On Easter, millions of Christians around the world will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth three days after his death outside the city of Jerusalem, leaving behind his burial cloth in an empty tomb. Nearly 2,000 years later, far away behind bulletproof glass in northern Italy rests the Shroud of Turin: a burial cloth bearing the bloodstained image of a crucified man, said to be the exact same wrapping that Jesus left behind.
The history of the shroud dates from early Christian settlements beginning in modern-day Turkey, to Constantinople and on to France before being rescued in a fire — since then, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy has been home to the shroud for over 400 years.
After all these years, many Christians remain filled with wonder, pondering the questions: Is it true? Is the shroud of Turin the actual burial cloth of Jesus, discarded after the resurrection — a relic of unparalleled importance from the most significant moment in history? These questions have fascinated millions around the world, resulting in a myriad of research analyses, scientific tests and documentaries.
I’ve dedicated a portion of my career to authenticating archeological relics and artifacts, leading a multimillion-dollar expedition in search of Amelia Earhart’s missing plane in the waters of the South Pacific and partnering with the National Geographic Society to authenticate and preserve the Lost Gospel of Judas. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been captivated by the Shroud of Turin. Years of research over whether the shroud is fake or is the actual burial cloth of Jesus even led me to write a novel, "The Shroud Conspiracy," set right in the center of the controversy.
The debate over the authenticity of the shroud has been ongoing for centuries, escalated in recent decades by scientific tests suggesting at different times, that each side is right. Those who disbelieve its authenticity consider it an artist’s rendition, with some tests indicating the shroud dates back only to the medieval period.
For nearly all the best things we dedicate our lives to — be it people, causes or beliefs — we strive and hope for them, but without certainty for how it will all turn out.
On the other side, however, the integrity of perhaps the most sacred relic of the Christian Church is at stake: A miraculous image of the face of God here on Earth, forged by the same divine blood that purchased redemption for all of humanity. For those who believe the shroud to be the real burial cloth of Jesus, rescued after his miraculous resurrection from the dead, science isn’t necessary to prove their belief — after all, scientific tests aren’t designed to verify the presence of the divine.
Curiously enough, the Catholic Church has never adopted an official position on the authenticity of the shroud; but it is telling that soon after assuming his office, Pope Francis, like pontiffs before him, visited the cathedral in Turin, silently kneeling in prayer before the mysterious shroud.
It’s important to consider why so many people around the world are fascinated by the shroud. What does it tell us about ourselves that relics, especially this relic, capture the imagination and ignite the passion of so many people?
At its base, it boils down to a desire for certainty in the midst of faith that is unseen. For nearly all the best things we dedicate our lives to — be it people, causes or beliefs — we strive and hope for them, but without certainty for how it will all turn out.
Parents lovingly raise their children without the guarantee they will succeed; entrepreneurs start businesses without the assurance they will profit; people of faith commit their lives to their beliefs, trusting in things that are not seen. For all these things that we hope for, we rely on faith — and along the way, we yearn for signs, tangible indicators that what we hope for can be made real.
The Shroud of Turin is no different. We want it to be real — because we long for physical tokens that help sustain our path of faith. During Easter, that longing is only intensified.
At the end of the day, we may never have scientific proof that the shroud of Jesus Christ is real. But for Christians celebrating Easter around the world, no such proof is required. Authentic or not, it reminds us that our faith is indeed real. It strengthens our hope, something more important than the artifacts that surround us.