The Shroud in the papers this Easter Sunday
CLEARWATER — In the mid-1970s, Wayne Phillips saw a television program telling the story of the Shroud of Turin, a centuries-old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man.
At first, he was miffed. Years of Catholic schooling — Jesuit High School in Tampa and Notre Dame University — and he had never known about this artifact? (He would later learn that it was a delicate subject at the Vatican.)
A doctor, he has a curious mind. A mind shaped by logic and by science. But as a Catholic, he understands some beliefs are still a mystery.
He yearned to reconcile both and know the truth in his mind and in his heart. So Phillips began his own decades-long investigation to determine the shroud’s authenticity.
There have been many ups and downs in this journey. But today, Phillips says without hesitation: “I believe it is real.”
Now he wants to share his knowledge with others.
A skeptical point of view for balance:
The shroud’s iconic image is venerated by many Christians, specifically Roman Catholics.
Conversely, it has been mocked by disbelievers, landing on the cover of tabloids such as the National Enquirer and satirized on an episode of “South Park.”
Pat Linse, co-founder of The Skeptics Society, calls the shroud “a highly stylized, somewhat amateur rubbing. It’s like Big Foot. Every time someone comes up with a new theory or whatnot, it’s gets a big flurry of attention.”
Linse has no problem with believers who hold the shroud sacred as an article of faith.
But when people claim they have scientific proof that it’s real, they had better be prepared to stand their ground against the critics. For the 100 facts in the shroud’s defense, Linse says, “we can counter with 1 million that show it’s a fake.
“The church keeps it alive because humanity can’t prove it’s real,” Phillips says. “It can’t prove it’s not, either.”
He understands the doubters.
His lifelong friend, Ralph Ruso, a retired Hillsborough County educator and school administrator, is one of them.
Phillips and Ruso grew up together in Seminole Heights and Davis Islands and served as best man at each other’s weddings. Ruso has been to three of Phillips’ presentations, learning something new every time.
But does he believe?
“It’s still a mystery to me,” Ruso says. “I can’t say it’s real. What I do like is that there’s this ongoing process of studying it and trying to figure it out. I love Wayne’s passion for it. He says there’s hope for me yet, but I’m not there.”
Phillips says even his wife of 44 years, Bridget, a devoted Catholic, thinks he’s “insane” (she really doesn’t), and only one of their four grown children has come to one of his talks. He’s fine with that, because the shroud is his obsession, not theirs.
In 1978, two years after Phillips saw the documentary, a team of American scientists banded together for the Shroud of Turin Research Project.
They were not predisposed to putting their stamp of approval on it; according to Phillips, most were in the group were agnostic, and only two were Catholics.
After five days of repeated tests, sample taking, photographs and X-rays using state-of-the-art equipment, they eventually determined the shroud “showed no evidence of the hand of an artist” and that its image was of a “real human form of a scourged, crucified man.”
And the carbon dating:
But in 1988, laboratories in Zurich, Oxford and Arizona performed carbon-14 dating on a small corner of the linen. All three came back with a date range of 1260 to 1390, declaring the cloth to only be 600 to 700 years old.
A story in The New York Times called the shroud a fake.
“I was completed destroyed,” Phillips says. “Just devastated. A dozen years into this, and I felt like I had been duped.”
Still, a small part in him wouldn’t let go. As much as he relied on science, what if the testing proved flawed?
The debate continued, though the naysayers felt the case was closed.
Then, in 2005, a scientific paper concluded that the sample used to test the shroud’s age in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area, rather than an original swatch of the linen. Therefore, the radiocarbon date was not valid for determining the shroud’s true age.