THE HOLY SHROUD OF TURIN
I. The precious Blood of Jesus, His Body,
even His Sacred Heart, wounded
“ THE blood stains are composed of haemoglobin and also give a positive result to the albumin test. ”
Pierre Barbet had intuited this on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist at Turin on Sunday October 15, 1933, when twenty five prelates presented the sacred Relic “ for the veneration of the immense crowd that had congregated in the square behind a double cordon of foot soldiers ”, as he relates. “ I was in front of them, on the cathedral steps, and His Eminence, Cardinal Fossati, Archbishop of Turin, very kindly placed the frame on the edge of the steps for a few minutes, so that we could have a good look at it. The sun had just gone down behind the houses on the other side of the square; the bright but diffused light was ideal for observation. I, therefore, saw the Shroud in broad daylight, uninterrupted by glass, at a distance of less than a metre, and suddenly I experienced one of the strongest emotions of my life. For I saw, without expecting it, that all the wound images were of a clearly different colour from the body as a whole; and this colour was of that of dried blood having impregnated the cloth. ”
Its colour was “ more marked on the sides, on the head, on the hands and on the feet; paler, but still very perceptible, on the countless wounds left by the scourging... But the surgeon understood, beyond any possibility of doubt, that it was blood with which this cloth had been impregnated, and that this blood was the Blood of Christ! ”
Barbet relates that he was reproached for having written: “ The surgeon understood, beyond any possibility of doubt, that it was blood with which this cloth had been impregnated. ” He protested: “ I may have erred through being excessively concise. But I am not so naive as I appear. ” And he added: “ Of course, a rigorous scientific proof that these stains are of blood would require (if allowed) physical or chemical tests. ”
Today, those tests have been done. It remains for us to imitate the attitude of this holy and learned man that was Pierre Barbet, a Catholic surgeon. Relating how, in 1933, to his great surprise, “ the crowd broke into applause ”, he added: “ As for me, a Catholic and a surgeon, my soul was overwhelmed by this sudden revelation, and enthralled by this real presence which was inescapably self evident to me, I went down on my knees and adored in silence. ”
Less than fifty years later, men who had come from quite another world had the same experience! Ernie Brooks and Vernon Miller travelled to Turin on a reconnaissance mission in September 1978. They were the forerunners of the STURP team who were to come in October with a complete laboratory, and had come to note the optical characteristics of the Shroud in order to help their colleagues to calibrate their instruments.
The exposition was in full swing. We are in those beautiful days of the radiant reign of Pope John Paul I, who drew the same crowds to Rome. Miller is a Mormon, Brooks a Presbyterian. Both men entered the cathedral of Saint John the Baptist amid the ceremonial of High Mass being celebrated in the presence of the Holy Shroud exposed beneath inert gas in its bulletproof glass cage. Neither had ever been in a Catholic cathedral before. It was an overwhelming experience: “ I had never witnessed such pageantry ”, relates Brooks. “ The acoustics were powerful in this ancient cathedral. There was candlelight, ringing of bells and a choir. There must have been two thousand people packed in there. ”
At the end of the ceremony, the crowd poured out and the two men, helped by Father Rinaldi, took photographs of the Holy Shroud. In order to take close ups, scaffolding had to be constructed from bits and pieces, a ladder and various items of furniture. Finally, with one foot on the top of the ladder and the other on his companion’s shoulder, Miller found himself level with the Shroud. Suddenly, Brooks, who was balancing Miller on one shoulder, looked up and said:
“ Jesus Christ! Vern, I think the blood on the face is crimson! ”
His voice echoed through the cathedral.
“ Ernie, watch your language! ” Miller hissed, then added, “ Well, at least you called Him by the right name. ”
Jesus is entirely naked. The dorsal silhouette shows quite clearly all the marks of the flagellation, from head to foot, and the facial silhouette shows the hands crossed over the pubis in a gesture of modesty. In all human memory, no artist had even been seen to take the liberty of representing Jesus in that manner; but as we have said, this is not the work of an artist. It is the Shroud that wrapped “ the ineffable Dead (Jesus), naked and perfumed after the Passion ”, as was stated by Nicolas Mésaritès, the sacristan at the church of Saint Mary of the Pharos, when it still sheltered this Relic at Constantinople, in 1201.
Far from being indecent, this moving nakedness urgently invites us to count His wounds if we can. They are countless: flagellation wounds, wounds made by the crowning of thorns, all the blows, outrages and cruelty of the trial and of the carrying of the Cross; finally the wounds of the Crucifixion, in the hands and the feet, ending in that thrust of the spear which left a gaping wound through which the Body was emptied of its Blood.
“ Pilate took Jesus and had Him scourged. ”(Jn 19.1)
No one had ever imagined the scourging of Our Lord in all its ignominy, as we see it represented here. If the Evangelists are laconic over this, perhaps it is because of the horror inspired in them by the memory of this torture inflicted on Jesus (Mk 15.5; Mt 27.26; Jn 19.1). According to literary testimony, the person condemned was entirely stripped of his clothing and attached to a pillar. That is why we speak traditionally of “ the column of the flagellation ”. But if Jesus had had His arms raised in that way, tied to the top of a column, at least His chest would have been sheltered from the blows. But here we see the blows raining down on His shoulders, on His Back, on His loins, His thighs and on the calves of His legs; and we can also count the marks of the blows to His chest and to the front of His legs.
The flagrum, a whip of two or three thongs with small lead pellets attached, was wielded by a torturer who moved round his victim, or by two torturers, one of whom struck from behind. Jesus lost a great deal of Blood, for a reason only mentioned by Saint Luke, “ with the unsurpassable precision of a medical doctor ”, writes Barbet; perhaps because he had questioned Saint John, the beloved disciple who did not fall asleep on the Mount of Olives:
“ And being in an agony, He prayed all the more earnestly. And His sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground. ” (Lk 22.44)
Barbet recognised the symptoms of haematidrosis, a rare clinical phenomenon, but well known to the medical profession, caused by a profound moral upheaval, precisely that in which we see Our Lord plunged during the agony of Gethsemane, when He foresaw in advance, and in detail, the sufferings awaiting Him; and above all when He recalled the appalling mass of OUR sins, and which He dons in the presence of His Father, taking them upon Himself to expiate them. This physiological symptom of a subcutaneous haemorrhage is brought about by a moral agony, a mortal combat: the blood mixes with the sweat, and with it, forms droplets oozing from the pores of the skin and literally trickling down all over the body, “ trickling down upon the ground ”, Saint Luke writes.
