The Review of Religions’ International Shroud of Turin Conference attracts leading experts from around the world to present their research.
The Review of Religions presents the following article written by our Christian guest authors Pam Moon and Brenda Benton. The views expressed in this article are their own and do not necessarily represent those of The Review of Religions or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Pam Moon and Brenda Benton
It is a great sadness to us that the Jalsa Salana is not happening this year, as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last five years, the Review of Religions at the Jalsa Salana has welcomed the Shroud of Turin exhibition, which contains life-sized photographic replicas of the Shroud taken by Barrie Schwortz in 1978. The Review of Religions team has also invited some of the world’s leading Shroud experts to lecture and participate in discussions. Barrie Schwortz has been the main speaker every year. He has been joined by Shroud experts like Bruno Barberis, formerly head of Science in Turin; Mark Guscin and Jorge Manuel Rodrigues; worldwide experts of the Sudarium of Oviedo; David Rolfe, the BAFTA winning film maker, and Emanuela Marinelli, the most prolific Italian writer on the Shroud. A paper Emanuela wrote with Tristan Casabianca, published in 2019, has gone a long way to finally challenge the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud. Although as Muslims, Jews and Christians we believe different things about the Shroud, the respect that is paid to Jesus and his mother Mary, and the warmth of the welcome we receive has been testament to the Ahmadiyya Community’s belief in ‘love for all and hatred for none.’ This warmth has also come from the caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who has given very generously of his time to us. He has shown a great interest in the Shroud every year for the last five years.
From l-r: Luigi Antoniazzi, Barrie Schwortz, Stuart Benton, Brenda Benton , Pam Moon, Mark Guscin, Jostein Andreassen, Hugh Farey
Pam writes: the first time I met the Review of Religions team was at a Catholic secondary school in London. Amer Safir, Shahzad Ahmed and Arif Khan, one of the Muslim world’s most knowledgeable scholars on the Shroud, came to the school while they were assessing whether the Shroud exhibition was suitable for the Jalsa. The exhibition has been to many churches, cathedrals and schools. As there is no Jalsa this year, Brenda Benton who, with her husband Stuart, is the circulation manager of the British Society for the Shroud of Turin Newsletter (BSTS) and a regular attender at the Jalsa, and I thought we would write up our experiences of a different kind of venue for the exhibition – prisons in the UK! We hope you will enjoy some of our stories.
One of the private audiences which the renowned scholars of the Shroud of Turin were blessed to have with His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), Supreme Head of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Makhzan-e-Tasaweer
A few years ago, we were invited to take the exhibition to a large prison outside Wolverhampton. There were over 50 inmates and half as many guards in the audience. I spoke about the wounds visible on the Shroud and how they match the biblical accounts of Jesus: the crown of thorns, the flogging, the crucifixion and the spear wound in the side. And I touched on the sheer mystery of image formation – in the 21st century we still can’t make a copy of the Shroud, despite all our advanced technologies. I remember three particular incidents. The first was when I rolled out the black and white front image of the Man on the Shroud, before the prisoners entered the room. A female guard was standing at the foot of the image. She was a tough, hardened officer; someone who knew how to work in a prison. As the image unrolled at her feet, she started to cry. She was literally fixed to the spot for over a minute, gazing at the image as her eyes filled with tears. She managed to maintain her professionalism and her dignity but you could tell she was really touched by the image. The Shroud has that effect.
I have seen many women weep when they see the Shroud replica at the Jalsa Salana. Led by Navida Sayed, hundreds of women and children have come to the tent to learn about the Shroud of Turin and many have been deeply moved by its beauty.
The second incident came at the end of the session as the prisoners asked questions. One of them said, Does anyone make any money on the Shroud?’ I gave quite a long answer: ‘No, the Shroud is always offered free, and Turin Archdiocese doesn’t ask for any money. I have seen it twice and the first time I couldn’t find anywhere to leave money. The second time the only thing they asked for was an optional donation to charity.
