The Holy Shroud and Turin - Graziella Martina - In viaggio con gli scrittori

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Those unaccountable traces on the shroud

The word 'Sindone' comes from the Greek and indicates the sheet in which, in Jewish usage, a body was wrapped prior to burial. The 'Sindone', or 'Holy Shroud', kept in Turin is a rectangular cloth of linen and some cotton and  the weave is often irregular.

The Shroud of Turin bears the negative image of the front and back of a male body of medium to tall height. The cloth was laid out flat and after the body had been laid on it face up the cloth was then folded down over the head and the front of the body. The  imprinted image on the cloth shows  signs that the man had been subjected to whipping and then crucifixion. The bearded face, framed by shoulder-length hair, shows signs of wounds and evidence of a ring of thorns is visible on the head. There are further images of a wound at the height of the fifth left intercostal space and a hundred or so strokes of a whip on the back. The right shoulder appears lower than the left one and shows deep grazing. The upper limbs bear marks corresponding to piercing of the carpal area of the wrists, where the nail was driven in. The hands are crossed over the pubic area with the left hand over the right. The front image bears only a partial trace of the feet, whilst they are fully reproduced on the back plantar part.
On the shroud, which was originally white but has now become rather yellow with age, one can see lines, traces of scorching and water stains. The burn marks are the result of the fire of Chambéry in 1532, when the Sainte Chapelle, where the shroud was kept at that time, caught fire. The most evident work done on the shroud is that carried out by the Poor Clare nuns of Chambéry who sewed on tiny triangular patches to cover the holes made at that time.


Journey from The Orient

There is little historical information regarding the Holy Shroud prior to 1300, the date when it arrived in The Western World. What is more, the few documents that do mention it do not, however, describe it. Therefore we will keep to what is known starting from 1353, when the Shroud passed into the hands of the French nobleman, Goffredo of Charny, rich gentleman of Lirey, who had had a chapel built specifically to house the Shroud. It was in this chapel that the practice of displaying the Shroud began, expositions which attracted swarms of pilgrims.

In 1453 the Shroud was handed to Ludovic I, the second Duke of Savoy, who displayed it in Chambéry before taking it to other French and Piedmontese cities to solemnise weddings, anniversaries of the nobility and suchlike.In 1506 the Pope officially authorised the cult of the Shroud and fixed the fourth of May as its liturgical feast day.

Unfortunately, on December 4th 1532 fire broke out in the vestry of the chapel of Chambéry (fire, together with theft, was one of the most frequent dangers) and the cloth was damaged.


The Shroud in Turin

In 1578 the archbishop of Milan, Carlo Borromeo, wanted to travel to Chambéry on foot in order to prostrate himself before the Holy Shroud in compliance with a vow made during the epidemic of the plague. So as to shorten his route, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy decided to transfer the precious shroud to Turin. It was on this occasion that the transfer took place although actually the motives for doing so were rather different. He had decided to move the main seat of the Savoy Dukedom to Turin and the Holy Shroud would act as a legitimation of the dynasty and of the emerging state, increasing its prestige. At first the Sacred Cloth was placed in the church of St. Francis, from where it was transferred to the Royal Palace. Then in 1694 the chapel specially designed by Guarini to house the Shroud was ready and this became the Holy Shroud's definitive home.

Chronology of the Public Expositions

The existence of the Holy Shroud has been stressed throughout the centuries by public expositions. In the past these expositions were announced by royal edict, by illustrated bills and bishops' letters and the Holy Shroud was not displayed behind a glass screen, as it is today. The bishops and cardinals stood on a platform erected in a square and held the Shroud up before the crowd. Ordinary expositions took place annually on May 4, while there were extraordinary expositions to mark important events.

The Miracles of The Holy Shroud

One of the aspects of devotion to the Holy Shroud is that of invoking its protection, much like prayers invoking the protection of the saints.  The Shroud is called upon to cure an illness or a pestilence, or to avoid a war.  Through the centuries there have been miraculous healings: the blind who have recovered their sight, the deaf who have recovered their hearing, the lame and the crippled who have regained their health and the possessed who have been freed from the devil. In Turin, on the very day of the celebrations for the arrival of the Shroud, one dumb boy recovered his speech.


Investigations and findings

Scientific experiments carried out on the Holy Shroud can be grouped into two types: those aimed at discovering the exact nature of the Shroud and those aimed at establishing its age. Studies of the Shroud reached a turning point in 1898 when the lawyer Secondo Pia took some photographs of it and a positive image of the enshrouded man appeared on the photographic negative. The majestic face of the man aroused enormous emotion.

One point on which all scientists agree is that the image is not painted. However, the puzzle of how it was formed, despite the sophisticated technology used, has still to be solved. The traces of blood on the image have also been analysed to establish that they are not the result of contact.

The reconstruction has revealed, though, that the image has some three-dimensional features. Among the more recent discoveries are traces of two Roman coins on the eyelids and of some writings beside the face and along the base of the cloth.

Other scientists have performed experiments on the shroud in an attempt to date it, but the results are rather controversial and the problem is far from being solved. The Swiss botanist Max Frei-Sulzer collected some tiny mineral particles, spores of fungi and pollen, among which he identified thirty or so as being from plants typical of countries in the Middle East.

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Published by ALZANI

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