In the Greek and Latin civilizations, God was always thought to be ‘impassible’, that is, He could not suffer. But, Hebrew Biblical traditions, speak about the ‘pathos’ of God, Who suffers with His chosen people. The Christian vision follows suit, and it is obvious that God not only feels the suffering of His people, but also suffers with and for them, in Jesus Christ, the God-Man: “Et incarnates est… Et homo factus est… Crucifixus etiam pro nobis.” (Credo). It is in this sense, and since God is Absolute Love, sin offends God or makes Him ‘suffer.” We hear God’s Heart crying out in agony on the Cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46). This is the ultimate moment of Christ’s Passio. It is the Passion, the Suffering, of a Trinitarian God, who is passionately in Love with human beings.
The Agony or the Passion of Christ is all to do with whole Paschal Mystery. It is the journey of a God-Man who willed to walk this earth to save humanity from sin. ‘Pasch’ (Greek) and ‘Passus’ (Latin) both refer particularly to the ‘suffering’ that Jesus underwent. The image on the Shroud depicts graphically all that Jesus suffered in His Passion, in His God-given mission of ransoming us from the domain of evil and returning us to the Father’s House. Even the blood that Jesus sweated in the Garden of Gethsemane is on the Shroud-cloth, besides of course, the bloodshed at the scourging and during the rest of the drama of the Cross.
When Pilate presented Jesus to the people in the words: ‘Behold the Man!’ (John 19:5), he obviously did not realize that he was uttering the most profound truth about Jesus, the Son of God and Redeemer of humanity. After the scourging was completed, Jesus’ Body was a whole mass of bloody wounds! The four Gospels report the fact of the scourging in just a brief couple of statements. However, from the study of Roman customs, we know what actually would have taken place; and the details on the Shroud certainly give us a vivid glimpse into the real nature of the scourging. It was unspeakably brutal, or better, mortal! If not for the fact that Jesus was destined to die on the Cross, He would have indeed died at the scourging!
Three of the Gospels also, in one simple phrase, report that “the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head…” (John. 19:1-2; see also: Mt. 27:29 & Mk. 15:18). Again, it’s the Shroud which offers us the best detailed description of what took place. On the Shroud image of the Lord’s head and face, we clearly see the wounds made by the thorns that made up the crown. Artists are able to reconstruct, assisted by various disciples of science, the possible way in which the Lord suffered by the physical and mental wounds inflicted by the “crowning with thorns”. Without any doubt, through the information received from the Shroud, as always, we are able to contemplate better the Passion of Jesus, in all its details.
Thanks to the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have a fairly good summary of the whole drama of the Passion of Christ. But, as we have noted in our last Conference, the study-contemplation of the Image on the Shroud offers us a wide range of details on various aspects of the sufferings of Jesus in His Passion. This is particularly true when it comes to the Crucifixion. One needs only refer to the book by the French doctor, Pierre Barbet, “A Doctor on Calvary” (the original work was titled: the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ), to realize that the Lord’s sufferings on Calvary were truly gruesome and beyond belief. When we visualize all the marks of tears, sweat, blood and wounds of the Man on the Shroud, the Crucifixion comes alive and we are able to see more clearly how Jesus laid down His life for us and to know how much He loved us! Love is stronger than death!
Besides the full “body-image” of the Lord imprinted on the Shroud, we also find other objects of interest depicted at various places on the Burial Cloth of Jesus. Among these, we observe the presence of nails, spear (hasta’), sponge, hammer, pliers, two scourges, rope and ‘titulus’ (the wooden plaque bearing the title: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” — lesus Nazarenus Rex ludeorum: INRI (for further explanation of these, refer: The Shroud of Turin — An Adventure of Discovery, by Mary and Alan Whanger, Chapter 8, “Instruments of the Crucifixion,” pages 86-103).
Looking for little details in Christ’s Passion would not have any meaning other than to deepen our knowledge of Jesus Himself and His great Love for us. As St. Paul puts it, so that, with all the Saints, we may have the privilege “to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth of Christ’s love” (Ephesians 3:18-19). Moreover, Jesus being the greatest of Lovers, we would not only want to know of His life and mission, but above all we would want to know the most minute details of His final moments.
There have been authors through the centuries who have tried to argue that Jesus did not really die on the Cross. But, in keeping with the most solid Christian traditions and Gospel accounts, Jesus indeed died, and unmistakably there is evidence for this on the Shroud. There is no doubt among most researches that the Shroud indeed had covered a corpse, although incredibly any signs of decay are missing (this fact pointing towards the resurrection). The image of the lifeless Man on the Shroud, according to medical scientists, shows a state of total ‘rigor mortis’ — and for Jesus it was more pronounced due to the atrocious sufferings, bleeding and the resulting trauma that preceded the crucifixion. Humanly speaking, Jesus would have died much earlier than He did. As for the timing of His death, we can get a clue from what He said: “I lay down my life…no one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it back up again” (John 10:17-18).
