THE HOLY SHROUD OF TURIN
Saved from the flames
DEAR Brother Bruno de Jésus,
What a joy to receive from you this sindonological synthesis of your twenty years’ work – a work of faultless science and of loving adoration. The only thing missing was this postface which I had promised you... when this terrible fire of Friday April 11 made us fear for a moment – an eternity! – that the sacred Relic had been consumed in the flames, reduced to ashes in its silver coffin, imprisoned in its crystal tomb. It was a dreadful moment, not a matter for anecdote, for it was feared that this fire, which was not due to chance, might be the tragic end of this Shroud, all too similar to the death of Him who had once been wrapped in it, at the end of some disturbing satanic “ role play ”: this linen cloth imprinted with the effigy of Jesus, stained with His Blood, thrown onto the fire by the godless after being judged and condemned as a work of forgery by the “ International Scientific Community ”, with no protest from the Church, on Holy Saturday 1997, on the French television channel ARTE!
Night of April 11 to 12. Behind the high altar of Turin cathedral, the “ Guarino Guarini ” chapel, the Sainte Chapelle of the Holy Shroud, is prey to the flames. To this day, the firemen have not yet specified the causes of the fire, but the Public Prosecutor of Turin has opened an enquiry: “ If the magistrates favour the short-circuit track, it is only by way of hypothesis; in this way, it will be possible eventually to find indicators that will force out different answers. It goes without saying that the only hypothesis to be discarded straight away is that the fire was caused by chance ” (La Stampa of Turin, April 14). Besides, the workmen who were working on the restoration of the chapel affirm that they removed all appliances and cut off the electricity. The hypothesis of an attack, therefore, remains the only probability: a dispatch from the AFP agency, dated April 13, states that “ according to certain reports, not officially confirmed, four or five fires, all situated in the chapel, have been detected ”. The London Sunday Times has no hesitation in headlining the story: “ It is the Maffia that is to blame ”. A very revealing fact: the burnt chapel communicates by a door and corridors with rooms in the neighbouring Royal Palace, where a dinner in honour of the secretary General of UNO, Kofi Annan, had just ended at the very moment when the fire was declared. Investigators are checking the identity of all the guests. Vittorio Messori, the Pope’s historiographer, has no doubt: “ Believe me, someone wanted to burn the Shroud: I do not exclude an international plot, and I would suspect either Masonic circles or Islamic fundamentalists ” (Oggi, April 16-23). Might it be that the occult forces that shackled the work of Saint John Bosco at the end of the last century, in Turin itself, are still as fierce as ever against all that is Catholic? (Photo AFP/ Marco Durante)
At that moment, it appeared to me that this sacred Shroud was like a double, an understudy of Jesus, left by Himself on this earth to prolong His Presence, to relive His Mystery, like a silent, but terribly vulnerable, witness!
Thus I found it impossible to believe in its total disappearance, still less to resign myself to it. Should it not, like the beloved disciple of the Lord, stay with His own until He comes again?
Then, sadly turning the pages of this masterpiece, which you have happily given us, of true science and of pious love, the Holy Shroud seemed to me to be throbbing with life, mysteriously associated with the joys and trials of the Church, after its Lord had left it lying there in His tomb on Easter morning as an inheritance for His own...
In fact, it accompanies His Church throughout the centuries and follows the same stages as those lived by its Master. That is apparent from one chapter to the next of your thirty pages, as we read of its model in the thirty years of His Gospel, up to His death. On the evening of this April 11 I had only three or four pages left to recall not the death of the Holy Shroud, but its life, its victory, its apotheosis next year, 1998! despite the recent controversies and battles which it was important for me to relate and to situate as a way of the Cross for the soudarion, the image-witness of its Master, before sharing His eternal glory. And now was it to perish in the flames? At any rate it had to escape from that!
We wanted to know all about this certain and obvious attack, and about this rescue acclaimed by the good people of Turin, supporting the firemen and then dragging this man with the iron sledgehammer and his trophy intact out of that furnace. I then scanned the whole length of those nineteen centuries of life, open to so many chance storms and dangers, whence this relic of Jesus Christ once again emerged victorious in silent testimony to its imperishable Royalty. Might the sacred Object therefore follow its Master, behind and at some distance, until the consummation of the world?
