Twelve years ago today, just days after his 78th birthday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy, taking the name of Benedict XVI. A man who wanted only to return to Germany to teach and write, Pope Benedict accepted the choice of the College of Cardinals and, although already 20 years older than his predecessor had been when elected in 1978, he reigned until February 11, 2013.

Wishing you health and happiness, Pope emeritus Benedict! The legions of faithful around the world who love, admire and miss you, hope you feel that love!


Welcome to Part II of my account of the Shroud of Turin, believed to be the linen cloth that wrapped the body of the crucified Jesus during his three days in the tomb. Last week I looked at its journey through time and history and mentioned just some of the many tests done on this cloth since Secondo Pia took his famous photograph in 1898, a photo whose negative re-opened the case for the authenticity of the shroud.

Let’s look at more history and further scientific experiments:

In 1578, St. Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, expressed the desire to venerate the precious relic of Christianity but because of frail health could not cross the Alps from Italy for the arduous trip. The Duke of Savoy, Emmanuel Filiberto, shortened the archbishop’s trip by bringing the shroud to Turin in May of that year. It has been in Turin for the past 437 years, except for brief periods when it was removed to protect it from the dangers of war.

For years it was wrapped width-wise around a wooden spool and housed in a silver reliquary above the main altar of an exceptionally beautiful chapel of black and gray marble designed by the Baroque architect Guarino Guarini. The chapel, specially designed for the shroud, is next to the Cathedral of St. John and is a masterpiece of architectural daring with an extraordinary dome of interlacing arches culminating in a gilded sunburst.

AT PRESENT, the Shroud is kept flat inside an aluminum and glass case at a constant temperature in an atmosphere of argon gas. It is covered by a drape, embroidered with the words: TUAM SINDONEM VENERAMUR, DOMINE, ET TUAM RECOLIMUS  PASSIONEM (We revere Your Holy Shroud, O Lord and (through it) we meditate on Your Passion).

On numerous occasions since 1898 when Secondo Pia photographed the Shroud – including the 1969 appointment of a Roman diocesan commission to study the linen – photographs using techniques vastly superior to those of 1898 have been taken, all upon special appointments and with the permission of its then legal owners, the house of Savoy, and now the Holy See. With these constantly improved photographs the studies of the shroud multiplied and intensified over the years, involving many nations and many men.

In the early 20th century, Dr. Pierre Barbet, a Paris surgeon and forerunner of today’s sindonologists, completed tests on cadavers to parallel his findings with what he “read” in the life – sized photographs of the crucified man.

Joining him were Paul Vignon, a French biologist, and Yves Delage, a member of the Academy of Science in Paris. Later, Giovanni Judica Cordiglia, degreed in medicine at Turin and in law at Pavia, and a professor of legal medicine at Milan, devoted his life and talents to the study of the shroud in yet another effort to arrive at its authenticity.

Modern scientific investigative techniques were also used by the late Max Frei, for years a criminologist with the scientific police in Zürich, Switzerland, Ian Wilson, a graduate student of history at Oxford University, Rev. Maurus Green, British priest and historian, and Fr. Peter Rinaldi, a Turin-born priest who at one time was vice president of the 7,000-member Holy Shroud Guild in the United States. These few names are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to name experts on the Shroud of Turin, but some of the earliest studies on the shroud have also been the most remarkable.

Max Frei, the Swiss forensic expert, aided by photographic enlargements, studied the micro sedimentations present on the fabric and he identified pollens indicating not only the shroud’s unlikely provenance but its itinerary in the years before it reached Turin. Over 30 specific pollens were named as belonging to plants in the Palestine area, Turkey and western Europe. Each plant, even now extinct ones, has its own specific pollen, distinguishable from all other plants and as individual as fingerprints. Frei’s long voyages, arduous studies and astounding results played a major role in lending credibility to the authenticity of the shroud.

Ultraviolet photography was first used in 1969 by Giovanni Battista Judica Cordiglia, son of the famed professor of legal medicine. This method, frequently used by police and art experts, traces organic substances which, if present on a tissue and illuminated by a mercury lamp emit fluoresences that show up on the special photographic plates. Ultra violet photography aids in neutron activation analysis and the evaluation of the origin of fibers and organic substances on these fibers and it was instrumental in Max Frei’s incredible findings.

