The following article is reprinted by permission from
WestLife Newspaper, July 31, 2002
Shrouded In Mystery
Olmstead Falls man gives some insight into famous Christian artifact.
Shroud of Turin an endless source of curiosity for Onysko
By Josh Cable, WestLife Newspaper
David Onysko's life was forever changed 20 years ago when he first saw a picture of the Shroud of Turin.
"I was immediately captivated and intrigued by what it possibly represented," Onysko said.
After digging deeper into the mystery of the shroud, Onysko, 46, became an expert on the ancient burial cloth, which is the most scrutinized artifact in the world. Today, Onysko will go "anywhere, anytime, anyplace" to tell its story, no matter how far it takes him from his Olmsted Falls home.
Still, although he finds the evidence compelling, Onysko allows audience members to arrive at their own conclusions.
"I refer to him as 'The Man in the Shroud' so I'm not accused of being biased," Onysko said. "I liken the audience to a judge or jury. I say, 'I'm going to give you information, data, facts - you weigh the evidence.'"
Many believe that the shroud once wrapped the crucified body of Jesus Christ.
The shroud, which is housed in St. John's Basilica in Turin, Italy, appears to contain a snapshot of a male human body that suffered a horrendous death by crucifixion. Those who believe that the image indeed is Jesus Christ say that the energy generated by the split-second flash of Christ's resurrection spurred a photographic process in the tomb, leaving behind a negative image of Christ on the cloth.
That's why the apostles Peter and John are said to have "saw and believed" when they ran into Christ's tomb after word spread that His body was missing, Onysko said.
"It's my own personal opinion that they saw an image on the cloth," Onysko said. "Maybe the image was even smoldering a bit or smoking."
Onysko, by day a teacher at Christian Community School in North Ridgeville, lectures and attends Shroud of Turin conferences in his spare time. He's attended five so far - taking him as far away as Rome.
"I go to learn the latest research, the most up-to-date information -- not the misinformation and disinformation that the media give to the average person," Onysko said. "… (The media) have a tendency to report the negative aspects of the shroud rather than some of the authentic highlights that it bears."
To bring those authenticities to light, Onysko tries to show how the results of scientific inquiry corroborate the historical account of Christ.
At least 80 scientific and medical disciplines - from botany to archeology to palynology (the study of pollens) - have been called on to analyze the Shroud of Turin, Onysko said.
Many of those disciplines were used in 1978, when a team of 40 American scientists was given carte blanche to test the authenticity of the shroud for five 24-hour days. Scientists conducted a battery of non-destructive tests using some of the most highly sophisticated equipment available to man.
"The Shroud of Turin is an authentic burial garment that once wrapped a real, human, male corpse who suffered crucifixion, Roman-style," Onysko said. "He was scourged Roman-style, which, by the way, was outlawed by (the Byzantine emperor) Constantine in the fourth century. So this man was crucified prior to the fourth century, because it was outlawed.
"… And the stigmata -- the anatomical wounds -- are 100 percent consistent with the gospel accounts regarding the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The passion, suffering, crucifixion, death and burial are all consistent with the gospel accounts."
Marks of authenticity
Onysko, who in his lectures uses two life-size reprints of photographs of the front and back of the shroud, points to the puncture wounds on the man's head as one mark of authenticity. That's because many scientists and researchers have concluded that the man in the shroud wore a crown of thorns, Onysko said.
"What other man in history wore a crown of thorns? It was unique to Christ."
Another possible link between science and scripture is the deduction that the man in the shroud took nails through the wrists and feet, Onysko said.
"(The nail through the wrists) goes through two bones - the radius and the ulna," Onysko said. "What it does do is it severs the median nerve, which controls the flexion, the extension, of the thumb. That's why you don't see any thumbs (because they folded into the palms). This man probably had his median nerve severed, and medical doctors have testified that the pain of that alone is enough to make you pass out. Yet this man had nerve damage beyond description."
The man also appeared to have suffered a spear wound between his fifth and sixth ribs, Onysko said. This is significant because it connects the man in the shroud with the time period that Christ was purported to have lived in.