The most beautiful thing, no doubt, is that though absorbed in the thousand difficulties of your powerful demonstration, you would not have noticed that in retracing the adventures of the life of this Holy Relic, you spoke of it in the same terms that you would have used to relate the obscure appearance and then the epiphany of Jesus at Bethlehem and, a few pages further on, to tell us of the long hidden life of this sacred Object, passing unnoticed from Jerusalem to Edessa, then to Constantinople, ending finally at our little Lirey... just like the life of Jesus at Nazareth.
What will come next for Jesus? for His double? The same story. A public life with its many expositions, miracles and pilgrimages, similar in all respects to the “ Galilean idyll ” where the Gospel shows us Jesus blessing little children, allowing lepers to approach Him, sinners to touch Him and multiplying works of mercy. The Pharisees attributed Jesus’ success to the power of the devil; similarly, modern scientists attribute the never ending fervour of these enormous crowds to sorcery !
It is then that we cannot fail to see, oh Jesus, that Your Shroud, Your double, was the substitute, for yet a thousand years, of Your Presence. But to this rather scientific word, I much prefer this other expression which alone is Catholic: the Sacrament of Your Holy Face, of Your intimate warmth and human charm, as the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Your Love.
Twice before, in times past, it has been touched by fire and licked by the flames, or had holes made in it by the fiery flow of molten metal. But they were just hapless events, mindless attacks, dangers contained by the almighty Providence of our beloved Heavenly Father. And the holes left in the material, the patches sewn on by the pious Poor Clares of Chambéry, preserve the moving traces of these misadventures as a warning for us: not to turn our eyes, thoughts and hearts away from this divine Relic, if we wish to keep it in our midst! Never to neglect our devotion to it, if, in return, we wish to have our towns and countryside blessed, and our parishes and all creatures sanctified, just as the shadow of Jesus worked miracles.
It is precisely in these times which open our modern age that this Shroud became the focus of attraction for kings and princes, for the bishops and learned men of all Christendom, surrounded by the crowds attracted in their wake. It passed from Lirey to Chambéry, from Chambéry to Turin, where the generosity of the Savoyard kings and multitudes of donors made it possible to build this Guarini chapel, a worthy casket at last for this treasure! And when Jesus was at the height of His preaching, was it not then that crowds of poor people and the sick pressed around Jesus, but also the great of this earth and the rich, avid for their sins to be forgiven, for their souls to be saved and for their happiness to be restored in view of Eternal Life?
However, although it was not as clearly seen as it is in the Gospel when the Lord went up to Jerusalem, various movements ran through the Christian people; their minds were agitated by Satan’s thoughts. As Jesus found Himself gradually being tormented by the Sadducees, the Scribes and the Pharisees... so the most renowned relic in the world has been subject, during these last centuries, to much sarcasm on the part of the Philosophers, and contempt on the part of heretics and of the godless; you referred to Calvin! and Rabelais... Heretics and scoffers go hand in hand. Expositions became rarer. The cult of relics was targeted by freethinkers, and pilgrimages were targeted by libertines who liked to travel only for their pleasure, in search of the world’s pagan beauties.
The glass protecting the reliquary which contained the Holy Shroud was reputed to be unbreakable. The mechanism for opening the compartment was blocked because of the difference in temperature with the outside. It is then that the Turin fireman, Mario Trematore, intervened: “ I thought I heard the voice of God calling me; it was as though I had been given strength from on High to break this glass with sledgehammer blows, whilst the ceiling was threatening to fall on us at any moment ” (Oggi, April 16-23). The fireman declared: “ If it had been a painting by Giotto or Michelangelo, even of great value, I would not have lifted my little finger ”. But, at this crucial moment, he said to himself: “ You’ve got to save this emblem of Christendom, a relic worshipped by two billion people ” (Il Corriere della Sera, April 14). The next day, the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Saldarini, opened the reliquary to make sure that the Holy Shroud had not suffered any damage; experts have advised that in future it should be exposed unfolded for better preservation. (Photo AFP/Raidue).
On the other hand, paintings and sculptures brought so much pleasure and also spiritual joy to devout souls, that relics suffered a certain disaffection. What was there to see in them? What secret beauties did they hold? They only regained their lustre on great days of pilgrimage, ceremonies and expositions in the presence of crowds of people.
The effrontery of anti-authority unbelievers mounted up and up, even into the ranks of the clergy. Thus it was that a certain Canon (!) Ulysse Chevalier took the liberty, in his modernism, of interpreting Saint John’s Gospel so falsely as to conclude that it would be impossible for a shroud enveloping the body of Jesus to be present in the tomb. And from there he invented a whole fable, to the joy of the godless, concluding in the falsehood of the Holy Shroud, which, he claimed, had been painted on its arrival at Lirey... Legends that will be taken up by our forgers !
