Seeing The Shroud of Turin
“Thy face, Lord, do I seek.” –Psalm 27:8
I first heard of the Holy Shroud when I was sixteen. I was far from interested, but attended an evening presentation on the topic to appease my mother. That night, a spark of desire kindled awake, and I felt an intrigue.
It really was His Face.
Yes, all the scientific data about the linen was incredible. The facts scientists had discovered about the man of the shroud were astounding. But the face. The face was startling.
The child who usually begged for dessert and television was asking for seconds before an old cloth.
There are both positive and negative images on the shroud. The blood that soaked into the linen is a positive image. The picture of the man of the shroud though is negative, as if the linen received the image of him as a sheet of film paper. So when it was shown in a photographic negative, it caused me more than a little pause. It was the face of Jesus.
This sprout of fascination rested, waiting, for many years. I came to fall in love with Jesus during that time, but still that picture wrestled with my heart. I knew I wanted to find a way to see it with my own eyes.
The shroud itself is not ordinarily visible to pilgrims. It is kept secure and only becomes available every handful of years for a brief period. I had thought I would not catch the window while I was living in Europe until a friend emailed me: the shroud was open for viewing.
My parents — on a stroke of providence — would be visiting at the time, so I secured tickets and a rental car and lodging, and when they arrived into Germany, we left a mere three days later to drive across Europe on pilgrimage.
I had separated our ticket times so I could go without my children. I arrived eager and unsure of what to expect. There was a long avenue — 800 meters — that led me in a windy path through security and toward the cathedral. I lifted up my many intentions and silently prayed my rosary. It was wonderful to walk at my pace, to not speak, to prepare myself quietly. A video was offered that highlighted the sections on the linen and what they were. Nail wounds, crown of thorns, chest wound, facial blows, scourgings. It closed by showing the negative images, and again I saw that face that had shocked me fifteen years previously. I was struck by the enormity of reality: Jesus truly had walked this Earth.
I moved into the cathedral and was given ten minutes to stand and gaze. The shroud was visible but the space itself was very dark to protect the fabric. I attempted to quiet my wandering mind and prayed the intentions I felt the Lord had asked me to bring before Him: to know His love more, and to grow to be less selfish. I stared until the time elapsed and I was ushered out.
Confessions were being offered so I immediately went and unloaded all that I had been carrying. I left feeling refreshed and bubbling with joy.
I returned to our rental apartment, collected my parents and children, and got back in line. My 5 year old Mary was ticketed to go with my parents, but I had not originally intended my 2 year old Grace to go. I do not know why, but I felt a stirring to bring her. So back I went.
I spent this second visit attending to Grace in a special way. I talked to her and prayed for her. Before the shroud, she did not react (unless picking her nose is a movement of the spirit) but I felt a certainty that this was a special gift and moment for her. He was blessing her regardless of whether she realized what lay before her or not.
Mary, surprisingly, was deeply affected. She told me she wanted to go back in, and that all she ever wanted to see again was the shroud. The child who usually begged for dessert and television was asking for seconds before an old cloth. But can I blame her? It is His Face.
I am home now and life has begun anew. While I find that much remains the same, I sense a new space in me, a tender place where His light is reaching in and tugging me awake. My eyes keep returning to the picture I purchased in Turin, the picture of His Face, and I am struck again that this Jesus was real. He ate and drank and breathed and laughed, and when it most mattered He suffered to show me how much He loves me. He was real. He is real. And the shroud is just one more way for Him to remind me of this.
I have a difficult time expressing the complexity of my emotions and the experience of seeing the shroud, but I think that this is the case whenever I encounter Christ. Perhaps it isn’t necessary though. Perhaps I don’t need words. Perhaps all I really need is to recall that striking image—the Face of Christ—and realize that He is all that matters. He will continue to soak into my heart, moving me to love my children, myself, my spouse, and the world a bit more. And anything else, He will simply accomplish Himself.