Sancta Veritas

Jesus of Nazareth

There is historical and tangible evidence that confirms the existence of Jesus who lived about 2,000 years ago. The relics of Jesus, in particular, have not only been venerated since the first Christians, but they have been scrutinized and tested by the scientific community. And their comprehensive analysis indicate conformity with the Gospels. Below are excerpts from "Witnesses to Mystery, Investigations into Christ's relics" that can confirm Jesus' existence and especially His crucifixion.

Shroud of Turin

In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius of Caesarea, who lived from 263 to 339, was the first writer to remark upon the existence of the shroud bearing Jesus' imprint. The Shroud of Turin is venerated as that shroud.

Shroud of Turin

The image visible on the shroud exhibits a number of details that correspond with the circumstances of Christ's death, as described in the Gospels. The image on the shroud is of a man who was evidently flogged in accordance with the Roman practice of scourging (by the use of a flagellum) and crowned with a headpiece of thorns. Contrary to the widespread medieval belief regarding crucifixion, the condemned was not nailed to the cross through the palms, but through the wrists. Neither were his shins broken, as was commonly practiced in Roman times. On the right side of the imprinted figure's body, between the fifth and sixth ribs, one can discern a large wound that would have been caused by a spearhead. It pierced the pleura, the pericardium, and the heart's right atrium. The blow to the heart from the right, and not from the left, was in keeping with the Roman infantrymen's training, as Julius Caesar describes in his Commentaries on the Gallic War: because their opponents would have covered their hearts by holding their shield in their left hands, Roman legionnaires were trained to thrust their spear from the right.

In 1977 Jewish American photographer Barrie Schwortz - a specialist in imaging, programming, and digital technology - joined a team of American scientists who together formed the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). The team has conducted the most rigorous series of tests on the relic to date. The notion that the shroud's image could have been painted was dismissed at the very outset due to the lack of any pigmentation or coloring. The theory that the image could be a photograph was likewise ignored, since the cloth didn't bear any traces of ionized silver.

It took 18 years for Schwortz to become convinced of the Turin Shroud's authenticity. The decisive factor was a conversation with Alan Adler, another Jewish sindonologist. Adler was able to explain why, despite the amount of time that had passed, traces of blood found on the shroud retained their red coloring instead of turning brown, as might be expected. If a person is tortured and not given anything to drink, his red blood cells burst and his liver releases a chemical compound called bilirubin. When this substance enters the bloodstream, it causes the blood to retain its red color permanently. "This evidence was like the missing part of the puzzle", recalls Schwortz. "After that conversation, it seemed as if every obstacle that had prevented me from believing the shroud to be authentic had been removed."

Today, Schwortz has no doubt that the Turin Shroud is a record of Christ's Passion. All the evidence found on the burial cloth confirms the details of Christ's death as related in the Gospels. Schwortz is keen to point out that despite the advance in technology, the more tests that are carried out on the shroud, the more enigmatic it becomes.

The Sudarium of Oviedo

In their accounts of Jesus' Resurrection, the four evangelists refer to different kinds of burial cloths, including the sindon (sheet or shroud), sudarion (scarf of kerchief), and othonion (canvas or cloth). The Sudarium of Oviedo is the veil wrapped around Christ's head following His death.

Sudarium of Oviedo. Top photo shows how it was wrapped around Jesus' head.

On December 8, 1989 in Spain, Dr. Jose Delfin Villalain Blanco and engineer Guillermo Heras Moreno led a team of about forty scientists - specialists in such fields of criminology, hematology, palynology, mathematics, computer science, and polarized imaging - to investigate the sudarium's authenticity. The scientists were able to determine that the scarf dates back to the time of the Roman Empire. The sort of weave and the use of a so-called Z twist suggested that it must have been produced sometime between 400 B.C. and A.D. 500. This sort of linen was not made before this period or after it. The most significant finding, however, was that three of the plant species discovered on the sudarium are endemic to the Holy Land and grow only in Palestine. These are the terebinth (Pistacia palaestina), a species of tamarisk (Tamarix hampeana), and the "batha" oak (Quercus). All three species can be found within a radius of 20 kilometers of Jerusalem. All three blossoms in the spring, which would coincide with the date of Christ's crucifixion, April 3, 33.

