By Father Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr,
The final scene of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, takes place inside the tomb, where Jesus’ body lies completely wrapped in a white linen shroud. (Jewish burial custom prescribed that the body should lie lengthwise along one half of the napkin with the other half covering the front of the body from head to the foot). Suddenly, the shroud sinks to the ground, thereby indicating the mysterious disappearance of the body.
We become witnesses of Christ’s resurrection occurring in another dimension, imperceptible to the senses, invisible to the eyes, inaccessible to scientific probes and sensors. In the closing frame of the film we see the figure of the Resurrected Lord. The gospel accounts testify to the fact of the resurrection by pointing to the empty tomb and the personal witness of disciples who met the Lord after His death.
In point of fact, the burial cloth that we see portrayed in the closing scenes of the Passion has been preserved to our day. It is the famous Shroud of Turin — Christianity’s most famous relic. Pope John Paul II calls it “a silent witness” of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. In his homily of April 13, 1980, given in Turin, the Holy Father stated: if we accept the arguments made by many scientists, the Holy Shroud of Turin represents an extraordinary witness of the Paschal Event: the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a silent yet shockingly telling witness!
To the believer — he emphasizes in another homily given in Turin — the importance of the Shroud lies in the fact that it provides a mirror to the Gospels.... .By contemplating it, the person of compassion experiences an inner movement of the heart and a profound shock….The Shroud is indeed an extraordinary sign that refers us back to Jesus, the true Word of the Father. It bids us follow the example of the One, Who gave Himself up for us (May 24, 1998).
The extensive research that has been conducted on the Shroud of Turin over the past hundred years points overwhelmingly to its authenticity. The cloth, measuring about 13’ 6” by 4’ 3”, continues to astound the scientific world in that it provides a “photographic image” of the front and back of Jesus’ body. The image of the body is a photographic negative with the bloodstains appearing as a positive print. Scientists have identified about 700 body wounds on the Shroud. What is also striking is that the image of the crucified man is three-dimensional. Modern science, for all its state-of-the-art methods, has been unable to reproduce such an image.
The impression on the Shroud is transparently yellowish in color, which is difficult to explain since no traces of any pigments or paints have been found. Only the surface fibers of the fabric bear the impress of the image. The image is quite indelible. All attempts at removing it with solvents have failed. The impress on the cloth is completely flat; there is no deformation. In optical terminology this would be called “parallel projection”.
Many scientists believe that this indelible photographic negative of the crucified body was caused by a mysterious explosion of energy inside the Shroud, by a searing of the surface of the cloth fibers by infrared irradiation or exposure to proton particles. Just how this occurred remains an insoluble enigma to modern science. One thing is certain. The cloth bears the impress of a crucified man executed in exactly the manner described in the Gospels — a Jew of the first century AD, six feet tall, of strong, muscular build, with long hair, a beard, and handsome Semitic features.
Since no traces of bodily decomposition are visible on the Shroud, forensic experts have concluded that the body remained wrapped in the cloth for about 36 hours after death. The body could not have been removed from inside the wrapping, since there are no traces of tearing, and the blood clots remain intact. All this points to one logical conclusion — belief in the fact of the resurrection.
Our Savior Jesus Christ stamped a true image of his suffering and death on His burial cloth. The Shroud might well be called the Fifth Gospel — written not in ink, but in blood, shed for our salvation. It ought to stir and enliven our faith, draw us into a closer, personal encounter with our Savior.
The shocking images of Christ’s suffering, so graphically shown in Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, are largely borne out by what researchers on the Shroud of Turin have discovered.
The face on the Shroud attests to the torments Jesus endured. The head reveals numerous bloody punctures caused by the crown of thorns. We see a stick-inflicted wound across the nose and right cheek. There are abrasions to the eyelids and eyebrows, a swelling over the right zygoma, traces of bleeding through the nostrils, bruises and bone displacement at the tip of the nose, scalp lesions from hair being torn out by the roots.
An examination of the torso and lower body area reveals 120 wounds inflicted by the scourges, a sort of cat-o’-nine-tails with three longer thongs tipped with metal fragments. These tore out pieces of flesh in the process of lashing. Evidence points to the fact that Jesus was scourged by two soldiers. The thongs wrapped around His body, hitting the front parts, the chest, the abdomen, the shins and the thighs. Gibson’s film shows the terrible cruelty with which this punishment was inflicted.
From the shoulder wounds imprinted on the Shroud, researchers agree that Jesus carried the horizontal beam of the cross, which was
approximately six feet long and weighed about 66 lb. He had to carry it for a distance of about 550 yards. Several times He fell on His face, hitting His knees violently against the stony road. Gibson’s film follows pious tradition of Jesus carrying the whole cross, but this does not take away from the film’s expressive realism.
Research also confirms that Christ’s hands were nailed to the cross at the wrists, not the palms, since the latter would have been incapable of supporting the full weight of the body. The nails went in at what is called the “Destot point”, located between the bones of the wrist. In order to breathe, Jesus had to raise his body periodically on his nailed hands and feet. This successive lifting and lowering of the body continued for about 3 hours until utter exhaustion set in, and death ensued.
Analysis of the wound in Jesus’ right side (about 0.5” wide and 1.75” long) indicates that death came as a result of rupture of the heart muscle due to cardiac arrest. This precipitated a massive flow of blood (up to 2 quarts) into the pericardium, and thence into the lungs, causing hemopericardia. A violent rupture of the pericardium due to a high build-up of blood would have resulted in a paralyzing pain in the sternum area, followed by death. And Jesus cried once again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit (Mt 27:50). Soon afterwards, the blood in the pericardium separated into red corpuscles (accumulating in the lower part of the pleural cavity) and blood plasma (remaining in the upper part). When the Centurion’s lance pierced the chest, both fluids flowed out, first the red corpuscles, then the colorless plasma. Hence the Gospel of John tells us: one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water (Jn 19:34). The pierced heart of the Savior is a sign affirming that: greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).
The Shroud — states Pope John Paul II — enables us to discover the mystery of suffering sanctified through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a suffering from which the salvation of all mankind springs. [It] is also an image of God’s love and man’s sin. [It] calls on us to discover the deepest reasons for Jesus’ redemptive death….Faced with such suffering, the believer cannot but cry out with deep conviction: “Lord, you could not have loved me more!” and also realize that sin — the sin of every one of us — is the reason for this suffering. The Shroud invites all of us to stamp the image of God’s love onto our hearts and root out the terrible reality of sin….In the silent message of the Shroud, we hear an echo of God’s words and the centuries-old experience of Christianity: believe in God’s love, the most precious gift offered to humanity; beware of sin, the greatest misfortune to have befallen humankind (Turin, May 24, 1998).
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010