Thus prepared by these millions of small intradermic haemorrhages, the skin becomes much more fragile and sensitive to the blows that are going to come. Infiltrated with blood, tender, the skin splits beneath the blows from the lead pellets and begins to peel off and hang down in shreds. Whilst the thongs themselves leave long livid traces, blue with subcutaneous bruises, which, seen beneath ultraviolet rays, are a moving sight. It is impossible to count them; they cover the whole body.
The flagellation produced the most serious haemorrhage suffered by Jesus, and was itself the cause of all the others; when the soldiers pulled off the cloak of derision which they had thrown over His shoulders after the scourging, to put His own clothing back on, and when they stripped Him again at the foot of the Cross: each time the blood streamed!
“ Behold your king. ” (Jn 19.14)
It is clear that He was crowned with a sort of cap of thorns. This treatment, which is unique in all the accounts we have of crucifixion in Roman times, results directly from the dialogue Pilate had with Jesus, during which He openly claimed His Messianic Royalty. The soldiers charged with scourging Him had heard Him answer: “ It is as you say. I am a King. ” (Jn 18.37) It was in this cruel manner that they testified to what they had heard.
“ The nape of the neck is seen to be pierced with long thick thorns, and so frequent as to be evident that the crown was made in the form of a “ hat ”, and not as a circle like that of princes or as depicted by artists; on close inspection, the nape of the neck is seen to have been more tormented than the rest and the thorns more deeply embedded, with thick clots of blood mattered with the hair. ”
(Testimony of the “ Poor Clares ” of Chambéry, 1534)
They had no difficulty in procuring “ a bundle of thorns from those shrubs that abound among the bushes in the area ” of Jerusalem, writes Barbet: “ the shrub is supple and bears long thorns, much longer, much sharper and much harder than the acacia ”. They wove them into “ a sort of basket bottom ”, which they then battened onto His Head, pulling it down and binding the whole thing with a band of twisted cane. The whole Head was encaged, squeezed into this helmet from the nape of the neck to the forehead, and the thorns penetrated the scalp, causing it to bleed profusely. Long streams of blood flowed over the forehead, and the traces they have left on the Shroud show that they met the obstacle posed by the cane band (as can be seen in the two images shown here).
One of these blood flows “ is particularly striking ”, writes Barbet, “ and so true to life that I have seen nothing like it imagined or reproduced by any painter. It begins with a thorn-wound, very high up, just where the hair begins. The flow then moves down to the medial part of the left superciliary arch, following a meandering course obliquely downwards and outwards. It broadens progressively, just as a flow of blood does on a wounded man when it meets with obstacles.
"One must, in fact, never forget that we only see here a part of the blood which gradually coagulated on the skin. The flow is slow and continuous; several minutes are necessary for coagulation to take place. Only a small part, then, coagulates in the region of the wound. The further down one goes on the image, the greater is the quantity of blood which has reached that level, which arrives there when it is time for it to coagulate. The more also do the successive sheets of blood accumulate their clots in successive layers. The total mass of clots is thus broader and thicker the lower one looks; and this is because the blood has met with obstacles.
“ And the soldiers, platting a crown of thorns, put it upon His head; and they put on him a purple garment. And they came to Him and said: ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they gave him blows. ” (Jn 19.2-3)
Beneath the blows, the head oscillates pitifully from right to left, as is witnessed by the blood flows on the temples, in the form of an upside down ‘ V ’: the blood took two directions alternatively, as the head leaned to one side or the other. Whereas on the brow a trickle “ undulates serpent-like ”, as the Poor Clares of Chambéry would say: it follows the lines formed on the brow by the spasmodic puckering caused by the pain.
“ One should also point out that the blood has not moved downwards in a straight line. This error has scarcely ever been avoided by artists; when the course is irregular in their paintings, this is owing to caprice on their part, and cannot be accounted for by any obstacle or natural reason. But here the flow undulates a little both to left and right, and that is natural; the blood may be following for the moment a crease in the forehead, or rather some little thorny branch which is lying obliquely against the forehead, and forces the blood to flow in an oblique direction.
“ Towards the base of the forehead, the same flow, which really deserves this minute surevey, stops just above the superciliary arch and spreads out horizontally towards the mesial line, increasing in height, while the thickness of the clot is visibly increased, which makes the colouring of the counter-drawing more intense. There are all the traces of the downward flow being stopped, like water piling up behind a dam. The blood has been forced to accumulate slowly, and has been able to coagulate at leisure, which accounts for the way it has spread out in breadth and increased in height, and for the way the clot has thickened.
“ There is an obstacle here, and it is evidently the place where the head-band of rushes was bound round the base of the forehead above the eyebrows. One of the sprigs must have been tied closely over the forehead, for there is a horizontal band without clots stretching right across. To right and the left, near the sides, there are two clots which have stopped at exactly the same level, and one can follow the whole course of the band. Beneath it, the blood appears once more, in the vertical frontal flow we have just analysed, below the point where it had begun to spread out horizontally and to thicken out in the direction of the mesial line. As the obstacle is always there, close against the skin, it must be that the blood managed eventually to filter through the sprigs of the head-band, and got past the dam. The clot which has been formed underneath is thin and narrow in the supra-orbital region, but it spreads out and progressively thickens out on the inner side of the left eyebrow as far as the eye-socket. There is always the same process of flowing and coagulation.
“ I would defy any modern painter, unless he is a surgeon, with a thorough knowledge of the physiology of coagulation, and has meditated for a long time on all the possible avatars of that thin thread of blood slowly coagulating in the midst of the obstacles, to imagine and to portray this image of the frontal clot. Even with such conditions, it is more than likely that here or there some blunder would betray the forger and the work of his imagination.
“ As for the hypothetical painter whom people have dared to claim was capable, having painted or stained these negative images in the Middle Ages, of imagining (whatever his genius may have been) all the minutiae of this clot which is as pregnant with truth as if it was on a living man – it is enough to disgust a physiologist and a surgeon. Please do not talk of it! This image, and it alone, should be enough to prove that nobody has touched the Shroud except the Crucified Himself. And it is one image among a hundred others. ”
The “ head-band of rushes ” is actually kept at Notre Dame in Paris under the name of “ Crown of thorns ”. This study is proof of its certain authenticity. In fact, it is remarkable that this relic has no thorns on it; if it were a hoax fabricated in the Middle Ages, the forger would most certainly have had added thorns.
