Published on (

By Dana Clark Felty

Created 2008-01-26 00:30

For some Christians, the Shroud of Turin exists as proof of the miraculous story of Jesus Christ.

For others, the linen cloth represents a fascinating 13th-century hoax.

Barrie Schwortz doesn’t intend to change the minds of believers or
skeptics. But he hopes to draw those who are undecided into the
centuries-old mystery of the shroud.

Schwortz has traveled the world during the past 30 years sharing his
experience as a photographer in the first scientific team given
permission to study the shroud.

On Tuesday, Schwortz will give a presentation at St. James School on Montgomery Crossroad.

Schwortz, a professional photographer, was part of the Shroud of
Turin Research Project, a team in 1978 that conducted the first
in-depth scientific examination of the cloth.

Despite being called a "scientific study," the effort lacked the sterile environment of a laboratory, Schwortz said.

"We examined the shroud in the 400-year-old Royal Palace of Turin
with 400-year-old dusty tapestries hanging on the walls and frescoes on
the ceilings," he said. "It was the best that could be done considering
no one had ever been given permission to examine the shroud this way

The team included scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory,
Sandia National Laboratories, NASA and Schwortz’s alma mater, Brooks
Institute of Photography. The group spent a year and a half preparing
for the trip.

At first, Schwortz wasn’t sure he wanted to go.

After all, he’s Jewish.

"I was sort of not even certain I wanted to participate in something
like this when I was first approached," he said. "But as a photographer
in the technical and scientific fields, the image on the shroud is what
fascinated me."

In Turin

The team went to Turin hoping to learn how the image of a man who
appears to have been beaten and crucified appeared on the cloth.

In the end, Schwortz said the team could only determine what they believe didn’t produce the image.

It was not formed by common man.

"It’s not a painting, not a photograph, not an etching, not a
scorch, not a burn, not a man-made image of any kind," Schwortz said.
"But we cannot give you a simple explanation for how the image got on

Controversy swirls

The Roman Catholic Church has taken no official stand on whether the
shroud is the one mentioned in the New Testament. According to the Book
of Mark, Joseph of Arimathea bought a linen cloth, took Jesus’ body
down from the cross, "wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a
tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against
the entrance of the tomb."

Whether the shroud is that same linen cloth isn’t important for now, church leaders say.

"A good number of high-ranking officials venerate the Shroud of
Turin as a relic of Christ, but that can’t be proven," said the Rev.
Douglas Clark, editor of Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Catholic
Diocese of Savannah. "The thing that is important is what it reminds us

Controversy has swirled around the origins and make-up of the Shroud
of Turin almost since it was first captured in pictures by Italian
photographer Secondo Pia in 1898.

According to popular belief, Pia nearly dropped the negative plate
as the image emerged in his darkroom. He believed he was looking at the
face of Jesus.

The shroud has remained in the custody of the Archdiocese of Turin, Italy, for centuries.

In 1988, the archdiocese authorized a series of scientific tests on
pieces of the shroud, including independent carbon-14 dating by three
laboratories. The results showed a 95 percent certainty that the cloth
was made between the years 1260 and 1390.

Some shroud experts have rejected the tests.

That includes Schwortz, who said he believes the shroud is authentic.

"In a nutshell, I believe that the Shroud of Turin wrapped the
crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth," he said. "See, that’s not a
religious statement, but a statement of historical information and
scientific information."

In nearly every presentation he makes, someone inevitably asks him
how seeing the supposed image of Jesus affected his spiritual beliefs.

Although he does not attend a synagogue, Schwortz said seeing the shroud led him to rediscover a deep faith in God.

"You can’t be involved in something like this without confronting your own religious beliefs," he said.

Schwortz’s religious background makes no difference to John Roth, a
Savannah Catholic who invited the photographer to St. James School to

"Because we’re Catholic doesn’t mean that there aren’t other
phenomenally gifted people around the world who have great insights
into things who don’t happen to be Catholic," Roth said.

After the Tuesday event, Roth will drive to Naples, Fla., for a
convention of Legatus, a Catholic business executives’ group created by
pizza magnate Tom Monaghan.

Schwortz said he often speaks to church groups about the shroud and
sometimes encounters emotionally charged listeners on both sides of the

Although his presentation may not give doubt to true believers of
the shroud, he believes the facts present a challenge to those
unwilling to consider the possibility that it’s genuine.

"I’m not a minister or a missionary, or a rabbi even," Schwortz
said. "But it does, in fact, provide a real enigma to those who may
want to reject the whole concept of Christianity."