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From Skepticism to Belief: Shroud of Turin Researcher Shares Experiences

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Advising listeners to “keep an open mind” despite conflicting media reports, Barrie Schwortz, the official documenting photographer on the original Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), told the St. John’s community on February 24 how his work has convinced him of the cloth’s authenticity.

Schwortz addressed hundreds of students, faculty, and staff in the Little Theater on the Queens campus. Describing his continuing research about the shroud, he spoke of the shroud’s impact on his own beliefs. “More than anything else, even if you’re a total skeptic, I hope students learn not to judge something by what they see in the media,” he said. “I hope they have an open mind—mine wasn’t open for 20 years.”

Decades after the conclusion of STURP’s work in 1978, Schwortz continues to play an influential role in educating the public about the artifact. He is the founder and editor of the Shroud of Turin Website. A frequent lecturer on the topic, he also has contributed photographs to a wide range of books and publications.
Reflecting the interdisciplinary character of shroud research, several St. John’s departments sponsored the presentation—Campus Ministry, Art and Design, Theology and Religious Studies, and the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “The arts and sciences have always been closely related,” said Belenna Lauto, associate professor and interim chair, Art and Design. “They both seek truth, and they both search for the meaning of creation. As a Catholic university, one of our primary goals is the search for truth.”

“These programs are essential for our students,” said Loramarie Muratore, residence minister for spirituality.  “They define Catholic education.  We are called to combine our disciplines and collaborate across departments.” 

Though Jewish, Schwortz found his research on the shroud a transformational experience. He was originally reluctant to join STURP. By the time the original study concluded, however, he felt his work remained unfinished. In 1995, he met someone who insisted the shroud was a fake—based largely on a tabloid article. The encounter compelled Schwortz to examine his own perspectives on the cloth: he realized that he believed in its authenticity. Schwortz went on to found, the top Google search and oldest website on the topic.

During his presentation, Schwortz described the months of preparation STURP needed before the team arrived in Turin. He offered detailed descriptions of the scientific and artistic processes behind capturing the photos, some of which he used to illustrate his presentation. “The photographs are visually captivating and mesmerizing as works of art,” said Lauto. “It’s important for students to know that documentary work can also serve as what we might label ‘fine art.’”

Students were impressed by Schwortz’s experience—and his convictions. “It’s exciting to see how someone’s life has been changed through a simple task assigned to him,” said Anthony Lucero ’17TCB. “I’m glad he came to campus to share his story with us, since we all occasionally engage in activities that change our own lives.” Thomas King ’12Ed, ’14GEd, added, “I heard about the shroud a few years ago. The subject is fascinating.”