“ Bearing His Cross ” (Jn 19.17)
Over and above the flagellation wounds, there are traces to be seen of the abrasions caused by a burden which weighed on the shoulder blades: a trace of the carrying of the Cross which no one had imagined in this way. Jesus did not carry the whole Cross, as is generally represented by artists. Places of execution were planted in advance with the upright stake, called crux, and the horizontal beam, called patibulum, was laid on the shoulders of the condemned man. It was a crushing burden. In His love for us and His will to save us, Jesus finds the energy to carry it on His shoulders, already wounded by a flagellation that should have killed Him (see positive and negative photographies of the dorsal imprint).
From the Antonia fortress to the top of Mount Calvary, the distance to cover is about six hundred metres. Jesus covered it barefooted. The ground was rough, scattered with stones, very uneven even inside the ramparts. In 1978, the Americans of the STURP team suddenly came face to face with the evidence of this painful procession to Calvary. They were absorbed in their scientific task, each one according to his own speciality. The one was establishing the reflection curve, the other was examining the Cloth and taking infrared photographs, the third was examining it under X-ray, etc. Suddenly, those who were establishing the reflection curves noticed different spectra about the heel. Jumper, who was directing operations, called Pellicori to ask him to install the macroscope: “ See what it is on the heel that is making the spectra vary. ” After careful examination, Pellicori turned round and said: “ It’s DIRT. ” Surprise all round! Everybody wanted to see this “ dirt ” encrusted in the fibres, which plunged them all into an abyss of thought. What could be more “ logical ”? A man has never been crucified wearing shoes or sandals! He walked barefoot. To find themselves thus suddenly in contact with the event, led them to ask seriously: “ Could it be a genuine grave Cloth? ”
But as good Anglo-Saxon empiricists, they thought they had gone beyond the data, and quickly came back to their measuring instruments. However, they found this “ dirt ” encrusted between the fibres at the level of the knee as could be expected. In putting one foot painfully before the other, Jesus collapsed several times, falling on his knees, which are but one big wound. Finally, Jesus falls full length, absolutely exhausted, and is unable to protect his Face from the brutal contact with the ground. Through his macroscope, Pellicori found this same dirt at the tip of the nose!
“ They crucified Him. ” (Jn 19.18)
Having arrived at the height of Mount Calvary, Jesus is placed on the cross. How can we imagine such a scene? Through a careful study of the “ Five Wounds ” “ dug ”, as Psalm 22 says, according to the Greek Septuagint version, in the hands and feet of Jesus, and in His Heart too. On His Shroud we can only see four, because that of the right wrist is hidden beneath the left wrist.
They are the wounds of one crucified by the hands and the feet as were the countless number of those so condemned in Antiquity, at least up to the time of Constantine exclusively. The truth obliges us to say that we know nothing about this torture, which had been abolished since the IVth century – nothing other than what the work of Barbet has discovered on the Holy Shroud. To be convinced of this, we need only read the study written by Catherine Salles on Crucifixion among the Romans.
The introduction to the article states: “ In ancient Roman times, crucifixion was the ignominious penalty par excellence. It was a death reserved for those condemned persons who were not even judged worthy of the name of man. How these capital executions were carried out has been described in detail by historians and archaeologists. ” This last assertion is without foundation.
The truth is that the Gospel and the Holy Shroud are the only source of such detailed information. To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to read the author’s explanations on the placing of the nails in the hands and feet of the condemned man and on the cause of his death. On each one of these points she summarises the results obtained by Pierre Barbet from his surgical experiments conducted over a period of two years in the dissecting room of the Saint Joseph hospital in Paris. She then adds: “ After these different operations, the titulus, a board indicating his identity and the reason for his condemnation, was fixed above the head of the condemned man or hung around his neck. In the provinces, the text was in three languages so as to be understood by all: Latin, Greek and the local dialect (Aramaic in the case of Jesus). ” This time, the only reference, though still implicit, is the fourth Gospel (John 19.19-20). But why not acknowledge it?
The Passion according to the surgeon, Barbet, and the Passion according to Saint John, however remain absent from the author’s bibliography, where her own works on “ The Old Testament ” and on ancient Rome nevertheless find a place. But death by crucifixion is a form of execution unknown in the Old Testament. And it would remain unknown to us today were it not for the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion, illustrated with such striking realism by the only silent witness: the Holy Shroud. Why hide her own sources?
The fact is that this appalling form of execution was abolished by Constantine in honour of Our Lord – an execution reserved to common law criminals, to slaves, to political prisoners, such as this Yehohanan ben Hagqôl, whose nail-transfixed heel was discovered by Israeli archaeologists outside Jerusalem. The man had been crucified in the year 70 AD, during the Jewish war, forty years after Christ therefore. He was doubtless among the hundreds of those unfortunate Jews who were “ subject to every kind of torture before dying and then crucified facing the ramparts ”, which even moved Titus to pity according to Flavius Josephus (Jewish War 5.449-451).
Jesus did not leave us His skeleton, but His Shroud stained with His Precious Blood. This magnificent piece of linen certifies that after having been executed as a brigand, He was buried as a prince!
But why should a latinist of the University of Paris X (Nanterre) be unable to quote the Gospels in her bibliography, or the works of Doctor Pierre Barbet on the Holy Shroud? Why? Because the intellectual terrorism now reigning over “ historians and archaeologists ” forbids them to regard the Gospels as historical documents. As for the Holy Shroud, the same terrorism “ situates its origins between 1260 and 1390 ”, as is explained by the following article written by Odile Celier.
Thereafter, it is a question of knowing how a XIVth century “ forger ” could have represented “ how this form of capital execution was carried out ”, with such faultless anatomical, physiological and neurological exactitude, when the memory of it had been lost since Constantine. In answer to this question, here is “ the opinion of a research scientist ”: “ The famous Holy Shroud of Turin very probably wrapped the body of one crucified ”, perhaps during one “ of those Mysteries of the Passion when the cleric who played the part of Jesus could really be scourged, crowned, and crucified for the length of these long monologues, and then buried in a shroud ”.
So was “ role playing ” in vogue during the Middle Ages? Let us leave these absurd suppositions. The Holy Shroud truly dates from the first century, as we are going to demonstrate yet again. The definitive proof of this is in fact the 1988 dating, only provided there is no mistaking the identity of the samples! But before that, let us come back to the unique object of our study, our contemplation and our adoration.