"They've actually uncovered Roman lances from Herculaneum (an ancient Roman city destroyed by volcanic eruption in 79 A.D.), and the width of the Roman lances match this width (of the slice) precisely," Onysko said.
Among other physical evidence, the blood and the directions that it flowed also link the findings of science with the historical account of Christ, Onysko said.
For example, the blood on the forearms flows in two directions. The directions of the flowing blood indicate slumping from the weight of the cross, which Christ carried on his back, according to Biblical accounts.
"The gravitational flow of the blood on the forearms is consistent with the slumping and the raising in order to breathe," Onysko said. "What medieval forger could identify that? He couldn't do it."
There's a white spot around the small of the man's back, right above the buttock. Onysko said that the white spot might indicate blood and water that was discharged after the man was speared.
"The Bible says that when they speared (Christ), John said immediately there came out blood and water," Onysko said. "And that's blood and water that (researchers) have identified on the small of the back, which can only come from the spear wound on the side."
But why the emission of water?
"There's a plural effusion that takes place in the lungs because of the straining, the struggling to breath," Onysko said. "Water gathers."
Brutality and poignancy
Onysko first saw the actual shroud in April 1998, during one of only five public showings since 1898. He was able to gain access to a 45-minute private showing with the worldwide press corps.
The blood, the body and the wounds were all clearly visible, he said.
"It was a very sobering, poignant, awe-inspiring experience," Onysko said. "Because there's beauty in it, and then there's tremendous brutality. …And yet, in spite of the brutality of the crucified man on this cloth, there was this feeling of reverence and awe that you were standing in front of this thing that may have wrapped the son of God and may have been the snapshot of the resurrection."
The Roman flagrum (also called a cat of nine tails), an ancient torture device, epitomizes the brutality that the man in the shroud may have endured. The flagrum had a wooden handle with three or four leather strips attached to it. At the tips of the leather strips were barbell-shaped balls of lead (or sometimes sharpened goat bones or pieces of pottery) that would rip out chunks of flesh upon flogging.
Based on the white marks all over the man in the shroud's body, it is believed that he received between 100 and 200 lashes. There's evidence that suggests that two men scourged (whipped) the man in the shroud, Onysko said.
"(That's) because the angle of the strokes are different, suggesting one man was taller than the other," Onysko said. "So one would whip and then the other -- back and forth, back and forth, all the way up and down the body."
The only part of the body that wasn't scourged was the area over the man's heart, Onysko said.
Onysko has his own opinions of why this man was so brutally scourged, based on the Biblical account of Christ's crucifixion.
"Remember, Pontius Pilate three times wanted to release Christ," Onysko said. "He said, 'I find no fault in this man.' And then he (gave the order) to scourge him. I believe -- and I can't prove this -- that Pilate told the Roman soldiers to lay into this guy, to satisfy the blood-thirsty mob."
It was Jewish custom to lash no more than 40 times. But the Romans had no such law, which allowed Christ to be "skinned alive," Onysko said.
"And yet it was not enough to satisfy the blood thirsty mob," he said.
Another sign that the man in the shroud was a victim of the outright animal brutality attributed to Christ's crucifixion is what appears to be swelling and bruising around the nose and eyes. The man in the shroud has a broken nose, believed to have come from his being punched and clubbed in the face, Onysko said.
Coroners and other examiners say they've never seen a man so battered in all their years of autopsy, Onysko said. Still, surprisingly, there's no "death mask" on this man.
Could it be a major clue that this actually is an image of Jesus Christ?
"In Nazi Germany, on many of the holocaust victims who were tortured to death, you would see what was referred to as a death mask permanently etched on their faces," Onysko said. "You saw the suffering and the torture, the horrible agony that the victim suffered.
"But when you look at the man in the shroud's face, you don't see a death mask. You see what many have thought to be a man who was in the calm, peaceful repose of sleep, possibly someone who has a majestic expression - almost a regal, royal appearance to him. And of course, in (the book of) Isaiah, Jesus is referred to as the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace. And is it possible that even in the face of the passion, the suffering of Christ, that the prince of peace … could not overcome his true nature and essence, which is peace?"
