Monday, 14 September 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 2.




AT first sight the stains on the Shroud form an extremely confused whole.

Some of them seem to converge along the centre of the linen cloth ; these are of a reddish brown colour. Others are distributed in parallel groups, just outside the reddish marks. These are blackish in tone. At first it would seem a difficult task to disentangle these markings, but as we discern that the brown stains along the centre are the marks of the back and front surfaces of a man's body, and that the blackish marks are the traces of fire, we shall begin to interpret rightly the impressions on the Shroud. To do this we must dismiss from our minds the various erroneous interpretations which have been brought forward from time to time by persons who had not the photographic proofs before them. The ground will then be comparatively clear.

Gradually we shall find that the impressions yield up their secrets. The realm of the unknown will narrow with each step gained. Plain, simple observation will prove to us that the impressions are not the work of a painter, but that they are the actual marks, left by a human body on the linen cloth—marks produced long ago by some action, other than direct contact, set up between that dead body and the linen cloth.

The impressions date historically from so far back that they can only have been the result of some spontaneous phenomenon. No one in the Middle Ages had the knowledge necessary for their production by handicraft.

We do not yet know how the marks were made, any more than we can tell the name of the man whom the linen cloth enshrouded. But these two problems are not insoluble, and we shall deal with them further on. A list of recent publications referring to the Holy Shroud will be found at the end of the volume.


The upper part of the plate which we have selected for reproduction as our frontispiece, shows us a large piece of linen cloth which angels are unfolding and offering. That is the Holy Shroud. The painter, Giulio Clovio, a pupil of Raphael, has given the shadowy marks quite simply ; the general effect is that of two bodies—one seen from the back, the other from the front—lying head to head at the centre, with the feet at either end of the cloth.

We have reproduced the general aspect of the Holy Shroud on Plate iv. It is a facsimile of the photographic print obtained by M. Pia. The exigencies of space compel us to give the linen cloth as though cut in half, the front view of the body and the back view of the body are thus shown side by side instead of head to head, as in the original. Let us examine them each in turn.

As soon as we begin to distinguish the front aspect of the body, what strikes us most is the truly singular modelling of the head. Plate n. gives it us less reduced. Certainly this is not a beautiful head. It is very difficult even to make out the features. There is the nose, but it seems quite black. As for the eyes, they seem to be hidden by spectacles, or to be encircled by a white rim. We can say that there is a mouth, but we cannot really see it. Which is the upper lip ? Where is the lower lip ? We cannot tell. The face, thus strangely modelled, is no less strange in its general shape, which is that of a rectangle. Of ears or neck there is no trace. On each side two dark bands seem to represent the hair. Below the face they terminate abruptly. Doubtless the hair fell behind on the shoulders. But where are the shoulders ?

Let us, however, pursue our investigations. Downwards from the head the impression becomes gradually more strongly marked, until it is interrupted by a wide band of lighter colour. The deepest tone corresponds to the breasts; the light band represents the depression beneath them. Lower down, a vague smudge, shadowy at the borders, marks the position of the stomach. Left and right of the abdomen are the forearms : we can distinguish one hand, doubtless folded over the other hand, of which only the fingers are visible, and we can perceive that the pelvis widens out in normal fashion ; here are the thighs, one hardly perceptible, the other reduced to a narrow strip. The figure seems cut off at what, to judge from the distance from the knee, should be the ankles. The ankles themselves are not to be seen. Instead comes a dark strip, much wider than it need have been, and fainter in tone towards the edges. In noting the details of this print, we asked ourselves whether on the actual linen cloth the feet were visible in the front view. M. le Baron A. Manno was very willing to enlighten us on this point. As a matter of fact, the cloth is longer than the photograph represents. But at the Turin Exhibition they had been obliged to fold under the two ends of the cloth, in order to shorten it. The Official Commission had had a great oblong case prepared, in which the relic was to be placed on the altar in the chapel, called "The Chapel of the Holy Shroud." No one had seen the linen cloth since 1868, and thus an error was made in the requisite dimensions of the case, which proved to be considerably too short. This regrettable mistake was not discovered until it was too late to rectify it. No one then dreamt that this display of the relic would lead to a scientific study of it. No one had yet thought of photographing the Shroud, therefore the case was used just as it was, both the ends of the cloth folded under. That is why in this plate we cannot see the feet. We shall get further details on this point from certain other plates later on.

