|Full length negatives of the shroud of Turin.|
ON May 1, 1898, an exhibition of sacred art was opened at Turin, and the Government of His Majesty King Humbert authorized the public display of a very precious relic, which had belonged to the Royal House of Savoy since the middle of the fifteenth century. This relic (a large piece of linen cloth) was kept rolled up within a metal casket, secured by many locks, and was said to be the Shroud of Christ. The casket might only be opened with the Royal permission, and by consent of the Archbishop. The piece of cloth had only been previously displayed to the public six times during the nineteenth century. In 1814 by Victor Emmanuel I; in 1815 at the request of Pope Pius VII; in 1822 upon the accession of Charles Felix ; in 1842 and in 1868 at the marriages of Victor Emmanuel I and of Prince Humbert. When the exhibition of 1898 took place no one had seen it for thirty years.
This piece of linen cloth had been known historically in the East since the year 1353. It had been handed down by its successive owners as having been the actual Shroud of Christ, used when the disciples took down the body from the Cross. The brown stains visible on it were said to be the actual impressions left by the body. Careful inspection shows that these stains occur upon the cloth in such a fashion as to represent two bodies, lying head to head, the one seen from the back, the other from the front.
Our frontispiece is a reproduction of a painting by Giulio Clovio, a well-known pupil of Raphael; this painting, preserved at the Royal Pinacothek of Turin, gives us both the general aspect of the cloth, and the way in which the body must have been laid upon it.
All through the Middle Ages, and in our own times as recently as 1898, those who accepted the authenticity of the Shroud believed, in a general way, that the stains were caused by liquid blood combined with aromatics (such as aloes), used before burial. This burial having been provisional and very hurried, the simple explanation arrived at was that the disciples had not been able to wash the corpse. It seemed, therefore A quite natural that the linen cloth should have stains on it, and that it should have retained the double impression of the body. The stains, which corresponded to the features of the face, seemed a mere superficial indication, such as might have been expected considering the roughness of the mechanical process in question.
As for the large class of those who, throughout all ages, have been incredulous about relics brought from the East after the Crusades, it seemed to them more likely that the impressions were merely painted, and had therefore no intrinsic value.
It was natural to think that the linen cloth had at first been used in religious rites as a simple accessory of ceremonial, gradually being raised to the dignity of a precious relic. We know the curious power of generation and unconscious growth which characterizes legends of this description.
As a matter of fact, since the beginning of the eighteenth century, historians, such as Baillot and Fleury, had known that a relic, said to be the Holy Shroud, but which no historic document authenticated, had been the subject of open controversy among ecclesiastical authorities. Two bishops had even given grounds for their opposition to its authenticity ; the summary of the letter written by the second of these bishops to the reigning Pope was known. It was also known that the Pope had issued a Bull, in which the Shroud was spoken of as simply a copy of the real Shroud of Christ.
A sequence of events, to be set forth hereafter, caused the relic to be transferred from Champagne to Savoy. There it secured powerful protection, and was once more recognized as authentic. Little by little, however, the traditional importance of the Holy Shroud lessened, except in Northern Italy and Savoy, where the formal exhibitions of relics at the time of the Renaissance and during the seventeenth century, were still held in remembrance. This Shroud, so long famous, had not, it is true, shared the sad fate of another so-called Holy Shroud, that of Besangon, which had equally claimed to be authentic. The Holy Shroud of Besangon had been pronounced fraudulent, and the ecclesiastical authorities had given orders that it should be made into lint. The destruction which seemed to menace the Shroud of Turin was more gradual, but not less sure. Oblivion fell upon it, the rarity of its exhibition inducing the belief that precautions were taken to preserve under polemical shelter an object to which it was not desired to draw attention.
An unexpected change came in 1898, when the Holy Shroud was photographed and the result published to the world.
The markings on the Shroud were found to have the characteristics of a photographic negative, in that, on the photographic plate, which reverses the lights and shades, a positive portrait revealed itself. Those who examined this portrait pronounced it to be remarkable. They declared that no painter of the Middle Ages could have possibly produced so wonderful and perfect a picture, much less any kind of pictorial negative. In France a learned writer, M. Arthur Loth, Laureat de l'Academie des Inscriptions, published a pamphlet drawing attention to these facts.