I was shocked with the prisoner’s reply: ‘Then it must be real. No-one would fake something if they didn’t make any money out of it!’
What a great reply from a prisoner; an insight into the Shroud that had never occurred to me!
Finally, a man came up to me and asked for prayers. He was on an indeterminate sentence which means he had no release date, and may never be released. He spoke of his family at home; his children who are growing up without him. There was huge sorrow and sadness in his face. I have no idea what crime that gentleman committed, and it is likely to have been a serious offence, but I find it very sad to remember him, and his wife and children who also suffer. Thinking back to the Jalsa, where a great deal of the focus is on the love of families, and as I remember children running around playing happily together, please can I ask you to pray for that man and other prisoners like him.
Earlier this year, we were invited to a second prison near Wolverhampton, which was for much less serious offenders. I did the same talk – describing the injuries of Jesus and the mysterious majesty of the image and its formation. Brenda came and she was a great hit with the prisoners. They loved her honesty and her story and gave her a huge round of applause when she finished.
Before I write of my experiences at the prison I would like to say that Stuart and I will miss seeing all our friends at the Jalsa this year. One of our greatest blessings has been the generosity and respect we have been shown during our visits. The mutual respect we have for each other has built bridges of understanding between us, which we are then able to share with others on our return. The response we have experienced is most encouraging, in a world that needs to learn to show love and respect to their fellow man. Over the past four years the Jalsa has given us the opportunity of meeting so many Shroud experts, which we could have never imagined we would ever meet.
My mother and I ran a coffee bar for a time at this prison over thirty years ago for the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS). We met many of the prisoners and their families and it was very rewarding work, appreciated by all those we served. When Pam invited Stuart and I to join her for this talk I jumped at the chance to go back and see how things have changed over the years. This was the week before lockdown came into force,and we arrived early to give ourselves time to properly prepare. This prison had changed out of all recognition and had grown enormously. I saw this as a sign of the times, as crime continues to grow in our country and the world.
We faced many challenges that came against us even being allowed into the prison, but each one was overcome. At the time of our talk Pam’s exhibition was on display in Oxford for two weeks, so we used the spare black and white images that belong to Pam, and took the small copy of the Shroud that Pam kindly gave us several years ago. The security had been stepped up considerably since my last visit and we were eventually able to enter the prison and meet up with the priest who gave Pam the invitation. We were taken through a maze of locked doors, stairs and corridors, each requiring permission to enter. We eventually came to the beautiful Chapel where our talk was to take place. The change of atmosphere was quite profound as we entered and felt God’s peace there. We were given a warm welcome by a trusted prisoner who offered to make us a drink.
There was just enough time to set everything up before the prisoners began to arrive. As we have seen so many times over the years in various exhibitions, the Shroud made its usual impact. The prisoners instantly engaged with us and sat listening intently to Pam’s powerful and informative talk. When she had spoken about the wounds that Jesus suffered she handed over to me.
Ray Rogers examining the Shroud in 1978. © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved
I shared how that suffering had helped Stuart and I come to terms with the suffering and death of our only child at the age of three. Just weeks before Zoe died, Stuart and I had cause to go to London in an effort to discover whether we are related, which we eventually discovered we are, through his Father and my Mother. Whilst travelling on the underground I saw a poster advertising a film being shown in a hotel. The film was made by David Rolfe and called ‘The Silent Witness’ containing all the latest evidence about the Turin Shroud. The picture of the Face on the Holy Shroud on the poster seemed to jump of the wall, and I knew we had to see this film. Watching the re-enactment of the crucifixion was the point where our suffering and the suffering of Jesus came together.
All that I ever wanted in my life was to be a wife and a mom, so when we were told by a geneticist that there was a one in four chance of us having other children with the same genetic brain disease, we knew that we could never inflict that depth of suffering onto another child.
For many years I was lost and felt that my life would never have any meaning. I could never have imagined that Zoe’s short life would take us on an amazing journey with the Turin Shroud. Someone once told me that Zoe left us a beautiful inheritance and she certainly did.