Anthropology may provide clues
Clues shedding light on the man's possible ethnicity may provide more links to the historical account of Christ, Onysko said.
The man in the shroud appears to have long hair flowing down both sides of the head (gathered in the back in a ponytail), a full mustache and a full beard. The beard may have been longer that what it appears to be on the shroud, because researchers believe that the man in the shroud wore a chin band to keep the jaw from gaping open in death, Onysko said.
So why is this significant?
"In the book of Numbers in the Old Testament (of the Bible), a Nazarene man, in order to separate himself in a vow of holiness to the Lord, was not to cut any hair on his head or facial hair," Onysko said. "So the man on the shroud had facial hair, and the hair of his head is consistent with a first-century Nazarene male."
Christ, according to biblical accounts, spent much of his life in Nazareth.
The man in the shroud was anywhere from 5-feet-10 to 6 feet tall and weighed about 180 pounds, Onysko said. The man's height has been a point of contention for some skeptics, who say that Jews from Christ's time period typically were shorter than that.
But that's bunk, Onysko said.
"It's tall, but not uncommon," he said. "Because they've uncovered skeletons of crucifixion victims that are 5-9, 5-10."
Other physical traits that may connect the man in the shroud to Christ are the man's long nose (which was typical among Jews of the day) and his powerful build. It's not a stretch to suggest that the man's large pectoral muscles and broad back were those of a carpenter.
"He's a physical specimen," Onysko said. "Medical doctors can do an autopsy based on the photograph on the shroud. They say this guy was built like a bull."
He also appears to have been in his 30s. Christ was said to have died at the age of 33.
One tiny piece of evidence unearthed by researchers may offer a huge clue, Onysko said. The tip of the man's nose is missing, and it contains ground-in dirt that is indigenous to the limestone quarries of Jerusalem, he said. The same type of dirt also was found on the man's heels.
"There's a mineral called travertine aragonite, which only comes from one place on earth - the limestone quarries of Jerusalem," Onysko said.
The man in the shroud likely would have been forced to carry only the horizontal beam of a cross - known as the patibulum -- to his place of death. The vertical piece - called the stipes - would have been waiting for him, Onysko said.
"He could not have carried a 300-pound cross, balanced it, uphill, over stones, while being beaten and mocked by the soldiers," Onysko said.
He and other crucifixion victims would have been tied together by their ankles, which means that if one fell, they all "fell like dominoes." That would explain the missing skin on his knees and the missing tip of the man's nose, Onysko said.
"They believe the man in the shroud took some major falls," he said.
A flash with the power of an atom bomb
According to the Bible, Joseph of Aramathea bought the fine linen that may have become the Shroud of Turin.
"The Bible says that Joseph bought fine linen and they wrapped (Christ) in it," Onysko said. "It's interesting: the Shroud of Turin would have been considered an expensive piece of linen cloth - fine linen - in the first century."
After Joseph and Nicodemus (both members of the Sanhedrin) begged Pilate for the crucified body of Christ, they wrapped him in the cloth and placed him in the tomb. On resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and promptly reported to Peter and John that Christ's body had been stolen.
At that point, Peter and John ran to the tomb, and according to Biblical accounts, saw and believed, Onysko said.
"The question is: what did they see that made them believe?" Onysko said. "Because they didn't know the doctrine of resurrection."
Onysko believes that they saw an image of Christ.
But how did it get there?
"Chemists and physicists have determined (that the image) is a dehydration, an oxidation, of the linen fiber," he said. "Some kind of light-heat mechanism dehydrated and oxidized the very tips of the threads.
"The image does not go through to the back side. It only rests on the top two or three fibrils of the surface of the shroud. A thread is made of 100 fibrils woven together, and a fibril is about as thick as the hair on your arm. Take 100 of those fibrils, weave them together, and you have a thread.
