A few days ago I was fortunate enough to visit a unique exhibition in Wells Cathedral in the United Kingdom on the brutal crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago. It features a full 15-foot (4.57 meter) replica of the shroud of Turin, revealing the image of a man, thought to be Jesus.
It is a mystery how the image appeared on the Shroud. It is neither a painting nor a photograph. Italian scientists have attempted to identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a color similar to that of the image by using short bursts of ultraviolet light, using lasers.
The impossibility of recreating a forgery
The scientists managed to re-create a small section of the cloth with some of the properties at a microscopic level, concluding that “some form of electromagnetic energy” such as a flash of light created the image. Ultraviolet lasers were not available to medieval forgers thus opening the possibility that the Shroud is actually Jesus’ burial cloth, with the image created at the point of resurrection.
Some ancient paintings depict the Roman soldiers guarding the grave of Jesus being blinded by a flash of lightning as he rises from the grave but there is no mention of this in the biblical scriptures. The story of the crucifixion and the resurrection is the reason why we celebrate Easter in the Christian tradition.
Why we celebrate Easter
The exact details of the events after Jesus’ crucifixion vary slightly. After dying on the cross his followers wrapped him in a cloth and buried him in a tomb. A group of women went to the tomb on the third day to anoint his body with spices. When they arrived, they found the stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. An angel appeared to them and told them that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Later that same day, Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, and then to the rest of his disciples, who were gathered in a locked room. He showed them his wounds and ate with them to prove that he was not a ghost, but had risen bodily from the dead.
One of the Italian scientists who examined the shroud, Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, said:
“When one talks about a flash of light being able to color a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection. But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals.”
Carbon dating tests conducted in 1988 indicated that the shroud was created between 1260 and 1390 AD, leading many to conclude that it was a medieval forgery. However, these results have been disputed by other researchers who argue that if it was a forgery it would have to be possible to replicate it easily with modern methods.
Fake or forgery?
During the Middle Ages, the trade in Christian relics was a thriving industry that involved the buying, selling, and exchanging of objects that were believed to have belonged to saints, martyrs, or other holy figures. These objects included fragments of bone, pieces of clothing, and other personal items, which were often housed in ornate reliquaries and venerated by believers as objects of spiritual power. The Crown of Thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head as a means of torture was housed in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, where it has been on public display since the 19th century and dramatically rescued during the fire of April 2019.
The bones that are believed to be those of St. James the Apostle, also known as Santiago, are kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. According to tradition, the remains of St. James were discovered in the 9th century by a hermit named Pelagius, who saw a bright light shining over a field near the town of Iria Flavia. The discovery of the bones led to the establishment of the shrine in the Cathedral of Santiago which has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe.
Trade in religious relics goes back to the earliest times. Relics were considered sacred objects imbued with spiritual powers, possessing a direct connection to the divine and serving as a conduit for blessings, healing protection, and power.
Is it important whether the bones of St. James are real or whether the Shroud of Turin is an authentic image of Jesus? What we do know is that some of the world’s most beautiful architectural creations have been built to house relics. As long as there is a mysterious aura about them we will continue to be stimulated by them on a deep spiritual level.
For most of the tens of thousands of pilgrims who have rediscovered the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago, it is unimportant whether the apostle ever lived or was buried in Spain. The shared experience of veneration, the common search for meaning, the individual spiritual experience while walking on an ancient path is far more important.
Likewise, the Shroud of Turin with the life-size image of the man with stains of blood on the cloth, appearing to be consistent with the wounds that Jesus suffered on the cross, will continue to fascinate. Believers feel a deep sense of awe and reverence, leading to peace, comfort, and inspiration during difficult times. More than ever we need those quiet places of power to explore the inner world of who we really are.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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