There is a haunting “Godong via Getty Image” photograph of the “Details of the Shroud of Turin” in the Wall Street Journal. I think the photograph may actually be a cut and paste from a reproduction (below) of the shroud’s face in the Chiesa Della Ss. Annunziata Church in Turin which is sold as a poster in gift shops around town. It may also be ordered as a poster, T-shirt or tote bag from AllPosters.com. And here is a good copy of that cut and paste at the Huffington Post, which captions it correctly.
The Wall Street Journal’s Vatican reporter, Francis X. Rocca, yesterday, filed a perspective on the upcoming exhibition of the shroud, An Ancient Shroud and an Eternal Debate: The display of Turin’s famed relic begins Sunday. He writes:
When the Shroud of Turin goes on display Sunday for the first time in five years, it will revive a long-running debate as to whether it is a medieval fabrication or—as Catholic devotees have believed for centuries—the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
But that debate raises the larger question of why Catholics venerate the shroud—and countless other relics.
The fervor surrounding each display of the shroud testifies to the power such relics command in the church. More than a million people have already reserved a free ticket for an up-close view of the shroud, which will be displayed until June 24. Visitors will file past the shroud for 12 hours a day, and about a fifth of the available dates are sold out.
Such veneration inevitably gave rise to a market in relics, some of them dubious, such as the head of St. John the Baptist—as a child. For centuries, pilgrims to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome thought they were venerating a “Veil of Veronica” that the Vatican today acknowledges is a copy.
In the case of the Shroud of Turin, the church does not take a stance as to whether it is authentic or not, leaving that question to scientists and historians. The results of carbon-14 tests in 1988 suggested the shroud was no older than the 13th century, but other experts have since suggested that the fabric tested may have been contaminated by centuries of handling. No one has been able to duplicate the image on the shroud or to explain how it was produced.
When Pope John Paul II visited the shroud in 1998, he acknowledged disagreements about its history and actual connection to Jesus. “Since it is not a matter of faith, the church has no specific competence to pronounce on these questions,” John Paul said.