A remarkable three-dimensional reconstruction of the body of the Shroud has been made in bronze by Italian artist Luigi Mattei
SEPTEMBER has a strong connection to the Cross of our Lord. A number of liturgical feasts do in fact occur during this month. The most important is the Triumph of the Cross, celebrated on the 14th.
Public veneration of the cross of Christ originated on September 13, 335, when two shrines were dedicated in Jerusalem: one built at the site of the Calvary, the other at the site of Jesus' burial. On the following day the remains of the Cross of Our Lord, miraculously discovered by Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, were shown to an enormous crowd of pilgrims, monks, and prelates gathered from every corner of the Roman Empire. From then on the feast was established, and in the following centuries the ceremonies lasted for eight days, and rivalled those of Easter and Epiphany.
In that period the Church was enjoying peace for the first time in its history. Centuries of cruel and bloody persecution, which resulted in thousands and thousands of martyrs, had finally come to an end.
Edict of Milan
This change had been brought about by Emperor Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century. In the spring of 313, Constantine and his brother-in-law, the Emperor Licinius, who together controlled the Western and the Eastern parts of the Roman Empire respectively, met in the northern Italian city of Milan to streamline and co-ordinate their policies. The 'Christianity' question was also on their agenda. Constantine had already converted, whereas Licinius was still a pagan, but tolerant toward the new religion. They therefore issued a decree which has came down in history as the 'Edict of Milan'. This Edict is one of the great turning points of history because it enabled the underground Christian Church to come out in the open, and eventually to establish itself as the official religion of the Empire.
Part of that decree ran, Any one of these who wishes to observe the Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation... We have given to Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. The Edict was also a hallmark of civilisation in that it included tolerance for all religions, provided they did not offend public decorum, We have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made so that we may not seem to detract from the dignity of any other religion.
The two emperors also agreed to the restitution of all goods confiscated from Christians, and made provisions for the reconstruction of their churches.
Exaltation of the Cross
According to one tradition, in 614, Chosroes II, the King of Persia, invaded Syria and Palestine, and carried away many of the great treasures in Jerusalem, including the relic of the True Cross. In 629, Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople marched into Persia, and recaptured the True Cross, and piously brought it back to Jerusalem barefoot, while clothed in the sackcloth of penance. On September 14th, the Sacred Cross was restored to its place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. To commemorate this victory, in the 7th century the Church of Rome adopted the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (also called the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) on September 14, to mark the saving power of the Cross.
The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross is connected to other liturgical celebrations, such as that of the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, commemorated on the following day. This feast remembers the enormous suffering experienced by Jesus' mother at the foot of the Cross.
On September 17, the Church remembers Saint Francis, who received the stigmata on this day while meditating on Mount Verna. Finally, Father Pio of Pietrelcina, who many people called a living crucifix, was stigmatised on September 20, 1918.
September is thus very much connected with the crucifixion of Jesus, which has touched the lives of millions such as no other event. As Saint Paul wrote in the second chapter of Philippians, Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
We know from Cicero, the Roman writer, that crucifixion was regarded as the most infamous and humiliating of punishments, reserved only for slaves or those who did not posses Roman citizenship. Crucifixion implied a slow and painful death, brought on finally by suffocation.
The mystery of Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross is quite beyond human understanding. The Catholic faith, however, has emphasised its life-giving properties and its inner connection to the Resurrection. The Cross is the distinguishing mark of the true Christian, and our guide to heaven. The saints themselves are continuously meditating on this unfathomable secret, and artists down through the ages have portrayed it in countless ways.
Professor Luigi Mattei
The crucifix has been the object of the most intense imaginative efforts by those who have tried to impress on the face of Christ the vastness and depth of his universal suffering, sometimes achieving very impressive results.
The problem is that these effects are merely just fantasy and imagination, says Professor Luigi Mattei, one of the most talented sculptors of our times. As a religious artist, I have also set for myself the difficult task of representing Christ's Passion. However, I decided to approach the issue from an altogether different perspective. In my latest works I decided to eradicate my own person, my own subjective feelings and images of Jesus on the cross. My attempts have been to try to reconstruct that face in as objective a way as possible, by relying on historical evidence and documents. I do not know how accurate a picture I managed to achieve, but I think that the results are significant in terms of the history of the representation of the Passion.
Luigi Mattei is a 60-year-old artist living in Bologna, Italy. He is a very talented and versatile drawer and graphic designer. His extensive experience in various artistic techniques enables him to master the element of space and confer a certain elegance to his creations. His works have been displayed in at least 80 museums and art galleries throughout the world, and have received numerous awards. Despite all this, Mattei prefers to work quietly in his study, undistracted by the world's acclaim, and inspired only by his heartfelt devotion. His joy is to strengthen Christianity through his art works, which appear in many churches throughout the world.