Without any doubt, the Cross is the supreme sign and symbol of the story of Christianity and of salvation in Christ. We use the “Sign of the Cross” practically every day and every hour. Now, connected with the Cross (on which Jesus was crucified), we also have the Cloth (in which Jesus was buried) as another sign of the Passion of Christ. In fact, the interplay between the Cross and the Cloth (which the Lord Himself intended, I suppose) strengthens our faith-belief. On the Cloth is the image of the Body of Jesus, which once hung upon the Cross. Besides, modern research has shown that the Shroud, as much it conveys facts about the Passion and Death of Jesus, as also reveals in a dramatic way the truth about the Resurrection.
The Resurrection-narratives in the Gospels, particularly Luke and John, mention presence of the Shroud in the empty tomb (Matthew and Mark only mention it at the burial). In a certain sense, the tomb was not totally empty. The Body of Jesus may have disappeared, but the tomb still carried sacred objects, namely the Lord’s burial cloths, not to mention also of the various instruments of crucifixion that may have been left behind. From the time the apostles Peter and John discovered the Shroud in the tomb, the burial cloth of Jesus became a symbol not just of the Lord’s passion and death, but also the resurrection. In fact, the Shroud was the first and most ‘intimate’ witness to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. Though it’s not a person, the Shroud is an authentic and effective “Silent Witness” to the whole Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Peter and John found the Body of Jesus from the missing tomb. But, this fact did not automatically make them infer that the Lord had risen from the dead. Anything could have happened, including the rumored-fact that the Body had been carried away or stolen! The resurrection narrative in John 20 clearly indicates that it is the presence or the testimony of the burial cloths (‘Othonia’ and ‘Sudarium’) in the tomb that made both Peter and the beloved disciple ‘see’ and ‘believe‘ (v. 9) that the Lord had indeed been raised. This moment was like the first ever Shroud Conference, right inside the tomb. Of course, the apostles would have picked up the Shroud and taken it back to the Upper Room — it would have become one of the most powerful proofs and a precious relic of the resurrection.
Extensive research on the Shroud has proved that the Image on the cloth bears witness to the fact that a corpse had been inside, but no trace of any corruption has been detected. Various theories have been put forward to explain how the Body would have disappeared from inside the cloth. The fact that the blood-wound marks have remained totally intact shows that the cloth was not torn off the body or no external force had anything to do with the disappearance of the body.
If St. Thomas the Apostle (skeptic, philosopher, doctor, scientist…?) was converted by the apparition of the Risen Lord with His open wounds, then there is room, hope and scope for many people in our times to be touched by the same grace through the instrumentality of the Shroud. But, they really need to take the steps to examine the Shroud with open minds and also to contemplate the image of the Man (Jesus) with searching hearts. Then, the Lord Himself will reveal His peace, love and mercy to both sinner and saint. For those who already believe in Jesus, the whole Image of Christ on the Shroud, not just the Face, could serve as a focal point for a deeper meditation on the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. In his book, Resurrected, Dr. Gilbert Lavoie says this: “After twenty years of critical research I am now convinced that this image is indeed God’s message: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
We have now before us a wealth of information deriving from research done on the historical development of the Face Image of Jesus through the centuries. The overall scientific consensus points to the fact that the Face Image of the Shroud is indeed the “primary model” on which all other Face-images of Jesus have been based. Beginning with the faces of Jesus found in the Catacombs (1st century); images copied and distributed through the Edessa/Constantinople periods of Christianity (1st Millennium) and through the Middle Ages and beyond, down to our own times, the “Shroud Face” of Jesus has been the model. In other words, the Face Image of the Shroud has been the “Brilliant Sun whose rays of light have fallen on all the rest of the Faces of Jesus throughout history.”
Among many archaeological findings connected with “Sindonology”, a very important one was in the town of Dura-Europos (100 miles north of Jerusalem), re-discovered in 1932. A Jewish synagogue and a Christian house-church were unearthed, whose frescoes and paintings dated back to around 240. It is significant that many of the frescoes found here reflect back to the images of Jesus from the Catacombs (which themselves share ‘fair’ to ‘excellent’ congruence with the Shroud face). Besides those in the synagogue, a few of the frescoes in the small Christian church too, though of inferior quality, “are very similar to depictions in the Roman Catacombs.” Of course, the most important discovery, or rediscovery that had the greatest impact on the depictions of Jesus, was that of the “Mandylion” itself. It had been lost or rather hidden in a niche above a city gate in Edessa for nearly 500 years. The icons based on the “Mandylion face” have been found to be totally consistent with the details of the Shroud face” (See: CSST News — Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin, March 2007, Insert, p. 2-4).