“ They pierced my hands and my feet. ” (Ps 22.17)
Jesus was first stripped of his garments. An atrocious torture: “ Have you ever removed the first dressing which has been on a large bruised wound? Or have you yourself ever been through this ordeal, which sometimes requires a general anaesthetic? If so, you know what it is like. Each thread has stuck to the raw surface, and when it is removed it tears away one of the innumerable nervous ends which have been laid bare by the wound. These thousands of painful shocks add up and multiply, each one increasing the sensitivity of the nervous system. Now in this case it is not just a question of a local lesion, but of almost the whole surface of the body, and especially of that dreadful back! The executioners are in a hurry and set about their work roughly. Perhaps it is better thus, but how does this sharp, dreadful pain not bring on a blackout? How clear it is that from beginning to end He dominates, He directs His Passion. ”
Covered in blood and wounds, Jesus is stretched out on the ground and His shoulders laid on the patibulum. The wounds on His back, on His thighs and on the calves of His legs become caked with dust and with tiny pieces of gravel.
“ Put your finger here, and see my hands. ” (Jn 20.27)
“ The executioners take the measurements. A stroke with an auger, to prepare the holes for the nails (they know that the hands will be easy to pierce but the nails enter less easily into the wood), and the horrible deed begins. An assistant holds out one of the arms, with the palm uppermost. The executioner takes hold of the nail ”, a long nail, pointed and square, a “ Passion nail ”, eight millimetres thick near its large head. “ He gives Him a prick on the wrist, in that forward fold which he knows by experience. ” This precise place was something Barbet sought on fleshly amputated limbs, guided by the image of the Holy Shroud, where the left wrist wound can be seen. In the article quoted above, Catherine Salles unhesitatingly writes: “ In the technique most commonly used, the nails do not pierce the palm of the hand (the skin would tear beneath the weight of the body) but the wrists in the middle of the carpus bones. ” She did not read that in Seneca nor in Cicero, that is for sure, but in Barbet: “ There is no shadow of doubt that the wound on the back of the left hand, while it is not on the metacarpus, nevertheless is still on the hand; it must therefore be in the wrist. ”
“ One single blow with the great hammer, and the nail is already fixed in the wood, in which a few vigorous taps fix it firmly. Jesus has not cried out, ” but His Face has contracted and His thumb, with a violent and unstoppable movement, has suddenly closed against the palm of His hand, as Barbet saw on arms freshly amputated, and therefore still alive, in the dissecting room of the Saint Joseph Hospital. In fact, each of the two hands, so fine and so slender, appears to have only four fingers, and are admirably transferred as such on to the Linen. The thumbs by contrast are hidden within the palms. Barbet understood this during his dissections: “ His median nerve has been touched. I realise then what He had been through: an inexpressible pain darts like lightning through His fingers and then like a trail of fire right up to His shoulder, and bursts in His brain. The most unbearable pain that a man can experience is that caused by wounding the great nervous centres. It nearly always causes a blackout, and it is fortunate that it does. Jesus has not willed that He should lose consciousness. Now, it is not as if the nerve were cut right across. But no, I know how it is, it is only partially destroyed; the raw place on the nervous centre remains in contact with this nail; and later on, when the body sags, it will be stretched against this like a violin-string against the bridge, and it will vibrate with each shaking or movement, reviving the horrible pain. ”
“ The other arm is pulled by the assistant; the same actions are repeated and the same pains. But this time, remember, He knows what to expect. He is now fixed on the patibulum, to which His shoulders and two arms conform exactly. He already has the form of a cross: how tall He is!
“ Now they must get Him on His feet. The executioner and his assistant take hold of the ends of the beam and then hold up the condemned man who is first sitting, then standing, and then, moving Him backwards, they place Him with his back against the stake ”, the vertical post, stipes crucis (the gibbet of the cross), planted in advance at the place of execution. “ But this is done, alas, by constantly pulling against those two nailed hands, and one thinks of those median nerves. With a great effort, and with arms extended (though the stipes is not very high), quickly, for it is very heavy, and with a skilful gesture, they fix the patibulum to the top of the stipes. On the top with a few nails they fix the titulus written in three languages […]
“ The body, hanging, is held up by nothing more than the nails fixed into the two wrists – once more those median nerves! It could be held fast with nothing else. The body is not slipping forwards, but the rule is that the feet should be fixed. ”
On the piercing of the feet, Barbet could write with less anguish: “ The left foot is flat on the cross. With one blow of the hammer, the nail is driven into the middle of it (between the second and third metatarsal bones). The assistant then bends the other knee, and the executioner, bringing the left foot round in front of the right which the assistant is holding flat, pierces this foot with a single blow in the same place. This is easy enough, and with a few vigorous blows with the hammer the nail is well embedded in the wood. This time, thank God, it is a more ordinary pain, but the agony has scarcely begun. The whole work has not taken the two men much more than two minutes and the wounds have not bled much. ”
But we shall see that in order to struggle against asphyxia and to breathe, in order to pronounce the seven words, a whole Gospel in themselves, Jesus raised Himself up by pushing on His feet, which must, therefore, have provided a solid support. That is why we suggested to Doctor Pierre Mérat, our friend, that he search in the tarsus, as Pierre Barbet had sought, not so long ago, for the space through which the nail pierced the hands in the carpus, and had discovered it in the anatomical space known as the de Destot space. We were simply taking up an intuition of Father Noguier de Malijay, which Barbet had discarded as “ untenable ”, declaring that “ the bones and the joints of the tarsus would resist penetration, especially if the two feet were crossed, thus greatly increasing the resistance ”. He added that “ no image is to be seen in the tarsus corresponding with the piercing of the nail. I have also tried to nail the front tarsus of a freshly amputated foot, which is the least thick part of the tarsal group: For one foot alone, I had to strike firmly twenty times with the hammer before I had made my way through the bony group, by going deep into it. ”
In 1978, the photographs of the blood stain left by the imprint of the sole of the foot show a probable point of emergence for the nail corresponding to the tarsus rather than to the metatarsal spaces. Pierre Mérat, therefore, agreed to undertake the research, and he was rewarded for his efforts by a moving and overwhelming discovery:
“ Using an eight millimetre square twenty centimetre long nail, we tried to find this passage by hand in the prominent part of the back of the foot. We used no hammer so as to break no bones, in conformity with Scripture (Jn 19.36). To no avail.
“ Then we thought of the forced position which the executioners probably inflicted on those feet to be solidly fixed to the wood, and we bent the foot of our dissection subject until it was pointed like a ballet dancer’s. With the foot in that position, the nail went in quite easily so that only two knocks with the hammer blows were needed for it to appear through the sole. We placed the point of the foot onto the same place as the other foot, which was pierced in the same way. The dissection showed the passage of the nail to be between the second and the third cuneiform bone of the tarsus, above the scaphoid, at the place visible on the X-ray photo. The bones were not broken; at the most, they were slightly marked by the nail passing over the cartilage. I repeated the experiment eighteen times, and always with the same result.
