A Pilgrimage to the Shroud of Turin

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“Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed” John 20:6-8.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” John 15:15.

It was a once–in-a-lifetime trip to Rome and Turin that my husband Mark and I took last month with 6 of our 10 kids. A mere tourist destination would not have been enough incentive to pull it all together.   We went as pilgrims to see the Shroud of Turin. (And, Rome wasn’t a bad side trip.)

Mark and I share the opinion of many leading scientists, previous Popes, and Pope Francis that the Shroud is worth venerating as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.  So, we joined the ranks of the two million people who will see the Shroud during its 67-day-display from April 19 until June 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.

Pope Francis plans to arrive in Turin on June 21, becoming part of a long line of Popes who have made pilgrimages to see the Shroud.  “I hope that this act of veneration may help us all to find in Jesus Christ, the merciful face of God, and to recognize it also in the faces of our brothers and sisters, especially those suffering most,” he said when announcing his planned visit.  The Pope also paid for 120 of Rome’s homeless to make a pilgrimage to see the Shroud.              

The Carbon Dating Problem

In 1988, a carbon dating test was thought to be the smoking gun that proved the Shroud of Turin to be a medieval fake.  Later carbon dating of linens in Egyptian tombs of known dates proved that test results could be spurious with linens.  The Shroud has a history of fire and water damage which many believe could have altered the carbon dating results.  Scientists also determined that the earlier test might have been affected by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages.  The test verified earlier results that found traces of dust and pollen on the Shroud that could only have come from the Holy Land.  Still, there are some who stubbornly (willfully?) stand by the initial carbon dating tests, but it’s getting harder for them to continue to do so. In 2013 it was announced that scientists at the University of Padua in Italy, using the same fibers from the 1988 tests, dated the Shroud to the 1st century AD.  This adds more scientific evidence that the image of the crucified man imprinted on the cloth is Jesus of Nazareth. 

The Vatican cannot claim definitively that the Shroud is definitely the 14-foot linen cloth that covered Jesus after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago, so it is referred to as an “icon” rather than a relic.  Neither does the Church require anyone to believe it is the actual burial cloth, however, the evidence certainly points to that conclusion.  Extensive examination has led numerous top scientists to conclude that the 3-dimensional imprint of a crucified, bearded man crowned with thorns, scourged and crucified, is likely to be the Shroud of Jesus.  It’s noteworthy that even with all our technology of today, no one has been able to replicate it. 

Armstrongs atop Turin Cathedral bell tower in Turin
The author with family atop the Cathedral in Turin, Italy.

Although an estimated 30,000 a day get in line to view the Shroud for free, we only waited around an hour our first evening in Turin.  Then we attended 7 a.m. Mass the following two mornings. Inside the church, the cloth is framed and backlit just behind the altar.

On May 13, our first morning there, it was the feast of Fatima, Mark’s 59th and our son Jacob’s 25th birthdays, (birthday buddies).  We started our day at Mass at St. John the Baptist Church along with around 150 others, before the Shroud.  It’s total awesomeness to be at Mass (even if I don’t understand Italian) and receive the Body and Blood of Christ while viewing the cloth that bears the imprint of the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Imagine it. Mary Magdalene would have been the first to see it, then the Apostles, many popes and millions of others along with us—a motley crew of Armstrongs. The imprint of the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nail marks—the visual evidence of the torture of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a profound testimony to his love for us.  Standing before the cloth, I imagined Mary Magdalene and the apostles running to the empty tomb.

My Lord and my God–my brother, my friend–died for me and for you.  To look upon the cloth that wrapped his beaten and holy body was surely a grace beyond human understanding.   Thank you, God.

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