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Polish Syndonology

Krzysztof Pilarczyk
Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland

Polish syndonology is that part of scientific research, started in Poland and among the Polish community at the beginning of the 20th century, which deals with the Shroud of Turin and the popularisation of knowledge about it. Until 1939 these were few, uncoordinated undertakings of an informative, educational and pastoral nature. The origins are not easy to establish. The first Polish popular publications about the Shroud of Turin were printed in the “Kurier Poznański” (1931), and a year later the first brochure by →Kazimierz Prószyński, with the title Niesłychane odkrycie naukowe. Prawdziwa fotografja Pana Jezusa i śladów całej jego męki na Całunie [English: An Amazing Scientific Discovery… A True Photograph of the Lord Jesus and the Traces of his Entire Passion on the Shroud] (Warsaw: Drukarnia W. Wyszyńskiego; first printed in “Gazeta Świąteczna”; translated into English The Authentic “Photograph” of Christ, London 1933). WIn 1937, →Stanislaw Karwowski translated the first edition of a book by Rudolf W. Hynek, a member of the Czechoslovakian commission examining the Shroud, entitled Umučení Páně vědou odhalené [English: The Holy Shroud of Turin: The Passion of Christ in the Light of Science] (Praha 1936), which provided more information about the Shroud and the research conducted on it. Demand for the book led to a second, expanded edition in 1938 (which drew on the third Czech edition: Kristova tvář a muka, Praha 1937 and the second German edition: Golgotha – Wissenschaft und Mystik, Karlsruhe 1936). S. Karwowski wanted to familiarise the Polish readership with the unknown Shroud of Turin, which he also did through numerous lectures. The book was the Polish doctor’s commentary on Italian, French and Czechoslovak sindonological research. This passionate interest in the Shroud was taken over from him by →Stanisław Waliszewski, an anatomist and surgeon from Poznań and Rogoźno Wielkopolskie, who devoted his whole life to studying the mystery of the Shroud and became the first world-famous Polish sindonologist. The last pre-war pamphlet on this extraordinary cloth, written by →Wanda Ładzina, entitled Ziemska postać umęczonego Chrystusa według Całunu Turyńskiego [English: The Earthly Form of the Mortified Christ] published in March 1939 supplemented the works of R.W. Hynek and →S. Karwowski with the results of the research of Paul Vignon and Pierre Barbet (Les cinq plaies du Christ, Paris 1935). The author tried to popularise in Poland and among the Polish community the Shroud of Turin as a witness to the faith—as the fifth gospel—and a relic as important as Christ’s cross. This was also the aim of numerous lectures delivered by Wanda Ładzina in Poland and abroad.

After the end of the II World War in 1945, interest in issues related to the Shroud of Turin resumed fairly quickly in Poland. These publications include sindonological journalism, popular scientific works (including printed volumes), rare scientific articles and translations—mainly from Italian—of (popular) scientific literature. In the first phase of this period (until 2017), five Polish sindonologists stood out: S. Waliszewski, who bridged pre-war and post-war Polish sindonology, →Władysław Fenrych, who, like S. Waliszewski, was associated with the Poznan scientific community, →Jerzy Chmiel, →Jerzy Dołęga-Chodasiewicz and →Zenon Ziółkowski. A not insignificant influence on Polish sindonology was exerted by Pope John Paul II, on whose initiative the Syndonological Studium (Studium Sindonologicum Cracoviae) was established in Kraków in 1981 at the Polish Theological Society, headed from the beginning by J. Chmiel. Not only medical doctors, biochemists and physicists, but also biblical scholars joined the work of Polish sindonology: Witold Gronkowski, Kazimierz Borowicz, Eugeniusz Dąbrowski, Waldemar Chrostowski, Ludwik Stefaniak and Michał Wojciechowski, a lay person. Only two researchers—J. Chmiel and Z. Ziółkowski—dealt with the Shroud on a permanent rather than a temporary basis. All of them left behind publications (of various sizes), popularised the knowledge of the Shroud, participated in national and international syndonological conferences and influenced the organisation and directions of this scientific discipline in Poland; their activities made Polish syndonological thought recognisable on the international arena. S. Waliszewski, who was appointed as a corresponding member of the International Centre for Shroud Research in Turin, made a special contribution in this respect. He left behind numerous publications, including the most important and repeatedly reprinted one: Całun Turyński dzisiaj [The Shroud of Turin Today] (1987, 1988, 1994), which was the first Polish post-war book on the Shroud of Turin, responding to the latest research challenges. Although Ian Wilson’s translation of the Shroud of Turin (by Jadwiga Piątkowska and later by Andrzej Polkowski) was published in 1978, the following years brought new discoveries by, among others, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (→STURP), as described in the aforementioned work by S. Waliszewski. He was convinced that the Shroud was the most sacred and venerable Christian relic, illustrating Jesus’ love for man, and for him personally it was a kind of a ‘protective shield’ which ensured his longevity (he died at the age of almost a hundred). It was his desire that in Krakow, the beloved city of the Holy Father John Paul II, an extensive scientific and information centre should be established as a syndonological centre in Poland.

