Jesus christ amused by the shroud of turin
kept in the Cathedral of Turin.
RACHEL Today is Holy Saturday, and we are with Jesus Christ in a coffee shop near the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem. He is savoring a cup of Arab tea, and your special correspondent from Emisoras Latinas is enjoying a cappuccino.
JESUS Rachel, why have you brought me here?
RACHEL In our earlier interviews you have evaded the questions about your divinity, but today I have clear proof.
JESUS Proof of what?
RACHEL That you are God. That you rose from the dead. I have proof.
JESUS Is that so? What proof do you have?
RACHEL A cloth, the Holy Shroud.
JESUS How can a shroud be holy, Rachel? I think perhaps they’ve fooled you. Do you have the cloth with you?
RACHEL How could I have it with me? It’s in Italy, in Turin, safely guarded in a case with seven keys.
JESUS But where in the world did you hear such a thing?
RACHEL The sindologists, experts in shrouds, called our network and told me that you would be left without arguments. There is much anticipation concerning what you might tell us in today’s interview. That’s the reason why I have brought you to this place. With so many people around, you’ll be able to speak freely.
JESUS If you don’t explain yourself better, I’m going to think you’re off your rocker.
RACHEL When you died, they wrapped you in a sheet, right?
JESUS How am I supposed to know that?
RACHEL Well, that same piece of cloth appeared miraculously centuries later, and on it was a photographic image of your body. Imagine, it was as if it had been taken by a camera like this one.
JESUS That’s impossible. In my time there were no inventions of that sort.
RACHEL Well, that’s the miracle! Your body was photographed by the luminous force of your resurrection. When you emerged from the shroud, the image of your body remained printed on it. All right, then, just try to deny a proof like that!
JESUS Take it easy, Rachel, stay calm.
RACHEL We have a call!… Yes, hello?
ESLAVA Hello, this is Juan Eslava Galán calling from Spain. I am a specialist in the fraud surrounding the holy shroud. I’ve investigated everything there is to know about this ridiculous relic.
RACHEL What do you mean fraud?
ESLAVA The holy shroud is a piece of cloth on which a 14th-century trickster stamped a drawing of a body, claiming that it was the shroud in which Jesus had been wrapped. The guy already knew something of the principles of photography and managed to create the effects of a negative. However, the process didn’t work out perfectly for him the image was of a man well over six feet, and his arms reached down to below his knees. I don’t think Jesus was that tall or that deformed, would you agree?
RACHEL No, he’s my height.
ESLAVA That con artist sold the cloth as a relic, and now the Catholic Church tries to sell it as proof of the resurrection of Christ.
RACHEL We have another call coming in…
WOMAN What that Galán fellow says doesn’t convince me at all. The holy shroud has not only been proved authentic, it has been shown to be three-dimensional, and by no less an authority than NASA, the U.S. space agency. What further proofs do you want?
RAQUEL What’s your response, Mr Eslava Galán?
ESLAVA I’m sorry to disappoint the caller, but about ten years after that highly debatable experiment was done with some apparatus from NASA, the Vatican itself ordered that the shroud be submitted to a radiocarbon test. Twenty-one researchers from three specialized laboratories proved that the shroud actually dated from the 14th century. And Jesus died in the first century.
WOMAN That Galán is trying to confuse us believers! He’s the one who’s a fraud!
ESLAVA Calm down, ma’am. Everybody is free to have their own ideas.
WOMAN The holy shroud is the most irrefutable proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
RACHEL Well, then, let’s ask Jesus Christ himself. What’s your opinion about the shroud, Jesus?
JESUS Rachel, aren’t they stretching thing a bit? How can a piece of cloth, like this sheet or shroud, be a proof of life?
WOMAN Jesus Christ is also lying, because he knows very well that it was his shroud! I’m going to call Fr Lorin immediately so that he can show him the shroud, and the pillow as well.
RACHEL While the arguments go on, we hope you our listeners will stay tuned. From a coffee shop near the Holy Sepulcher, this is Rachel Perez for Emisoras Unidas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
The relics business
The Old Testament book of Numbers (19,11-16) prohibits anyone from touching cadavers or using any object that has been in contact with them. Because of these traditions deriving from their Jewish origins, the early Christians did not venerate relics, or even put much value on them. After the 3rd century, however, when Christianity became the official religion of the whole Roman empire, this changed drastically, since such prohibitions were not religious norms for the Greeks and Romans.
By the end of the fourth century the first relics of Christ had already appeared: splinters and pieces of the cross, of doubtful authenticity given the centuries that had passed since the crucifixion of Jesus. It was Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine, who began to bring to Rome “relics” that she had found in her journeys around Palestine.
From that point on, the veneration of relics grew enormously. Skilful merchants understood how lucrative the relics business could be and dedicated themselves to falsifying all types of “sacred” objects. In the sixth century there was no church, no matter how humble, that did not possess its own relics: bones, teeth, or locks of different “saints”, as well as cloth from their clothing or any object that had been in touch with their bodies when they were alive or even dead. Naturally, the most valuable relics were those of Mary and Jesus.
