27 July 2019

Friday 26 July – The Shroud of Turin Museum, Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, Shreveport, Louisiana

Source: Museum web page [LINK]
Yes – Shreveport, Louisiana.

Shreveport, Louisiana, possesses the third-largest collection of materials related to the Holy Shroud of Turin in the world. Which is absolutely amazing, when you think about it. How did Shreveport come to be the home of such treasures?

The tale can be told a couple of different ways. I will start it in Shreveport itself, with a happy confluence of events bringing together two individuals with longstanding interest in the Shroud.

Source: Cathedral website
One is Very Rev. Peter Mangum, Rector of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans (and current Diocesan Administrator since Shreveport is sede vacante, without a Bishop, although that fact has little to do with the story). I have actually known Fr. Mangum for several years now, as he was the priest from Shreveport who accompanied the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in February 2016 led by Dr. Taylor Marshall [LINK]. He is also a mentor of sorts to a young man who proved invaluable to continuing the Traditional Latin Mass at my church, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, Louisiana (about seventy miles south of Shreveport), having trained Chris Maples to serve as Master of Ceremonies for the Extraordinary Form at a time when a priest willing to continue the TLM but essentially untrained and inexperienced in it was assigned to the Basilica in July 2016. Over the course of the past three years Christ helped Fr. Blake Deshautelle get up to speed in the TLM and also trained several interested young men as servers as well as up to undertaking the duties of an MC themselves. One is entering seminary this fall. But this post is not about Chris, except that it was through him that I learned a couple of years ago that Fr. Mangum had begun a podcast examining the question, Who is the Man on the Shroud?, in tandem with a second individual….

Source: LSU-Shreveport
That other individual is Dr. Cheryl White, Professor of History at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. Dr. White had grown interested in the Shroud at the very beginning of her academic career, in the heady days of the early 1980s when scientific results from the first-ever large-scale, systematic study of the Shroud was conducted by what came to be known as “STURP,” the S[hroud of] TU[rin] R[esearch] P[roject], in October 1978.
Source: Shroud.com
Without going into too much detail, while generally raising more questions than it answered regarding how such an article came to be (a frequent occurrence in Shroud studies), STURP’s findings consistently supported the provenance of the Shroud as an ancient, probably 1st-c., burial cloth bearing the ghostly image of a tortured and crucified man whose peculiar pattern of wounds matched those described for only one man in history – Jesus Christ. The devastating news that the Shroud had been “proven” to be a medieval artifact, probably of the early 14th c., by the 1988 Carbon 14 dating did not destroy her interest in it as it did so many others, because she recognized that, given its constellation of peculiar properties, determining how the Shroud was “forged” would itself entail an enormous amount of research and likely revolutionize what we know about the Middle Ages. She was, moreover, disturbed by the obviously smug satisfaction with which the results were announced, emphasized by an exclamation point following the putative dates: “1260-1390! 
Source: Shroud.com
And, despite the matter having been laid to rest, so to speak, with more data and studies quietly becoming available from the 1978 testing, incorporating new ways of testing samples taken at that time which were being developed all the time – compounded with failure after failure of any proposed theory for how a putative medieval artist would have produced the Shroud – it became increasingly obvious that the results of the 1988 C14 testing were a lone outlier inconsistent with increasingly overwhelming evidence, just as scientific, that absolutely contradicted them. She concluded that the Shroud had to be exactly what it appeared to be – the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

Dr. White is a parishioner at St. John Berchmans, where she serves as Director of Adult Faith Formation, working closely with Fr. Mangum. Their mutual devotion to the Shroud of Turin led them to create the podcast, through which, over the course of 36 short podcast episodes, they surveyed the entire history and breadth of Shroud studies, building the case for the most obvious answer to the question, Who is the Man on the Shroud? [LINK] It was and is a fascinating story, now available in the form of a book of transcripts as well as the podcasts. It was the latter, however, as I understand it, that came to the attention of a third individual who had a much longer-standing interest in the Shroud of Turin.