S. Waliszewski’s colleague since the 1970s was W. Fenrych of the Medical Academy in Poznań. In the field of sindonology, they were institutionally linked by the Cracow Syndonological Study. Wladyslaw Fenrych distinguished himself as an expert on the Shroud, especially in the field of haematological studies. Invited by S. Waliszewski to collaborate on the book Całun Turyński dzisiaj [The Shroud of Turin Today], he wrote the chapter on blood traces on the Shroud and a polemic defending the authenticity of the Shroud for the book’s third (expanded) edition in 1993—a polemic in defence of the authenticity of the Shroud, demonstrating that the 1988 research carried out in Tucson, Oxford and Zurich was incompatible with scientific methodology and that the verdict given by the researchers was therefore imprecise. W. Fenrych published extensively and participated in national symposiums (e.g. in 1991 in Łódź, organised by Bishop Adam Lepa) and international symposiums (in 1993 in Rome, in 1998 in Turin and in 2000 in Orvieto). He maintained scientific contacts with American sindonologists from the STURP association. In 2000, he organised a meeting at the Poznan Scientific Society with Emanuela Marinelli, a well-known Italian sindonologist, whose book La Sindone – Un’immagine Impossibile [English: The Shroud: An “impossible” image?] (1999) was published in Polish translation.

The establishment of the aforementioned Syndonological Studium in Krakow on 9 October 1981, headed by J. Chmiel from the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Krakow (now the Pontifical University of John Paul II), was a support for Polish sindonology. The wish of Pope John Paul II, expressed through Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, Metropolitan of Krakow, was thus fulfilled. The aim of the study, as stated in its regulations, was to coordinate the scientific research of Polish sindonologists, to coordinate information and popularisation activities concerning the Shroud among the society and to maintain contacts with similar institutions in Poland and abroad. S. Waliszewski, W. Fenrych and J. Dołęga-Chodasiewicz cooperated with it. The study organised numerous scientific and popular science conferences in churches and church buildings in various places in Poland. The period of martial law was not conducive to carrying out the activities described in the regulations. However, as early as 1984 J. Chmiel organised a sindonological session at the Higher Seminary of the Archdiocese of Krakow, where he gave a lecture entitled Theology of the Shroud of Turin – an Outline. A similar session was held a year later. This time the theme of his talk was The Testimony of the Fourth Gospel – New Exegetical Proposals. On his initiative, members of the Study participated in a number of conferences abroad in the following years and spoke on the controversial results of the 1988 study on the Shroud, showing that it was older than had been inferred from the said study. Over time, the Studium, thanks to the kindness of Dr E. Marinelli, has maintained regular contact with the Roman Collegamento pro Sindone and has compiled documentation from two international sindonological congresses (Turin—1998 and Orvieto—2000).

J. Dołęga-Chodasiewicz was J. Chmiel’s direct collaborator. He wrote articles in the local press, gave numerous lectures on the Shroud, among others to novices at the Monastery of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate at the Holy Cross and at other church institutions, and collaborated with the Sindonological Studium in Krakow. He also participated in 1993, together with W. Fenrych, in the International Scientific Symposium on the Shroud in Rome, reporting on it in Krakow among Polish syndonologists.

The most extensive writing contribution to Polish sindonology was made by Z. Ziółkowski. This was made possible by his prolonged presence in Turin and his contact with the Shroud on display, as well as his participation in the visits of Pope John Paul II to that city. His first publications appeared in the mid-1970s. He also documented Polish syndoniana (their 1983 compilation can be found in the Polish translation of I. Wilson). His most important works include: Spór o Całun Turyński. Relikwia Męki Pańskiej w świetle najnowszych badań naukowych [English: The Dispute over the Turin Shroud: The Relic of the Passion of Christ in the Light of the Latest Scientific Research] (1994; 2nd edition: 1996) and Całun Turyński. Milczący świadek męki, śmierci i zmartwychwstania [English: The Shroud of Turin: Silent Witness of the Passion, Death and Resurrection] (2011). In these, he presented the latest findings on the Turin cloth, with himself advocating its authenticity and ancient origin. He identified the Shroud of Turin with the Shroud of Jesus, in which his body was placed in the tomb.