“ If a transparency of the skeleton is placed over the contour of the foot and these two transparencies are placed over the bloodstain of the cloth, the point where the nail emerges through the sole is evident. It is the little dark stain, surrounded by a clear halo, from which the blood ran down towards the ball of the foot. This trickle is accompanied by a clear flow, where again the characteristic reaction of albumin is brought out. There is a non-bloody lymphatic flow around the clots of blood. What forger could ever have imagined that! ”
With our friend’s permission, we immediately gave the name “ Mérat’s space ” to the anatomical space discovered by him in the school of the Holy Shroud. Barbet’s conclusion receives striking and unanswerable confirmation from this further experimental proof:
“ All the blood images coincide, without exception, and in an amazingly precise way, with anatomical reality. All these facts taken together, or rather this unanimity of veracity, constitute a presumption in favour of truth equivalent to certitude. If there were one single exception, I could hesitate and not give the Shroud that confidence, which has only increased as my experiments have progressed. And this confidence is still further strengthened when I see the blood clot at the wrist, which does not show a single vertical flow, but two clearly distinct flows separated by an angular distance. This manifestly coincides with what we know experimentally, alas! about death from asphyxia and the efforts made by the Crucified victim to hoist Himself up. One would need to be blind not to see in all these blood images the pure effect of reality. ”
“ I thirst! ” (Jn 19.28)
Hoisted up on His gibbet, Jesus sagged, pulling on His arms that are stretched, His shoulders scraping painfully against the wood, the nape of His neck hitting against the patibulum. This movement caused the sharp points of His crown of thorns to tear the scalp a little more. This “ crown ” prevents Him from resting His poor Head against the wood; it, therefore leans forward, and each time He straightens it, He again feels the pricks.
After so many tortures, for a worn-out body this immobility is almost a rest. His features are drawn; His pale face is streaked with blood which is congealing everywhere. He thirsts! He will say so in a little while, not to complain but “ so that the Scripture might be fulfilled ”, as Saint John notes (Jn 19.28).
“ My mouth it dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaw. ” (Ps 22.16)
His mouth is half open and His lower lip has already begun to droop! A little saliva has flowed down to His beard, mingled with the blood from His nose. His throat is dry and on fire; He cannot even swallow the little saliva He has left! He has eaten and drunk nothing since… how long? And He has lost so much Blood...
Suddenly, He is seized with cramp! Gradually, all the muscles of His Body contract as a result of general tetanus, diagnosed by the doctor’s practised eye. His head leans forward, as we see on the facial silhouette, because the inspiratory muscles are contracted by this tetanus in which Jesus finally died. The streaks of blood along the arms follow the contours of the muscle contractions in the arms and forearms. The thighs too are distorted by the same monstrous, rigid projections. The stomach muscles stiffen in fixed waves; then the intercostal muscles, the neck muscles and the respiratory muscles.
The two main pectorals, which are the most powerful respiratory muscles are forcefully contracted, enlarged and pushed up towards the collar bones and the arms. The whole rib cage is itself pushed up and strongly distended through forced breathing in; the pit of the stomach is sunk in, depressed through the rib cage being raised and distended upwards and outwards. The whole abdominal mass is pushed downwards by the diaphragm: see, above His crossed hands, the protuberance of the lower stomach.
Such are the unquestionable symptoms of tetanus and asphyxia: “ The air enters with a whistling sound but scarcely comes out any longer. He is breathing in the upper regions only; He breathes in a little, but cannot breathe out. He thirsts for air. He is like an asthmatic at the height of an attack. A flush has gradually spread over His pale face; it has turned a violet purple and then blue. He is asphyxiating. His lungs which are loaded with air can no longer empty themselves. His forehead is covered with sweat; His eyes are prominent and rolling. What an appalling pain must be hammering in His Head! He is going to die. ”
But no. Neither thirst, nor haemorrhage, nor asphyxia, nor pain will get the better of this athletic Body of a Saviour God! And if He dies with these symptoms, He will only die in truth because He freely wills it, having the power, as He had stated, of “ laying down His life and taking it up again ”. It is precisely this voluntary death that will shortly make the centurion proclaim, as he observes at a little distance with an already respectful attention: “ Truly this Man was the Son of God. ” (Mt 27.54)
Indeed, what did he and his squad witness, together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who stood there, and Saint John and the holy women? We can see the scene as though we were there: slowly, and with a superhuman effort, He pressed on the nail in His feet; the ankles and the knees stretch a little, and the body is pushed up bit by bit, relieving the pressure on the arms, but at the price of appalling pains, for the median nerves rub against the nail. With that, the tetanisation recedes, the muscles become relaxed, at least those of the chest. The lungs expel the vitiated air that filled them and soon the poor swollen face, all bleeding and distorted, recovers its ordinary pallor. Above all, He has recovered His breath! To do what? To speak. To articulate a few words with His dying voice: “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! ” (Lk 23.34)
And then, no sooner have these words been pronounced with a superhuman effort, than the Body sinks down again and the tetanisation comes on again. On seven occasions, He straightens up and speaks, between two bouts of asphyxia, at the cost of unspeakable pains, for every movement reverberates in His hands, irritating the median nerves. These successive movements of sagging and straightening up have left a visible trace on the Shroud: they are the two strands of blood making an acute angle of a few degrees on the left wrist. One side corresponds to the flow of blood in the sagging position, the arm then making an angle of 65 degrees with the vertical; the other corresponds to the flow of blood in the standing position, the arm then making an angle of 70 degrees with the vertical. The successive movements of pressing up and then of letting go “ is the periodical asphyxiation of the poor unfortunate who is being strangled and then allowed to come back to life, to be choked once more several times over. ”
In addition to the thirst, to the cramp, to the asphyxia, to the unbearable vibrations of these two median nerves, we must mention the infection of the wounds and those horrible big blue and green flies buzzing all round His Body and suddenly settling on one or other wound to suck its blood and lay its eggs. They go for His Face, but it is impossible to whisk them away!
And not a complaint, other than gently to His Father: “ Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani. My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? ” (Mk 15.34)
And suddenly, knowing that “ all is consummated ” (Jn 19.30), again He utters a great cry: “ Father, into Thy hands, I commend my spirit! ” (Lk 23.46)
“ He died when He willed to do so ”, wrote Barbet, “ I wish to hear of no more physiological theories! ” Jesus died by a miracle, and that is what made the centurion exclaim his profession of faith: “ Truly this Man was the Son of God! ” (Mt 27.54)
Ask any asthmatic in the most extreme throes of an attack to utter a cry. It is quite impossible! Where would he find the necessary air?
