The Holy Shroud

Of the mortal remains of man interred in the earth, all of the worldly fame, all of the forced applause, all of the seductive wealth are piteously summarized in the stark words inscribing the temporal end of a life’s journey: “Here lies.”

Of Our Lord and Savior alone it is written; He is risen. He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him.

The Holy Shroud is the burial cloth in which the sacred Body of Jesus Christ was wrapped when laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Upon its surface it bears the Image of our crucified God and the indelible marks of His Precious Blood. Truly the Shroud is the oldest and most precious relic in the world; a corporal relic left, in the Providence of God, to an unbelieving world to be a “silent witness” to the infinite love of God for man, to be a perpetual reminder to the world of the Divinity of Our Lord, and to memorialize the sacrificial victory of the Son of God over sin, death, and Satan.

The significance of the Holy Shroud is inseparable from the significance of Him Whose image is so brutally manifested upon the cloth; for the Shroud is a divine constituent in the immense cycle represented in the Sacrifice of the Cross prepared before the creation of the world: the Old Testament reaching forth to Calvary, and Calvary, through the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, lifting man up, on the merits of the Sacrifice of Redemption, to eternal beatitude in Heaven.

The Holy Shroud is an integral part of the divine story of Him Who “spangled the heavens with the jewels of night;” of Him Who created heaven and earth, and every living creature; of Him Who lavished the sky in azure blue and bequeathed loveliness to the verdant landscape; of Him Who devised the beauty and fragrance of the littlest flower; of Him Who breathes life and wonder into the smallest child; of Him Who was born of a Virgin Mother and who reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords; of Him Who beneath the crown of thorns wore the imperishable aureole of Divine Majesty; of Him Who within Whose Body, all torn and disfigured, there abided infinite power, infinite justice, infinite mercy, and infinite love; of Him in place of Whom the modern world blasphemously cries aloud’ “Give us Barabbas! Crucify Christ!”; of Him Who said, “Without Me you can do nothing,” the palpable truth of which contemporary society is a standing proof. It is the eternal story of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word made Flesh, without Whom there is no Christianity, no redemption, no salvation, and no slightest hope for mankind.

The Testimony of Scripture

“And taking Him down, he wrapped Him in fine linen, and laid him in a sepulcher that was hewed in stone, wherein never yet any man had been laid.” (Luke 23:53)

“Joseph, taking the Body, wrapped it in a linen cloth.” (Matthew 27:59)

“And Joseph brought a linen cloth, and took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb.” (Mark 16:46)

“They, therefore, took the Body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths.” (John 20:40)

The Holy Shroud is the Linen Cloth in which Jesus Christ was wrapped when laid in the sepulcher.

It is certain that on the day of the Resurrection, Saint Peter and Saint John found the Shroud lying in the empty tomb.

It is likewise certain that the Apostles and the followers of Christ guarded the Shroud with the most reverent care. It had to be hidden from certain destruction, from the Jews and all those who persecuted the infant Church – a persecution which would rage with ever-increasing intensity during the Apostolic Age of the Church in which millions of Christians crimsoned the arenas of the amphitheaters from Corinth to Rome in fidelity to their crucified God.

So hated was the Cross, the great symbol of the Catholic Faith, that it was not until the fifth and sixth centuries that crucifixes were publicly displayed; as it was not until the thirteenth century that devotion to the Passion of Christ became widespread.

Dr. Pierre Barbet, in Doctor at Calvary, writes of the obscurity of the Shroud in the early centuries following upon the death of Christ:

“. . . [T]here is thus an obscure period when the Shroud does not appear, indeed when it cannot appear. It may well have been carefully concealed, and thus escaped all occasions of being destroyed. Romans, Persians, Medes and Parthians, massacring and dispersing the Christians, pillaging and destroying their churches.”

The Shroud in the Early Church

What then became of the Shroud? Nicephorus Callistus wrote in his ecclesiastical history that in the year 436 the Empress Pulcheria had built in Constantinople the basilica of Saint Mary of the Blachernae, and that she kept there the “burial linen” of Jesus Christ. It was there that Robert de Clari found the Shroud in 1204.

In 631, Saint Braulion, Bishop of Saragossa, writes, as if relating something that had been well known for a very long time, “of the ‘winding-sheet’ in which the Body of the Lord was wrapped”; and he writes further: “the Scriptures do not tell us that it was preserved, but one cannot call those superstitious who believe in the authenticity of the winding sheet.”

The Benedictine Abbot of Iona, Adamnan, writes of a French bishop, by the name of Arculphus, who, in the year 640, while a pilgrim in Jerusalem, saw and kissed the “winding sheet” of Our Lord which was placed over His head in the sepulcher.

