body at the head. The darker stains on the cloth are from whole blood and the image bears the wounds matching the biblical accounts of the Passion. If one wishes to think about the various sufferings of our Lord and see the result, the Shroud brings each suffering into view before your eyes.

The Shroud of Turin

The wounds seen on the Shroud are as follows:

  • One wrist bears a large, round wound, seemingly from piercing (the second wrist is hidden by the folding of the hands).
  • An upward gouge appears in the side penetrating into the thoracic cavity that would indicate the spear that pierced His side.
  • Small punctures spread around the forehead and scalp resulting from the crown of thorns.
  • Scores of linear wounds appear on the torso and legs. These wounds are consistent with the distinctive dumbbell wounds of a Roman flagrum.
  • The face is swollen from severe beatings, perhaps at the council meetings during the night where He was struck by His accusers.
  • Streams of blood run down both arms. These appear to be blood drippings from the main flow occurred in response to gravity at an angle that would occur during crucifixion.
  • Large puncture wounds appear in the feet as if pierced by a single spike.

While the Shroud was venerated for centuries, it was not until 1898 that amateur photographer Secondo Pia took the first photographs of the Shroud and, when developing the film, saw the image in the negatives and everything came into glaring focus. The image of a man between 5’7″ and 6’1″ with shoulder length hair and a beard was clearer than ever and it was so detailed that Secondo was at first accused of forgery. Later he was exonerated many times over by subsequent photographers.

The Shroud Negative

Whether you believe this cloth to be authentic or not after going through the piles and piles of research and heated debate, the Shroud brings to mind all the suffering Christ went through in His Passion. To stand before the Shroud (which is a very rare occasion as it is only brought out from its case a couple of times each century), even in picture form, is to see each mark, each whip, each nail, and every bruise that led up to the sacrifice that saved us all. Staring at the Shroud caused me to see the marks on the knees that were a result of Jesus falling while carrying the cross. The swelling on the face that was from punches and slaps, or perhaps from falling with arms tied to the beam of the cross that He was carrying as some scholars contend was the norm for Romans to do to a prisoner, would help me to see and feel things that I had not thought of before.

Perhaps growing up with the knowledge of Christ’s crucifixion has made us water down what He went through. Seeing His body on the cross at every Mass has desensitized how horrible this death must have been. They say crucifixion, more specifically asphyxiation, is perhaps one of the most painful ways to die. For this reason, I only let myself watch the movie The Passion once or twice per year. I do this because the pain and suffering that our Lord went through should send that horrible, almost nauseating feeling through your body.

The sorrow and love I feel for our Lord when I see this representation of what He went through for us always makes me stop; it makes the world stop for a moment, and it puts everything into perspective. Only knowing the vindication of Easter Sunday’s Resurrection can right everything. But for that moment, on Holy Thursday through Good Friday, we go to Calvary with our brother, our Lord, and we should weep with Him as the Magdalene did at His feet.

A crucifix with accurate wounds as seen on the Shroud of Turin

Go to this link for many more picture and an interactive look at the Shroud.

What do you think of the Shroud?

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