Pia Secondo (1855–1941)
AGH University of Science and Technology, Kraków, Poland
Was an Italian lawyer and amateur photographer. He was born in Asti, Piedmont. Although he was a lawyer by training, he was also involved in art and science and, from the 1870s onwards, particularly in new techniques in photography. He was well known in Turin and was considered a talented photographer. From the 1890s he served as a city councillor and was a member of the Turin Amateur Photographers’ Club. It was then that he began taking photographs using an innovative method for the time, by the light of electric bulbs (Secondo Pia 2022; Van Haelst 1997). Part of his photographic output is now in the collection of the Turin Cinema Museum (Secondo Pia 2022).
Secondo Pia is best known for taking the first photographs of the Shroud of Turin in 1898. In that year, the then owner of the relic, King Humbert I of Italy, gave permission for it to be publicly displayed in connection with the 400th anniversary of the construction of Turin Cathedral and the 50th anniversary of the Statuto Albertino. It was held from 25 May to 2 June as part of an exhibition on sacred art organised in the cathedral. At the time, the idea of photographing the Shroud emerged, which was also intended to help spread awareness of the exhibition. After obtaining the king’s permission, the organisers chose S. Pia (Secondo Pia 2022; Van Haelst 1997).
The first photographs of the Shroud were taken on the night of 25 May, after the closing of the first day of the exhibition, using the modern method of photography mentioned above. Preparing a stand equipped with two electric lamps proved to be an uneasy task, as there was still no electricity in the cathedral, so S. Pia had to procure a power generator. He took two photographs on 21 × 27 cm glass plates, but both plates were severely underexposed and practically useless. He repeated the session on the evening of 28 May, taking four photographs on 50 × 60 cm glass plates, this time using different exposure times: 8, 10, 12 and 14 minutes. When he developed the plates, he noticed that the photographic negatives showed a clear positive image of a man. This shocking moment was described by Pia as follows in a letter to Professor Arthur Loth dated 29 June 1907:
Alone locked in my darkroom, lost in my work, I experienced a strong sensation when I saw the Holy Face for the first time during the development of my plates. I was amazed and happy at the same time, because at that moment I became confident that my work would be successful…Memory 2022
Soon the information about the photograph of the Shroud taken by S. Pia was reported in the Italian press—on 13 June in the newspaper “Il Cittadino,” and on 14 and 15 June in “Corriere Nazionale” and “L’Osservatore Romano.” It provoked heated debates over the next few years, during which extreme positions emerged: some claimed supernatural origins for the image, others found fault with the way the photographs had been taken and accused the photographer of tampering with the photographs. It was not until 1931 that S. Pia’s discovery was confirmed when professional photographer →Giuseppe Enrie photographed the Shroud and obtained similar results.
In addition to the repercussions in the scientific world, S. Pia’s discovery also had its religious aspect. From the 1930s onwards. Blessed Maria Pierina de Micheli, a Milanese nun, began to spread the veneration of the Face of Jesus, as she had been instructed to do during private revelations. In 1939, she used a negative photograph of S. Pia to mint a medallion of the Holy Face and spread devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, which was approved by Pius XII, who in 1958 established the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (Van Haelst 1997).
S. Pia’s momentous discovery led the scientific world to take an interest in the Shroud of Turin, which was the first step towards the creation of sindonology, a scientific field that studies the Shroud and similar phenomena.
Maria Pierina, Wikipedia, [on-line:] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Pierina – 6 IV 2022.
Memory, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/colleg10.htm#memory – 7 VIII 2022.
Secondo Pia, Wikipedia, [on-line:] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondo_Pia – 6 IV 2022.
Van Haelst R., The First Shroud Photo, Belgium 1997, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/vanhels4.htm – 6 IV 2022.
Sources of Images
1. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Secondo-Pia.jpg (public domain)
2. Centro Internazionale di Studi sulla Sindone, https://sindone.it/museo/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Secondo-Pia-840×424.jpg (educational use)