The Most Famous Photo Ever Taken

Turin , Italy – 1898. Excitement was in the air as Secondo Pia set up his photographic equipment to take what was to become one of the most famous photographs in history. Big preparations were underway for the 400th anniversary celebration of Turin Cathedral. Pia, an amateur photographer and lawyer, was given permission by King Umberto I to photograph the mysterious Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

On the evening of May 28th, Pia entered the darkened cathedral, accompanied by two friends.  His first job was to set up two electric lamps, using a portable generator. In those days, few buildings had electricity and the cathedral was no exception. The ingenious Secondo became the first photographer to use electric light bulbs in a photo shoot. All preparations were complete. It was time. Pia squinted into the viewfinder. All he could see was the faint image of a face, almost impossible to discern with the naked eye. After fussing with exposures, he aimed and clicked the button. Eager to see his results, all three men rushed to the darkroom. Carefully, Pia prepared the photographic plates and immersed them in a chemical bath. A face appeared to them, clear as a bell. It was the face of a bearded man with long hair. It was the face of a tortured man who had been beaten and crowned with thorns.  In this shocking moment, Pia nearly dropped the plate. Secondo had photographed a negative image, thus producing a positive image on his negative film. On June 2, 1898, the exhibition ended and the shroud was returned to a casket.

Over the next few years, the photograph became subject to much debate. Some thought Secondo Pia had tampered with the plates. Others believed the photograph to be of supernatural origins. For three decades, Secondo’s photograph remained an enigma. In 1931, Giuseppe Enrie, photographed the shroud, producing the same results.

Scientific study of the shroud ramped up in 1978. In that year, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was granted permission to study the shroud. Thirty-three scientists from twenty major research institutions studied the shroud, round the clock, for five days. Results were released in 1981. “The shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.  The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. No physical, chemical, or medical circumstance could adequately account for the image.”  STURP scientists stated that the shroud “remains now, as it has in the past, a mystery.”

Skeptics believe that the shroud is a painting rendered by an artist in the15thcentury. That would take a leap in faith. After all, the shroud is a negative image. Photography was not invented until 1839. No paint or pigments have been found on the cloth. No brush strokes are visible. Modern science has not been able to duplicate the image, even with laser technology. In 1988, carbon 14 tests determined the cloth to be from medieval times. Since then, flaws in protocol were uncovered. In 2005, a National Geographicarticle concluded,  “The findings greatly increase the possibility that the shroud may be as old as Christianity itself.”

Author Susan Tassone viewed the Shroud of Turin in a 1998 exposition. She wrote, “I was awestruck. I could not say a word. It was overwhelming to see it up front face-to-face. The shroud made me realize the brutal sufferings of Jesus-Jesus was beyond brutally beaten. It made me realized the suffering-beyond belief-that he went through for our sake. You felt it was just for you he did that.”

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