- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Casual interest turned into 17 years of education and research surrounding the world’s most famous 14-foot piece of linen for Bryan Walsh when he visited the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado in 1997.

Before his visit, he spent three hours on the phone with John Jackson, the 1978 leader of an international research team on the cloth believed to have wrapped Jesus’ body after he was crucified.

“It was like two peas in a pod getting together,” Walsh said.

He returned to Richmond with the hope of opening a similar center and putting his chemistry background to work.

“People need to see this,” he recalled thinking.

The date and cause of the man’s image on the shroud have confounded scientists and religious leaders for centuries.

Walsh opened the Shroud of Turin Center in 1997 at the Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Goochland County as a way for Richmond-area residents and visitors to learn about the scientific research and mystery behind the sacred cloth and decide for themselves whether it once enveloped Jesus.

Even if the image is not of Jesus, Walsh said, the evidence of the man’s brutal death moves many viewers of the shroud. Interest in the cloth increases annually before Easter, the Christian holiday marking the Resurrection, said Walsh, a former Air Force atmospheric physicist.

The center is housed in a small room with life-size backlit copy and negative images of the 14-by-3-foot cloth.

Walsh and research director Diana Fulbright also have an office and research room, which in the summer will contain lab equipment for experiments related to the shroud.

Since Benedictine College Preparatory moved from Richmond to the Benedictine abbey in Goochland in September, the center moved from the basement to accommodate the school. Students now have easy access to the center.

During the 40 days before Easter known as Lent, Walsh said he and Fulbright spend about 30 hours per week making presentations to community groups and churches along the East Coast. They have even traveled to jails to educate inmates about the sacred cloth.

The actual shroud is in Turin in northern Italy. Walsh visited while it was on display in 2000, about a year after the conference hosted by the Goochland center where international researchers presented their findings and hypotheses related to the chemistry, physics and medical analysis of the shroud.

A faint outline of a man’s face, legs and folded arms can be seen without visual aids. But when Italian lawyer Secondo Pia took the first known photos of the shroud in 1898, his negatives revealed a more detailed look at the figure. Apparent whip marks and bloodstains are believed to show evidence of Roman crucifixion, an excruciating death sentence most condemned Roman citizens were exempted from because of its brutality.

Embedded sand and pollen are believed to place the shroud near Jerusalem, and evidence is offered that the image was not painted on the linen.

The symmetrical marks on the cloth are scorches from molten silver as it was rescued from a silver box during a fire in 1532.

Three laboratories used radiocarbon dating in 1988, tracing the cloth to between A.D. 1260 and 1390, long after Jesus’ time. The detailed published findings, however, cast doubt on whether the sample tested was representative of the whole cloth, dissenters have said.

Researchers hope advanced radiocarbon dating will soon shed more light on the shroud’s origin. The center’s goal, Walsh said, is to present all available research and leave the conclusion to the viewer. “People respond to this with their heart,” he said. “Our goal here is not to answer the question for them.”

Walsh will be conducting experiments this summer related to linen’s reaction to chemicals that might alter the accuracy of radiocarbon dating.

The cloth will be on display again through June 24, 2015, behind bulletproof glass in Turin. It was on display in 2000, when Walsh visited, and again in 2010. Security concerns and chemical preservation of the shroud prevent it from being displayed more often.

Researchers have more tools now than ever, Walsh said.

“It’s all recent discoveries and science. . It’s all as if we’re supposed to understand it now,” he said. “Every time we get closer, it gets further away.”

___

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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