Doubtless Pope Francis will have some arresting and unexpected things to say
when he arrives next month. . . .
And at the heart of all this activity is a great mystery. The last few popes have spoken of the shroud with awe and encouraged people to contemplate it, but the Vatican has in recent years avoided any pronouncement on whether the cloth really is the one that covered Jesus. In 1988, carbon-dating tests were carried out in laboratories in three countries, and concluded that the fabric had been constructed in the 13th or 14th century; it was a medieval fake. But believers in the shroud’s authenticity point to countervailing evidence: traces of pollen from plants found only in the east Mediterranean, for example. It has been argued that extraneous matter, or radioactivity, could have skewed the carbon-dating results.
To the naked eye, images of the front and back of a slim, dignified man are only dimly visible. But in certain ways, the picture on the Shroud has become more accessible over the past century or so, as it has been subjected to different forms of photographic analysis, and the three-dimensional qualities of the image have been studied. The image does correspond with the Biblical account of a man who was lashed all over his body with a particular kind of whip, commonly used in Roman times, and crowned with thorns which caused heavy bleeding. It also looks clear that the victim was hung up to die after nails were driven through his wrists, not his palms as most religious art would have it. If this was a forgery, it was an ingenious and anatomically intelligent one.
Do read it: The Shroud of Turin: Both visible and hidden