Let us now examine the back view of the figure, shown on the right of Plate iv.

Here we see the back of the head. The shoulders, a little too high, are very distinct. Lower down, two dark patches, one specially marked, represent the shoulder blades. Beneath them the sweep of the back is broadly indicated, the impression growing fainter at the sides, and fainter also towards the loins.

At this point the picture is intersected by marks which converge towards the centre of the material. Lower down the position of the more fleshy portions is clearly discernible ; lower still the hollow space is shown where the thighs separate. All the parts near the thighs are only vaguely indicated ; lower again we come to some transverse folds in the linen cloth, level with which there is a lessening in tone which would correspond to the hollows behind the knees. Lower still it is just possible to see the calves of the legs, and a very faint zone of shadow, hardly visible on one side, corresponds to the tendons of the heels. The heels themselves are perfectly visible ; and part of the soles of the feet, but there was no space for the great toes on this plate.

It is a very delicate matter to deal with these prints. The reader should look at the plates from a little way off, comparing them with the reproductions on Plate v.

The reproductions have not all been equally successful, because, above all things, we desired that there should be no touching up.

So far we have not mentioned the dark brown stains to be seen on many parts of the body. These stains are clots of blood. We will not take them into account until we seek to identify the man whose body has left these traces on the Shroud.

However extraordinary it may seem that the two surfaces of a human body should be found thus marked on the Shroud, there is no ground for supposing that they were drawn, stained, or painted by man. A glance shows us how difficult it would have been for an artist to produce such an effect by pictorial work. Moreover, the result could never have satisfied those who might have instigated such extraordinary work. Every one who has seen M. Pia's photographs has come to this conclusion.

Another solution immediately occurs to our minds. The marks have a strange resemblance to impressions left on the cloth by a human body. The most prominent parts are those which are best reproduced. The less prominent parts and the hollows are less visible or not visible at all.

Before going further let us try to interpret the meaning of the dark patches, which constitute so large a part in the markings on the cloth, and which even hide the upper part of the arms in both pictures.

The blackish marks on the cloth are perfectly symmetrical in their distribution ; so are the marks which stand out upon them distinctly like white footprints. The black markings are places where the cloth has been burnt; the white marks are places where the stuff has been actually burnt through and afterwards patched with some white material. There are twelve blackish marks, of which we see only eight on Plate iv. The other four were on the ends of the cloth, which, as we said, were folded back for want of space in 1898. All twelve may be seen on our frontispiece (Giulio Clovio's painting).

It is well known that the Royal Chapel, where the relic was kept, was partially destroyed by fire in 1532. When this misfortune happened the Shroud must have been folded as we should fold a cloth before putting it away in a cupboard; that is to say, folded in half down the centre and again in half lengthways, then folded across several times. The fire consumed one corner of this folded bundle ; therefore, when the cloth came to be unfolded, there were as many marks of burning as there had been folds.

These are not the only traces left by the fire which so nearly destroyed the Holy Shroud. There are also to be seen lozenge-shaped marks, of a yellowish colour, surrounded by jagged lines, rather darker. These also are at regular intervals on the cloth, level with the burns.

In the front view of the figure, one of these lozenge marks comes on the lower part of the chest; the next is level with the knees. In the -back view a small one comes just below the shoulder blades ; one rather longer is over the thighs. A large stain covers the space where the two heads meet. Besides these lozenge marks, which occur along the centre of the cloth, there are half lozenges which occur at the sides, parallel with the others.

These yellowish stains are easily accounted for. When the cloth was rescued from the fire it was drenched with "water, without time being taken even to unfold it. The Shroud dried badly, and one of the corners of the bundle remained wet. The stain thus produced was in the shape of a right-angle triangle; four of these angles when unfolded produce the lozenge-shaped marks down the centre of the cloth ; the half lozenges are where the cloth was in two folds, not four. If we fold a piece of paper in four, and tear off the fourfold corner, the hole so made will be lozenge-shaped, just like our yellowish stains. On the Shroud, the part which remained wet corresponds to our torn angle of paper.

