SHROUD. Interview with the Cardinal Archbishop of Turin Giovanni Saldarini
"Our faith is founded on
the resurrection of Christ"
" ... and the fact of the resurrection is itself based on the unswerving historical testimonies of people who saw Jesus crucified and buried and who then saw him risen again in the same body glorified. The Shroud is an appeal to Christ's suffering". In the words of the Shroud's cardinal custodian
by Stefano M. Paci
|April 18, 1998. Cardinal Saldarini celebrates Mass on the first day of the Shroud's exposition which will continue until June 14|
Hundreds of thousands of people are lining up in Turin to look at a linen sheet, history's most important linen sheet, the same sheet which is at the heart of a heated scientific debate showing no signs of cooling. Is the Shroud really the cloth in which Jesus Christ's body was wrapped or is it just an expert medieval contrivance, as the scientists who carbon-dated it ten years ago claimed? It can't be easy being the Pontifical custodian of the Shroud at this time. For, the current exposition is fuelling the discussion. Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini had decided to step back, refusing to be interviewed by any of the many journalists applying for the privilege. But he made an exception for 30DAYS.
The Catholic faith is obviously not dependent on the authenticity or not of the Shroud.
But its being or not the cloth in which the body of Jesus Christ was wrapped is a matter
of interest to faithful. What would you say to them?
GIOVANNI SALDARINI: The Shroud is not a fact of faith. Our faith is founded on the resurrection of Christ and the fact of the resurrection is itself founded on the unswerving historical testimony of people who saw Jesus crucified and buried and who then saw him risen again in the same body glorified. The Shroud seen as an appeal to Christ's suffering is a help on my pathway of faith and love and this is ever true independently of its authenticity or not.
But that's not the point. According to the scientists, the Shroud cannot be a painting. They say that this cloth was wrapped around the body of a man who was killed by stages, all the stages of the Passion as related in the Gospels. If it is not the burial cloth of Christ but a Medieval fake (as the Carbon 14 dating tests showed), then it must be a criminal object, something that wrapped the body of a man who was tortured and murdered in the same way as Christ. In short, if it is not authentic, then it is an object of horror. How can it be presented as something to be venerated by the faithful?
The relationship between faith and science is not stormy at all as far as the Shroud is concerned. If anything, the controversy involves the scientists themselves and is born of their disparities of judgement, based on their own research
Discussion continues on the results of the Carbon 14 dating tests and it's not up to me to
ascertain their accuracy. I agree with my predecessor, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero who
said at the presentation of the three laboratories' verdict: 'I am under no obligation to
believe these results. Science will be the judge of science'. The Shroud (and no one, I
repeat, has ever been able to explain how its image was formed) is on show for the
faithful to venerate, which is to say, it conserves its value as an object of devotion
because it is a direct appeal to Christ's Passion. It is therefore authentic in its own
right as an image whose value is pre-eminent with respect to its eventual value as an
Why, taking all due precautions, may the Shroud not be kept on permanent show for the faithful to venerate, or displayed more often? What's to stop that?
SALDARINI: I convened an international commission of experts and they suggested I take several precautions to ensure the best possible conditions of conservation for the Shroud. In the future, the Shroud will have to be kept in a watertight casket at a certain temperature and humidity level. It will be protected from the light and kept in a horizontal position, no longer rolled up as it has been to date. It would be extremely harmful to keep it permanently exposed or to exhibit it more often.
A year ago, on the night of April 11 and 12, a great fire swept through the Guarini Chapel (in Turin, where the Shroud is kept), but the Shroud was saved. The next day you said: 'Why was that? It was God's way, worthy of the measure of Him, of saying: 'Have no fear'. We are now left in no doubt whatsoever that He walks on the water, that He boards our boat and leads us to shore. In faith, I say thankyou for this sign'. Were you saying, perhaps, that the Shroud was saved by a miracle?
All I wanted to say, simply, was that the Lord was by our side and that the linen was not
damaged in any way also because of the security measures which had been taken - the casket
had been fitted with double safety glass, for example, and there had been the prompt
intervention of the fire brigade.
Do you envisage any further tests on the Shroud in the near future? Have there been any requests to that effect?
SALDARINI: I am only the Pontifical custodian of the Shroud which is the property of the Holy See. Only the Holy See may authorize further tests.
Let's move on to the relationship between faith and science. There is a deal of press controversy about the Shroud's authenticity and so this relationship is often described as a stormy one as far as the Shroud is concerned. Is that the case?
SALDARINI: The relationship between faith and science is not stormy at all as far as the Shroud is concerned. If anything, the controversy involves the scientists themselves and is born of their own disparities of judgement based on their own research. The Church in no way obstructs scientific research: all it asks is that the questions under debate concerning the Shroud be addressed seriously, without prejudice, according to the specific scope of the researchers though with an inter-disciplinary approach. The fact remains, emblematically, that someone has yet to explain the formation of the image, image which, above all, is three-dimensional.
It has only been on show three times this century, the last time 20 years ago, and now there will be two exhibits in rather quick succession - in two years. Why is that?
SALDARINI: The 1998 exhibit of the Shroud is meant to mark a few important anniversaries: in the year 398, the first Council of Turin was held, in 1498 the city's new cathedral, which Cardinal Domenico Della Rovere had built, was inaugurated, in 1898 (in May a century ago to be precise), the lawyer Secondo Pia took the first photograph which led to the discovery and to the intensification of research and studies. The exhibit in the year 2000 will mark the Great Jubilee.
What is the significance of this?
SALDARINI: It is purely pastoral. On the religious dimension of pilgrimages, it will constitute a considerable occasion for prayer and conversion through meditation on the Lord's Passion. The signs of crucifixion on the Shroud figure allow us to approach the Gospel stories in a new way, with new involvement in that they coincide perfectly with all we are told about the lashes, about the wounds, about the crown of thorns, the pierced side, the nails in the hands and feet, and so on. Pilgrims will see an image, but they will be helped to interpret it as a 'sign' of Jesus to whom the Gospels bear witness. The spiritual effect of this contemplation will be the re-discovery of the Lord's annulment, even onto death, and it will therefore revoke the memory of how much we were loved. It will also be an invitation to reflect on the 'crucified' people of our own day: the poor, the suffering, the persecuted with whom it was Christ's desire to identify. The motto chosen for the exhibition, 'All men will see your salvation', is designed to underscore the Christological centrality of the event. People come to meditate on the mystery of the redemption which Christ has bought for us with his Passion, death and resurrection. Salvation is not, obviously, to be found in the linen: salvation is Christ's gift to us. And we all have need of this salvation.
How should pilgrims approach the Shroud?
SALDARINI: It is my hope that they approach the Shroud in a spirit of reflection, provoking the thought of how much Christ suffered for us, of that body given for us, of that blood shed for us. Such a spirit will generate feelings of grateful love and propositions to keep faith with his teachings.