The Shroud of Turin remains one of the most curious of all religious artifacts, with a faint image of a man many believe to be the body of the crucified Jesus Christ.
You soon can explore the mystery more deeply when what reportedly is the world's third-largest collection of Shroud-related items goes on display at the new National Shrine of the Holy Shroud in Wabash, about an hour southwest of Fort Wayne.
“The Shroud is the single-most studied artifact in the history of humanity,” said Richard Orareo, who developed the collection over more than 40 years of searching. He hopes to open the shrine in May.
Orareo, a Boston-area native and resident until his recent move to Wabash, said his items form the largest Shroud-related collection in the United States. He said the collection probably ranks as the third largest in the world behind the collections of the Museum of the Holy Shroud in Turin, Italy, and the House of Savoy — the former Italian royal family — in Switzerland.
The Shroud was held for centuries by the House of Savoy, Orareo said. It was willed to the Catholic Church when the last king died in exile in the 1980s.
It now is housed at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, but rarely goes on display.
Scientists and others have debated for decades whether the Shroud contains images of the front and back of Jesus' body after his crucifixion, which Christians will commemorate on Good Friday. So far, testing has not proved or disproved it.
Orareo contacted the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend about his plans to open the Shroud shrine because Wabash is in this diocese. He had not received a response as of Monday.
But after being contacted by The News-Sentinel, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said via email, “The museum on the Shroud of Turin looks like it will be an interesting exhibit for many to learn about this mysterious and remarkable image.”
Orareo, 75, became interested in the Shroud as a young adult in his late 20s or early 30s.
Raised Catholic and of Italian heritage, he happened to see a television show on the Shroud of Turin one day while at home.
At the end of the program, viewers were invited to send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope if they wanted to receive a photo of the Shroud. Orareo did, and when the photo arrived, the envelope also contained a list of a few books that offered more information about the Shroud.
Orareo then set out to collect books and other information about the Shroud, as well as artwork that depicts it.
He purchased his first piece of Shroud art for $75 in an antique store within a quarter-mile of his home. Over the next four decades, he has taken many trips to Europe to buy Shroud-related items and amassed a collection valued at $500,000, he said.
The collection displayed in Wabash will include more than 1,000 books, journals, periodicals and documents, he said. He has more than 100 framed pieces of art and a few relics, including a tiny fragment of the Shroud.
“I'm still collecting,” he said. “I'm always searching for things on the Internet. Actually, eBay has been a great source.”
Orareo had been looking for some time for a place to house and display his collection.
He originally hoped to donate it to the museum of a U.S. Catholic university, but none showed interest, he said. The Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization for Catholic men, also declined to incorporate the collection into a building they purchased in Washington, D.C.
Deciding to display the collection himself, Orareo began searching for a building and saw the Wabash location on a commercial real estate website. He bought it at auction in late June.
The building, which was constructed in 1936 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built as a movie studio by Mark Honeywell, a Wabash native and founder of what is now the Honeywell corporation, Orareo said. Honeywell made movies in the 1930s as a hobby.
It later served as the clubhouse for the Wabash Country Club, whose golf course adjoins the 7-acre property, and then the Studio Eleven restaurant, which went out of business, Orareo said.
The four-story, Tudor-style structure features Indiana limestone on some of the exterior, grand interior oak woodwork and leaded-glass windows.
Orareo has had contractors working since November on repair and renovation of the building. Big-ticket items include bringing the electrical and plumbing systems up to current building code, and upgrading the heating system.
Orareo would say only that he has invested “a lot” financially in the project.
“I don't want to know what the figures are for the restoration,” he added, chuckling.
He also established a nonprofit, ecumenical organization to own and manage the shrine and museum.
He expects it to attract people from all over Indiana, as well as from surrounding areas, such as Ohio. He believes many visitors will leave inspired in their faith.
“It is the Gospel accounts of the Passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ — illustrated,” he said of the Shroud. “If they grasp that from a visit to the museum, then it will have a tremendous spiritual impact.”