American contributions have been significant over the years. Dr. Donald Lynn of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used enhanced photograph and aided image techniques similar to those employed when the American spaceship Viking sent photos back from Mars. With the aid of a scanner, the markings on the shroud were broken down into a series of microscopic dots and these, in turn, were translated into a mathematical code. The codified dots were then fed into a computer whose multiple readings provided information on the composition of the fabric, organic substances on its surface and last, but not least in importance, an electronically-enhanced image of the entire shroud.

The enhanced photograph technique, in the case of the shroud, gave a three-dimensional effect. Simply put, it is much like listening to a Beethoven symphony in stereo – nothing new is added to the original music but its value is now enhanced. With the shroud the original images were reinforced.

In the 1970s and 80s, Captains John Jackson, a physicist, and Eric Jumper of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs used in their research both a microdensitometer and an image analyzer, the VP 8, which gave a third dimension, that of depth, to the photographs. Their process translated electronically the diverse light intensities of the photographs of the shroud onto a third dimensional image, whereas normal photographs show light and shadow, theirs showed depth – the distance of the shroud from various parts of the body – in an analysis of flat versus volume.

These are modern methods of photography and scientific laboratory analysis allowed the human eye to see what previously went unnoticed and they confirmed beyond a doubt the authenticity of the shroud. Earlier accusations of a falsification by painting were destroyed as, with painstaking slowness and precision, it was revealed that a forgerer would have to have been erudite in modern photographic techniques in order to re-create the perfect negative image on the shroud. He would also have to been skilled in medical sciences to have known about the process of blood plasma separation represented by the carmine color stains on the Shroud.

Msgr. Ricci told me in our first conversation those many years ago that surgeons, reconstructing what has been “read” in the many photographs, confirmed the exactness of anatomical details. The state of rigor mortis is in perfect accord with the biblical description of Christ’s crucifixion. Studies of the various blood flows revealed the crucified man to have been in positions both of relaxation and then of pulling himself up.

Surgical experiments also revealed that if a body is nailed to a cross through the palm of the hand, the sheer weight of the body tears the flesh in a short period of time, thus offering no support. However, if a nail is placed through the wrist in the so-called Destot space, the weight will be more easily borne for a longer period. In addition, the carpus area of the wrist contains the median nerve, a highly sensitive motor nerve, and if a nail is hammered into this nerve it causes the thumb to bend inward toward the palm. This fact shows up on the hand imprints of the man of the shroud where only four fingers are visible.

Close study also revealed that the legs were slightly bent and that only one nail was used to pierce both feet, evidenced again by the flow of blood. This nail allowed the crucified man upward movement, and both wrist and feet wounds showed that he was alternatively in a position of relaxation and of upward movement, thus avoiding death by suffocation that would have occurred had he remained only in a hanging position.

For years the most debated point was the exact cause of death of the man of the shroud. The strong arguments against the death by suffocation seem to offer, on the one hand, conclusive proofs for death by infarction and hemo-pericardium, that is, the breaking of the heart. Msgr. Ricci’s intensive studies were based on a theory put forth in the mid-19th century by the English physician, William Stroud. Dr. Stroud’s research was favored by the fact that autopsies could be performed in England as soon as two hours after death whereas on the continent there was a mandatory interim of 48 hours.

Basing his studies on St. John’s Bible passage – “and immediately there came out blood and water” – referring to the soldier’s lance piercing the side of Christ two hours after his death, Stroud proceeded to prove that, had the heart been undamaged prior to death, the “blood and water” (plasma) would have flowed out, mixed together, in a single liquid. Whereas, in a previously ruptured heart the blood would already have separated into two elements, the red corpuscles and the plasma. Thus the hypothesis, based on the biblical eyewitness accounts and support by actual autopsies, of a ruptured heart.

The intensive mental anguish of Gethsemane that caused Christ to sweat blood even before his ordeal, the extreme shock caused by multiple scourge marks (over 120 separate lashes deeply inflicted can be counted by blood marks on the shroud), pain and the loss of blood through flagellation and the crowning with a helmet of thorns, all combined to cause heart failure. Christ’s loud cry at the moment of death, utterly impossible in the case of suffocation, announced the moment of rupture.

Modern cardiology supports the theory that extreme moral stress can precondition the body for heart attacks and that, given even minor physical provocation, the heart will give in to this stress.

While archaeologists, scientist, doctors and theologians have probed, read, analyzed and interpreted the shroud to determine its authenticity, artists have played their role in determining its provenance and suggesting the identity of the man of the shroud.

In the first is centuries after Christ artistic representations of the Cross depicted Christ as a fish (its letters spelled out in Greek mean Jesus Christ son of God the Savior) or as a lamb. The figure of Christ-man on the cross was nonexistent. Slowly, however, in the post-Constantine era when Christians were allowed more freedom of expression, crosses appeared with a toned down, fully clothed Christ.

Curiously, though, the Byzantine art of the 4th to 11th centuries brought a coherence to the art of the cross, depicting a bearded Christ, half nude, suffering and nailed to the cross, suggesting that the shroud had been exposed in the Eastern world in that period and that artists portrayed what they saw on the shroud. Contemporary art in the Western world, however, still showed Christ fully clothed and usually beardless, thus providing a strong argument for the historians who quote the shroud as first appearing in the West only after 1204.

In the magical encounters between the ancient relic and men of science, art, and theology, the greatest mystery today lies in the question; how did the bodily imprints get out into the linen? Two theories are prevalent.

Perhaps Msgr. Ricci, referring to these theories, best answered when he said, “where research ends, faith begins.” For researchers, the imprints could have been caused by the powdered aloes and myrrh spread on the shroud in a temporary effort at preservation of the body prior to full burial. For the Jews the quickening approach of the Sabbath allowed only hasty, pre-burial rites. These substances could have had a chemical reaction due to vapors or body liquids and the dampness of the tomb, thus causing the imprints to surface.

On the other hand, they could have been caused by an inexplicable release of energy, “a microsecond burst of radiation scorching the surface of the cloth.” To date, there has been no scientific proof that would give credence to this second theory.

Outstanding, however, were the findings of Baima Bollone and Rodante that would confirm the first theory as being scientifically irrefutable. Their repeated experiments proved consistent in their results; if a fabric impregnated with aloes and myrrh, and in direct contact with a body covered with coagulated blood stains, was exposed to conditions of humidity or moisture, there would appear, in approximately 36 hours, bodily imprints identical in nature to those of the shroud.

In 1988 a carbon-14 dating test was performed on scraps of the shroud in independent tests in laboratories in Tucson, Arizona, Oxford, Great Britain and Zurich, Switzerland. Test results said the shroud dated from 1260 to 1390, which, of course, would rule out its used during the time of Christ.

However, tests done since then by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 tests but dispute the findings. The newer examinations date the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD, which would put it in the era of Christ. Brendan Whiting, author of the 2006 book “The Shroud Story” introduced the world to the most powerful evidence that the 1988 Shroud c-14 data (dating the Shroud in the 14th Century) was invalid.

Most recent tests have determined that the earlier carbon dating test results were likely skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages. In addiiton there woul d have been contamination from the hands used to repair the cloth.

The Catholic Church has never pronounced itself officially on the authenticity of the shroud or the identity of the man. Nor is it “within the church’s doctrinal definition to declare the authenticity of any relic.” Importantly, the church has never denied its authenticity.

Several Popes have openly expressed reverence for the shroud and Pope Pius XI dedicated a prayer to it. In September, 1936, Pius XI said: “There is still much mystery surrounding the sacred object: but it is certainly sacred as perhaps no other thing is sacred; and assuredly (one can say this is an acknowledged fact, even apart from all ideas of faith or of Christian piety) it is certainly not a human work.”

Pope Paul VI said, “Perhaps only the image of the Holy Shroud gives us a something of the mystery of this human and divine figure.”

More recently, Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope emeritus Benedict XVI both described the Shroud of Turin as “an icon” and Saint John Paul II called the Shroud “a mirror of the Gospel.”

Hundreds of scholars from a variety of fields have spent hundreds of thousands of hours and millions of words researching and writing about the shroud. This would be a book-length account if it were to include mention of only a score of these scholars.

The question remains: who is the Man of the Shroud?

The answer has been almost unanimous since experiments done following Secondo Pia’s photograph in 1898: sindonologists, some even previously atheists, have paralleled their findings with the evangelical account of the death of Christ and they conclude that scientific, objective evidence proves the man to be Jesus.

When asked if he believed the man of the shroud was Christ, Msgr. Ricci replied that there was perfect agreement between the Gospel account of the death of Jesus and the story told by the shroud. He said, “if one had recourse to the Gospel, the document of faith, and to a careful reading of the holy shroud, the archaeological document, you see that both speak of Christ with unmistakable certainty.”