The Man in the Shroud

March 02 2003 | by

Visitors are suddenly immersed in an eerie and suggestive atmosphere upon entering ‘Holy Jerusalem’, Bologna’s most ancient church, with its suffused light, pervaded by the twilight of the ancient vaulted ceiling; there is a vibrant silence, almost saturated with invisible presences. In spite of the infinite weakness of its condition, the lifeless bronze body at the foot of the steps to the presbytery in the centre of the church emanates a tremendous, spellbinding allure: nude, powerful, and regal, it is suspended in mid-air, with nothing else around it, exposed to the intimidated, almost fearful view of visitors. You perceive that you are being confronted with the mystery of a death that is life.

One of the seven churches of the wonderful St. Stephen’s Abbey complex, the church is drenched in its 1,600 years of history. The statue on the other hand was created in our own day, but seems to blend perfectly into the spirit of the time.

The image represents the Man in the Shroud and was produced with scientific methods from the faint figure mysteriously imprinted on the Holy Shroud, which is conserved in Turin and which, by ancient Christian tradition, is the sheet that was wrapped around the dead body of Christ. The statue is a three-dimensional representation of that man. So for the first time it is possible to see, contemplate and admire the Man in the Shroud, just as those who were present at the burial did twenty centuries ago. The work, which is the result of high-level scientific and artistic research, has no precedent, neither in value, nor in faithfulness to the original ‘stroke’ impressed upon the Shroud.

It took three scientists and a sculptor two years to complete the statue. With the aid of the most advanced technology, the three scientists recorded all the measurements of the mysterious figure impressed upon the Shroud, down to the smallest detail; then, with the aid of sophisticated scientific programs, they elaborated the data on a computer, thus coming up with the measurements and proportions that the figure necessarily had to have in its three-dimensional form; finally, they delivered the results to a great sculptor, who ‘translated’ them into a life-sized statue.

Anyone who has seen the statue can testify to the fact that the result is amazing. That statue possesses the very features, measurements and details of the Man in the Shroud, right down to the most minute details. The arms, the trunk, the feet, the hands, the thighs, the head, the face – all are scientifically the same as those of the man impressed upon the Shroud. If that man was Jesus, we have a perfect reproduction of the countenance of Jesus.

This is not a sculpture born of an artist’s creativity, says Luigi Mattei, author of the statue. Neither is it the result of a cold scientific reconstruction, carried out by a technician. It is a complex work, the fruit of both art and science, which have worked together with great love, making all their specific competence available. We think the results are truly exceptional.

The statue has been defined a masterpiece of science, art and faith. Ecclesiastic authorities in Bologna have favoured its public display throughout the Jubilee year. Every day, visitors from every part of Italy and from abroad arrive to view the statue. In the months of August, September and October, at the same time as the showing of the Shroud in Turin (from 22 August to 22 October), group bookings are extremely numerous. At the end of the Jubilee year, the statue will begin a long tour and will be displayed in the cathedrals of some of the most important cities in the world.

The scientists who worked on the project are Professor Lamberto Coppini, who unfortunately passed away a few months ago and who had become an institution as professor of Anatomy at the University of Bologna, Director Emeritus of the University’s Institute of Human Anatomy and renowned scholar who studied the Shroud extensively; Professor Fiorenzo Facchini, a full professor of Anthropology at the University of Bologna and also a scholar of the Shroud; Professor Giulio Fanti, associate professor of Mechanical and Thermal Measurements at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Padua, author of several books on the Shroud. The sculptor who translated their data into a statue, as mentioned earlier, was Professor Luigi Mattei, internationally renowned sculptor and past instructor at the Academy of Fine Arts, whose works are shown in more than seventy museums and public art galleries throughout the world.

I made a great commitment when I undertook this work, says Mattei. I knew I was not to create ‘my’ image of the Man in the Shroud. What I had to do was translate the scientific data which the scholars had so meticulously elaborated from their measurements. At the same time, however, I had to confer upon the sculpture the regal spirit that is present in its two-dimensional expression in the Shroud. An arduous task. For many believers, that image is the emblematic figure of God in human form. And aside form this faith, it is an image which in effect portrays sublime qualities of a magical power and majesty. That’s why it has been enchanting anyone who comes near it for the last two thousand years.

I had to ‘liberate’ that image from the two-dimensional condition in which it had been imprisoned for twenty centuries, continues Luigi Mattei, I had to make it come to life, to make it discernible, visible: almost as if I had to ‘resurrect’ it to a new life. I worked with great humility and great love, together with a profound faith. This is the result.

Professor Mattei points to the bronze statue in front of us and looks at it in silence. I have accompanied several personalities to see it, continues Professor Mattei. Artist friends, scholars studying the Shroud, religious personalities – including the Cardinal of Bologna His Eminence Giacomo Biffi. I’ve noticed that everyone, without exception, approached the statue and remained in deep silence, stricken by a visible commotion. Even Cardinal Biffi. I think that silence and that commotion are the proof that I did my job well.