Source: Shroudstory.com
Richard Orareo, who lives in Indiana as I understand it, became interested in the Shroud at an early age, and for more than fifty years avidly collected everything he could get his hands on that was connected to it. He made numerous trips to Turin and other places connected to the Shroud’s long history, cultivating friendships with everyone involved, from the Cardinal Archbishops of Turin to antiquities dealers, buying anything that was offered to him but finding a great deal being given to him because of those connections and his evident love for the Shroud. He amassed a huge collection, third only behind that of Turin itself, and the Vatican. Now in his eighties, he began searching for an appropriate home for the collection once he was gone. As I understand it (and I’m going to leave off with that qualifier – let it be understood from here on out), he offered it to such as the University of Notre Dame, Ave Maria University, and the like, who were interested, to be sure – but he had conditions. First, the collection should be displayed appropriately – all of it – not relegated to a warehouse; second, it should be available to all who might be interested in viewing it – at no cost. There may have been others, but those are what I remember. And no one he approached would promise to meet those conditions. Orareo had ultimately decided to bequeath the collection to Fatima, in Portugal, and was in the process of working out the logistics, when he encountered the podcast by Fr. Mangum and Dr. White. He contacted them, and on the day after Christmas (just last year, I believe) they went north to Indiana to meet with him – and promised to meet any condition he might want. By the end of that meeting it was a done deal (come to think of it, perhaps it was Fr. Mangum’s status as Diocesan Administrator that expedited things), and in short order several large trucks were making their way from Indiana to Louisiana, bearing a huge amount of material.

On Saturday 04 May 2019 the Feast Day of the Holy Shroud of Turin was celebrated with a Traditional Latin Mass in the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, Shreveport, Louisiana, celebrated by Fr. Mangum, followed by the grand opening of the Museum of the Holy Shroud [LINK]. I was there.

In actuality, what opened on 04 May was only a small part of what is planned. About one-tenth of the entire collection was set up for temporary display in the parish hall of the Cathedral, with the rest currently residing in a warehouse where it is being catalogued, assessed, and prepared to eventually be displayed in a permanent home. A full-blown center for Shroud studies is planned, displaying what might be called the Orareo Collection along with facilities for lectures and meetings and so forth. The city of Shreveport has put its full support behind the effort, as has the state government in Baton Rouge. When completed, the Shroud Museum is anticipated to be a major attraction for the city and the state. What we saw was only a fraction of what is planned.

Source: Museum webpage [LINK]

Source: Shroud.com
Nevertheless, what was (and continues to be) on display is impressive: a full-size replica of the Shroud printed on linen by the photographer of STURP, Barrie Schwortz, from his original negatives; one of the few existing Ricci Crucifixes, fashioned by an Italian priest based on the image of the Shroud of Turin – and showing the brutality to which the Man on the Shroud was subjected; the protective suit worn by the fireman who braved the fire in Turin Cathedral in the 1990s to rescue the Shroud; numerous books, medallions, advertisements, holy cards, depictions of the Shroud through history, replicas of the instruments of torture that would have been used on the man, and much, much, more.

On the day of the opening, it was announced that the exhibit would be available for viewing through July, with guided tours available by appointment to groups of ten or more. A few days later, I mentioned it to some friends, who expressed interest in making a day trip for such a tour, and the rest is, as they say, history. Today about a dozen of us from the Basilica made our way to Shreveport, were greeted by Dr. White, and received a fascinating overview of the Shroud, its history, the controversies surrounding the 1988 C14 testing (which, it is increasingly evident, was for all intents and purposes a fraud whose aim was not to determine the age of the Shroud but rather to disprove its authenticity), theories about how the image was formed, and, yes, how Shreveport came into possession of such a treasure.

Source: Museum webpage
For me, at least, this day was something of a “micro-pilgrimage.” Fr. Mangum has used the language of pilgrimage to describe visits to the Shroud exhibit. In that he is drawing on the long tradition of pilgrims crossing Europe during the infrequent occasions when the Shroud would be shown to the public. The Shroud has long been an object of pilgrims’ devotion. Here, in this exhibit, there is indeed a prie-dieu set up in front of the aforementioned Ricci Crucifix, and I, at least, took advantage of it. I made sure, before we left, to kneel before that image and pray for the grace always to remember the sufferings that God was willing to take on Himself for me. The Ricci Crucifix is a graphic reminder of that – but it is still a modern depiction based on the Shroud, which may not by its nature be as starkly graphic in its appearance as the Crucifix, but which is, I am firmly convinced, the very cloth which covered my Lord and Savior when he was taken down from the Crucifix in death and for the next three days until, in an instant his body was transformed – Transfigured – in a burst of energy that imprinted its image on the surface fibers of the cloth, which then collapsed on itself to be found and described by the Beloved Disciple soon after the dawning of the first Easter morning – and a New Creation:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20: 1-8)

I am convinced that what John saw, we too can see – and similarly believe.

+ + +

Museum of the Holy Shroud [LINK]
History, Pictures, Videos, Links, etc.

Shroud.com [LINK]
The largest online repository of Shroud information, created and maintained by Barrie Schwortz, photographer for STURP in 1978

Note regarding pictures: I took many pictures during this visit to the Shroud museum. To my profound disappointment, when I got home, I found that none of them had saved to my phone’s memory. I have no idea why. The pictures that appear above are from various online sources -- and do not do the display justice at all.

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