Finally, “ bowing His head, He gave up the Ghost ” (Jn 19.30).
His head fell straight forward, His chin resting on the breastbone, as we see on the facial silhouette: the head clearly fixed in a forward inclination, “ the face now relaxed and calm, and in spite of its dreadful stigmata, illumined by the very gentle majesty of God, Who is still present there. ”
“ Blood and water. ” (Jn 19.34)
The final revelation of a suffering of which we had no idea, and which must be added retrospectively to all the others. The soldiers use an iron bar to break the legs of the thieves. They now hang pitifully and, as they can no longer raise themselves on their feet, tetanus and asphyxia will soon finish them off. “ But having come to Jesus ”, writes Saint John, the only eye witness of the scene, “ when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water. ” (Jn 19.33-34)
Barbet looks on this “ tragic and precise gesture ” as a practising surgeon. “ He raised the shaft of the spear, and with a single slanting blow to the right side, he pierced it deeply. ” He himself repeated the experiment on several corpses for autopsy, before dissecting them: “ John truly saw it, and I also, and we would not lie: a broad stream of dark liquid blood, which gushed out onto the soldier, and slowly flowed in dribbles over the chest, coagulating in successive layers. But at the same time, and specially noticeable at the edges, there flows a clear liquid like water. Let us see, the wound is below and to the outside of the nipple (the fifth space), and the blow from below. It is therefore the blood from the right auricle, and the water issued from the pericardium. But then, O poor Jesus, Your Heart was compressed by this liquid, and apart from everything else You had the agonising cruel pain of Your Heart being held as in a vice. ” (see figure, below)
“ As it was the Preparation, the Jews, to avoid the bodies remaining on the cross on the Sabbath day – for that Sabbath was a solemn day – asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. The soldiers, therefore, came and they broke the legs of the first, and then of the other that was crucified with Him. But having come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw this has given testimony – and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is saying the truth – that you may also believe. For these things were done that the scripture might be fulfilled: Not a bone of His shall be broken. And again another scripture says: They shall look on Him Whom they have pierced. ” (Jn 19.31-37)
On the facial silhouette, it is possible to see the clots of a massive flow of blood, partly hidden, on its outer edge, by a piece of cloth sewn on by the Poor Clares of Chambéry after the fire of 1532. It is possible to distinguish the imprint of the Wound, oval in shape and slightly oblique, from which the blood poured. This Wound, 4.4cms in its main axis and 1.5cms in height, is the passage opened by the spear. The upper part of the blood clot, the nearest to the wound, is the thickest and widest, unlike the wounds made by the Crown of Thorns where the blood, clotting more slowly, stopped in its descent and accumulated before an obstacle (see figure, above). The inside edge of the clot is cut off by the rounded indentations, which are inexplicable on an immobile and upright body. These indentations correspond to the projections of the serrated main muscle (Barbet).
By way of spiritual bouquet, a sublime word from Saint Thérèse of the Holy Face will inspire our prayer: “ O Jesus, allow me to tell You that You have done follies for Your little spouse. ” Thinking of all these sufferings, these dreadful pains which Jesus foresaw and premeditated throughout His life and wanted out of love for her, to save her, the predestined soul is filled with that charity which inflamed the heart of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus at the age of thirteen, ad which in a few years will entirely consume her.
“ One Sunday, looking at a photograph (sic!) of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the Blood which fell from one of His divine hands, and I felt great sorrow at the thought that this Blood fell to the ground with nobody eager to collect It, and I resolved that I would stay in spirit at the foot of the Cross to receive the divine dew flowing therefrom, with the understanding that I would then have to pour it over other souls... The cry of Jesus on the Cross constantly resounded in my heart: “ I thirst. ” Those words enkindled within me an unknown and very vivid ardour. I wanted to slake the thirst of my Beloved, and I felt myself to be consumed with the thirst for souls. ”
THE LORD’S BURIAL
Attention is first of all concentrated on the study of the linen cloths which enveloped the Body of Jesus after His torture, and their arrangement in the tomb on Easter morning. On this point, as on so many others, John appears to be in serious disagreement with the Synoptics. In fact, the Synoptics relate the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea in a sindôn, a sheet which wrapped the whole Body of Jesus (Mk 15.46; Lk 23.53; Mt 27.59). Whereas John, who writes as an eyewitness, does not mention this sindôn. According to him, Joseph and Nicodemus “ took the Body of Jesus ad bound it with othonia. ” (Jn 19.40) The verb dein, “ to bind ”, and the plural othonia, generally translated as “ bandages ”, seem to exclude any identification between these bandages and the sindôn of the Synoptics and, a fortiori, with the venerable cloth of Turin.
At the Congress of Bologna (27-28 Nov. 1981), I made a contribution which figured in the Acts of the Congress, but which seems to have remained a dead letter through the authority of Father Feuillet, the learned professor of exegesis from my seminary years at the Institut Catholique de Paris. Certainly, it will seem very bold to object to his interpretation of the Johannine account of the empty tomb on Easter morning (Jn 20.3-10). Especially as his exegesis is regarded as definitive by a conglomeration of associations more or less devoted to the “ scientific ” study of the Holy Shroud and the defence of its authenticity.
For my part, I followed the path opened by Fr. de Nantes, my Master, which begins by setting aside all “ concordism ” tending to interpret the accounts of the Resurrection according to the Holy Shroud, and by resolutely distinguishing the two disciplines: exegetical science and sindonology, not to oppose the one to the other as Father Braundid in 1939-1940, but so that, through comparing the one with the other, further light might be shed.
“ The Shroud that had been about His head ” (Jn 20.7)
I began therefore by dealing with this piece of cloth which Saint John calls soudarion in his account of finding the empty tomb, which he did with Peter on Easter morning, telling us that it had remained in place, and that he, John, had thus seen the othonia; the sight of this alone determined his faith (20.5-7). I proposed recognising in the Johannine soudarion, the sindôn of the Synoptics, as opposed to the exegetes who all agree in seeing this as a chin band surrounding the head of the deceased in order to keep the mouth closed, according to the prescription of the Mishna! “ And so, distinct from the ‘ sindôn ’ or shroud, they invent a short piece of cloth knotted under the head of Jesus, making it out to be a chin band, as people used to be depicted suffering from toothache! What a horror! ”
The eminent Hellenist René Robert gave us the joy of agreeing with our exegesis. In order to show my gratitude to this illustrious scholar I would like to quote in full from the three articles he has devoted to this controversy. On every line, common sense, together with the resources of an immense erudition, sets aside the false arguments; this one, for example, “ permanent since Bultmann ”, which contrasts “ those who maintain that Saint John’s Gospel was composed by a single author with those who hold to many editorial levels ”. How can one not support this simple liberating observation: “ As the solutions proposed by the latter are as divergent as they are numerous and conflict with the Fourth Gospel’s remarkable homogeneity of style, the question may be idle ”?
