The Man of the Shroud

January 09 2023 | by


“I HAVE seen people burst into tears when they see the body. Some wanted to hug him. Others can’t even look at it...” Blanca Ruiz Antón is the public relations person overseeing an exhibition showcasing a unique reconstruction of the man in the Shroud of Turin, which is believed to have wrapped the body of Jesus after his crucifixion and death.

The title of the exhibition, ‘The Mystery Man’, is replete with symbolism. Mystery, the dictionary explains, is something difficult or impossible to understand. In theology, mystery is a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding. The decades of the Rosary focus on the mystery of Christ or an incident in the life of Jesus, and are divided into the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious Mysteries.


3D reconstruction


‘The Mystery Man’ was displayed in recent months at Salamanca Cathedral in Spain. Organisers hope it will eventually visit all continents of the world. It is the culmination of 15 years of research into the Shroud of Turin, a linen burial cloth of woven twill measuring 430 x 110 cm. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke state that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a piece of linen cloth and placed it in a new tomb. However, the Gospel of John says strips of linen were used.

According to exhibition curator, Alvaro Blanco, a team of experts, which included artists as well as those specialising in special effects and forensics, helped to create the three-dimensional reconstruction of the body based on what can be detected in the Turin Shroud. They employed a hyperrealist technique in which all the details that appear in the Shroud are reproduced on the sculpture, which is 179 centimetres tall (almost 5ft 9in) and weighs 75 kilos (165lbs). It is made from a latex and silicone alloy and incorporates real human hair. Some of its details can be only seen up close. Alvaro Blanco explains, “As you get closer, as you see the pores, the hairs, that is when it becomes completely real.”


Six-room exhibition


Six rooms are devoted to the exhibition. The first room covers the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in Christianity, as well as the countless ways the image of Jesus has been represented during the course of history. Other rooms explore the passion and death of Jesus. After being flagellated and crowned with thorns, Jesus was nailed to the cross on which he died. On the third day he rose from the dead. Archaeological items and replicas from the era provide a historical context.

Room 3 looks at the first documented reference to the burial cloth. This room takes the visitor on a journey through the relic’s history, from its discovery through to the fire of April 1997 that almost destroyed it. Following that recent tragedy, thirty patches were removed from the cloth as well as the backing of the cloth, making it possible to photograph the reverse side of the cloth, which had been hidden from view. A faint part-image of the body was found on the back of the shroud in 2004.


Shock and astonishment


Elsewhere the exhibition looks at how the Shroud has been studied by forensic experts, chemists, theologians and other researchers fascinated by its enigma and representations of the image of Christ corresponding to different historical periods. The influence exerted by the image of the man in the Shroud on those artistic works down the centuries.

The last room is dedicated to the Lamb of God or the Mystery Man – the culmination of which is the model of the body of Jesus, according to the data offered by the Shroud. Many visitors find it both astonishing and emotional.

Speaking to the Messenger of Saint Anthony, Blanca Ruiz Antón said that her personal experience on seeing the reconstructed body was one of shock. “I was very shocked because, while you do a kind of historical, archaeological and artistic journey during the exhibition, when you find the body you see the real pain this man, the mystery man, suffered. And if he was Jesus, this was the biggest love sacrifice ever done.”


Maelstrom of history


Asked about the Shroud of Turin, Álvaro Blanco explained how he approached the story of the Shroud like everyone else, looking for a scientific or forensic explanation, but there came a time during the “maelstrom of history and what was behind the Holy Shroud” when he “understood that the most wonderful things in the world have no explanation.”

“For me, there is no doubt: either the Shroud is authentic, or we are facing the most heart-breaking and sublime artist in our history.” The significance of the hyperrealist model lies in the fact that we are today, for the first time, really able to visualise the man in the Shroud. “Throughout history, painters have detailed the image of Jesus of Nazareth, but today we are able to see him for the first time in human quality, without an artistic movement associated with the history of art.”


Controversial relic


Visitors to the exhibition learn about the history of the Shroud; how it first appeared in the ancient city of Edessa, where a Council was held in 197AD. The Shroud later made its way to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, where it remained until the city was sacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Shroud then disappeared, though records indicate that a burial cloth bearing an image of a crucified man existed in the small town of Lirey, France, some time in the years 1353 to 1357, in the possession of the knight Geoffroi de Charny, who died at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. The Shroud was denounced in 1389 by the Bishop of Troyes as a fake. Since 1578 it has been kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Turin, in Italy.

In 1988 radiocarbon dating established that the Shroud dated from the Middle Ages, between the years 1260 and 1390. However, some who believe in the authenticity of the Shroud have called for further studies to be done, arguing that the by-products of neutron and proton particle radiation are radioactive isotopes that would make the Carbon 14 dating inaccurate.


Inexplicable artefact


No one has yet been able to determine exactly how the image was created. No explanations have been found so far as to why it appears as a negative of the image or for the fact that the image on the Shroud is a three-dimensional image on a two dimensional linen cloth. Forensic science has proven that the cloth covered a man who underwent forms of torture consistent with to the ones referred to in the Gospels, including the crown of thorns, flagellation, crucifixion and a spear wound to the side. The image on the Shroud shows marks consistent with over 100 scourge marks and the use of a Roman flagrum and lancea, the latter would have pierced the chest.


Abiding mystery


The Church neither formally endorses nor denies the authenticity of the Shroud. In 2013 Pope Francis described the Shroud as an “icon of a man scourged and crucified,” and in 1998 Pope Saint John Paul II called it “a provocation to the intelligence.” It poses questions for scientists in all disciplines.

After visiting the exhibition, Bishop José Luis Retana of Salamanca commented, “I liked the work very much. The truth is that standing in front of what is an exact representation of what Jesus suffered and died leaves a strong impression.” He added, “I believe that the exhibition can foster the faith of believers and arouse the faith of non-believers.”

As the exhibition organisers ArtiSplendore prepare to bring it from Spain to the rest of the world, two locations it is likely to visit are Lisbon in Portugal for World Youth Day in 2023 and in Rome in 2025 as part of the Jubilee Year.

Updated on January 09 2023