"The image rests on the top two or three fibrils of the thread. That's because whatever created the image was so powerful and so fast - it happened in a millisecond of time - that it only scorched, if you will, or singed, the outermost surface of the fibers and it did not go all the way through to the back side of the cloth."
In other words, some kind of photographic process was triggered by a burst of light and energy, creating a negative image of a man on the cloth.
"They have determined that the energy needed to do that was enormous," Onysko said. "It couldn't be any more than a millisecond of time, because anything greater than that would have destroyed the tomb, the mountain, the surrounding city, like a bomb dropped on Hiroshima."
Looking at the shroud itself is much like looking at a negative of a developed picture. But, in 1898, scientists became "turned on" to the shroud when Secundo Pia, an Italian attorney, took a picture of the cloth.
Photographs of the shroud came out as "positive" images, revealing much more detail.
"When he took the first photograph and he took his large glass plate to the dark room, when that face emerged … his arms started shaking and he almost dropped the glass plate," Onysko said. "Because that face came out as a positive image on negative film. What that told him was that the image he photographed was a negative, because that face came out as a positive image on negative film."
Onysko's life-size shrouds are reprints of Pia's photograph.
The lineage of the shroud
The shroud has passed through several hands over the past 2,000 years.
In approximately 50 A.D., Jude Thaddeus, a disciple of Thomas (known in Biblical lore for his doubting episode), gave the cloth to King Abgar of Edessa, Turkey. It remained there until 944 A.D., when Turkey was overrun by Muslims and the Byzantine Army. So, from 944 to 1204 A.D., the relic resided in Constantinople, the center of the Byzantine world.
If you look at most history books, there's no mention of the shroud being a full-length burial cloth until 1204. In that year a member of the French Knights Templar - taking part in a crusade that aimed to seize Christian relics throughout Europe and bring them back to Jerusalem - reportedly entered a church called St. Mary's and a noted a full-length cloth hanging from the balcony.
"For the first time in history, there is a cloth mentioned with a full-length body on the cloth, bearing the stigmata of Christ, and it was hanging from the balcony of this church in Constantinople," Onysko said.
Historians believe that the Byzantines somehow unfastened the frame that contained the shroud - either intentionally or inadvertently -- sometime between 944 and 1204 A.D., Onysko said. At that point, they would have discovered that the shroud was a full-length burial cloth.
Until 1204, the history books note the existence of a shroud called the "Image of Edessa", referring to Edessa, Turkey. But, after 1204, the "Image of Edessa" disappears from the historical record and the existence of a full-length cloth appears, Onysko said.
"At the same the full-length cloth emerges, the other one vanishes," he said. "Which suggests that they may have been one and the same, folded up."
The French Knights' Templar owned it until about 1357, when a granddaughter of a member of the Templar handed it over to the ruling French monarchy known as the House of Savoy.
"She's a widow, she's penniless, she's old, and she gives the shroud that her grandfather received as a Knights' Templar in exchange for money and real estate to last the rest of her life," Onysko said.
Descendents of the House of Savoy owned the shroud until 1983, when the monarchy's last king, Umberto, died. Umberto, who had been exiled to Portugal from Italy in World War II, had willed it to the Catholic Church.
The House of Savoy had moved the shroud to St. John the Baptist Church in Turin, Italy, in 1578. It's been there ever since.
"I believe they moved it there to meet Charles - born 'St. Charles' - who was making a pilgrimage to France to see the shroud," Onysko said. "They moved it to Turin to meet him halfway on his pilgrimage in 1578, and they built a church around it. And it's been in Turin, Italy, since 1578."
Fires hotter than hell
The shroud has been through at least two fires over the past 2,000 years, but Onysko believes that divine intervention has kept it in tact.
The first fire, in 1532, left four large triangular scars. But most of the torso is still clearly visible.
The shroud was better protected for the second fire in 1997. It was enclosed in a "bazooka-proof" glass case, suspended from iron bars and rolled up on a spool in a long, silver box, Onysko said.
Still, it may have taken some help from above to get it out of the cathedral safely, he said.
