Melissa Cain Travis | Easter Roundtable
In the fall of 2022, The Mystery Man Exhibition opened in Spain. Initially housed in the Cathedral of Salamanca but now in the Guadix Cathedral in Granada, the multimedia, 6,400-square-foot exhibition has been described as “an unprecedented immersive experience to discover the Man in the Holy Shroud.” I’d been unaware of this project until a few weeks ago, when I was preparing a lecture on Christ’s resurrection and stumbled across an article announcing the exhibition’s grand opening. I’ve had a fascination with the Shroud of Turin since childhood, but it was during my grad school studies that I was introduced to the scholarship pertaining to the provenance, chemical analyses, and imaging of the relic that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. Under-informed skeptics, often armed with outdated information (such as the now-discredited carbon-14 data from 1988), view the Shroud as a historical curiosity at best, a skilled forgery at worst. Many aren’t aware that ongoing scholarship, now tremendously enhanced by improvements in imaging technology, have only heightened the interest and enthusiasm of Shroud researchers and other experts convinced of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Mystery Man Exhibition is the culmination of the last fifteen years of progress that has been made in Shroud studies. The first of the exhibit rooms is entitled “Jesus of Nazareth” and it explores his representation in Christianity over the past two millennia. The second room, “Historical Context: His Condemnation and Death,” breaks down what we know about the final days of Jesus’ life and the days that followed his crucifixion. The third room, “A Shroud Appears,” documents the earliest historical references to the Shroud and follows its journey over the last six centuries. Next comes a room dedicated to the forensic studies of the cloth. This includes the chemical analyses and imaging that have been carried out over the last several decades. The grand finale of the exhibition is breathtaking even in photos—a “hyperrealistic sculpture” of the Mystery Man. With painstaking efforts, the latex and silicone sculpture (adorned with real human hair) reveals every wound, the bodily dimensions based upon 3D data (5’10” and 165 lbs), and the nuances of the physical positioning of the crucified man. (Click here for stunning close-up photos.) What struck me most powerfully when I first saw the photos was the man’s posture—he appears to be in the process of sitting up.
Roman Catholic Christians consider the Shroud to be a holy relic, but Protestant Christians are divided in their conclusions on whether the cloth is the actual burial wrap of Jesus Christ. It was clearly used on a man who was executed by crucifixion, and the image it bears is incredibly intriguing in terms of its physical characteristics. For example, several features make it consistent with a first-century origin, it bears features consistent with a highly traumatic crucifixion (and the biblical description), and the blood type found on the cloth (AB+) is rare in general but quite common among people of the Middle East. Something of which many are unaware is the fact that there is a directly related relic called the Sudarium of Oviedo, a small cloth that is believed to have covered only the head of the crucified Christ. The data of the Shroud and the Sudarium overlap to an amazing degree; the blood type, nature of the blood stains, alignment of the wounds, and the measurements of the nose are consistent. The image on the Shroud is not the result of any pigments or burning; rather, it seems to be the result of radiation.
The Mystery Man Exhibition began its European tour in January, but we can hope that it will eventually visit the US. In the meantime, there are more modest exhibits around the country. For example, the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas will unveil an exhibit in late April of this year. Also, a Shroud of Turin replica exhibit is on display at the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin.
— Melissa Cain Travis, PhD, is an Affiliate Faculty at Colorado Christian University and a Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. She is the author of Thinking God's Thoughts: Johannes Kepler and the Miracle of Cosmic Comprehensibility (2022) and Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation Between Faith and Science Reveals About God (2018). She serves on the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and as President of the Society for Women of Letters.
image: Representation of Christ based on Shroud of Turin