Is not this similar to what Jesus suffered in the last months of His public life, when He will be the subject of terrible defamation and persecution, going so far as to create a void around Him and threatening Him with a cruel death by stoning at the hands of the people? One would not have given Jesus long to live at that period, no more than one would have expected the Turin pilgrimage to be maintained at the end of the 19th century. That was exactly a hundred years ago!
I am not saying that the Holy Shroud was rescued from that state by miracle, nor that it was transfigured as was Jesus on the Holy Mountain. But this delicate cloth, this Sacrament of the presence of Jesus, had within its fibres all sorts of unknown or as yet unperceived beauties and perfections. It was the photograph of 1898 that instantly and effortlessly brought out the figure, the image, the striking and undeniable reproduction of Jesus Son of God. Immediately, pious souls, and sometimes unbelievers like Delage, felt moved and drawn by the Holy Shroud, as Zachaeus, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman and Matthew the publican were drawn by Jesus. Despite the barrage of a modernist clergy, of the anticlerical Sorbonne and of the atheistic world of science, the silent, pure, sweet and humble Glory of Jesus began to radiate from Turin, over Rome and Paris, over the whole of France as well as throughout the world.
After the Second World War, it was the turn of the United States to be touched by the grace of this divine Face. The STURP team landed in Turin with their tons of the most up-to-date and efficient instruments in order to pin down the invisible, to track and detect the supernatural or – more likely! – the fraud, with equal freedom for some to allow themselves to be convinced and for others to denounce the trickery when they discover it... but no one did discover it, and everyone admired what their machines proclaimed, like the pagans themselves who believed in Jesus on seeing his miracles testifying to His goodness. The boldness of these young scientists was admirable and their hearts were crystal clear. They began to be friends for you.
It was during those thirty-three days of John Paul I’s charismatic reign, the days of that unforgettable exposition, which, unknown to us, were to be, for the Holy Shroud in Turin and for the Good Shepherd in Rome, their Palm Sunday before the Passion! Like the Apostles, we did not imagine that this triumph would provoke so much hatred in their own House, going as far as a monstrous and murderous attack by poison for the one, and by fire for the other !
Three fine years of study and of devotion were still to run for the devotees of the Holy Shroud (1978-1981). Do you remember, Brother Bruno, our enthusiasm, our fervour, and the sindonological confraternity showing great esteem for you. In those times when nobody as yet worked on the sacred Relic for money, for his own glory, for his personal ambition... nor for the Enemy! The people involved were all idealistic – too much so! – and generous – but one can never be too generous... They were like the entourage of disciples around Jesus. We began to dream of a restoration of the faith in the world under this conquering standard.
Desolation on the day after the attack. The debris of broken glass and torn embroidery around the crystal prison which housed the Holy Shroud reveals the full devastation of the previous night. Behind the door, and in the Sainte Chapelle of the Holy Shroud situated just above, everything is burnt to cinders. The precious Relic was usually kept in this chapel, which had been built by the Duke of Savoy in the 17th century for the precise purpose of housing it, but it had been removed from there since May 4, 1990 for restoration work to be done. In the foreground, to the right, the high altar steps can be seen. The hell unleashed did not prevail: the notable Relic was saved, as well as the sacred Hosts in the Tabernacle. Cardinal Saldarini celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving at the Consolata on Sunday evening, in the presence of more than a thousand people. In his homily, he said that “ this may not have been a miracle, but at any rate it was a great divine grace, which allowed the cathedral to be spared and the Shroud to be saved – this shroud which is unique in history and in all time and which refers us to Christ’s Passion ” (Photo AFP)
The parallel begun between the Gospel and this story, dissuaded us from any such innocent hopes. “ Do you not know that the Son of Man had to suffer in order to enter into His Glory? ” and again, in the words of Saint Paul, “ that it is through much tribulation that we must enter the Kingdom of God? ” We watched as supposed historians, physicists, chemists and scientists of many disciplines approached, introduced themselves and elbowed their way into leading positions, sowing confusion and obscurity amid the programmes and results of our former teams, who were kept out of their proceedings and for whom traps were laid.. There was this Englishman, Wilson, who made a flying start with his venturesome reconstruction of the early history of the Holy Shroud, and Sox, who turned coat and cast doubt on all our work, disorientating the faithful. And this American, McCrone, who seized hold of samples brought back from Turin by Rogers, invented traces of painting on the Shroud, and immediately trumpeted throughout the world that the supposed relic was nothing more than a 14th century painting. And this man was upheld by the information maffia... and the Church maffia too, for ten years! Laurentin, among others, supported him, and why? It was from these same circles that the perverse plan was born of focusing the whole of sindonological research on the dating of the cloth by means of the Carbon 14 test; thus proofs that could be read by all were to be replaced by unverifiable numerical data, the whole thing to be handed over, in confidence, to their machines and to their technicians. Given this universal infatuation, we had to content ourselves with multiplying warnings to the public and to the wise to be wary of such a lottery: the sacred Shroud of Jesus Christ, imprinted with His shadow and with His Blood, to be delivered to whom and to what? We felt a death threat weigh on us from an unbelieving world, using its last chance to mount this conspiracy.
