Sign Pointing to Jesus
Since it first appeared in Lirey, France, in 1353, the Roman Catholic Church has encouraged the veneration of the Shroud of Turin without saying it is the actual linen sheet Joseph of Arimathea brought to the tomb of Jesus, as reported in Mark 15: 42–47. In 1670, for example, a department of the Holy See granted an indulgence to those who travel to the Shroud and pray before it, however, the decree explicitly states the spiritual reward is not based on the Shroud’s authenticity. In an address given in 1998, Pope John Paul II, after referring to the mysterious image of Jesus on the Shroud, said: "the Shroud is thus a truly unique sign that points to Jesus, the true Word of the Father, and invites us to pattern our lives on the life of the One who gave himself for us."
Jesus, of course, is the founder of Christianity and the cofounder of Islam. He was also a Jewish prophet, an important aspect of the historical Jesus because of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish people. In deciding whether or not the Shroud is authentic, the theological meaning of the word sign in the pope’s remarks should be considered. Essentially a sign is a reason to believe in revelation: "There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you might have life through his name. (John 20:30–31 NJB)"
Paul Vignon and the French Academy of Sciences
In a 1902 book titled The Shroud of Christ, the biologist Paul Vignon argued that the Shroud is authentic because the image depicts with anatomical accuracy a crucified man. Based on experiments performed in the laboratory of his mentor Yves Delage, Vignon also argued that the images are traces of Jesus’ blood and stains from ammonia vapors produced by Jesus’ body. Delage was an internationally acclaimed zoologist and a member of the powerful French Academy of Sciences.
Herbert Thurston, an English Jesuit, wrote an article of rebuttal titled, “The Holy Shroud as a Scientific Problem,” for the February 1902 issue of The Month: A Catholic Magazine. Thurston said that the image on the Shroud was too delicate to have been created by ammonia vapors and that the 14th century artist who created the alter frontal of Narbonne was capable of the artistry the Shroud required. Due to the ravages of time and the fire the Shroud was subjected to in the 16th century, Thurston suggested, the image on the Shroud transformed into its present mysterious condition.
Thurston also described a 10th century ceremony in which a crucifix was wrapped with an alter cloth and placed in a mock sepulcher on Good Friday. On Easter Sunday, the crucifix was removed and the alter cloth was displayed with the proclamation, “Behold here, comrades, these are the linen cloths which were left behind in the empty tomb.” Thurston pointed out that the drama of such a ceremony would be heightened if a painting simulated an imprint of Jesus’ body made by his sweat and blood. Referring to the anatomical correctness of the image, Thurston said an intelligent artist might have guessed details like the crucifixion nails having to go through a bony part of the hand to support the weight of a grown man.
Thurston also wrote the 1912 entry on the Shroud in the Catholic Encyclopedia, now called the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Referring to the historical research of Canon Ulysse Chevalier, the article s