I shared with them some of the things I have done wrong in my own life, and of the many years I carried a heavy burden of guilt. This made it hard for me to accept God’s offer of love and forgiveness for all the mistakes I’d made in my past. I then went on to tell of His great faithfulness and how He never lets us go.
As I looked out at these men, many of them with deep scars from the wounds they had received in the past, I saw them as God’s children, who He wanted to touch and turn their lives around, to give them another chance. Also, how He wants to bring them healing from their past, through the power of His love. In all of my public speaking over the past 25 years and more, this was by far the most powerful thing I have done, and a great privilege.
After our talk two gentlemen came to me separately and said that Zoe’s story had really touched their heart. They then told me I had given them hope, and the promise of a new beginning in their lives. This is a fitting tribute to our daughter’s life, which makes what we do so worthwhile.
Now I hand you back to Pam.
Finally, I have one last memory which has stayed with me. I have often talked about the Shroud being the ‘first selfie,’ the image of Jesus captured 2000 years ago by a technique we still don’t understand. The image has been left for us to know what he looked like. I can still see the delighted faces of teenagers at the Jalsa when I use the term ‘selfie’ to describe it. But what is also fascinating about the face is that it has no skin tone or colour. As I mentioned this extraordinary property of the Shroud at the prison, I watched two black men in the second row of the audience. Their faces visibly relaxed, and it was as if a huge calm came over them. The realisation that Jesus does not discriminate about skin colour had a profound effect on them.
After that experience, in the months of lockdown, and in the Black Lives Matter protests, I thought about this some more, and wrote a letter for the British Society for the Shroud of Turin Newsletter. I know Ahmadiyya Muslims suffer persecution so I hope you find it resonates with you. Look carefully at the Shroud images taken by Barrie Schwortz to see what I mean about skin tone. The text of the letter is written from a Christian perspective, and the main text of it is printed below:
Contrast Enhanced Shroud of Turin Facial Image as it appears on a photographic negative
The Face of the Man on the Shroud in natural light and in a black and white negative image:
‘On the 25th March 2020 George Floyd died in Minneapolis at the hands of four police officers. One of them knelt on his neck and suffocated him. Floyd’s last words were ‘I can’t breathe.’ His death sparked a wave of international protests encapsulated in the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Coming on the back of the disproportionate number of BAME lives which have been lost to COVID-19; and in an economic climate which puts black people at a disadvantage, the murder of Floyd resonated around the world. The outpouring of anger sadly led to further deaths and a breakdown of social distancing.
What has this to do with the Shroud of Turin? The Shroud has the iconic image of Jesus Christ. It is made up of two colours: the faint sepia of the face and body and the carmine red of blood. The image of Jesus has no paint and is without skin tone, without eye colour, without hair colour. It cannot be used to fuel any racist agenda. If this is the image of God, as many Christians believe, then God is not racist.
Jesus, like George Floyd, also died a violent death. And his message of forgiveness, non- violence and peace are important truths for us to hear. But we must never think that God endorses any form of racial supremacy. God is beyond and above our narrow fears, prejudices and bigotry. So, let there be peace, but let us strive to ensure that Black Lives Matter. God cares for everyone.’
I hope you have enjoyed our stories about the beautiful Shroud of Turin and may God bless you.
Pam Moon and Brenda Benton July 21st 2020
About the Authors:
Pam Moon, a Shroud expert, who uses the replica as a visual aid to tell the story of the crucifixion. Pam has taken her exhibition to many locations including Cork Cathedral and Westminster Cathedral. Since 2015, Pam Moon has brought her exhibits to The Review of Religions exhibition at the Jalsa Salna UK which includes the rare life-size replica of Shroud of Turin, the replica of Tomb of Jesus (as), and much more.
Brenda Benton has worked in a worldwide interdenominational women’s ministry, serving as a chapter president, and has been a public speaker for over 20 years, which has taken her as far as Canada and the US. After taking a keen interest in the Shroud of Turin for over 40 years, she and her husband Stuart joined Pam Moon’s Shroud team.