A Special Place in my Heart for Who Do You Say I Am: A Shroud of Turin Documentary Blending Science & Faith—A Catholic Doctor’s Review of the New Documentary
by Dr. Jean Schoonover-Egolf
Documentaries deliberating the validity of the Shroud of Turin are nothing new. But Patchwork Heart ministry founder Bill Snyder’s Who Do You Say I Am? (WDYSIA) offers a unique perspective—and even a few things I didn’t know!—about the mysterious relic that has always held a very special place in my heart. I highly recommend spending 60 minutes of your Lent contemplating this film.
My first witnessing of such a documentary must have been in the early ‘80s; in fact, it was probably the original of such broadcasts. The Silent Witness by acclaimed British film producer and director David Rolfe was released on BBC shortly after the Shroud underwent modern scientific scrutiny in 1978. The film profoundly bolstered my faith and also inspired me to create a series of charcoal sketches of our Lord’s Holy Face. Even years after graduation, I’d heard that Notre Dame Elementary in Portsmouth, OH still used one of those sketches in their annual Stations of the Cross upon Timlin Hill, when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
How do I compare this 2023 documentary to that first film that inspired my (fourth-grade?) artsy soul? And what sets Who Do You Say I Am? apart from the dozens of other works on the Shroud produced over the last 50 years of filmmaking? Certainly, there is its perspective, which is a fresh angle served aside plenty of references to biblical passages and saints’ quotes. But I love how they continue to bring the science. Heaping high helpings of proof we can see and touch—and the data keeps pouring in—Snyder, in conjunction with Fiat Ministries, feeds our hungry souls with a series of spectacular updates in sindonology, the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin. If there was one thing I loved almost as much as art, it was science.
Fast forward a few decades from the making of that grade school theater prop: I opted for med school rather than art school. I tried as hard as I could to discredit 12 years of Catholic school, only to wind up believing more firmly than ever. Because, science. It may seem like I’m getting off topic here, but bear with me for a minute. Narrator Adam Frank states the purpose of this documentary “is simple: to spark and increase your faith.” One of the beauties of remaining faithful to the one, true Church that Jesus founded is that it’s not hard to believe when you have all the data. Our love of and access to the tangible isn’t suppressed, but rather, celebrated. We get all the data. Not that we as Catholics aren’t capable of having faith without seeing! But for the sake of explaining the importance of including WDYSIA into your faith journey, I am reminded of Thomas, whose faith needed a some strengthening when things sounded a little too far-fetched (John 20:24-29). Jesus and the Church He founded, left us many physical treasures to resuscitate us when our faith is on the brink.
Think about it. Why did Jesus leave the impression of His Holy Face on Veronica’s cloth? Why did He institute the Eucharist? Why did Mary appear to poor children in Portugal and France? As Catholics, we like the observable as well as the mysterious. We see, hear, move about, even taste and smell the Liturgies. God gave us our 5 senses as well as our good sense. Yes, He wants us to have faith. But just as Jesus lovingly gave Thomas the tangible proof he needed, God provides, through His Creation (including science—He created science, after all,) faith boosters here and there. As we as scientists slowly, over the centuries, uncover more of God’s amazing systematic method of bringing all of this into being, I believe He is graciously, perhaps one decade at a time, revealing the tools for us to see more clearly holy artifacts such as the Shroud.
As I stated, this latest Shroud of Turin piece taught me a few new things. There is always something new to learn when it comes to a faith whose history holds the magnitude, both the length of and the breadth of, Catholicism, isn’t there? There were 3 pearls in particular that I took away from WDYSIA. The first was the discussion by physicist Bryan Walsh about the main obstacle researchers have had in proving the Shroud’s is legitimacy: the 1988 carbon dating fiasco that placed the cloth’s age to Medieval times. Honestly, I don’t know why no one thought of this before. Anyone currently watching The Curse of Oak Island knows you can only accurately carbon date a specimen that hasn’t been touched/exposed to other carbon sources at multiple/more recent points in history. I won’t spoil it for you, but the arguments proffered by Walsh are solid. Those weird, outlying results were, like many other things from the ‘80s, easily debunked.
The next point I found particularly interesting was that the 372 scourge marks depicted on the Shroud were not fully understood until relatively recently, when archaeologists excavated a very specific part of the flagrum. The dumbbell-shaped ends of the chains made a specific double-cut pattern all over the Shroud, but no one could really explain why until the rough-edged leaden torture devices were unearthed. The “see it but just can’t explain it” followed by a later discovery of the article itself with that “ah ha!” moment must have been a major victory for sindonologists. Viewers can’t help but get swept into the realness of what this piece of cloth is and Who was in it.
Journal of American Medicine? I heard that name like that of an old friend, and thought, “What is he doing here in this Catholic video?” As residents we used our weekly JAMAs for everything from lap desks to pillows, in addition to the assurance that our morning rounds presentations would be well-put if we could back them up with its latest issue. I did not know that in 1986, the doctors wrote a JAMA article concluding that our Lord would have lost so much blood from the scourging alone, He was most certainly in hypovolemic shock by the time He completed the Via Dolorosa. This explains why Christ died on the cross within hours, rather than days, as most victims did.
Lagniappe pearl: this one I must have known (as would any Notre Dame Latin student of Sr. Dymphna Skelley’s,) but the ‘80s were a long time ago. I had forgotten that the word “excruciating” comes from ex crucis, “from the cross.” What a poignant reminder of Christ’s perfect sacrifice to us!
Another nice feature of WDYSIA is the selection of interviews with visitors to the traveling Man of the Shroud exhibit which displays a stunning life-sized photo of the cloth and other related materials. The show is available for parishes to book at kolbeshrine.org/shroud. There are so many more compelling points. The singular situation of a Jewish man being executed by Romans on the eve of the Sabbath and how the details of the burial ritual would have had to have been modified, along with the Gospel accounts, perfectly support the story the Shroud of Turin tells, down to the last fiber. WDYSIA leaves viewers with no doubt, this material was left behind by the Risen Lord!
Who Do You Say I Am: A Shroud of Turin Documentary Blending Science & Faith is a great addition to your Lenten devotions. It is available to rent ($3.99) or buy ($7.99) on Vimeo through patchworkheart.org or on CMAX.tv to its subscribers. Parishes are encouraged to host public showings by purchasing a group license at patchworkheart.org.