Wuenschel Shroud of Turin Collection: Redemptorist Archives, Philadelphia

Detail of a prayer card with an image of the Shroud of Turin from Esopus, New York.

Our #HiddenCatholicCollection this week highlights a collection held in the Redemptorist Archives in Philadelphia about a devotional object which has managed to captivate pilgrims and skeptics alike: the Shroud of Turin. 

Devotional objects are not always public or grandiose, but this cannot be said of the Shroud of Turin. Assumed by believers to be the burial cloth of Jesus, it has been the subject of considerable study. In the Redemptorist Archives in Philadelphia lies an important collection on the Holy Shroud, which is comprised of books and manuscripts, microfiche and art work relating the Shroud’s long and checkered history. 

Begun by Father Edward Wuenschel, C.Ss.R., who was taken to Turin by a classmate in Rome, he became a fervent devotee of Shroud studies and began collecting everything he could find on the subject. His expertise grew and so did his collection. Eventually younger confreres enlarged it and placed it alongside an office of the Holy Shroud Guild at the former Redemptorist Seminary of Mt. St. Alphonsus in Esopus, New York. When the seminary closed, the Shroud collection was transferred to the care of the archives in Philadelphia. 

After a century of acquisition, the Holy Shroud collection is still increasing, most recently with the accession of a new book by Andrew R. Caspar, An Artful Relic: The Shroud of Turin in Baroque Italy (Penn State University Press, 2021), which made use of the Wuenschel library.


Contact

Patrick Hayes, Ph.D.
Redemptorist Archives of the Baltimore Province

c/o St. Peter the Apostle Rectory
1019 North Fifth Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

215-922-2871
phayes@redemptorists.net
redemptorists.net/redemptorists/archives/


Photos

Anonymous, Officium Sacratissimae Sindonis Taurinensis – sumptibus Francisci Bernardini De-Nigris (Turin: Augustae, 1728). This Latin treatise is an attempt at conveying the “official” or most authentic interpretation of the Shroud of Turin and the accompanying memorials keyed to Church feasts. Having been examined by the Holy See, and given an indult by Pope Benedict XIII, the Holy Shroud quickly became an object of prestige for the newly appointed Archbishop of Turin, Francesco Giuseppe Arborio di Gattinara (1727-1743). The woodcut on the title page suggests that the Virgin Mary herself encounters her Son through the Shroud.
The imaginative design of the Shroud is made tactile in this fold out rendering from the Theatine writer Vittorio Amedeo Barralis’ book, Anotomia sacra per la novena della Santa Sindone (Turin: Heredi Gianelli, 1685).. Surrounded by a wreath of meditative cues, strung together after each decade with the Ave Maria, one can ponder discretely the blood of Christ or his pressed flesh or death on the cross–all in the palm of one’s hand.
What the rendering in Barralis’s Anotomia sacra per la novena della Santa Sindone (1685) looks like when folded up.

 

A sampling from the Wuenschel library card catalog. This is the only way to access the collection. It is not available in an online catalog yet.
The Redemptorist Archive possesses a copy of the first edition of the first book on the Shroud by Archbishop Alfonso Paleotto of Bologna, Esplicatione del Sacro Lenzuolo ove fu involto il Signore (Bologna: Rossi, 1598). Published only a year after he took possession of the See of Bologna, this “explanation” is really a devotional that describes how the Church’s saints have viewed the Shroud–with an admixture of Catholic reformation admonitions. In 1578 Paleotto accompanied the church reformer and Cardinal of Milan, Charles Borromeo, on a pilgrimage to see the Shroud. The experience never left him. The title page shows putti carrying instruments of the Passion.
The next image in Paleotto’s Esplicatione del Sacro Lenzuolo ove fu involto il Signore (1598) depicts Paleotto as a saintly bishop enjoying a vision of the Shroud, but with the reminder that “your clothes are red”–an indication that a bishops’ garb is the same color as Christ’s bloody sheet.
The Shroud engendered such devotion that confraternities sprang up so that groups of people–men and women–could marvel at it together, organize pilgrimages to it, and guard its graces. One such confraternity organized itself in 1598 and its history was published in 1825.
Cover of the 1825 history of the confraternity of the shroud.
Making the devotion more diffuse required continuous replication. American Catholics in the twentieth century were treated to devotional materials sent out by the Holy Shroud Guild. These included holy cards that could be found at church entrances around the country. When photographic advances and later accelerator mass spectrometry carbon-14 dating were applied to the Shroud’s image, they became the cause for a more scientific approach to its study, which the Holy Shroud Guild applied to its promotional materials–blending science and prayer on the same holy card.
Image of the initial creator of the Shroud of Turin Collection, Father Edward Wuenschel, C.Ss.R. (1898-1964).