April 11, 2009

THE CHRISTIAN VERSION OF THE PEPPERED MOTH:

Faith, Proof and Relics: This week's disclosure on the missing history of the Shroud of Turin sheds new light on a much studied object. Peter Manseau on the enduring appeal of holy objects. (PETER MANSEAU, 4/10/09, WSJ)

The Shroud of Turin underscores an essential aspect of religion. Believers suspend their rational processes and undertake an act of faith. Yet the power of holy relics is that they offer the tantalizing possibility of concrete proof of that belief, setting up a battle between reason and devotion.

Like any good true-crime story, the mystery of the Shroud starts with a body. To know who he is, and why he matters, we need to ask how he got there. A partial answer came earlier this week, when a report from Rome shined new light on the Shroud, Christianity's most hotly contested relic. With the announced discovery of a document explaining the 150 years in which the supposed burial cloth of Jesus disappears from the historical record, Vatican researchers have attempted to provide a missing link that could bolster claims of the Shroud's authenticity. Inevitably, the light of this renewed interest will shine just as brightly on longstanding doubts.

The Shroud is one of the relics related to the events Christians commemorate this weekend, including the Spear of Destiny (said to be the Roman soldier's lance that pierced Jesus's side), the Crown of Thorns, a handful of Holy Nails and a Holy Sponge (from which Jesus drank gall before he died). No matter who is right about where they came from, the most interesting question still remains: Why should these physical objects hold such enduring spiritual fascination?


Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2009 6:26 AM
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