According to Barrie Schwortz, founder of the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association, the Shroud of Turin is the "single most studied artifact in human history."
The Shroud of Turin is a centuries-old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man - a man that Schwortz and millions of others believe is Jesus of Nazareth.
Schwortz was one of the original 27 team members picked to perform scientific testing on the Shroud to determine its authenticity in the late '70s. Since then, he has dedicated uncountable hours to preserving the legacy and promoting the authenticity of the Shroud through his website and his nonprofit group, STERA Inc.
He will give a lecture on the scientific findings and present a presentation with more than 100 photos from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 4 at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The event is sponsored by the Legatus Chapter of The Coastal Empire and is free and open to the public.
While Schwortz now says he believes the Shroud to be "the real thing," he said it took him many years before he felt compelled to share his research and protect the image of the Shroud.
"I'm a professional commercial photographer ... and I specialized in medical and scientific photography," Schwortz said. He worked as a photographic consultant in Los Alamos in the 1970s, so scientists were familiar with his work and he was asked if he would like to be a part of The Shroud of Turin Research Project.
"I was apprehensive since it was more of Christian artifact ... and I'm Jewish," Schwortz said. "So, I said no."
But one of his colleagues, Don, another Jewish member of the team, persuaded Schwortz to join the team.
"I tried to quit once or twice after that, but the image fascinated me," he said. "There were certain properties the image had ... so I knew it was not a photograph," he said.
But Schwortz said it would be another 17 years before he felt compelled to share what he knew.
"In 1995 ... a friend of mine called me and said he knew the Shroud was a photo made by Leonardo da Vinci," he said. The man was referring to a story he saw in the National Enquirer tabloid.
"I laughed, because the Shroud was displayed several hundred years before da Vinci was alive. ... That's when I knew I had to do something."
He secured the domain shroud.com with the idea to create a website.
"That's when I started coming back into the world of the Shroud," he said.
"I had an epiphany. I was privileged to have inside information, and the public was getting the wrong information. I wanted to put the materials where people could see for themselves and make their own conclusions," Schwortz said.
He said 1995 was also the year his former research partner gave him the last bit of information that solidified his belief in the validity of the Shroud.
"The blood on the Shroud of Turin is still reddish in color," he said. "When we first saw it, we both understood that blood is supposed to turn black over time. That was a deal breaker, that no one could explain that.
"Then in '95, I got a phone call from Al Adler (also on the research team), 17 years after looking at the Shroud, and he said, 'Remember that in my blood chemistry report it showed bilirubin?'"
Schwortz explained that bilirubin is a product of the liver, and when a man is tortured or beaten, like the man on the Shroud, a high content of bilirubin is released into the body.
"It breaks down the blood cells and the blood will stay red forever," he said.
"We also know that the Gospel tells us what happened to Jesus. ... We look at the Shroud and see the forensics ... and we have this scientific information," he said.
Schwortz said the evidence, which he will present to the audience at his presentation Nov. 4, is just too perfect. He quoted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character Sherlock Holmes, "If you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
"For me to accept that some medieval man did this would be more unbelievable than to draw the conclusion I did."
And if more than 35 years of hands-on scientific examination of the Shroud didn't make Schwortz a believer, then his mother probably would have convinced him with her simple observation of the facts.
"I took my mother to one of my presentations and when we got home ... I asked her what she thought," he said. "And in typical Jewish mother form, she said, 'They wouldn't have kept it for 2,000 years if it was someone else's.'"