In any case, the account of Our Lord’s burial according to Saint John “ shows every appearance of being that of a live witness ”. It is for us to know how to read in order to understand what the Evangelist saw, remembering that “ he does not relate all that he saw, but only what struck him or what seemed to serve his purpose ”.
Recalling how I proposed, “ against the ordinary ”, to recognise the soudarion as a shroud, “ the Italian relic, to be precise ”, René Robert notes that it is the exegesis of Father Feuillet, and not mine, that appeals to the text of Saint John to the point of distorting it to make it concord with the Holy Shroud of Turin and its imprints:
“ As the manifestations of the risen [Lord] reported in the Gospels are described as that of a glorious body appearing and disappearing without displacing the surrounding objects, it was thought to be legitimate, at first, to explain the persistence and clarity of the imprints by an identical disappearance on Easter morning. This hypothesis seemed to be corroborated by an indication in verse 8 of our chapter 20, where it says that after Peter, ‘ the other disciple ’ also went into the sepulchre, kai eiden kai épisteusen: ‘ He saw and he believed. ’ This faith, closely connected with sight, later prompted a re-examination of verse 7 and the reasons for believing which, logically he should have highlighted. Such is the thinking that guided the further research and it will not be surprising that the first in-depth inquiry conducted along these lines by C. Lavergne should have been published in the ‘ Cahiers du Saint Suaire ’. The aim was therefore to find in verse 7 the idea that none of the linen cloths had been displaced: logically, the untied bands should rest on the shroud, itself laid out flat, having fallen back on the sepulchral stone; the oval chin band, also knotted, should be perceptible from its protuberance beneath the shroud, in the place where the head had lain. These are the facts which are supposed to explain ‘ the other disciple’s ’ conviction that the tomb had not been profaned and that Jesus had risen. ”
All this “ exegesis ” is upset by a simple comment from the professor of Greek: “ If the disciple saw that, the least one can admit is that he did not say so: there is no allusion to bandages still knotted nor, moreover, to any similarly tied chin band; there is no specific reference to a shroud, albeit so expected in this hypothesis as complementing the words entétuligménon (rolled up) or topon (place). The description of what the witness had beneath his eyes cannot, as we have seen, be made to justify the desired interpretation. Despite that, this interpretation has been persistently maintained for two decades, and as the text cannot satisfy all the requirements of the hypothesis, every effort has been made to guess, beyond the actual words, how it could be substantiated. ”
Writing in the Thomist Review, René Robert came back to the charge a few years later: “ The exegetical problems posed by the mention in Jn 20.7 of Jesus’ “ shroud ” continue to rouse various and contradictory answers, and the confusion is now such that the object examined by Peter in the tomb has been assigned positions that are far from the obvious sense of the text and, based on these supposed appearances, a quite unexpected apologetic has been constructed. ” And he quotes “ among others ”, the case of Antoine Legrand’s book with a preface by Fr. Laurentin.
The following year, there is a new “ response to a few questions ” elicited by the learned professor’s acceptance of our exegesis of the Johannine “ shroud ”. “ The idea of the shroud-chin-band ” and the “ new representation of its placement ”, formulated by Father Feuillet, seems to him to be “ governed by an apologetic intention ”:
“ I have the greatest regard for the works of Fr. Feuillet, but I must repeat that on this occasion he has accommodated the text to what he hoped to find in it, and that his translation is unacceptable. ”
The author then proposes “ the most literal translation which, whilst being clear, does not make any special demands on the text of verse 7:
“ ‘ He sees the linen cloths lying, and the shroud, which had been about His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but apart, rolled up in a separate place. ’ ”
The learned professor then goes on to demonstrate that “ writers of the Greek language never interpreted the text otherwise, at least as far as the arrangement of the linen cloths is concerned ”. He quotes Saint John Chrysostom arguing, on two occasions, from the displacement of the linen cloths in the tomb, in favour of the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection: “ If the body had been stolen, the robbers would not have taken care to remove the shroud, roll it up and place it apart. ”
In the end, “ what remains certain is the importance Saint John attaches to the linen cloth “ rolled up separately in a place apart ”. An ordinary napkin or chin band would not merit such emphasis. ”
It is at this point that our hypothesis found its full force in the eyes of Robert. What particularly held his attention was the complement made to my proof in an appendix on the resurrection of Lazarus, where the “ shroud-soudarion ” also appears (Jn 11.44).
From the shroud of Lazarus to that of Jesus
At Bologna, I was opposed by Robinson and Fossati with this verse concerning the resurrection of Lazarus, the ordinary translation of which reads as follows:
“ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bandages, and his face was bound about with a shroud (soudarion). Jesus said to them: ‘ Loose him and let him go ’. ” (Jn 11.44)
In a very friendly letter, the illustrious exegete of Trinity College, Cambridge, insisted: “ The only thing that can pass “ around the face ” (of Lazarus) and “ over the head ” (of Jesus) is a chin band. ”
My reply consisted in pointing out that, in that case, Lazarus emerged from the tomb clothed only in the bandages attached to his hands and feet, and a chin band around his head to keep his mouth closed. “ I am not joking ”, I insisted. “ Father Lavergne is embarrassed by this ‘ absence of all precision concerning the garment (sheet, tunic) ’ of the dead man. But he soon puts his mind at rest: ‘ As soon as he was loosed, Lazarus resumed his place among the living in the round of everyday life. Which makes one think that he was then at least clothed in a tunic. ’
“ But then, a further question: So was Lazarus entombed in this tunic without any other ‘ shroud ’? Lavergne escapes the difficulty badly: ‘ The shroud probably remained in the sepulchre. But this argument is admittedly quite weak, and I shall not insist on it. ’
“ As can be seen, the idea of the soudarion-chin-band leads the exegetes who hold it to the same incoherence with regard to Lazarus as to Christ in the tomb. On the other hand, the two burials can be simply and satisfactorily reconstituted, if, with us, you consider that the ‘ soudarion ’ of Lazarus, like that of Jesus, was the shroud itself: one large piece of cloth passing over the head, and thus enveloping the whole body, which was held by these ‘ bands ’ just mentioned by Saint John, attached to his feet and his hands. The Aramaic word itself (soudarâ), which according to us is implicit in soudarion, even appears to have exactly the same meaning as in 20.7. To understand it, however, each word must be translated in its obvious sense and according to its true function. ”
I then ventured to propose that “ the almost universal translation, to my knowledge, of opsis by figure, face, no doubt through its false friend facies, as it is rendered in Latin, seems to convey the wrong meaning. This word, whose root is ops, to see, signifies either sight in the active sense: the action of seeing and even the organ of sight; or in the passive sense: what is seen, the spectacle, the outward appearance, the look, the aspect. It is this second sense that justifies the word being translated into the Latin facies: outward form, appearance, the look, and, derivatively, the physiognomy and features of the face. The two uses noted by Father Lavergne in the New Testament have exactly this meaning, and both are Johannine. After the example of classical literature, the New Testament reserves the designation of face to prosôpon, generally rendered in Latin by vultus (Lk 9.29), and sometimes by facies (Mt 17.2). With even greater reason hè opsis has nothing to do with hè képhalè, the head, which current exegesis treats as the equivalent from the fact that the soudarion is said to pass ‘ over the head ’ of Jesus.
