"Big Four" Highlights


Shroud of Turin Videos

Image mystery is CSI for families of faith

By James Breig

A three-DVD set of documentaries about the Shroud of Turin provides parents with a new way of tackling an old problem: talking to their children about the relationship between science and faith.

“The Shroud of Turin: Scientific Evidence of the Passion” contains three studies of the cloth that many Christians believe is the burial wrapping of Jesus that bears his image. The videos offer evidence that cast doubt on the carbon-14 studies done in the 1980s which concluded that the Shroud does not date to the time of Jesus and is a fake.

The Shroud is kept in Turin, Italy, and every decade or so is offered for public display.

David Rolfe, the British producer of the videos, sees the value of his work for discussions between parents and children.

“My first film on the Shroud, ‘The Silent Witness,’ which is included on the new DVD, quickly became popular among teachers and eventually was made part of the religious education curriculum in the United Kingdom,” he said. “To study the Shroud is to study history, geography – all branches of science, including forensics and anatomy, textiles, art, photography, and many others.”

He added that “the Shroud seems to have been made for our internet and computer age and, as such, can easily be accessed by the younger generation.”

Anthony Ryan, marketing director for Ignatius Press, which sells the videos, called them “investigative documentaries that parents and kids should find interesting and educational to watch together. They can use them to talk about history, religion, science, and, of course, the person of Christ and His incredible love for us.”

The three videos – “The Silent Witness,” “Shroud of Turin” and “Shroud” – were made over the course of more than 30 years as more and more evidence was uncovered by sinologists, as experts in the Shroud are called. The videos contain dramatizations of the history of the cloth, summaries of the scientific evidence for and against its authenticity, and high-definition videos of the image on the Shroud.

As viewers progress through the videos, which were produced in 1978, 2008 and 2010, they learn how newer studies seem to confirm the cloth as Jesus’ wrappings and refute earlier scientific testing.

“The carbon-14 tests, carried out in 1988, pronounce it to be a medieval fake,” Rolfe said, “but new research and revelations about the circumstances surrounding the test have emerged which raise a question mark over the test’s validity.”

The filmmaker, who has won awards for his documentaries, believes his videos provide fathers and children with the chance to unravel a mystery together through the use of scientific measurements as well as biblical and other documents. In a sense, families can become CSI investigators.

Rolfe compared the examination of the burial cloth to theories about the origin of the universe. “Science has come to recognize that it may never understand what preceded the ‘Big Bang,’ but it does not stop some from theorizing and speculating beyond the limits of what we can understand,” he said. “The same is true of some of the scientific thinking relating to the cause of the image.”

Shroud Led Filmmaker to Faith

His investigations of the cloth led Rolfe to a life-changing experience.

“When I encountered the Shroud, I was an atheist photographer intrigued by the positive/negative image on an apparently medieval cloth,” he recalled. “I was convinced, when I set out to make the film, that we would discover how it was faked. This did not happen. The film unearthed new evidence and left the audience to make up its own mind, and that audience concluded – as I did – that it was very likely to be genuine. In time, my faith was established. The Shroud pointed the way.”

If future evidence proved once and for all that the cloth was a forgery, Rolfe said that his faith would not be shaken.

“My belief in the authenticity of the Shroud must always be subject to what the evidence dictates,” he said. “My religious faith is independent of the Shroud.”

Ryan noted that fathers and their children, like all viewers of the videos, have to come to their own conclusions about the cloth’s authenticity.

“A lot of the studies done on the Shroud are done from a scientific angle – on the age, history  and substance of the cloth, the blood stains, the image and markings on the cloth: how they got there, what they represent,” he said. “Yet science can only reveal so much about the mystery of the cloth and the image on it. It still can’t explain or prove how the image was put on the cloth. That is where science and faith meet. Faith would tell us the only possible explanation for the image being transmitted on to the cloth is from the burst of ‘divine light’ at the Resurrection.”

(The three DVDs about the Shroud of Turin run for 160 minutes and cost $29.95. To purchase the set, go to Ignatius.com. David Rolfe’s website about his research is ShroudTV.com.)