The only other traces of the fire still to be dealt with, are the water stains across the region of the loins, seen from the back. Here a trickle of water highly charged with burnt particles must have run along the middle fold of the cloth, thus making a long stain on both surfaces. This is probably the origin of the dark line which cuts the figure just above the loins, and which has been mistaken by many people, for the marks of the chain which bound our Lord to the scourging post.

At first it may seem grievous that the Holy Shroud should have come down to us so sadly dilapidated, but we shall find that all the marks and stains will help us in our study. It is easy to see that the two figures on the Holy Shroud are the front and back aspects of a man's body. What relation do the figures bear to one another ?

The first glance shows us that if the marks are actual impressions— that is to say, if the linen cloth really enshrouded a human body and retained the marks thereof —then the figures are disposed in a perfectly legitimate manner. If we were to place a man's body upon one half of a long piece of cloth, draw the cloth over the head and cover the front of the body with the other half of the cloth ; if we could then employ some process by which the modelling of the body could be printed off on the cloth, we should have two figures, the top of the two heads being the point of junction. At this point the two figures would merge together, and so long as the cloth remained on the body, the marks of the back and front portions would correspond to one another, the breasts being marked opposite the shoulder blades, the gastric region level with the loins, the knees opposite the hollow behind the knees. If the body were removed and the cloth opened out, we should have the double imprint just as if we had opened out a double mould, the two impressions lying on the cloth head to head, and corresponding symmetrically to one another.

It is so evident that the figures are the front and back halves of a double impression that every one who is inclined to believe that the effect was wrought pictorially must at least admit that the artist has tried to give the effect of a body having been so enshrouded.

Those who have seen the marks on the Holy Shroud have long considered them to be actual impressions. In this respect no description would help us so much as does the object lesson given us by Giulio Clovio in our frontispiece. In the foreground of his painting is stretched the body of Christ, the feet together, the hands crossed, just as they are in Plate iv.

Giulio Clovio has made one slight error in depicting the right hand as crossed over the left. It should have been the left over the right. On the cloth, certainly, the right hand appears to be uppermost, just as the wound mark on the cloth seems to be on the left side instead of the right; the rights and lefts being reversed as they would be in a double mould. 1

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, aided by St. John, are just about to lay the cloth carefully over the body, the Holy women helping them. Giulio Clovio shows this being done at the foot of the Cross—not at the sepulchre—an artistic licence which we will gladly excuse, since it gives us the unity of place. In the distance, on the opposite hill, we get a glimpse of Jerusalem. The unity of time is obtained by an even bolder licence. Above the Cross, among the clouds, three angels extend the Holy Shroud with the double impression already on it. Other little heads are painted among the clouds; angels hurrying to see the precious winding sheet of Christ. But that is not all; not only are the impressions completed in heaven, at the same moment that on earth Christ is enveloped in the Shroud, but the cloth already bears the traces of the fire in 1532 ! Let us admire this last mark of artistic conscientiousness, for it proves to us that the painter had before him this very cloth, the photographs of which we are studying to-day.

The problem before us is this : Are the marks on the Holy Shroud actual impressions, or are they simply an ingenious fraud ? Our opponents pronounce them fraudulent, and say that the forger has betrayed himself by leaving a space between the two heads, whereas they should have been joined together.

M. de Mely is one of these, and we quote his own words :

1 We lay stress upon this slight mistake of Clovio's simply to show how difficult it would be for an artist not to betray himself by some similar slight error of detail should not have omitted to explain to us why there is a gap between the two heads when, if the Shroud had been really wrapped round the corpse, the outline of the head would have been one solid block shaped like a cylinder instead of two ovals, 9 — Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosite, Supplement to the Gazette des Beaux Arts, September 8, 1900, p. 304.

This objection is easily disposed of. If a body were covered with a cloth as in the picture by Giulio Clovio, the cloth would have to be adjusted behind the head with the most minute exactness, or there would be a space between the two ovals of the head. This is just what must have happened, from the very fact that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are each holding an end of the upper part of the cloth, stretching it between them.

In the actual Shroud the outline of the heads is not so sharp as it is in Giulio Clovio's picture.