Magical fetishism, unlikely stories
The magical fetishism over relics was encouraged by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which obtained from it good returns, both spiritual and material. It kept increasing until it became an obsession: at times the desire to possess a relic led to extortion, murder and even wars. The Crusades unloaded on Europe an avalanche of relics, the immense majority of them false, especially those pertaining to the first three centuries of Christianity.
This inflation reached its highest levels during the 14th and 15th centuries, when the relic-making industry kept some very reputable workshops of the eastern Mediterranean quite busy. The market was never saturated – quite the contrary: demand was constantly in excess of supply. During the space of several centuries there was great rivalry among potentates, sanctuaries, and churches for the possession of relics.
This commentary was written by Spanish historian and philologist Juan Eslava Galán and is found in his carefully documented book, The Fraud of the Holy Shroud and the Relics of Christ (Planeta, 2004). The book recounts the histories of highly unlikely and even grotesque relics (drops of the Virgin’s milk, feathers and eggs of the Holy Spirit, several heads of John the Baptist, etc.). Perhaps the most bizarre relic of all is the foreskin of Jesus, preserved and venerated in at least three places in Europe in the 14th century.
The shroud as “proof”
The most famous relic of Christ, because of the publicity given it by the Catholic hierarchy, is the Holy Shroud, which is kept in the royal chapel of Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Turin, Italy. A piece of linen 4.32 meters long and 1.10 meters wide, the shroud is marked by stains that show the body of a man seen from front and back. For five centuries this cloth, kept in Turin, was just one of many “shrouds of Christ” that were venerated as relics in Europe. It was not until 1898 that it began to be considered “the one true” shroud.
On the occasion of an exposition in Turin, organized by the Vatican, so great was the crowd that turned out to see the cloth that the bishop of Turin decided to take advantage of its fame, which has grown to the proportions that it has today. The first step he took was to “demonstrate” that the stains on the sheet were a “photograph” of the corpse of Jesus Christ. He then promoted the idea that the “photograph” had been produced by the special divine energy that was discharged by Christ when he rose from the dead. The shroud from that time on has become “scientific” proof of Christ’s resurrection and therefore proof of the superiority of the Catholic religion over all others. In order to publicize this “miracle”, there arose in the Catholic church a new “science”, sindonology (study of the sheet), which now includes experts in several countries, books and publications in different languages, and regular congresses and symposia in major cities around the world.
The shroud: a fraud
A carbon-14 test was done on the “holy” sheet in 1988 by 21 specialists from laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson; it was supervised by the British Museum of London. The test showed that the linen fabric dates from a span of time that runs from 1260 to 1390, dates that accord with historical records indicating the time when this relic was donated to a church in Paris. The report of the three laboratories, which used different techniques and obtained similar results, were published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, in its issue of February 16th, 1989.
The radiocarbon test was performed in 1988 at the request of the Vatican, after two young physicists had in 1977 overstated the shroud’s miraculous qualities. Both of them exposed slides of the shroud to a new image analyzer developed by NASA, the U.S. space agency. The powerful apparatus transformed the flat image into a three-dimensional one. This superficial and inexact experiment of the two physicists revealed that the “man” on the shroud could be seen in relief. This provided further fuel for the imagination of the sindonologists regarding the “scientific” proof of the resurrection of Jesus provided by the cloth. However, the later radiocarbon analyses, by showing that the cloth comes from the 14th century, returned the debate to a more serious and sensible level. Despite all this, many people still hold on to the idea that “NASA proved the authenticity of the miracle represented by the shroud”.
The shroud is a fraud, like most of the phony relics that for centuries circulated around Europe. The “painter” who made the shroud certainly used a very original process for printing the cloth: somehow by singeing it he was able to produce a true “negative”. Even though photography had not yet been invented, that man must have know something of its principles. But the negative that he created was not perfect: the “man” of the shroud has extremely long arms, stretched by the “proto-photographer” so that they would cover the genitals – modesty was essential in the politically correct religiosity of that epoch – and the head and the face appear disproportionately well delineated in comparison with the rest of the body.
Two other aspects of the negative are especially suspicious: the Jews buried their dead by wrapping them in sheets, but with their arms crossed over their chest, not stretched downwards, and the negative of the face and the hair of the “man of the shroud” do not have the same color contrast that a face would have in a real negative.
Juan Eslava Galán
Juan Eslava Galán participates in our program because of the research he has done calling into question the holiness of this famous sheet. His book is basic for any serious debate about the falsity of this and other relics. If you search the Internet under “holy shroud”, you can find abundant material both pro and contra.
While the polemic continues, the exaggerated publicity which the Catholic Church gives this relic is truly extraordinary, not to say scandalous. It ends up reducing faith in the resurrection of Jesus to gross materialism. Jesus is quite right when he says to Rachel: “Aren’t they stretching things a bit? How can a piece of cloth be a proof of life?”