‘Jesus’s burial cloth’ back on display

Touched by God: Many Christians believe that the Turin shroud covered the body of Christ © PA

The Shroud of Turin will return to public display until June. The piece of cloth is believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, but some have cast doubts over its authenticity.

In the middle of the 14th century, a piece of cloth appeared in the town of Lirey in central France. The cloth, which is 4.4 metres long, bears the imprint of a crucified man, including a face. The man is naked and has his hands folded across his groin. A series of reddish-brown stains on the cloth show various wounds which, according to believers, are consistent with description of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth around 2000 years ago. The burial cloth is known as the Shroud of Turin.

Until the 21st June this year, the Shroud of Turin will be on public display in the Northern Italian city for the first time in five years. A million people have already signed up to see the Shroud. Among them will be Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is not just Catholics who revere the Shroud: Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Orthodox, Presbyterians and many others all respect it.

However, there is one small problem. Carbon dating has suggested that, instead of hailing from around 33AD, the year Christ supposedly died, the Shroud instead is no more than 700 years old. Sindonology, the name given to the formal study of the Shroud, started in the early 20th century. But it was in 1988 that three independent tests concluded with 95% certainty that the Shroud originated from between 1260 and 1390. Interestingly, claims that it was a fake date back to these times as well.

The Church has not officially claimed that Christ’s body was wrapped in the Shroud. Instead it prefers to focus on the meaning of the object to those who revere it. The Archbishop of Turin said ‘It is not a profession of faith because it is not an object of faith, nor of devotion, but it can help faith.’

Almost every religion has sacred objects that are linked to its major figures. But does it matter whether the objects are genuine? And what explains the deep connection religious people feel with these artefacts?

Shrouded in mystery

How irrational it is to worship an object, a chorus of sceptics say, even if you ignore the many doubts over the authenticity of the Turin Shroud. Faith in God is one thing, but absolute certainty that the Shroud of Turin really was the burial cloth of Christ is completely illogical when looking at the facts. Religion is ultimately the search for truth, and if people block out the truth then it loses its meaning.

As with everything in religion, a more nuanced approach is required, many religious people reply. Whether or not the Shroud is genuine, what matters is that it provides a chance for Christians to connect closely with their faith and to think about the sacrifice made on the cross. Faith is not an exact science.

You Decide

  1. Does it matter whether the Turin Shroud is the real thing?
  2. Why do you think people attach so much importance to individual objects?

Activities

  1. Choose a single object that is significant in any religion around the world, and make a presentation about it to your class.
  2. Class debate: ‘This House believes that religion does more good than harm.’

Some People Say...

“Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians — you are not like him.”

Mahatma Gandhi

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t really believe in God. Why does this matter?
You may not be religious, but only around 11% of the world are either atheists or non-religious. Religion still plays a huge part in the lives of billions around the world. Even in Britain, many of our laws and much of our culture can be traced back to religious belief.
Are we even sure Jesus existed?
Yes. Virtually all modern scholars agree on the existence of Jesus. They agree that he was a Jewish rabbi from Galilee who preached his message orally, was baptised by John the Baptist and was crucified on the orders of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. However, historians have found little evidence for other claims the Bible makes about Jesus’s life and teachings. That doesn’t mean they are untrue, of course — just that they can’t be verified.

Word Watch

14th century
There is no documented evidence of the Turin Shroud from before this period, which gives weight to the idea that it is a forgery.
Crucified
Crucifixion, where the victim is tied or nailed to a cross until they die, has a history beyond the death of Jesus. It was used by the Persians, the Romans and many others. It even exists today in some of the most extreme interpretations of Islam as punishment for certain crimes.
Turin
A city in Northern Italy of nearly a million people, near the French border. The Romans named the site after the Taurini, the local tribe. It is home to FIAT (famed for cars, now FCA) and to Juventus, Italy’s most successful football team, and their close rivals Torino.
Pope Francis
The head of the Catholic Church is the first South American to hold the position. Pope Francis, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio as he was known before he became Pope, comes from Argentina.
Carbon dating
A method of determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon. Invented in the 1940s it has become widely used in archaeology.

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