Pope Stephen III, shortly after his election in 769, gave a sermon in which he stated that the Image on the Shroud is that of the body of Jesus Christ:

“For the same Mediator between God and man . . . stretched His whole Body on the cloth, white as snow, on which the glorious Image of the Lord’s Face and the length of His whole Body was so divinely transformed that it was sufficient for those who could not see the Lord bodily in the flesh to see the transformation on the cloth.”

In the eighth century Saint John Damascene mentions the sindon (Shroud) as being among the treasured relics venerated by Christians.

Medieval History

It is not known with certitude when the Shroud was brought back to Constantinople. Robert de Clari, a knight of Picardy, gives a minute description of the riches and relics he saw in the churches and palaces in Constantinople in 1204. At the basilica of the Blachernae he discovered the Holy Shroud. He recounts that “. . . there was a monastery known as Lady Saint Mary of the Blachernae, in which was kept the Shroud in which Our Lord was wrapped; on every Friday this was held out, so that it was possible to see the face of Our Lord. And neither Greek nor Frenchman knew what happened to the Shroud after the town was taken.”

The Holy Shroud thus became part of the spoils taken by a conqueror in war. It is thought that it was taken back to France by the Knights Templar during the crusade of 1204. History records that it reappeared in France in 1349, in the Church of Saint Etienne at Besançon. It was in Lirey, France, in 1357, and finally, in 1452, it was brought to Turin, Italy, where as the miraculously preserved burial sheet of the Incarnate God it is piously venerated today.

The Cloth Itself

The Holy Shroud is a piece of ancient linen cloth, fourteen feet three inches long by three feet seven inches wide. It is a hand-woven three-to-one herringbone twill cloth made of Mediterranean basin flax. The weave of the cloth was unknown to Europe in the fourteenth century. The cloth is in an excellent state of preservation.

Upon first viewing the Shroud, the most conspicuous markings are two dark lines that run parallel the entire length about twelve inches from the outer edges. These lines are the result of fire damage which occurred in Chambrey, France in 1532. Visible along these dark lines are light-colored triangular marks – patches made of altar linen used to repair the damage.

Down the central part of the Shroud, within the two parallel dark lines, one sees two impressions made by a Body: one the front image of the Body, the other the back. In a painting by Guilio Clovio, from the sixteenth century, he represents the manner in which Christ was enclosed in the Shroud: The sacred Body was laid on half of the cloth with the Head toward the center; the other half was then folded over the Head thus covering the entire Body.

The front and back images of the crucified Christ are of a faint sepia color (light tan) on the off-white, yellowing cloth. Superimposed upon the distinct Body images are darker markings made by Blood, which are brownish-red in color. The Blood stains can be seen at the wrists and feet where the Crucified was nailed to the Cross – upon the Head covered with a crown of thorns; upon the Face which had been severely beaten; on the countless wounds covering the Body as the result of the horrible scourging; upon the shoulders which had borne the weight of the Cross on the doleful journey to Mount Calvary; and from the side from which flowed the Precious Blood which is the cause of man’s redemption.

The Man of the Shroud is between thirty to thirty-five years of age. The Blood stains show no traces of putrefaction; which means that the Body was in the Shroud for no more than three days. All the wounds, as well as the condition of the Blood, conform to the biblical description of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

The Shroud Today

Throughout the history of the Shroud, its proprietors have always believed it to be the burial cloth of the Incarnate God, and have always reverenced it as a miraculous benefaction truly worthy of man’s humble adoration. The Shroud is presently kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Beneath a vaulted ceiling, above a seventeenth- century altar in the Royal Chapel, the sacred relic is encased in a special reliquary. For reasons of security, there have been relatively few exhibitions of the Shroud in recent centuries. In this century, it was exhibited in 1931, 1933 and 1978. In the nineteenth century it was publicly displayed on five occasions.

At the last exhibition in the nineteenth century, in 1898, an amateur photographer by the name of Secundo Pia was authorized to record the now vague images upon the Shroud, by means of the newly discovered science of photography.

First Century Photo-negative

Secundo Pia, a lawyer by profession who had received several prizes for his work as an amateur photographer, was grudgingly given permission by King Umberto I to photograph the Shroud. With primitive equipment he was allowed to photograph the venerated cloth as it hung over the high altar in the cathedral. Late in the evening, on the 28th of May, 1898, Pia took two long exposures of the Shroud in the deserted church. It was almost midnight as he reached his apartment and rushed to develop the plates in his dark room. By Pia’s own account, he was greatly relieved when his plates developed. Seconds later, his relief turned to astonishment, for what he looked upon as he peered at the plates was not the identical image visible to the naked eye on the Shroud, but rather a stunning and unmistakable likeness.

As Pia peered at the wet negatives, he was shocked to discover a “natural” picture of a powerfully built bearded man, whose features were clearly visible. Pia’s negative photographic image was, therefore, a positive picture. Thus, in addition to being the most sacred relic in the world, the Shroud is also the world’s oldest photograph.