Was the Holy Shroud, so long ignored, about to acquire scientific fame ? Not at all. To those interested in the matter it seemed that darkness had definitely closed round the relic once more. As a matter of fact, the religious world received M. Loth's pamphlet with reserve, awaiting the decision of science. Experimental science however did not seem to perceive that a problem had arisen in the solution of which it had any definite interest.
Historians, on the other hand, were on the alert. They judged, and with reason, that this thing concerned them also.
They desired to sift to the bottom the history of the so-called relic in the far-off fourteenth century. The existence of the papal Bull was remembered. M. le Chanoine Chevalier, Correspondent de l'lnstitut, sought for and discovered the original letter which had provoked the papal Bull. In this letter there was an allusion (vague, it is true) to an avowal, said to have been made to a previous bishop by the forger himself. This seemed to close the discussion, and the president of the Academie des Inscriptions, at a solemn sitting held on November 15, 1901, whilst awarding a gold medal of 1,000 francs to M. le Chanoine Chevalier, did not hesitate to severely censure any future attempt to impose upon the credulity of the faithful with what could henceforth be described only as a fraudulent misrepresentation.
But, it may be asked, in this purely historical discussion, what was thought of the curious facts revealed by photography in 1898 ? Were they not as convincing as the somewhat obscure events of the fourteenth century ? Perhaps these physico-chemical facts might have kept the balance of the scales level, if they had not seemed to dissolve like a mirage at the first cold breath of critical inquiry. It was alleged that the opinion of a distinguished physicist had been sought by M. Chevalier, and although the exact terms of his opinion were not made public, it was believed to be definitely unfavourable. Indeed, if the impressions on the Shroud were of the nature of photographic negatives, it was impossible to believe them genuine, as no artist of the fourteenth century was acquainted with the methods of photography.
Although criticism was directed from all sides against what was called the "photographic evidence" it was sufficient only to glance at the original proofs to realize that here was grave matter for consideration.
The physicist to whom M. Chevalier had appealed, pronounced the pictures to be incontestable negatives as soon as he was able to examine the photographic proofs. The proofs, which had at first been looked at sceptically by scientific men, determined not to be influenced by traditions, were examined again with growing attention, and soon seemed worthy of minute study.
The results of this study, lasting over a year and a half, are what we place to-day before the public. They appeal not only to archaeologists and students in the laboratory, but also to the world of Art, and to those who are interested in facts which bear on the foundations of our modern society.
Our researches have been carried on without prejudice, and with equal respect to the claims of conflicting beliefs.
In order to approach the subject with the calmness of academic discussion, we shall avoid as long as possible all mention of the historic personage to whom these pages refer. From the moment that it becomes inevitable for science (in order to explain the marks left by a corpse on the Shroud at Turin), to inquire into the special circumstances attending the death of the man whose body was enveloped therein, we shall call upon documentary evidence to furnish us with certain indispensable particulars. In consulting these documents, we shall lay stress only on those facts which every one must consider to be historically proved.
The Shroud at Turin, however interesting scientifically, remains a nameless shroud unless we can definitely establish that it must have been the Shroud of Christ.
We therefore eliminate all that may have been said or thought by man, in the course of centuries, about the origin of this relic. For us it is simply a large piece of linen cloth, four metres ten centimetres in length, one metre forty centimetres in width ; discoloured by time; worn and torn in places; half burnt by fire—bearing upon its surface shadowy impressions, just as it appears on Plate iv.
I have to thank those who have furnished me with certain technical particulars. Especially I should like to express my gratitude to M. le Professeur Yves Delage, Member of the " Academiedes Sciences," and M. le Dr. E. Herovard, " Maitre de Conferences at the Sorbonne." Without their constant support and counsel it would have been impossible for me to finish the task which they encouraged me to undertake.
I have asked M. le Baron A. Manno and M. le Chevalier Pia to accept my dedication of this book. M. Manno was president of the Exhibition of 1898 ; he directed the photographic work, by means of which men of science can to-day investigate a problem of absorbing interest. M. Pia is the artist, who is so highly thought of in Italy, and whose photographic work is so remarkable. The Official Commission of 1898, seeking for some one whose scientific loyalty equalled his ability, could not fail to ask his co-operation. He has taken the trouble to prepare the plates for me, from which the engravings have been executed, for the illustration of this work. I must also make special mention of the assistance which has been given me by M. le Commandant Colson, Professor of Physics at the " Ecole Poly technique.'' He was peculiarly fitted by his previous work to deal with the problems involved.