The face that saves
Isn’t there more to life than basketball?
That was a question sports junkie Joseph Marino asked himself in 1973 while watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on television.
Sports and rock music, particularly basketball and The Beatles, were his idols at the time, and the self-professed agnostic brushed away the thought and went on with his life as a University of Missouri-St. Louis student.
It wasn’t until four years later that the question resurfaced while Marino perused the Christianity and philosophy sections at a mall bookstore in Florissant, Mo. He locked onto a paperback that bore a haunting image and posed the question, “Is this the face of Jesus Christ?”
The image, a reprint of the Shroud of Turin, captivated his soul and became the catalyst for change in his life.
The notion that the Shroud of Turin might actually be the burial cloth of the suffering and resurrected Christ compelled him to study it, leading him to the Bible and Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection. Marino now found himself praying and volunteering in his community.
He had returned to his Catholic roots and even said goodbye to the lay life in 1980, joining a St. Louis monastery, where he stayed for the next 18 ½ years.
Uncovering the truth
All these years later, he still investigates the Shroud and has just released his groundbreaking second book, The 1988 C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin: A Stunning Exposé, which points to the authenticity of the linen; one of the most scrutinized artifacts in history.
“Because of my intense study of the Shroud, now 44 years, I literally think about the Shroud every single day,” said Marino, a Columbus, Ohio, resident, who previously authored Wrapped Up in the Shroud: Chronicle of a Passion.
“I have pictures of it in my house, so I literally see it every single day and my day-to-day existence is grounded on the spiritual aspect of my existence,” Marino says. “The Shroud becomes the means by which I think about God and Jesus every day and of the need to try to abide by the Golden Rule: Treating others as I myself would like to be treated. Note that I said, ‘try to abide’ because I don’t always succeed, which emphasizes the need to start anew each day.”
Kept under tight guard in a climate-controlled vault at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, the Shroud has undergone two major 20th century scientific studies.
In 1978, a group of American scientists known as the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was granted unprecedented access to the relic, analyzing it for five consecutive days and conducting thousands of tests with techniques such as infrared spectrometry and thermography.
They concluded that it was not the product of an artist and discovered, through computer-imaging enhancement, that the linen had unique, three-dimensional information encoded in it. In their summary, the scientists determined that the image was that of a scourged and crucified man.
In 1988, however, the Shroud was carbon dated by three well-known labs at the University of Oxford, University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Scientists dated the cloth to AD 1260-1390 with a supposed confidence level of 95 percent. The results convinced many people around the world that the Shroud was nothing more than an elaborate medieval forgery.
Weaving documents and data
Marino’s 800-page book uncovers numerous questionable actions, errors, and contradictions by both the Catholic Church and the C-14 labs before, during, and after the samples were taken on April 21, 1988. The contradictions included multiple versions of the sizes and weights of the chosen samples.
Marino also includes data from many rare documents and correspondences, including the archive of the late Professor Luigi Gonella, who was the scientific adviser to the late Anastasio Ballestrero, the Cardinal of Turin.
Over the years, Marino and his late wife, Sue Benford, intensely studied the Shroud and found anomalies in the weave pattern from the dated sample. Out of that grew their hypothesis that the labs had mistakenly carbon-dated a repaired portion of the Shroud that mixed new fibers with old, thereby skewing the results of the carbon date.
The late STURP chemist Raymond Rogers, who first called Marino and Benford part of the “lunatic fringe,” analyzed their hypothesis, and to his surprise, admitted they were probably right. After being given an actual leftover sample from the 1988 dating, he confirmed the hypothesis.
In 2005, he authored a paper in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta, where he concluded that the C-14 sample was not representative of the main cloth, thus invalidating the results.
On April 3, the Shroud will be displayed virtually from the chapel of the Turin Cathedral, marking only the second time it will be seen on social media. Last year, it was livestreamed during Italy’s national COVID-19 lockdown.
Torn between interpretations
Marino suspects millions will be watching across the globe.
“Many people think of the Shroud as a ‘Catholic relic.’ It is owned by the living pope, but there has always been a lot of interest by non-Catholics over the centuries,” Marino said. “There are, of course, many Protestants, who don’t believe the Shroud is authentic, and, for that matter, quite a few Catholics, including clergy who don’t, but there are many non-Catholics who … are actively engaged in studying the Shroud.”
Marino noted that Barrie Schwortz, STURP’s official photographer, “wholeheartedly believes” the Shroud is authentic. Schwortz is Jewish and has not converted to Christianity.
“But for some Christians—myself included—the Shroud was the main force behind a conversion to Christianity,” Marino said.
“I think it’s interesting that the Shroud has survived to our own day, when images are more prominent than the written word. What I find so striking about the face on the Shroud is how serene it is despite the obvious torture that He underwent. That serenity, to me, is an indication that He willingly accepted his treatment.
“And if the Gospels are to be believed, it was done for the sake of humanity. That face should speak to every single human being who sees it. The Shroud is literally the most intensively studied artifact in human history. No one has been able to explain how the image got on the cloth. The Shroud can be interpreted as a message that God dwells among us.”
by Robert Mitchell and Paula Ann Mitchell