* Women, not men, discovered that Jesus’ grave was empty and that only the shroud was left
By Klara Gudzyk, The Day
The Eastern Orthodox, Old Believers, and Greek Catholic adherents in Ukraine celebrate All Penitents’ Day on the third Sunday after Easter, which is May 3 this year. The Evangelists tell us that there were women among Jesus’ disciples. Some followed Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, watched His Crucifixion, and took part in His burial. They were the first witnesses of His Resurrection and instructed to carry His message throughout the world. They were the first to proclaim “Christ is risen!”
One of Rembrandt’s canvases, called Deposition from the Cross, portrays one of the most tragic scenes from Christian history, and it is here that one first sees the Penitents, women who brought balsam to anoint Jesus’ dead body. The setting is a night on Calvary. It is pitch-dark except an eerily bright spot, supposedly from a lantern, on the cross and the Savior’s body. A group of people are going about their macabre business. Joseph together with Nicodemus, standing on a ladder, are struggling to bring down the body with utmost care. At the foot of the cross women have spread a cloak which will turn into the Shroud once the body of Christ is placed on it and wrapped in it, showing spots of blood from the wounds of the Son of God. Here and there in the semidarkness from the lantern’s light we see women’s faces contorted with grief or covered in the hands, weeping. A very dynamic element is the prostrate figure of the Virgin Mary. The Mother of God has just fainted. The picture conveys an atmosphere of trepid
ation, thick with the awareness of global disaster, where everyone is frantic to do something, not knowing what.
“And when the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, bought myrrh (hence the appellation Myrrh-Carrying Women or the Penitents), that they might come and anoint Him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun... And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.” They entered the cave and were shocked to see that His body was gone and only the blood-stained shroud was left.
Many centuries later a piece of linen cloth found by the Penitents in the Sepulcher was identified with the Shroud of Turin. This ancient faded cloth, 4.3 by 1.1 meters, has a mysterious history dating from the Middle Ages. Christian theologians maintain that it was discovered by Helena (later canonized), mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, who legally sanctioned Christian warship in the fourth century. In the following centuries the Shroud traveled a long way across the Middle East and Western Europe in the course of wars, crusades, and purchase deals, and everywhere this cloth was revered as miracle-working. It is said to have prevented an epidemic of the Black Plague in the Middle Ages. It found its way to Turin in 1578 and has since been stored in an urn at the Chapel of the Holy Shroud of the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista.
Something happened 100 years ago which changed its status and the attitude of the Christian world. The Shroud was photographed, producing negatives showing slight contours of man’s head and body. Shortly afterward millions of adherents adopted this as evidence that the cloth had indeed been wrapped round Jesus’ body, preserving its imprint which had miraculously appeared after His Resurrection. Since then experts in a number of countries, including NASA, took countless pictures of the cloth, using a variety of most progressive developing and computer-aided processing techniques. This allowed reconstructing the head and the rest of the body, climaxing in a three-dimensional detailed image. It was ascertained that the dead man’s eyelids had been weighted down by old Roman coins. Apart from studies of negatives, the cloth was subjected to the closest possible scrutiny, involving the latest forensic medical techniques. The blood stains were tested, showing that the blood was of human origin.
Of course, experts were most interested in establishing the age of the cloth. Ten years ago independent studies carried out at Oxford, Tison, and Zurich, using carbon dating, proved that the Shroud had been woven between 1260 and 1390, and not in the first century AD, the time of the Crucifixion.
Most adherents refuse to believe this evidence and certain researchers find it inconclusive. The main reason is that no one has been able to explain the nature of the image or how it was conveyed to the cloth. One thing is certain: it is not a paint or any other type of mechanical impression. The believers insist that the image was produced by some divine energy emerging in the process of Christ’s resurrection.
Scientists continue in their quest, coming up with a variety hypotheses, trying to find a rational interpretation of the Shroud phenomenon. The most daring one has it that an anonymous medieval genius invented a primitive photography technique, a discovery which subsequently sank in to oblivion. So this “first photographer” put the cloth in a silver-bath and then received an impression of a human figure by exposing it to direct sunlight. Icon-painting experts are also interested. They are convinced that the imprinted image belongs to the earliest prototypes of Jesus Christ. Full structural identity between the head and face on the Shroud of Turin and on one of the oldest surviving icons from the sixth century has been established. This icon portrays Christ Almighty and originates from the Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. But why not make a U-turn in this assumption? Supposing the Sinai portrayal was the prototype of the one discovered on the Shroud?
There is another interesting fact. Much as the Turin Shroud has been generated by the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican has not made any official pronouncements corroborating its identity with the length of linen in which the Penitent women had wrapped the Body of Jesus after taking Him from the Cross.
These days, the Holy Shroud is in the limelight with world media, causing a heavy influx of pilgrims to Turin. People come en masse from all over the world. On April 18, after a two-decade interval, St. John’s Cathedral opened an exposition of the Shroud, the fourth in its history. Before its deadline, June 24, it is expected to have been explored by over 2 million devotees. Each visitor will be allowed 3 minutes of “observance and veneration.” After that the legendary cloth displaying what is believed by so many to be an imprint of Jesus’ head and contours of His Body, will be brought back and deposited in the closed silver urn resting on its black marble pediment at the Chapel of the Holy Shroud of the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista of Turin. A phenomenon destined to rank with the few most irrational mysteries of this “rational” twentieth century.