Most people have at least heard of the Shroud and are vaguely aware that it bears what appears to be an imprint of a man’s face, an image reproduced around the world as the true face of Christ. Fewer realize the full extent of the image. The cloth is nearly 4.5 meters long and is marked not just with a face but with two complete impressions, front and back, of a man’s flogged and crucified body. Of the two figures, it is the frontal one, inevitably, that grabs the attention. Here we see the well-known face, a bearded mask housing a pair of glowing, owlish eyes, the hair and forehead flecked with blood. The body appears physically robust. A major wound is visible below the chest on the right-hand side, which seems to match the report that, as Jesus hung on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a spear (John 19.34). Lower down, rivulets of blood traverse the forearms, stemming apparently from nail-wounds in the wrists, only one of which can be seen. The arms are crossed. The rather spindly hands are placed decorously over the groin. The whole figure is clearly legible, except for the feet, which disappear into blood-stained nothingness.
Relatively misshapen and formless, the dorsal figure is perhaps even more expressive of physical torment. The marks of the flail are seen more clearly here, covering every part of the body from the shoulders to the calves. The scalp is ringed by minor blood-flows, recalling the crown of thorns. The feet, which appear to overlap, bear the bloody traces of nail-wounds. The most peculiar features are two messy pools of watery blood, which run into each other across the small of the back. These bring to mind John’s strange report that, when the soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’s side, ‘there came out blood and water’ (John 19.34).
Read the full extract: The Shroud of Turin and Thomas de Wesselow’s ‘The Sign’ – The Daily Beast