We get a better idea of it from Plate iv., where it is impossible to say where the front and back impressions join each other. This extreme vagueness of outline is one of the essential points to be accounted for, and we may mention here some observations which we made with reference to some mummies brought from Egypt by M. Gayet (Journal des D Sbats, June, 1902). M. Gayet showed them lying with small rolls of linen placed at the sides of the head to support it, and beneath the chin to keep the mouth shut. Often there were also rolls of linen on the top of the head, which made a kind of bandage. The rolls of linen at the sides of the head were fairly thick, like small cushions, filling up the space between the head and the shoulders. Such rolls as these would fully account for the peculiarities we notice on the Shroud, where the gradual lessening of the reddish tone, which represents the top of each head, shows that the cloth has gradually lost contact with the hair, and, as we know, the ears and neck are not visible.

We are now familiar with the general aspect of our piece of linen cloth. Is it worth all the trouble which we have taken, and which we ask our readers to take ?

If we confine ourselves to the study of Plate iv. or of Plate ii., on which we see the head alone, reproduced on a larger scale, we must admit that the impressions are not attractive. Giulio Clovio himself has not succeeded in making them so. Extended like a sign-board in the middle of his exquisite painting, the Holy Shroud looks both fantastic and incomprehensible.

But if we look for a moment at Plate v., or better still at Plate iii., we shall be convinced that the outlines visible on the Shroud are worthy of the deepest attention. The Shroud is a mysterious enigma, only to be read with a magic key. Since 1898 the key is ours. Photographic apparatus and a sensitive plate have revealed to us, by inversion, the true solution.

On such a plate the whites of the cloth become black, and the browns and blacks white.

The half tones all take their exact relative values. For example, on the Shroud the nose is a dark shadow lighter at the edges. On the photographic plate it is light in the centre and a little darker at the sides, where the nose joins the cheeks ; again, on the Shroud the eyes are dark spots circled with white ; on the photographic plate they regain their normal aspect, and stand out in delicate relief. We know that objects are thus reversed in photography. This fact is too well known to need emphasis. The photographic plates, therefore, which reproduce the negatives on the Shroud, interpret all the strange spots and stains, showing us plainly the figure of a man. The outlines are so blurred that we get the effect of seeing him through gauze, or in semi-darkness. First we distinguish the head, proud and energetic ; then less distinctly the different parts of the body. If we look steadfastly, everything will gradually explain itself, and even certain distortions which puzzle us, will be accounted for by degrees.

The modelling of the figures becomes positive on a negative photographic plate, but it is just the opposite with all the other marks which we noticed on the Shroud.

We have said that certain dark brown stains were marks of blood ; they stand out quite distinctly against the half tones of the body. On the photographic plate these dark spots are of course, as nearly white, as they were before nearly black.

That is not all; the blackish marks of fire stand out nearly white against the linen background, which in its turn has become black ; the white patches of material with which the cloth was repaired are now almost black. The water stains are inverted too. They now look lighter, instead of darker than the surrounding cloth.

Thus neither on the positive Plates ii. and iv., nor on the negative Plates in. and v. are the impressions perfectly rendered.

Briefly let us summarize these first observations. The marks visible on the Holy Shroud of Turin may be compared to a photographic negative in so far as the general modelling of the body is concerned. This is proved because the negative photographs of this negative give that same modelling in positive. The wounds, on the contrary, are represented in positive on the Holy Shroud.

Naturally, the burnt marks, the patches used in the mending, and the stains of water, etc., are all visible on the Shroud as they actually exist; it could not be otherwise.

One thing more. When we study M. Pia's photographs or their reproductions, how can we be sure whether we are looking at the Shroud as it actually is, or at the photographic rendering of it, which reverses all its values ? We know in this way : The photograph of the Shroud as it actually is, will give the burnt marks black, and the patches used to repair the burns, white, just as they are in the actual Shroud itself. Another way would be to examine the various copies which from time to time have been made of the Holy Shroud. Plate ix., for instance. Here all the values are given exactly as in Plate iv., which proves that Plate iv. represents the material as seen by the naked eye.

Our readers may say that all this is so obvious that any one could have discovered it. No doubt it was open to every one to arrive at our conclusions, but had they done so, we should not now have to reply to the many objections which have been raised, and which we propose to deal with further on. Our whole argument hangs upon whether we are able to prove that the Impressions on the Shroud have been spontaneously produced, and that they are not the work of man.