The Shroud of Turin is probably the most famous (and most controversial) image of Christ.
Many have argued that it is a direct-contact image of Christ, dating from the 1st century AD, while others rely on carbon dating tests carried out in 1988 which suggest it can be dated back to 1260 at the very earliest.
The Holy Shroud of Turin is more famous and more controversial now than at any time in its long history. The precise length of that history is of course one of its most hotly-contested secrets. Measuring almost 4.5 metres in length, this linen cloth, bearing the clear imprint of a dead, crucified man, was brought to Turin in 1578, but reliable documents tell us that it was known in France over 200 years earlier.
Ironically, the reputation of the shroud has been raised and dashed by technology: raised by the technology of the 19th century and dashed by that of the 20th. The first photograph was taken in 1898, and the negative which emerged from the developing tank created a sensation, revealing for the first time ever a positive image of the crucified man, since the shroud itself is a negative. The carbon-14 dating test was made in 1988, and to the dismay of true believers indicated that the cloth was no older than 1260 – although this finding is now under renewed attack.
In the 1970s and 80s, the shroud was the subject of intense popular fascination. In an age dominated by pictures and images of all kinds, the shroud was a big story, promising a flash photograph of one of the most famous and elusive faces of all time. It also promised to yield information about one of the most controversial events of all time, too: the resurrection of Christ.
That event – which is the hinge on which the whole Christian faith hangs – is the great untold story of the four Gospels. All the witnesses arrived on the scene after the event. But what if there was another witness, present at the event itself? What if, lying in the darkness of the tomb, there was something like a large sheet of photographic material? Like the shadows of victims left on the walls of Hiroshima, could it be possible that the features of Christ were imprinted in the cloth which covered him, during a sudden burst of divine energy?
What do you think of this image of Jesus? Do you think it might be a true portrait of Christ – or is it just a fake?
A prayer of St Anselm (1033-1109)
Lord Jesus Christ
by the Father’s plan and by the working of the Holy Ghost
of your own free will you died
and mercifully redeemed the world
from sin and everlasting death.
I adore and venerate you
as much as ever I can
though my love is so cold, my devotion so poor.
Thank you for the good gift
of your holy body and blood
which I desire to recieve, as cleansing from sin
and for a defence against it.
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Christians have been making images of Jesus since the early centuries of the church. In this section, we look at pictures of the face of Christ – some of them centuries old, some of them from today.
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