A verse in the epistle to the Hebrews asserts that faith is “the substance of things hoped for – the evidence of things not seen.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an event forever hoped for, but it is also an event unseen.
Believers in the Shroud of Turin, however, insist that the Shroud is the substance of this hope and the evidence of this unseen event. It is, they believe, the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. It has been venerated as such for centuries, and since the 17th century, when it came to Turin, has been the cathedral’s best-known treasures. Popes have come to gaze on the Shroud; Benedict XVI said when he visited in 2010 that “we see, as in a mirror, our suffering in the suffering of Christ”.
Sceptics pooh-pooh the whole story. They refer to the 1987 Carbon-14 dating and say, “It’s medieval. Science has spoken. That settles it.” But the believers bounce back, and year by year, as modern technology advances, more and more evidence accumulates which causes anyone who reads the research to be sceptical of the sceptics. The most recent claim – that the blood on the Shroud is from a torture victim – has re-opened the debate.
The delicious irony is that it is our sceptical, scientific society that has empowered all the new evidence. The Shroud’s relationship with modern technology began in 1898 when Secondo Pia took the first photographs of the Shroud. When he developed the negative he noticed that it showed a positive image of a human face. He concluded that the image itself was therefore, in effect, a photographic negative. The question immediately arises, “If the Shroud is a medieval forgery how did they do that?”
Professor Nicholas Allen of South Africa proposed that the materials and knowledge to produce a “photograph” existed in the Middle Ages. He then proceeded to produce a Shroud-like image on a piece of linen using his theoretical process. However, the imaging expert Barrie Schwortz, not himself a Christian, has challenged Allen’s work, which he says only accounts for some of the Shroud’s properties.