“ In John 11.44, therefore, it is a question of Lazarus’ outward appearance, which ‘ had been bound about with a shroud ’. It is ‘ the sight ’ itself of this man that is thus found to be ‘ encircled ’ by this linen cloth, and therefore hidden from the sight of the bystanders. The sense is exactly parallel to that which we determined for the burial of Jesus, where the soudarâ veils the majestic radiance in which this ‘ appearance ’ normally clothed the Master. In the case of Lazarus, it is only a question of an ordinary man, except that this man was extraordinary in that he ‘ had been dead ’ (ho tethnèkôs) and that he had been seen again on emerging from the tomb. In the eyes of the dumbfounded witnesses, it was a veritable ‘ apparition ’, although ‘ the sight ’ of the man himself (hè opsis autou) remained obscured ‘ by a soudarion ’ which ‘ encircled ’ him. The translation which results from this analysis is perfectly clear:
“ ‘ The dead man came out, attached by bandages at the feet and hands, and appeared wrapped in a shroud. ’
“ He ‘ appears hidden ’ in his shroud: it is through this paradox, much more palpable in the Greek turn of phrase, that Saint John reconstructs the full force of the bystanders’ stupefaction. ”
I then quoted Father Lagrange: “ He does not say that Lazarus rose up in his sepulchre, but only what must have struck the bystanders with amazement, how the dead man emerged from the inner chamber and appeared still wrapped like one dead. If Lazarus had come out with his bands loosened, that would have been a second miracle; and it also seems to be a miracle that he was able to move forward thus bound. But there was a reason for this state of dress: to show in what state Lazarus was and to confirm the fact of the resurrection by this amazing walk. ”
My conclusion was: “ At the same time as reconstituting the gripping film of the scene which he himself had witnessed, Saint John is able to pass on a full understanding of it: Jesus breaks the bonds which keep this ‘apparition’ veiled, and restores him to the light of day: ‘ Loose him and let him go. ’ ”
Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and Saint John “ succeeded in lowering the Body from the Cross and transporting it to the tomb with infinite delicacy, respect and tenderness. They hardly dared touch this adorable Body ”, Barbet stated. For proof: this transversal flow of blood coming from the lower cave vein (on the right for the reader), by the Wound of the right side (see figure, above), after his being lowered from the Cross and placed in a horizontal position. After being carried, the Body was placed, naked, on the Shroud, which absorbed the imprint of the blood clots formed on the skin of the back during the flow of the capillarity. “ It is certain that the Body was carried to the tomb with a minimum of movement, in such a way that the blood clots remained in place, unaltered. Had the movements been more numerous and less delicate, the blood clots would have been wiped out and effaced. ”
It is then that Robert gives me the great joy of verifying the validity of my hypothesis with the resources of his immense erudition. If we come back to the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning, what is the meaning of this detail: “ which had been about His head ”? This detail, writes Robert “ is not clear and is found in a context which is not clear either, if one refers to the contradictions in the criticism of this subject. Is it a question of information to do with the destination of the grave cloth and therefore of its size, as was thought by those who held it to be an accessory (a napkin)? Should we, on the other hand, suppose one of those symbolic intentions, so frequent in the fourth Gospel, especially in the account of the Passion? Bonnet-Eymard has kept to this last working hypothesis, and, in the path traced by Father Levesque, has had the good fortune and the merit to find the key to this particular, which had left the critics disorientated. ”
That was, in fact, the new information in what I communicated to the Congress of Bologna. We read in the Palestinian targums of the Exodus that at the moment when he came down from Mount Sinaï, holding “ the two tablets of the Testimony ”, Moses failed to notice that his face radiated a brilliance, a brilliance which came to him from the brilliance of the Glory of the Presence of Yahweh, at the time when he had spoken with Him.
And so, after Moses had finished stating to Aaron and to the children of Israel, terrified by “ the brilliance of the image of his face ”, all that Yahweh had said to him on the mountain, “ he covered the image of his face with a veil (soudarâ) ”. It is this word from the Aramaic targum, soudarâ, that Saint John has transposed into Greek by using the word soudarion, by reason of the parallel, established from his Prologue, between Moses and Jesus (Jn 1.17; cf. 1.45).
In the eyes of Saint John, it is not so much at the Transfiguration, which he also witnessed on Mount Tabor, that the glory of God shone on the face of Jesus, but rather at the moment of His supreme humiliation, at the “ Hour ” of His Passion. It is on the Cross, planted on Mount Calvary as on a new Sinaï, that the divine Glory shone on His face.
Coming down from Calvary, He hides His glory in order to be seen by men in His state of abasement. As Moses veiled his face, so Jesus is clothed in His Shroud.
At the moment of the Resurrection, His light, the light of His face is made manifest. Is this the burning that is recognised on the Holy Shroud of Turin? The conclusions of the symposium held at New London shortly after that of Bologna, on October 10 and 11, 1981, seem to meet with this hypothesis. But the carbon 14 test intervened and seemed to put out the light that was already pouring forth from the Holy Shroud, negative of the divine glory, which had remained illegible for nineteen centuries, stifled again at the moment when it suddenly passed from negative to positive, from obscurity to illumination, allowing the features of our glorious Saviour to appear to our eyes. We reached the point where all the proofs of its authenticity seemed to have been extinguished and the very French mystical tradition of its reparatory devotion annihilated.
Fr. Georges de Nantes
Brother Bruno of Jesus