How long did it take you to sculpt this statue?, I asked.
Quite a while, answered the sculptor. But it wasn’t so much the time materially taken up by the creation of the draughts, making sure the measurements were correct, and so on, as much as it was the research dedicated to the expressions and the time given over to meditation, reflection and intimate personal choices.

How much does the statue weigh?
120 kilograms. It is 181 centimetres long, 53 centimetres wide and 25 centimetres deep.

Are these the measurements of the Man in the Shroud?
These are the measurements of the statue as made from the image of the Shroud. If the Man in the Shroud were alive, standing, in full physical efficiency, he would probably be slightly shorter. A dead body will lengthen a bit. Nevertheless, the ‘scientific’ measurements indicate a perfect, athletic and very beautiful physique. The clay model took about ten months to do, and I used 200 kilograms of clay. The dessiccation took another six months. Then there was the firing and fusion in bronze with the ‘lost wax’ method.

The mission we assigned ourselves, says Professor Fiorenzo Facchini, who was also speaking for the other two colleagues who carried out the scientific part of the project with him, Professors Cuppini and Fanti, was to obtain a ‘precise’ three-dimensional figure of the Man in the Shroud. The true figure, which corresponded perfectly to the image which can be seen imprinted on the Shroud itself.

 I’m an anthropologist and teacher of anthropology. In my work I use anthropometric data for various purposes, from the study of populations to the study of single individuals, as well as the identification of persons, their physical characteristics, gleened from their remains or from imprints left. The Shroud is an interesting object from this point of view, inasmuch as it actually bears the imprint of a man.

In the eighties, during a Convention on the Shroud at which I participated, Professor Cuppini and I thought that if we started from the data furnished by the two-dimensional image, we could have calculated the measurements and corporeal proportions of a three-dimensional figure and then, from this, we could deduct the physical characteristics of the man portrayed. Studies of this nature had already been carried out. By Professor Giovanni Iudica Cordiglia for example, who is a great anatomist from Turin; Professor Luigi Gedda, and others. But we realised that we could now take advantage of scientific progress, which could count on instruments that were unthinkable in the past. So we utilised all of the research that had been carried out on the Shroud by many researchers. We added some research with state of the art scientific equipment. Finally we entrusted to Professor Fanti of Padua the realisation of a computer image according to calculations of probability as close to reality as possible.

Professor Fiorenzo Facchini, in addition to being a celebrated anthropologist and full professor of Anthropology at the University of Bologna, is also a priest. His research on the Shroud was therefore vivified and guided by his theological knowledge of Christ who, according to Christian tradition, is the Man in the Shroud.

The three-dimensional realisation, continues Professor Facchini, had to take into account practical needs. The body of the Man in the Shroud recounts a martyrdom. We could say it is an atlas of his terrible passion and death. It was not possible, however, in the statue, to show all the signs left by the flagellation, by the beatings and the martyrdom. It would have become an unviewable mask. So we kept only the main injuries: those referring to the crucifixion and the face injuries, caused by falling along the road to the Calvary. Additionally, it can be seen very well that the right shoulder is lower, probably due to the bad position during the physical work of transporting the heavy cross.

Therefore, I observe, it could actually be said that this statue is a faithful, three-dimensional reconstruction of the Man in the Shroud.
It is the perfect reconstruction, affirms the professor, without hesitation.

What can be ascertained from the examination of the body?
That the Man in the Shroud was a person of good physical stature, robust, with a very solemn beauty. He had a beauty which fascinated and captivated people. This agrees with what we know about the figure of Jesus as narrated in the Gospels: a man who fascinated people with his mere presence.

In its two-dimensional condition, the Shroud hides part of the physical robustness of the man it depicts, due also to the burns collected by the Shroud through the centuries – but this comes out very well in the statue. The Man in the Shroud, in the scientific reconstruction we made, is a strong man, with wide shoulders. The powerful trunk indicates that he had a strong voice and was capable of making himself heard by many people. And the Jesus of the Gospels was just that. Just think of the speech on the mount.

The face is solemn and possesses great serenity, a stateliness that no condemned person would ever assume after being tortured as the Man in the Shroud was. A serene face, composed, authoritative. A face which maintained great moral strength and which is still capable of transmitting it to those who view it.

The abdomen is taut and muscular, the thighs are strong, the calves are smooth. The feet are large, with enlarged soles, as a person accustomed to walking would have. At that time, people walked without shoes and this facilitated the enlargement of the soles of their feet.

The Man in the Shroud could be defined as an individual with a ‘medium build’, with a very long trunk, a bodily structure similar to what has already been seen in Semite groups. Generally, the structure is accompanied by long limbs. In this case, however, the limbs are very well-proportioned, but not excessively long. It can also be seen that the beard is shorter on the right side: in fact, during the flagellation, it may have been partly ripped away. All of this has been faithfully and scientifically included in this statue. It can therefore be said with certainty that this statue is the first three-dimensional, scientifically authentic image of the Man in the Shroud. If that man was Jesus, this statue is the true three-dimensional portrait of Jesus.

Updated on October 06 2016