The Shroud’s double image had undergone a most dramatic transformation. In Pia’s negative print, which was actually a positive picture, Christ could be seen in all of His divine majesty, in His imperishable dignity, and in the true awfulness of the torments of inflicted hatred which covered His Body from head to foot with Blood and wounds. Now the Body was truly visible since there was natural light and dark shading, lending relief and depth to all the features. Blood stains which showed white to the naked eye, could in the photograph be truly seen as they had flowed from the sacred Hands, Feet, Head, and Side. The most conspicuous and striking feature of the entire miraculous Image was the Face. Through the obvious disfigurement and Blood markings there resided an eternal repose and a divine majesty that was truly not of this world.

Secundo Pia found himself thinking that he was, in truth, the first person in almost nineteen hundred years to gaze upon the true appearance of the Body of Jesus Christ exactly as He had appeared when in death He was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

The dramatic revelation of Pia generated enormous interest in the Shroud. Marquis Fillipo Crispolti was the first to make the news of the “photograph” public. On the thirteenth of June, 1898, he wrote:

“The picture makes an indelible impression . . . the long and thin face of Our Lord, the tortured Body and the long thin hands are evident. They are revealed to us after centuries; nobody having seen them since the Ascension into Heaven.”

The entire effect of the picture of the Shroud reveals a perfectly proportioned anatomy. Paul Claudel, the French writer, remarked of the crucified countenance captured on it:

“Something so frightening and yet so beautiful lies in the Image that a man can only escape it by means of worship.”

Science and the Shroud

Every true scientist who has studied the Shroud has been deeply impressed by the anatomical accuracy of the Image and the true character of the markings of Blood. A great deal of scientific investigation has been conducted on the Holy Shroud since the dramatic revelation made by Secundo Pia in 1898. Some of the salient findings are:

The Body Images are photographic negatives.

The weave of the cloth had been in common use in the Middle East in the first century, and was at that time unknown in Europe.

The Man on the Shroud is approximately five feet eleven inches in height and of a powerful and well-proportioned physique. Concerning the well-defined facial features, former Harvard professor, Carleton S. Coon, has described the Man of the Shroud as definitely “of a physical type found in modern times among Sephardic Jews and noble Arabs.”

The Blood markings show no sign of putrefaction.

The Blood stains are composed of hemoglobin.

There are precise anatomical and pathological data in Our Lord’s Body, Wounds and Blood markings, and a complete absence of distortion in the Images.

The markings on the Shroud are not the result of paint or any known process; a painted image would reveal pigment and directionality of brush strokes. No evidence of these whatsoever can be found.

The Body Images are superficial and have the depth of but one or two fibers.

Using three-dimensional enlargements of the Face of the Shroud, Drs. Jumper and Jackson discovered coins covering the eyes of the Crucified Christ. These were placed on the eyelids to keep them closed, which was a common burial practice in the first half of the first century in Judea. Professor Filas, using slide enlargements, discovered on the right eye a Pontius Pilate coin minted in Palestine between the years 29 and 32 A.D. Dr. Whanger corroborated the work of Professor Filas and discovered on the left eye a Pontius Pilate lepton, struck only in the year 29 A.D.

Dr. Max Frei, a criminologist, botanist and pollen expert, after exhaustively testing the microscopic pollen grains imbedded in the fabric, declared that fifty-six varieties of pollen were found on the cloth. He determined that some were at least five hundred years old. It was his opinion that the cloth is approximately two thousand years old and came from the area of Palestine.

The Images on the Holy Shroud are “consistent with medical and pathological knowledge, with Roman practices, with Jewish ritual, with history, and with the Bible.”

No other “photograph” exists revealing the inhuman barbarity of death by crucifixion, and no other crucified has, in recorded history, been given a crown of thorns, in hateful mockery of His Divine Kingship, save Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

God, in establishing the conditions of our salvation, had determined that the price to be paid for our redemption should be nothing less than His bloody Sacrifice on the Cross.

All of the acts of Our Lord’s life were bound up with His death, “for this I came, for this I die,” forming with it the complete price of our redemption. “Priest as He was, and entirely and only a Priest,” His every action from the first moment of His existence was colored by His future Sacrifice. The whole of His life on earth was ordained to the consummation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. His life was beautiful beyond description; all is encompassed in a sublime grandeur and a divine loveliness when viewed in the luminous reflection of the shower of graces which fall from Mount Calvary.

The key to the life of Our Lord may be summarized in the words of Saint Paul: “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then said I; Behold I come.”