One of his best known works is the stately 'Holy Door' in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, the largest church in the world dedicated to Our Lady. This bronze door contains a relief which portrays The Risen Lord Appearing to His Mother, showing a life-size figure of Jesus with the signs of the Passion, and was much appreciated by Pope John Paul II.
The man of the Shroud
Knowing that artists often have wild imaginations, the question of what Jesus really looked like became ever more pressing for Mattei, until one day he conceived the idea of calling science to his aid. Taking for granted that the Holy Shroud of Turin was the actual cloth in which Jesus' body was enveloped, and that it thus bore the marks of the inexplicable event of the Resurrection, Professor Mattei came upon the idea of creating a statue (a three-dimensional image) from all the data registered on that ancient and remarkable 'negative photograph', and which has been extensively examined by scientists using the most advanced techniques.
This unique attempt could only yield success if carried out with absolute rigour. So professor Mattei first got in touch with a number of eminent scientists who examined the Shroud. Among these are the late professor Lamberto Coppini, who taught Anatomy at the University of Bologna, and was director emeritus of the Institute for Human Anatomy at that university. He also contacted professor Fiorenzo Facchini, who teaches Anthropology in the same university, and a number of other scientists and experts on the Shroud.
From these people Mattei collected as much data as possible on the man who had been enveloped in that Shroud. All this information was then fed to a computer which generated a three dimensional image of that man. From this image Mattei carved out a statue called, The Body of the Man in the Shroud. The statue was completed in time for the Great Jubilee in 2000. It aroused great, worldwide interest, and was exposed in various places throughout the globe; it appeared in magazines, newspapers, scientific periodicals and documentaries, and was appreciated even by Pope John Paul II. It can now be admired in the Museum of the Shroud in Turin.
The Crucified Christ
The statute reveals what Jesus really looked like. It shows a sturdily built man of medium height, with broad shoulders, powerful chest, and muscular abdomen and thighs, protruding calves and rather large feet, suitable for one who had to walk much. The overall impression is of a very handsome man with solemn bearing.
Professor Mattei was still not completely satisfied, however, because that statue was only like a death-mask of Jesus. What did Jesus look like during His Passion on the Cross? How exactly was He crucified? Can this information also be inferred from the Shroud?
Mattei then set about creating another statute that would represent The Crucified Christ According to the Shroud. This second work remains closely connected to the first; it is almost a continuation of the former, and entailed 'taking' that dead body and 'nailing' it to a cross. Artistically and scientifically, this was a daunting task because that body on the cross has to convey the feeling of what it's like to die while undergoing atrocious suffering. Science once again came to his aid, and professor Mattei was able to produce another awe-inspiring image.
This unique statue, measuring 207x170x50 cm, can be admired at the Loggione Monumentale at the shrine of San Giovanni in Monte, in Bologna, Italy. For the first time in history it is possible to contemplate and admire a scientifically reconstructed image of what Christ, or better the man of the Shroud, was really like during the last moments of his agony.
What is most striking about the statue is the face. Despite the contortions on that suffering face a supernatural dignity emanates from it. That face offers the rare spectacle of suffering divorced from any anger, desperation or anxiety - a face which radiates compassion, peace and moral power.
Traces on the Shroud
The man on the cross is placed in an asymmetrical position: the left arm is straight, but the right arm is bent 90 degrees.
That is indeed one of the positions Christ was in during the Passion, says the sculptor. Whenever He breathed out, He had to stretch His arms out, but whenever he tried to breathe in, He automatically had to assume the other position, the asymmetrical one. This is what the Shroud clearly reveals. In order to breathe in, Jesus had to lift His chest, but this movement entailed atrocious pains because He could only do this by pressing on his feet, but these were both nailed to the cross, and the slightest pressure on them would cause incredible pain. His only alternative was therefore to use his arms, but these were also pierced by nails, so any effort exerted on them was likewise a source of dreadful pain. All this means that for every gasp of fresh air, Jesus experienced the most piercing pain, so He probably groaned every time He needed to fill His lungs with air.
Physical laws reveal that when the left foot is placed above the right one, the right arm is able to exert greater force than the left arm. So Jesus had to bend His right arm to lift His chest whenever He wanted to breathe. We know that Jesus eventually died from suffocation, from the inability to breathe.
There are two traces on the Shroud that prove this beyond any shadow of doubt. First, the blood trickling down along the right arm only reached his elbow, whereas in the left arm the blood flowed right down to his chest. Secondly, the blood flowed from the right side of His mouth. This is because Jesus, in the effort to breathe, had to bend his head to the right. And this is the position I chose for my statue of the Passion, because that position conveys most effectively the enormous suffering experienced by Our Saviour while atoning for our sins.
© 2014 - Il Messaggero di S.Antonio Editrice