The Barefoot Man: It is Christ’s Shroud not Turin’s

imageComedian and Ethel Merman interpreter Dominic Mattos, who according to his profile page at Inside Jokes Comedy Club read Theology at Oxford University, had just attended IOSOT, the triennial International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, in Munich.

I’d never visited Bavaria before but felt sure it would be full of the Baroque Catholicism I love, and of good heavy food and beer. I was not disappointed.


At about 4 o’clock, when I was almost fully catatonic, a small man came into the book exhibit. He had a beard, a rucksack, and was barefoot (which I didn’t notice at first). I was vaguely aware that he was going around the room talking to the publishers,  but beyond that my mind remained as utterly blank as it had been before. A few minutes later he arrived at my stand, and held a small card out for me to look at. I sat inert for a while longer before coming to. The man asked me what was on the card. I saw that it was a picture of the Turin Shroud. So I said , it’s ‘The Turin Shroud’. He said something to the effect of; ‘yes, but it should really be called the "Christ" shroud, because it’s Christ’s shroud not Turin’s, the latter being a place’. I nodded in agreement, I could not – and had no wish to – fault his logic. Then he said the card was his gift to me. I said thank-you very much.  He then offered me another card, with a truly ghastly picture of Jesus on it. I politely declined and said I liked the shroud better and to take two of his cards would be greedy. Then he said ‘thank-you, you very nice. Goodbye’, and pottered off around the room. By this point my brain had woken up and I took more notice of my recent conversation partner. I noticed his barefootedness, and beard, and simple and direct approach. I also noticed that most people were instantly refusing any conversation with him. This didn’t seem to bother him much and in a few minutes he was gone.

I sat and reflected for a while. My chief reflection was that had I been in any way awake, or any less inert, I would not have been in any way receptive to this man. I would have turned him away instantly. I’d have presumed him to be crazy, and indeed he may be so. As it was I was given a small grace, for I also reflected that this man had asked nothing of me. He was not a beggar – at least he did not beg anything of me – and he did not push me to say, or react to, anything. It didn’t occur to me to offer him anything in return, and this did not bother him. No, this man had quite simply brought me Christ, on my feast day when I had been unable to go to Mass, and because of my inertia I had found myself able to accept him. This made me well up a tiny bit – the heat was getting to me – so I said a few Aves for the man, and tucked the picture away. Here it is:. . .

5 thoughts on “The Barefoot Man: It is Christ’s Shroud not Turin’s”

  1. As a second generation German American (all four of grandparents were born in Germany well before the turn of the twentieth century)I found this to be an extraordinary rewarding post. It has value as culinary report but goes much deeper.

    I believe it is Christ’s Shroud because applying Occam’s Razor, it is the simplest explanation of its mysteries. It is also some evidence of the Resurrection.

    One the article makes is an valuable semiotic/semantic point. Perhaps the time as come when we drop the “Turin” from the Shroud identification and adopt the “Christ’s Shroud” appellation. That strange little man he encountered and the repetition of the encounter on the web, is an epochal event. In a way, he was playing John the Baptist.

    I believe that the Shroud has been waiting for the moment when human science advanced to the point when we could begin to understand it’s meaning. The issue is not provenance but providence.

    I have two blogs. The first is more general. The second is focused on the thesis that the Shroud is an allegorical (at least) Second Coming, gifted by Science.

  2. When Dominic described his strange encounter, I immediately thought of James K Baxter (1926-1972), arguably New Zealand’s greatest poet. You can find a compendium of his works at:
    A potted biography can be found on Wiki.
    Likewise the images of Baxter can also be found, but are rather more respectable than the memory I have of him walking barefoot, and unkempt with straggly beard around Wellington Railway station, sometimes fingering rosary beads. He struggled with alcoholism for much of his life, converted to Catholicism, had a profoundly spiritual awareness, and wrote not only some hard-nosed poetry, plays and other works, but also regular columns for the Catholic newspapers. He was named for James Keir Hardy a notable founder of the Labour movement in Britain, his father a conscientious objector during the Great War was subject to severe military punishment on the front lines. In later life James K founded a commune for waifs and strays at Hiruhirama ( = Jerusalem) on the Wanganui River at the site of an early mission station established by Susan Aubert. He had an intense awareness of Maori spirituality and this permeates some of his work (e.g. “Jerusalem Daybook”).

    I can easily imagine Dominic’s strange little man as a kind of incarnation of Baxter, who brought an awareness of Christ with his presence. We ought not to dismiss too lightly such as those who unkempt and bedraggled walk our streets. They may well be closer to Christ than we may imagine ourselves to be. And they may conceal an unrecognised profundity behind their unprepossessing appearance.

    1. Yes daveb of wellington, I quite agree with your last paragraph.

      Francis Thompson, author of the many famous poems (including ‘the Hound of Heaven’) essays, and some books (notably his beautiful ‘Life of St. Ignatius’), was another such character. Thompson was a real misfit and street wanderer for much of his life, but a man of great talent and imagination, and a devout Catholic.

    2. Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven” has been one of my favourite poems for very many years. His illness and lack of worldly success made him much more vulnerable than Baxter, but he was probably more of a mystic. He was rescued from obscurity by Wilfred and Alice Meynell. Baxter’s way of life was deliberate, independent and, apart from his battle with alcoholism, was self-chosen. Baxter was an incredibly prolific writer, and he was much preoccupied with the theme of death, but he was also able to reach out to the weak and vulnerable, empathise with them and give them emotional support. Much of his poetry has a raw edge to it, reflects human situations, whereas Thompson’s poetic genius seems more concerned with the divine.

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