A criminological evaluation of the sudarium reveals that the scarf was wrapped around the head of an adult male who wore a beard and mustache and whose hair was tied at the back. He was already dead when the cloth was wrapped around him. The stains on the cloth have been identified as traces of blood. The most visible and most concentrated of these traces outline the shape of a person's face. They are also arranged symmetrically, which suggests that the cloth was folded in half before being wrapped around the head. The blood pattern shows that when the scarf was tied around the head, the body must have been in a vertical position, with the head itself bent down, 20 degrees to the right. The body was then laid horizontally, with the head angled slightly forward.

Hematological analyses have revealed that the traces of blood on the cloth are of two kinds. One kind was a result of pneumothorax (the presence of air in the space between the lungs and the chest wall), which allowed a mixture of body fluid and blood to settle in the chest cavity after death. The pneumothorax would have resulted from crucifixion and, more specifically, positional aspyhxia. All the evidence suggests that a sudden discharge from the nose and mouth while the body was still on the cross created the stains. Scientists have located the exact stain that came about when the nose was squeezed in an attempt to staunch the flow of blood. This tallies with Jewish burial custom, which dictates that the soul is to be found in the blood and that therefore not a single drop of it should be wasted.

The second kind of stains detected on the cloth were caused by live blood - in other words, blood that flowed from injuries sustained before death. The patterns suggest that the blood came from wounds caused by the Crown of Thorns, while the nature of the injuries themselves implies that they were made while the person was still alive and started bleeding about an hour before the sudarium was wrapped around his head.

Scientists have excluded the possibility that the Sudarium of Oviedo might be a fake for the simple reason that they have found no proof of that being the case. Forgeries were common during the Middle Ages when relics were in high demand, but people in that era simply didn't have sufficient knowledge of physiological and pathological processes of the human body to create the sort of patterns on the sudarium that have been detected recently using advanced technology. Likewise unbelievable is the notion that medieval forgers could have found the sort of pollen seeds known only to grow in the Holy Land, since that sort of knowledge was absolutely unavailable to them. All the tests conducted in Spain back up the hypothesis that the Sudarium of Oviedo is indeed a burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

Golgotha

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem contains a shrine built on top of Golgotha where Christ was crucified. It is visited daily by thousands of pilgrims. In 1986 two Greek conservators - art historian Georg Lavas and architect Theo Mitropoulos happened upon a carved limestone ring, measuring 11.5 centimeters in diameter, during their restoration work in the shrine. According to scientists, the ring was large enough to support a 3-meter cross and keep it vertical.

The rock of Calvary inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

It would have been possible to drive the cross into the earth, but not through stone. The discovery of the limestone ring, therefore, was confirmation for many that the rock on which the shrine was build was indeed the site of Christ's execution.

The Gospel tells us that Christ was crucified outside Jerusalem atop a small hill by the name of Golgotha (from the Aramaic gulgolta and the Hebrew gulgolet, meaning "skull"). It lay on a disused quarry site, about 45 meters west of the town wall, and had been used to extract limestone between the seventh and first centuries B.C. The stone was then used to build Jerusalem's walls. In Christ's time, the limestone extraction stopped and the quarry site was transformed into a garden, although a jagged rock 7 meters long, 3 meters wide, and 4.8 meters high jutted out from its center, reaching an altitude of 755 meters above sea level. From afar it looked like a skull, which is why the spot was also given the name the Place of the Skull. The biblical details of the location have been confirmed through archaeological excavations.

Other relics of note:

  • Tunic of Argenteuil: The robe contains bloodstains which was examined by a renowned French geneticist Gerard Lucotte. He identified the tunic had type AB blood (the same blood type found in the Turin Shroud and the Sudarium of Oviedo) and concluded that the person whose blood was found on the relic was male, possessing the XY chromosome. He also discovered that the male who wore the tunic carried the J2 haplogroup, which is identified by the 12f2 genetic marker and the equivalent M172 and M12 markers. The J2 haplogroup is found in greatest concentration throughout the Jewish populations in the Middle East - of which Jesus Christ was obviously a part.
  • The True Cross: The relic, identified thanks to the tablet bearing the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews" analyzed by Israeli university professors.
  • The Pillar of Scourging: The scourging post, made of Egyptian marble, from Pilate's palace is preserved in a basilica in Rome.
  • The Crown of Thorns: The crown does not look like a headband, but more like a helmet made of spikes, which ruptured blood vessels and grated against nerve endings.

Information from: Witnesses to Mystery, Investigations into Christ's relics, by Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon