Theology professor: Shroud of Turin has scientific, spiritual value


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Theology professor: Shroud of Turin has scientific, spiritual value

By Roger Nomer | Mar 3, 2023

WEBB CITY, Mo. — A recent presentation by a theology professor focused on the scientific and spiritual meaning of the Shroud of Turin at the start of Lent.

Many Christians believe the shroud may be the burial cloth of Jesus, bearing marks of his suffering.

A visitor takes a photo of an illuminated photo of the face on the Shroud of Turin on Feb. 24 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Webb City. Globe | Roger Nomer

“Ever since I was a young child, I was always fascinated with the shroud,” said Mark Zia, professor of sacred theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. “I was always fascinated with the possibility that we might have a physical representation of what Jesus actually looked like, and that we might have a physical, palpable way on reflecting what it means to say that he loved us to the end.”

During the first week of Lent, Zia gave two presentations in the area. The first was Feb. 24 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Webb City, and a presentation at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Carthage followed the next day.



Zia’s presentation included a life-size replica of the Shroud of Turin, printed with archival dyes on canvas, photo negatives of both the front and back of shroud and an illuminated photo of the face on the shroud. The original is in Turin, Italy.

Giving his talk to a crowded church in Webb City, Zia said he wanted to inspire a prayerful meditation on the passion of Christ, using the Shroud of Turin as a starting point. Rather than argue the authenticity of the shroud, he gave his perspective that when the discussion becomes more academic, it can lose spiritual value.

Zia said the shroud is one of the most studied artifacts in history. It hasn’t left Italy since 1578, and it only left the city of Turin during World War II under fear that Hitler could take possession of it. Zia believes the shroud got to Italy from Jerusalem, traveling through Edessa and then Constantinople.

From Constantinople, it was then taken to France. In 1578, the shroud traveled to the Archbishop of Milan for authentication and has remained in Italy. Zia said this chronology is supported by a study from a Swiss botanist, finding pollen on the shroud from Jerusalem, as well as Turkey, France and Italy.

About the shroud

Zia said the shroud has been researched, damaged by fire and water, and repaired. The fabric has undergone duress and damage through much of its time, he said.

There are significant reasons people believe in the authenticity of shroud, Zia said. No scientific process to this date has been able to identify how the image got on the shroud, he claimed. Furthermore, no one can reproduce the shroud with the same accuracy as the original.

Tests have shown the image on the shroud is not caused by any pigment, burn marks, radiation or chemical reaction, Zia said. Tests have shown the blood on the shroud is type AB, the rarest form of blood that would have existed in Europe but was more common in Asia.

Carbon dating in the 1980s that put the shroud’s origins in the Middle Ages may have tested a repaired part of the shroud rather than the original fabric, Zia said. He concluded that if the garment is a miracle, it could explain why science can’t account for the shroud.

This led Zia to discuss how the shroud became a spiritual meditation for people.

The shroud reveals the suffering of Jesus during his arrest, scourging, crowning of thorns and crucifixion, Zia said. By studying the gospel accounts and the shroud, Catholics and others can find a greater understanding of suffering during the Lenten season.

“If you take the four gospels, and put them all together for the passion, every single detail the gospels tell us about the Lord is corroborated, at least insofar as it’s possible to be, and is witnessed by the Shroud of Turin,” Zia said.

What does shroud show?

Among the wounds detailed by the shroud are the whip wounds in Jesus’ flesh. The scourging sentenced by Pontius Pilate was especially brutal in an attempt to satisfy and sway the opinion of the Jewish people set on Jesus’ death, Zia said.

“From the shroud, we can tell that there were two different scourgers, they were two different heights, one on his right and one on his left,” Zia said. “They were taking turns and using their full weight in the scourging.”

The shroud also shows the pierce wounds on the head caused by a crown of thorns, or rather a cap of thorns, Zia said. Jesus would have suffered a piercing of cranial nerves from this crown, one of the worst pains you can experience, he said.

Finally, Zia said the shroud showed injuries from carrying the horizontal beam of the cross. He said some Catholic officials have speculated this was the most painful wound, both physically and theologically painful.

That the image of Jesus has survived history indicates that the shroud is a gift from God, Zia said.

“If the Shroud of Turin teaches us something about Jesus’ death, it must also teach us something about the resurrection,” Zia said. “The Lord has given us a photograph of himself, because he knows that as human beings, it is hard for us to love someone we cannot behold.”

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