Shrouded in Mystery
Local cathedral to display Shroud of Turin replica
Few religious artifacts stir fascination and debate like the Shroud of Turin, believed by many, including a number of scientists, to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. At 9:30 a.m. on March 17 at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans on Jordan Street in Shreveport, all are invited for a presentation by Shroud expert Barrie Schwortz, the official documenting photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project.
Schwortz’s story is a fascinating one that begins with disinterest, then, eventually, skepticism and, finally, firm belief that the Shroud is totally authentic.
The Cathedral of St. John Berchmans now has a life-sized replica of the Shroud of Turin, printed on cloth and hanging in its parish hall. The replica is a duplicate of a photograph taken by Schwortz in 1978, when he and a team of American scientists were granted five days with the Shroud to photograph it, analyze it and attempt to prove or disprove its authenticity. As part of Schwortz’s presentation, the Cathedral will also have several other replicas relevant to the Shroud on display. “There are a number of replicas of what would have been used on Jesus, like the flagrum, the whip that would have had those little steel balls on the end,” said Father Peter Mangum, rector of the Cathedral. “One that I find really interesting is a model of Jesus as he would be laying there, and an actual piece of cloth, so right there you can see how the Shroud would have laid upon him,” he said.
Mangum is one of two local scholars of the Shroud. He and Dr. Cheryl White, history professor at LSU-Shreveport, are both members of the American Confraternity of the Holy Shroud, whose mission is to develop ways that the Shroud, “whether it is ‘authentic’ or an iconic representation of Jesus’ passion and death, may illuminate and strengthen Christian faith,” according to their website, shroudconfraternity.org.
The Confraternity also notes that the Catholic Church “has never made, nor is the Church expected to make, an official pronouncement on the authenticity of the Shroud as the actual burial cloth of Christ. The Church says only that the cloth may be an important aid to faith. The judgment of whether the Shroud is ‘authentic’ is left to the judgment of the informed inquirer.”
The Catholic Church preserves custody of the Shroud in Turin, Italy, but only a handful of American churches have an exhibit on the Shroud. “They really want to do their best to use the Shroud as an evangelization tool,” said Mangum. “So we’re not just teaching people about the Shroud, we’re going to have all these different items present. I want to teach people ahead of time about it so that when people arrive they’re not being reminded of what the Shroud is.”
White and Mangum have begun a podcast entitled “Who is the Man in the Shroud?” available for download or streaming via sjbcathedral.org or the Apple podcast store. Each Friday, they post a new episode discussing topics related to the Shroud such as “Bloodstains: What Do They Say About the Man of the Shroud?” and “Miraculous Fires: The Shroud Survives 1532 and 1997.” In this podcast, they share their academic and religious knowledge of the Shroud and hope to spark interest in the Shreveport-Bossier community about this unique event.
Schwortz, a Jewish photographer from California, was extremely skeptical of the Shroud and hesitant to sign on as photographer for the 1978 project. But sign on he did, and the team spent 15 months preparing for their five days (120 hours) with the Shroud. While the photographs he took have been used in publications worldwide ever since, it wasn’t until 17 years after his encounter with the Shroud that he became absolutely convinced of its authenticity. And in 1995, he built a website, Shroud.com, that boasts over a million visitors per year and remains an important touchpoint for both the merely curious and dedicated Shroud enthusiasts alike.
The Shroud presentation by Schwortz will take place from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 17, at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans on Jordan Street in Shreveport. All are welcome. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students. To make an appointment to visit the Shroud replica at the Cathedral, please call the church office at (318) 221- 5296.