Monday, May 10, 2010

First News from Frascati Workshop Continued

American scholars Gilbert Lavoie of Boston, Arthur C. Lind of Chesterfield, Missouri, David Elmore of Dept. of Physics, Purdue University and Mark Antonacci of Eureka, Missouri

Prof. Jan Jaworski of University of Warsaw and Prof. Paolo Di Lazzaro of ENEA, Chairman of Workshop

Gilbert Lavoie of Boston and Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schloemer

Fr. Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J. Professor at Gregorian University, Rome

group photo of participants at the conclusion of workshop, Prof. Di Lazzaro seated at the table

Niels Svensson of Denmark gives a tv interview in front of display comparing Shroud and Holy Face


Brief Reflections regarding the International Discussion on the Most Famous Acheropite Images: Shroud-Tilma-Holy Face

by Antonio Bini -

To promote a wideranging scientific discussion on the recent studies relating to the chemical, physical, mechanical, historical and forensic medical aspects of the most famous acheropite images (that is, not made by human hands): the Shroud of Turin, the Tilma of Guadalupe and the Veil of Manoppello, this was the objective of the International Conference organized by ENEA at its Center for Reseach in Frascati from May 4 to 6. Around 40 scientists and scholars hailing from the United States, France, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Mexico, Israel, France, Poland, Spain and Italy shared and compared their different approaches to these scholarly disciplines.

ENEA, the Italian national agency for Energy and the New Technologies, provided this initiative with its own dedicated website - only in English- to underline the international status of the event: The conference was planned to coincide with the exhibition of the Shroud in Turin in order to take advantage of the presence in Italy of many foreign scholars.

It could seem very unique that a national public agency which occupies itself at the scientific level of energy and new technologies should dedicated a conference to these topics, on a field very complex and apparently very far from its institutional activity. Actually, this interest is to be linked to the capactiy of ENEA to reproduce in their laboratory, thanks to special excimer lasers, a coloration similar to that of the Shroud, with the same characteristics of the superficial nature of the image in relation to the cloth. The result was obtained by focusing very powerful lamps of ultraviolet light upon linen fabrics. It was a casual circumstance in that the scholars were dedicated to research relating to industrial applications. The research was published in 2008 in the American journal Applied Optics.

And it was Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, leader of the excimer laboratory of the center of Frascati to serve as chairman of the international discussion that was developed along the following topics: characteristics of the images; hypothoses on the formation of the images; dating of the images; elaboration of the images; new instruments of analysis; restoration and conservation; comparison of the different acheropite images, historical aspects; forensic medical aspects.

Most of the papers given at the conference had to do with the Shroud, with a healthy number of scholars, especially American, among whom was Diana Fulbright the director of the Center for Research on the Shroud of Richmond, Virginia. Much interest was generated by talks regarding forensic medical aspects, but the general impression given is that the discussion still revolved either directly or indirectly around the controversy surrounding the dating of the cloth by the Carbon 14 method, carried out in 1988 with the examination of three different samples at three different laboratories in Zurich, Oxford, and Arizona, and thus on the influence of environmental factors on the contamination of the cloth of Turin.

In his paper Jose Carlos Esprella Godinez, member of the Mexican Center for the Study of the Shroud, described the acheropite characteristics of the Tilma of Guadalupe, furnishing elements to insert the miracle in the context of the history of Christianity in Mexico.

There was much interest shown in the Holy Face especially because of the images, some of very high quality and very moving, which were projected a number of times on the large screen.

The extraordinary spread of the Holy Face in the last few years and the ever more frequent comparison with the more famous Shroud, found in the initiative organized by ENEA an implicit recognition of the scientific validity of the studies which have been carried out so far by a small number of reseachers, who had the chance to describe their theories before an international audience of recognized scholars.

Professor Heinrich Pfeiffer, pioneer of studies on the Holy Face, went deeply into the history of art regarding the theme of the acheropite, emphasizing the most noted sacred images of antiquity, the Mandylion of Edessa and the image from Kamulia (or Camulliana). These images would correspond to the Shroud and the Veronica (Holy Face).

Some inexplicable peculiarities of the veil were illustrated by Professor Giulio Fanti from the University of Padua. Professor Fanti is a well known expert on the Shroud who for some years has become more acquainted with the Veil of Manoppello.

But the most interesting talks, also because of their novelty, were probably those by the three Polish university instructors, recently coming to know the Holy Face. Zbigniew Treppa and Karolyna Aszyk, instructors of semeiotics of images at the University of Danzig, illustrated their studies on the suprising mutability of the image by emphasizing in particular the mouth which demonstrates with greater evidence their reflections on the mutability of the image, relating in particular to the teeth. Their thesis was more amply detailed in a book which came out last year in Poland with the title "Fotografia z Manoppello".

Prof. Treppa, Prof. Aszyk, and Prof. Jaworski from Poland
A significant contribution came from Jan S. Jaworski professor of chemistry at the University of Warsaw who has supported and documented the thesis that the fabric on which the Holy Face appears is that of marine byssus and that it is to the peculiar properties of byssus that the extraordinary transparency of the Veil can be attributed.

I recall that the hypothesis of marine byssus was supported on September 1, 2004 by Chiara Vigo, a native of the island of Sant'Antioco in Sardinia, who is held to be the last expert of this ancient textile art still living in the Mediterranean area. As is known, the extraordinary uniqueness of this most unique fabric, which derives from a large mollusk (pinna nobilis), is that it can be dyed but that it is not possible to paint upon it. The idea that it might be marine byssus came from Sister Blandina, after having held by chance between her fingers some fibers from shells coming from the Adriatic Sea. The research which followed and the involvement of Chiara Vigo is owed to the German journalist and writer Paul Badde.

Roberto Falcinelli, roman photographer, detailed the results of his own research on the dating of the Opusculum of Jacopo Grimaldi, preserved in the Vatican, which documents how the Veronica appeared before its disappearance. As is known, the images (of the Opusculum) show the face of Christ with eyes open, contrary to the changed iconographic model imposed in the 1600's.

In the "Poster Session" Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schloemer and Professor Andreas Resch presented a thorough documentation to demonstrate that the Holy Face and the Face of the Shroud can be superimposed one upon the other. Their documentation was shared during the three days with the various scholars present who were able to ask for clarifications and to acquaint themselves with the techniques used by Sr. Blandina and Professor Resch. On the last day of the workshop a russian icon of the Mandylion of Edessa was also displayed. This icon, dating from the 1700's, calls to mind the Holy Face of Manoppello.

In closing the workshop, Professor Di Lazzaro, after referring to the lengthy course of scientific data, graphics, formulae and statistical tables, could not hide his own "emotion for the fantastic experience of coordinating an international workshop on these extraordinary images" which favors a greater dialog in the international scientific community involved in these studies.

Certainly the discussion on these topics will continue for a long time, but Frascati will remain an event probably without precedent, as the tendency has been to concentrate moments of study and of discussion to that of a single holy image. An event organized in a serious way, not open to the public, in order to avoid the simplifications and the easy sensationalism of the mass media, which neither the faith nor science need.

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