Summing up the achievements of Polish syndonology in the 20th century, one should appreciate the fact that its representatives took up the subject of the Shroud of Turin already in the first decades after the cloth was photographed in the 1930s. At this stage, the young scientific discipline had only a few patrons who familiarised the Polish public with the results of Italian and French research, making use of Czechoslovak journalism. Thanks to them, pre-war Poland did not become a “desert” in the field of sindonology. After World War II, interest in the Shroud returned quite quickly with attendant scientific and popular literature. There was also a considerable group of Polish syndonologists who did not leave behind any written work but were interested in research on the Shroud. Among them, some (the majority) saw the Shroud as a relic, while others considered it to be a medieval product which—at most—was to support the development of piety centred around Christ’s passion in the following centuries. The development of Polish sindonology was also influenced by the political situation in Poland between 1944 and 1989, when civil liberties, including religious liberties, were significantly restricted. Knowledge of the Shroud was disseminated by a small number of well-prepared speakers who were under surveillance by the Security Service. This did not prevent Polish researchers from establishing contact with world syndonological centres and introducing Polish achievements, especially in the area of medical and chemical research, into the world scientific discourse.

Unfortunately, national literature on sindonology from the second half of the 20th century is mainly supplementary, informative, popularising and devotional, and only occasionally scientific. Polish scientists have never been allowed to participate in direct research, which was reserved for a small group of scientists who were allowed by the Church authorities to conduct empirical work on samples taken from the Shroud. The last years of the twentieth and the first decades of the 21st century brought many novelties in the field of Polish sindonology. Quite a number (c. 60 printed volumes) of translations of foreign syndonological literature (see bibliography) of various genres (popular science, devotional, so called investigative, fiction, reporting, less often scientific and popular) appeared, most often Italian. The small first group of post-war Polish syndonologists has been replaced by a new one, which includes renowned professors: Jan S. Jaworski, Władysław Sinkiewicz, Wojciech Kucewicz, Wojciech Szaraniec, Idzi Panic, Zbigniew Treppa, Fr Andrzej Napiórkowski, Fr Roman Bogacz, Krzysztof Pilarczyk and Dr Wojciech Zając. To these should be added the popularisers of knowledge about the Shroud, such as Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń, Andrzej Datko, Krzysztof Tarnowski and Alfred Palla. They all form the second stage in the history of Polish sindonology. One of the first initiatives of this community was the organisation of an international interdisciplinary conference “Toruń Acheiropoietos Conference 2011” (its co-organisers included J.S. Jaworski and Z. Treppa; conference materials were not published) at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Polish sindonology received support in the form of an exhibition in the John Paul II Centre in Krakow entitled “Who is the Man from the Shroud?”, organised in 2012 by the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in cooperation with the “Othonia” Foundation. This exhibition presents the history of the Shroud of Turin, the results of the scientific research carried out on it and the correspondence between the features of the Shroud and the Gospel messages. This exhibition is visited by groups of pilgrims and tourists coming to the John Paul II Centre. The second element supporting Polish researchers of the Shroud became the Day of the Shroud, organised for the first time in Poland on 1 October 2017 (with the participation of representatives of the International Syndonological Centre in Turin with its director Gian Maria Zaccone); it has been a cyclical event ever since.

The third element was the establishment on 21 X 2017. →Polish Syndonological Centre as an outpost of the International Syndonological Centre in Turin and the appointment of Fr Mariusz Kielbasa LC as its director, which was done by the Bishop Ordinary of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, with the approval of Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, Metropolitan of Krakow. The activities of the PCS are documented on its website. The aim of the centre is to carry out scientific research on the Shroud in coordination with other foreign centres, especially the International Syndonological Centre in Turin, its popularisation and religious education based on the Shroud of Turin. The creation of the Centre and the participation in it of the majority of sindonologists from the second Polish post-war generation will lead to the intensification of its activity and to the planned and systematic development of sindonology in Poland. One of the most important manifestations of its activity was the acceptance of the patronage of the Inter-University Interdisciplinary Syndonological Seminar conducted for four semesters (2017–2020) on the initiative of the Jagiellonian University, the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow and the University of Gdansk. The result of this seminar is J.S. Jaworski’s book Prawdziwe oblicze Boga. Tajemnice Całunu Turyńskiego w świetle najnowszych badań naukowych [English: The True Face of God. The Secrets of the Shroud of Turin in the Light of the Latest Scientific Research] (2020), one of the few Polish scientific works on syndonology.

Also see →Polish Syndonological Bibliography; →History of the Research on the Shroud of Turin; →Photographs of the Shroud of Turin

Source of Image

Collection and ownership of the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow

Krzysztof Pilarczyk

Staff member at the Institute of Religious Studies of the Jagiellonian University, head of the Center of the History of Christian-Jewish Relations, associate at the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow. His interests focus on the history of Judaism, biblical and apocryphal literature, the origins of Christianity, interreligious dialogue, sindonology, Jewish book culture and religious tourism (Middle East). He publishes his scholarly activity on his website. Author of more than 300 scientific publications.

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