Crossroads Television Services’ Carolyn Innis and Judith Grieve with CTS’s reproduction of the Shroud of Turin. Photo by Michael Swan

Protestant interest in Shroud of Turin grows

  • June 28, 2012

BURLINGTON, ONT. - It can be dangerous to say so, but there is no real proof that the Shroud of Turin is authentic. Even the Vatican has never pronounced itself on the authenticity of the world’s most famous piece of linen.

There’s no historical record of it before 1390. Skeptics ask what are the odds that for more than 1,000 years Christians ignored the existence of an image that accurately records Jesus’ likeness at the time of His crucifixion?

In the 14th century there was an enormous industry which produced, bought and sold relics. There were, of course, genuine relics. But the real thing could never possibly satisfy demand for ever more, and ever more dramatic, remembrances of holiness. A shroud somehow recovered from the empty tomb of Jesus — like all the vials of precious blood, and the many, many nails from Jesus’ cross — would surely have been a money maker.

In 1988 radiocarbon dating by Oxford University, the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology all came up with a date of between 1260 and 1390 on three bits of a sample taken from the shroud.

But a 2011 analysis by Italy’s national research agency used laser technology and concluded it was unlikely the shroud was created in medieval times. 

What is indisputably genuine is the profound experience millions of Catholics have had contemplating the shroud itself and images produced from it. Popular devotion to the Holy Face is almost entirely dependent on images produced from photographic negatives of the shroud. The Shroud of Turin, fake or not, has put the reality of crucifixion into the minds and hearts of believers.


Until recently, controversy over the Shroud of Turin has been a mostly Catholic affair. Protestants who claim Scripture as the only source of their faith have always been critical of the Catholic culture of images, relics and pilgrimages. For Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and generations of their followers this stuff had taint of superstition.

But at Crossroads Television Services headquarters in Burlington, the feature attraction for the daily 50th anniversary tours is a full-size photographic reproduction of the Shroud of Turin.

CTS is a broadcasting empire founded on the accomplishments of Protestant Evangelical TV preacher David Mainse, though these days Crossroads staff insist CTS is “non-denominational.” But when Mainse began his television career in 1962, and launched 100 Huntley Street in 1977, the Christianity he propounded was Protestant.

The broadcaster already receives thousands of tourists every year. In displaying the four-and-a-half metre long photo of the Shroud of Turin, CTS isn’t aiming to capture the interest of Catholics or Protestants, said CTS communications director Carolyn Innis.

“It’s for people who maybe never had a reason to come here before. “It’s one of the most talked about artifacts in history.”

The display is accompanied by a video featuring interviews with shroud photographer Barrie Schwortz and Evangelical Scripture scholar and historian Prof. Craig Evans. Neither commits to its authenticity, but both insist science has not proven it a fake.

Controversy is a good thing, said CTS staffer Judith Grieve, who leads tours.

“It’s great that people are talking about it,” said Grieve. “We’re here to have a dialogue with people. We’re not here to stifle discussion.”

Grieve has been profoundly moved by what she has learned about the crucifixion.

“It just hits home, the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross,” she said.

CTS’s evangelizing approach contrasts with St. Padre Pio parish in the Toronto suburb of Woodbridge. A donor provided St. Padre Pio with a $2,500 full-sized reproduction of the shroud several years ago and the parish puts it on display during Holy Week.

“That’s when it fits in,” notes pastor Fr. Gregory Ace. “It’s for the parish, basically, and it’s the only time it would fit in.”

Ace notifies parishioners through the parish bulletin and web site that the shroud replica is on display, along with reproductions of other items from the passion story.

But there’s never been an attempt to use it to bring new people to the parish. And no one has ever expressed doubts about the shroud’s authenticity.

Sociologist of religion Scott Kline finds it fascinating that Evangelical Protestants are interested in the Shroud of Turin.

“I’m amazed that there is a movement within these sorts of non-denominational Christian churches,” said the St. Jerome’s University professor. “People are really interested. They’re reading Church Fathers. They’re interested in Catholic liturgy and Catholic ritual. I’ve asked why and they said, ‘Well, what we’re doing is kind of stale.’ ”

Many Evangelicals today have a hunger for tradition. Others are looking for visible, tangible symbols that give them a sense of belonging, said Kline.

“So that means that everything those crazy Catholics do isn’t the devil,” Kline said. “Back in the ’80s, my gosh, there were completely hostile, anti-Catholic movements in the mainstream, non-denominational churches. That’s largely gone now.”

So now it’s no surprise to see big silver crucifixes or religious paintings in Evangelical churches and homes.

“What’s going on with the crosses, this kind of iconography — particularly with youth — it becomes a way of bringing people together, saying this is what I have. It becomes kind of trendy.”

From a sociological perspective, it fits in with what University of Dayton theologian Vince Miller calls “consumer religion.”

“First and foremost in a modern consumer culture, we are consumers. Who we are is defined by what we wear, what we drive, where we live, where our children go to school. This is very important to (Evangelical) Christians,” said Kline.

He is not criticizing the spirituality of people genuinely moved by the shroud’s image of crucifixion.

“It’s the connection to why those icons exists,” said Kline. “The context is lost.”

For more see

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.