"They believe it was arson, although some have suggested, spiritually, that Satan, the devil - if you believe in that kind of thing - has tried to destroy it," Onysko said.
While attending a Shroud of Turin conference in Dallas last October, Onysko spoke with the firefighter who rescued the shroud in 1997. Speaking through an interpreter, the Italian firefighter described his experience in the cathedral as something like an out-of-body experience.
"He said it was the hottest fire he had ever been in," Onysko said. "When he went in … he said surely hell must be like this. It was so bad.
"And he took a sledgehammer and started beating this glass case. And it took him about 30 minutes. And then it started to spider-web and crack, and they were able to carry it out while this fire was raging.
"…Then they took this long, silver box that had the shroud rolled up on a spool inside it, and he put it on his shoulders. And he said - there's complete chaos, it's surreal in this cathedral - that he didn't hear anything. He couldn't feel himself walking."
There was chaos outside as well. Thousands of people - many of them weeping - came to the church in the middle of the night. Yet, the firefighter could hear a still, small sound amidst all the hubbub.
"Before he got to the bottom of the steps, he said he heard an infant crying, and the sound was coming from inside the box," Onysko said. "He said he didn't feel the box on his shoulders. It was completely light. He did not feel himself descending the steps. He saw everyone cheering but he heard no noise. And when he got to the bottom of the steps, he collapsed.
"He said that God gave him the strength to pound this thing free. And he heard this tiny infant crying from inside the box."
Onysko doesn't offer an explanation for that. But he did say that the shroud was not damaged in the 1997 fire.
Onysko's spiritual journey
A Cleveland native with a master's in education from Cleveland State University, Onysko received a Catholic education through eighth grade. But today he just considers himself a "Christian."
"I don't use any denominations," he said.
Regardless, Onysko believes that he's been the beneficiary of divine intervention in his quest to study the shroud.
In 1998, Onysko traveled to Turin to get a glimpse of the shroud, which was on display to commemorate the centennial of Pia's photograph of the shroud.
"I went there to get a two-minute glimpse of it with a ticket with all the pilgrims," he said.
But, because of an emergency back home, he had to start packing his bags for Cleveland - meaning he was going to miss the showing.
"In my hotel room that week, I got down on my knees and I asked the Lord to make a miracle for me so I can see it with the worldwide press," Onysko said.
Before the masses were to get their chance to see the shroud, there was to be a private showing for the worldwide press. The day before the media showing, Onysko requested a press pass.
"I went to the place handling all the arrangements … and I talked to the woman at the counter and said, 'I have an emergency back home. I need a press pass,'" Onysko said. "She went to the back room, came back out, got me, and I went past all these people. And as I turned the corner, I almost literally ran into a man I had met at one of the scientific conferences I had attended.
"He introduced me to a man he was talking to. He said, 'This is David Onysko, journalist from America.' And then he left. And then this man I was talking to said, 'If you're a journalist, where's your press pass?' I said, 'That's my problem.'
"It turns out that this man was a liaison for the Italians and the English in getting the press passes. So he helped me get a press pass. The very person I needed to see I was led to."
Onysko was treated to a 45-minute private showing of the artifact that he'd been studying for nearly 20 years.
The experience was sobering, poignant and awe-inspiring at the same time. Yet, it also validated his own beliefs regarding the shroud's authenticity.
"You see, Jesus told Thomas, when he appeared in front of him, 'Put your fingers in my wounds; don't doubt. Believe.' Jesus said, 'Because you've seen me, you believe. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.'
"When I end my lectures and presentations, I say, 'Is it possible that the shroud today is for the doubting Thomas of the 21st Century? That the most sophisticated equipment on planet earth is saying, 'Come, examine me, put your fingers in my wounds, thrust your hands in my side, don't doubt - believe.'
"Because Jesus gave Thomas what he needed. There are doubters and atheists and skeptics today. And maybe the shroud gives them what they need, as Jesus gave Thomas what he needed."
For further information on the Shroud of Turin or lecture availability, visit www.manintheshroud.org.