‘Silent Witness’ caused consternation.
In the late 1970s an unusual documentary film surfaced. When it was shown to London’s film critics, ‘Silent Witness’ caused consternation. Its subject matter was the Shroud of Turin – not a subject commonplace in a Britain then dealing with economic recession and punk rock. It was the first time a major documentary had emerged on that particular piece of cloth based on the then latest research, of which that decade had seen a flurry.
A year or so after, I remember being dragooned by priests into a school lecture theatre where the lights were dimmed and the aforementioned film was screened. It delighted and intrigued in equal measure. The combination of detective story and seeming scientific affirmation of the faith was a heady mix. And who could forget the ending? When all the evidence had been sifted, and the latest findings gone through in detail, we were left with only the Shroud’s head image visible upon a black screen, and then, after a brief silence, and with more than hint of incredulous impatience, a voice demanded: ‘Who is he?’
And then there was the carbon dating:
Science had been asked and had answered in a way that seemed to place doubt on any belief other than that of scientific materialism.
It was only decades later that other doubts began to emerge though, and this time they were about that 1988 test. Questions were asked about the process employed, of where on the cloth the samples had been excised from, and, more importantly, the mindset of the scientists behind it. Had they looked for and, therefore, subsequently found what they wanted? Regardless, what was certain, and what had never been fully explained to the masses, was just how fallible such carbon dating was thought to be by many scientists. The populace had been lead to believe that the results of such tests were gospel; they were anything but.
Today, in the hushed dark of a Baroque chapel, withholding its secret still, it awaits those who come to meditate upon its pierced figure, drawing all closer to the mystery woven into the cloth’s very fabric. It is indeed an icon of suffering, but it is also one of love, ultimately speaking as it does of the Passion.
Maybe, we shall never have definitive ‘proof’; perhaps, we aren’t meant to: this linen cloth being more enigmatic than history can ever explain and even more mysterious than science can ever prove.
So, still resonating through the darkness, comes that same voice to demand:
Who is he?