A new study released last week included new evidence that links and further authenticates two holy relics that millions of Christians believe offer physical proof of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before we explore the research and the relics, let us recall a New Testament passage concerning faith in Christ and the need for physical evidence. I mean the familiar story of “doubting Thomas” (John 20:24–29).
The apostle Thomas was absent when the resurrected Christ appeared to some of the apostles. On hearing the astonishing news, Thomas declared, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hand and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later, Jesus appeared, giving Thomas the physical proof he demanded. Then Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If in your faith walk you identify with Doubting Thomas, keep reading.
First and foremost is the Shroud of Turin. Secured in a vault in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, the Shroud is believed by millions to be the burial cloth of Jesus. It is a fine linen cloth, measuring 14.5 feet by 3.5 feet, and mysteriously displays a finely detailed negative photographic image — front and back, head to toe, of an anatomically correct man who appears to have been tortured, beaten, and crucified. Note that, in their accounts of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, all four Gospels mention a “fine linen cloth.”
Perhaps it is a coincidence, but clearly seen on the body of the crucified man in the Shroud are gruesome markings consistent with the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion. You can count over 100 whip marks, possibly from scourging by Roman flagra, and identify on his wrists and feet obvious wounds that could have been from large spikes. Other markings are compatible with what could have been a crown of thorns. On closer examination, you can spot bruises (from beatings?) on his face, knees (from falling?), and the back of his shoulders (from carrying a heavy cross?), and a large bloody mark (from a spear?) in his side. Like the crucified Jesus in Gospel accounts, the man in the Shroud had no broken bones.
Perhaps it is a coincidence, but clearly seen on the body of the crucified man in the Shroud are gruesome markings consistent with the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion.
The Shroud, the most studied, analyzed, and tested religious relic in the world, has spawned a vast, global field of scientific study, called “sindonology,” but still baffles scientists. Its mysteries are many and complex. For brevity’s sake, I will only scratch the surface (so to speak).
First among the major mysteries is how the image was made. Second, what is the substance constituting the image, which can be scraped away with a razor blade? The substance is undetermined — all man-made materials have been ruled out — and only rests on top of the cloth; it does not penetrate the cloth’s linen fibers. The third mystery is related to the second: Blood from the crucified man penetrated the cloth, as one would expect, but also preceded the impression of the man’s image. “Blood first, image second” is a mantra of Shroud researchers. This order is logical if the “man in the Shroud” was in fact Christ, who would have been wrapped in the linen Shroud days before the electrical event (see below) that accompanied his resurrection and resulted in the human image.
The only evidence that would conclusively authenticate the Shroud against naysayers and claims of forgery is Jesus’ DNA. It would be matched against the blood — type AB — found on the Shroud and considered rare.
Enter the Sudarium of Oviedo. It resides in the Cathedral of Oviedo, in Spain. The Sudarium is a piece of linen cloth, 34 by 21 inches, thought to have been used to cover the head of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion (John 20:7). Unlike the Shroud, the Sudarium does not display an image. The Sudarium contains male blood of type AB, however, which matches the blood on the Shroud. Moreover, the patterns of blood flow on the Sudarium are consistent with those of a crucified man.
Indeed, the Sudarium and the Shroud covered the same person, as Juan Manuel Miñarro, the author of a study sponsored by the Spanish Center of Sindonology, recently concluded. “We have come to a point where it seems absurd to suggest that ‘by happenstance’ all of the wounds, lesions and swelling coincides on both cloths,” said the center’s president, Jorge-Manuel Rodríguez. “Logic requires that we conclude that we are speaking of the same person.”
The study’s conclusion was no surprise to Sudarium expert Janice Bennett, author of Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo, New Evidence for the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin (2001). Bennett, who has been studying the Sudarium since 1997, tells me that,
Although Miñarro stops short of linking the two cloths to Jesus, ample research has yielded staggering evidence. For example, both linens show bloodstains on the head, in approximately the same position, that were formed by sharp objects, similar to what thorns would produce. Jesus was the only person in recorded history to have been crowned with thorns before crucifixion.
Bennett explains as well that the Shroud and the Sudarium are consistent with Jewish burial customs of Jesus’ day:
Another important matter is that the cadaver that was wrapped by both the Sudarium and the Shroud suffered death by crucifixion, but was afforded a Jewish burial. This is highly unusual because most crucifixion victims were left on the cross for days and the bones were later deposited in common graves.
Bennett adds that the “new research establishes approximately 20 points of correlation [between the Shroud and the Sudarium], which more than satisfies the standards of proof used by most judicial systems around the world, which require only 8 to10.”
My own keen interest in the Shroud led me to visit Turin in 2010 and again in 2015, the last two occasions when the Shroud was on public display. Having written about it for years, I have forged relationships with some of the most renowned experts, including Russ Breault, president of the Shroud of Turin Education Project Inc., and Barrie Schwortz, who founded Shroud.com, the first and most comprehensive Shroud site.
Topping my list is Giulio Fanti of Padua University. In 2012, Fanti concluded that an electrical charge in the form of radiation is what likely caused the man’s image to be imprinted on the Shroud. He has also dated the Shroud to the time of Jesus, debunking the flawed carbon-14 testing conducted in 1988.
“While the Shroud of Turin shows both a double body image [the body’s front and back, as the cloth was wrapped around the body] and human bloodstains, the Sudarium of Oviedo only shows human bloodstains consistent with the blood principally coming out from the mouth and nose,” Fanti tells me. He elaborates:
There are many coincidences between Shroud and Sudarium that lead one to think that both sheets were used for the same person: Jesus Christ. Both have been used for a bearded man with moustache and long hair who was crucified. A significant match has been found when overlapping the Sudarium bloodstains on the Shroud face: Even the two bloodstains caused by the crown of thorns on the forehead of the Shroud man show a correspondence with the bloodstains of the Sudarium.
If you have read this far but, like Doubting Thomas, still need physical proof to accept the resurrection of Christ, I recommend that you research first the Shroud and then the Sudarium. Both have survived centuries. Their markings are consistent with Scripture accounts of Christ’s torture and execution. Both contain not only the same rare blood type but also pollen of a kind found only in ancient Israel. The Shroud and the Sudarium authenticate each other.
“Traditionally, the Sudarium has been considered a living testimony of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross, while the Shroud’s mysteriously formed image was hailed as a proclamation of his Resurrection,” Jane Bennett explains, in her beautiful description of this meeting of faith and science. “In the studies conducted on the Sudarium and the Shroud, science has served to corroborate eyewitness accounts that have always been considered by many as a mere profession of faith. In this case, science and faith — so often mistakenly believed to be incompatible — have only served to enrich each another and, in the process, bring the world closer to the actual truth of the events that transpired two thousand years ago.”
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).