Around the 4th and 5th centuries, coins in the Greek and Roman Empires carried the profiles of the rulers. From 538 AD, in the Byzantine Empire, we see a clear influence of the “Face Image” of the Shroud (then called the “Mandylion”) pushing for a full frontal image of the Emperors on their appropriate coins — often with an accompanying image of a cross (clearly observed in the coins of the period of Constantine IV and Justinian ll in the 7th century). In 692 A.D., there is a new development, in that, on the reverse side of the coins there appears the Face Image of Jesus with the bold inscription: “Jesus Christ King of Kings.” Detailed photographic and scientific studies have proved that these Christ-images are strikingly similar to the Shroud-face. Although some of the details cannot be seen by the naked eye, it has been established that these are “numismatic icons”, “which could have been produced only by an artist looking directly at the face image on the Shroud.” The appearance of the Shroud-face on coins continues through the 8th and 9th centuries, although at times crudely done (due perhaps to the absence of direct access to the original image!) But, with Constantine VII in the 10th Century, there is a return of the magnificent images of Jesus on the coins. This corresponds to the “Mandylion” being brought from Edessa to Constantinople in 944 (See: CSST News — Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin, July 2007, Insert, pages 2-4).
“Seeing is believing”, they say! Hearing is important; but ‘seeing’ is certainly the most useful for the memory – to ‘remember’. That’s what’s happening with the Holy Shroud. Both the eyes and the ears of our hearts are engaged by the Image of the Shroud. In the Old Testament, God’s Word (‘Dabar Yahweh’) and God’s Face (‘Panim Yahweh’) were manifestations of the One God Who desired to relate to human beings. Of course, it’s obvious that the God of the Old Testament did not wish to show His Face so easily! But, Jesus (the Word of God-Made-Flesh), in Whom the “fullness of divinity dwells” (Col. 1:15 & 19), manifests both the Word and the Shroud, we are able to encounter the Word of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus and His Holy Face in “Spirit and Truth.”
Besides Holy Scripture, Tradition is part of the integral growth of the Christian faith-community (Church). “Tradition” is all that was “handed down” or “passed on” from the Apostles and the early Church: “For this is what received from the Lord, and in turn passed on (tradere) to you…” (1 Cor. 23). Just as the Body and Blood of Jesus consecrated at Holy Mass (Word & Eucharist) re-enact and remember (‘anamnesis’) the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, so too the Holy Face on the Shroud recalls for us the Person and Passion of the same Lord. The Image of Jesus, particularly His Face (what He was and what He looked like) was part of the Tradition that was “passed on” through the centuries. The “Lord’s Supper” (Holy Mass), undoubtedly, has been the “corner-stone of Christian faith and worship through the centuries. Now, the presence of the “burial cloth” of Jesus which presumably was also the “table cloth” of the Last Supper) at the Eucharistic liturgy of the early Church would have powerfully enhanced the “memory” of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. Moreover, the imprint of the Holy Face of Jesus on the same cloth would have served as a “visible” manifestation of the invisible Divine Guest and Host at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It does the same for us today!
Similar to that of the Sacred Heart, devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus can be traced back to the earliest centuries of Church history — they are also both solidly based on Holy Scripture. Besides it must be noted that the spirituality surrounding the Holy Face of Jesus is also very much connected with the faith and devotion nurtured by the Holy Shroud. As we have noted in the last Conference, the Face-lmage on the Shroud has been having a continuous and lasting impact on the way the Lord was remembered both in life and liturgy — e.g. the proliferation of the Face of Jesus on icons and coins. Another very clear case of the importance of the Shroud-Face of Jesus is the fact that many Popes down the centuries have strongly encouraged the spirituality of the Holy Face. Not least was Blessed Pope John Paul II who declared it as the “Icon of Jesus for the Third Millennium!” And, then, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his turn had also given his full consent to a Public Exposition of the Holy Shroud in Turin – in the spring of 2010. He had declared that it would be a most fitting occasion to “contemplate that Mysterious Face” (The Face of God); and he humbly added: “if the Lord gives me life and health, I also hope to come to verate the Holy Shroud.”