When you mention Turin to people there are probably two things that they immediately associate with the city: 2006 Winter Olympics and The Shroud. Getting here 9 years too late for the Winter Olympics,obviously this post is about the Shroud.
I’ve really lucked out that I came to Turin in 2015, this seems to be the year that to quote my friend Emer, “It’s all happening”. In 2015 Turin is the European capital for sport…I don’t really know what this means to be honest but it’s happening while I’m here, the Pope is visiting in June and this was the first time in 10 years that they are showing the Turin Shroud to the public. When I got here, I received an email from my mom passing on a question from ‘her friend Angela’ asking if I’d seen the Shroud yet. At this point I hadn’t even really thought about seeing it, to me it’s was just a mysterious thing akin to the Loch Ness Monster or a leprechaun. Christians, not that I am comparing your Lord and Saviour with a prehistoric aquatic beast or a tiny mischievous imp…don’t get offended, I just mean to me it’s this thing that I’ve heard about and has this mystery/story surrounding it, that it didn’t really seem like a real thing.
I made friends with a girl from work, Basia, and she told me that she had booked tickets on April 26 to go to Sindone. Never one to turn down an invite I said Yes of course I would go. After accepting the offer, I thought to myself….’What the hell is Sindone?’. Sindone it turns out is the Italian name for the Shroud. Going to see the Shroud in Italy, I just imagined a free for all, religious and heathen alike crushed against the alter trying to get a quick peek at the Lord’s image or in similar situation to going to see Ho Chi Minh in Saigon where you have to get to the Mausoleum at 6am and wait in the pouring rain for 2 hours to even stand a chance of paying your respects. Thankfully, Sindone was like neither of these. In unprecedented Italian planning and foresight, the Sindone organizers had set up a quite remarkable visiting system, you booked your free tickets for a specific date and time to go visit the Shroud.
April 26th came and the 4 of us wandered down into the city for our 7:30 entrance time, helpfully posted on very modest and solemn flashing television screens sponsored by Timex or Milka. Everything in Europe is sponsored by Timex or Milka by the way. We had our tickets scanned and assured the lady that yes, even though we had reserved 10 places we knew that there were only 4 of us. She shrugged but let us in anyway. We passed the first gate. The second gate was the angry little man who shouted rules at us :
- No cameras
- No cellphones
- No umbrellas
- No food or drinks. Definitely no wine…communion or regular.
- No upside down crucifixes
- No laughter
- No talking
Especially no talking. He’d been rattling off rules in such quickfire Italian that only Paolo, the Italian in the group, could follow. We asked him what the angry little man was saying and we were promptly glared at and shushed. Sindone takes it’s rules very seriously. A small hiccup aside and we were through the second gate. The third step was the metal detectors and bag x-ray, the x-ray machine might be to keep the paranoid Italians happy as there had been a rumor circulating that ISIS was planning an attack at Sindone. A long table on the other side of the x-rays and metal detectors showed an amazing offering of what people carry around in their bags on a Sunday afternoon; multiple bottles of wine, some scissors, and bread. We didn’t have anything to be confiscated and were allowed to pass relatively unhindered. Third step completed. Now we just had the 800 metre path to follow as the heavens threatened to open up above us. I have no idea why they made such a long and windy path to reach the chapel, maybe it was crowd control or maybe it was to test your faith and how much you wanted to see the Shroud. At the end of the 800 metres, there was the final check point, the turnstiles! Pushing awkwardly at the non-moving bar, another..or was it the same..angry little man came up to me and said, ‘Automatico!! Automatico!!’ and gestured that I should raise my arms above my head, seemingly to prove the automaticness of the turnstiles. Hands raised, I took a deep breath and stepped through. Only the penitent man shall pass, right, Indy?
We were ushered into a black tent with about a hundred other people and no explanation what was going on. If I wasn’t already going to hell, I probably will for the next thing I said. I muttered to Emer, “It feels like we are in a gas chamber”. She looked at me and said, “I was just thinking the exact same thing”. At least I’ll have a friend in the pit to roast marshmallows with, eh?
The black tent was set up as an entrance to the chapel where they showed a short video illustrating where to look on the cloth and what you were looking at. The video ended and the curtain was pulled back and we filed inside the dark chapel. It was eerily silent. The organizers had laid down thick carpeting to muffle the sounds of the footsteps. They had also set up a three tiered viewing platform in front of the Shroud. The silence was broken by a small elderly lady issuing a prayer through a staticy and crackling microphone. I never realised before that the Shroud is one really long piece of cloth and the images appear on both sides. The face is visible as are the outlines of the arms and legs. The video pointed out the wounds left by the whip and spear, the nails and the crown of thorns. On the Shroud they look exactly how you would expect them to look, like bloodstains. I’m not a religious person but there is something about standing in front of this piece of cloth, whether you believe that it is actually the image of Jesus or not, that really touches you. Maybe it was the fact that the vast majority of people who were viewing the Shroud that day, DO believe it’s real. To them they were looking at the image of the Son of God, their Saviour. It’s hard to be blase in the face of that.
Peace K xx