The Man of the Shroud, the Incarnate God, has taken the place of the world’s rejected sacrifices and has become Himself the one true Sacrifice for sinful mankind:

“He saw from the first earth covered with sin, and with sinners who stood desperately in need of a ‘deluge of blood’ to wash away their offenses. He saw that this great work was reserved for Him alone. He accepted and adored the designs of His Father in His vocation. He accepted the reasons why He was sent on earth, the work and mysteries which He must accomplish, the abasement in which He must live, the Cross on which He must die. And He gloriously offers Himself a perpetual Victim, for the great glory of His Father, for the wiping out of sin, and for the salvation of men.”


And so, dear Reader:

Know nothing save that Jesus Christ is Almighty God.

Realize nothing save that Our Lord Jesus Christ has overcome sin, death, and Satan through His sublime death on the Cross.

Fear nothing save that Our Lord say to you, “Dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Learn nothing save His Divine Faith and that He is risen glorious from the dead.

Desire nothing apart from Him and the great call to eternal beatitude.

Do nothing which would jeopardize your union with the Glorified Christ, when in death you will embark upon the eternal years.

And contemplate nothing save “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”

“His sepulcher is truly glorious.” The glory of the great ones of this world ends in the tomb; it is in the tomb that the glory of God Incarnate begins. To profess the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is to profess that He is truly God. To profess that He is truly God is to embrace His holy religion, since the Catholic religion is wholly founded upon the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that the Divinity of Jesus Christ has been unmistakably revealed to us through the glorious miracle of His Resurrection.

In His Passion and Death Our Lord submitted in humble and terrible atonement for the sins of those He created. The glory of Christianity is inseparable from the glory of the Cross. In the Providence of God there is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion, no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, no Infant Jesus without the Virgin Mother, and no salvation without the Savior of the world and His holy religion.

From the Holy Shroud our Crucified God, whose terrible suffering is so brutally manifested thereon, asks each: Do you not know that it was for you that I was reviled, spat upon, mocked, scourged, condemned, cursed, and crucified? Do you not realize that you were among the number of those that put Me to death? Do you not know that in the hall of Pontius Pilate I had My eyes fixed on you – you whom I knew by name and sight before the creation of the world? It was you who fitted the nails to My hands and feet, and who plunged the spear into My side. It was you who mocked Me as My last breath was escaping from My quivering lips. All the world knows that without My Divine Faith it is impossible to please God. To all I have declared that there is no salvation without My Precious Blood. What recourse do I have in the face of a world that mocks Divine Faith and violently wars against My Blood? It is I who died for man, and it is modern man who would make of his world a colossal Golgotha. You, contemporary man, are a collaborator in the modern impiety that labors without interruption to ungod Me in My Creation, to ungod Me in My Incarnation, to ungod Me in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to ungod Me in My heaven. You are an accomplice in the greatest crime that time and eternity could ever behold – you have crimsoned your hands in the Blood of the Savior of the world.

Do you not realize that shortly, momentarily, you will stand before the throne of judgment, “while Hell moans and Heaven weeps at the terrors of my anger?”

To a faithless, impious and turbulent generation, Our Lord has left to the world His Holy Shroud as a divine signet of His undying love for man. Look upon His Sacred Body which, in death, was filled with the horrors of sin. Look upon the terrible wages of sin which was the death of the God-Man.

No longer does the Heart throb. The countenance that was once the delight of heaven and earth, is now all bruised, disfigured and covered with Blood. The divine lips that proclaimed the law of Charity, the words of eternal life, are now silent and motionless. The Sacred Head that in Jesus’ Infancy had reposed upon His Mother’s breast, is now covered with a crown of thorns. The omnipotent Hands that had fashioned heaven and earth, and wrought stupendous miracles, are now rent with the Wounds of the cruel nails. The Side, the seat of the Sacred Heart, is now open from the Wound of the lance, and the Precious Blood and water trickle forth.

Behold your God “from Whom to depart is to die, to Whom to repair is to revive, in Whom to dwell is to live.”

There is no greatness in this world apart from the Cross of Christ. We must not allow the cunning and cruelty of the enemies of Our Lord, the ceaseless tribulations that afflict us on all sides, and the terrible disloyalty and treachery of the modern world, to daunt our constancy and courage in God’s holy cause. If we are faithful to Him we must ever suffer with Him. The servant is not greater than His master, nor wiser than God himself.

If we would be faithful to Our Lord in all things, we would own that through Creation, Baptism, Grace and Providence we belong entirely to God; and as His our lives should mirror the fidelity of our hearts and ever exemplify the beautiful words of Saint Robert Southwell:

We should have no other university than Jerusalem, no other school but Mount Calvary, no other pulpit but the Cross, no other reader but the Crucifix, no other letters but His sacred wounds, no other commas but His lashes, no other periods but His nails, no other book but His open Side, and finally no other lessons but ‘to know Jesus Christ and Him Crucified’.