In an atmosphere no less agonising than that of the trial of Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel, everything went very quickly, out of our sight and away from all control. The High Priest had removed Jesus from any friendly hand; of the laboratories engaged, only those of the Church’s enemies were chosen, and their secular sanhedrin entered the Cathedral apartments, as though entering a dance hall, to begin their dating operations with methods and machines that were reliable but were in the hands of unknown men acting on secret orders, all sworn by oath on their lives to the one foreman and controller, Tite, who had been given possession of everything by the last of the Apostles, his accomplice.
The sad result reached us from the mouth of the latter, and by the chalk of the former writing on the blackboard of victory: with that, our silent Witness was discredited, demeaned, degraded from its sublime rank to that of a work of forgery, to that of any old rag stained with human blood “ or pig’s blood ”. Such was the hideous blasphemy in which ended the most certain crime, the most sacrilegious manipulation ever dreamed of by the Devil! Well, it was announced, without batting an eyelid, by the duty Judas, and the Church was obliged to believe it by all her complacent hierarchy.
The remarkable thing is that, with the help of a few devoted friends, sustained by your vow of obedience and the order given to go further still in pursuit of the tricksters, Brother Bruno, you brought to bear all the elements of the most fantastic scientific and police investigation of the century: we were able to establish every stage of this amazing trickery conducted from beginning to end by this Tite, and approved by this B. in the name of the Church. And since then, it is not the tricksters who have been paying for their crime, locked away in some penitentiary. It is the saviours of this renowned Relic whom the world and the Church have made to share in the discredit of the Holy Shroud.
Funds for the reconstruction of the chapel have already been allocated by the Italian government and by the Municipality of Turin; a popular subscription launched by the newspapers brought in a thousand million lire in two days. Even if the restoration proves to be difficult, the public exposition planned for April 1998 will go ahead, and the city authorities have declared that “ for that date everything will be in order ”. (Photo Associated Press).
Such is the order of the Powers of darkness that govern the Church and the world today. It is our intimate happiness to remain in this proclaimed ignominy, in this apparent solitude with the Lord’s beloved apostle, the pardoned Magdalene and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of us all. For in the dawn, an immense contrite crowd can be seen slowly advancing towards this Golgotha and this garden where the secret of the Holy Shroud is kept secret, in expectation of its resurrection.
But events have moved faster than my pen... The High Priests and the Scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees of this world, whom I know not, have met together since then. They explained to the crowds on French television during Holy Week that Jesus was a false Messiah of whom nothing should be believed and from whom nothing should be expected. Then, for fear that we might still look on “ Him Whom they pierced ”, they set fire to it. But the sacred Relic was saved by its faithful people. A miracle of the Shroud today, as of the Church tomorrow, rising as Jesus rose on Easter morning, Christus hodie, heri et in saecula.
The place of the sacrilegious mescolamento, a sacrilege committed at the hands of the wicked, has been purified by the fire which they lit, thus doing full justice. But the divine relic was saved so that the infinite mercy of our Saviour and of His divine Mother might be made to shine in this place. It is for us, through your study, Brother Bruno, to make the Good News known to all souls of good will: Jesus is risen! His Shroud has been saved from the ashes! Together, let us go and adore Him.
And I ask our friends Jacques and Françoise Mourot: Why not a thousand pilgrims next year, in two planes, three planes, and a train for Turin?
Postface by Fr. Georges de Nantes