The faithful are flocking in great numbers to a Shenandoah church to gaze upon and even touch and kiss what many believe to be a divine, full-body image of Jesus Christ.
An exact copy of the Shroud of Turin, commissioned and blessed by Pope John Paul II, is on display in Schuylkill County until March 8, drawing many visitors from the Panther Valley, Tamaqua and Lehighton areas, as well as regions north and south.
The exhibit is a replica of the original shroud, a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. The original cloth is housed in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy.
The version displayed locally commands a dramatic presence, according to visitors.
Louise Rang, Barnesville, knelt and rested her face against the image of crucified Jesus on Monday afternoon. And like so many others, Rang believes she sensed something special. But it's something hard to put into words, she says.
"I heard something, a heartbeat and a dripping sound, or some kind of touching."
The pastor said those reactions are typical of the faithful.
"People feel a presence, or an awe, and feel there is something there. This is the Lord," said Msgr. Myron Grabowsky, St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church, exhibit host. The house of worship is known as America's first Ukrainian Catholic Church and the exhibit is the result of collaboration between St. Michael's and a sister church, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, St. Clair.
Rang's husband Bruce also knelt and pressed his head against the display to pay homage to Christ and the ultimate sacrifice.
"It's impressive," he said.
Another said the experience was unique and difficult to explain.
"You had your head against it but you didn't feel it. You feel hollow," said Antoinette O'Brien, Frackville.
Among others on hand were Pat Kudinsky, Mahanoy City; Mary Helen Rehatchek, and Jerry and Irene Acalin, all of Lake Hauto; and Tom Sniscak and Peggy Rendish, both of Nesquehoning.
"Saint Anthony is my miracle saint," said Rendish, who placed a Saint Anthony prayer card on the shroud.
The display is very large, measuring 14.2 feet by 3.7 feet.
"Jesus was a tall man," noted a volunteer.
The exhibit arrived Saturday and was set up in front of the iconostasis, or icon wall, at the ornate, onion-domed church located at the corner of Oak and Chestnut streets.
The shroud is carefully positioned, angled and presented knee-high so that visitors can see it in its entirety simply by walking past.
The church vestibule features a display and pamphlets to help visitors understand the significance of the replica shroud. A 30-minute video also is presented in the lower level. The display is one of nine blessed by the pope and all are currently in circulation around the world.
Lay persons from various churches are on hand from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to guide visitors to the display.
Volunteer Paul Kerrick, Barnesville, has in-depth knowledge of the shroud and was on hand to answer questions.
The image on the cloth, he said, is a result "of a burn from an intense light energy" and is still being studied.
Two groups of Lake Hauto, Hometown and Nesquehoning friends arrived early afternoon. They said they came to witness the display and pick up preordered homemade perogies while in town.
"This is my home church," explained Irene Acalin, the former Irene Lebby, a native of Shenandoah before moving to Rush Township.
Volunteer Bill Jones, Shenandoah, a member of nearby Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary Church, said the shroud burial cloth is meaningful to everyone.
"Jesus lived and he died for us. This exhibit is not only for Catholics and not only for Christians; this is for all people."
The original shroud's fibers have been extensively tested, carbon-dated, and traced to the Middle Ages.
The Catholic Church has neither formally endorsed nor rejected the shroud. However, in 1958, Pope Pius XII approved of the image in association with the Roman Catholic devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus.
The shroud continues to be one of the most studied and controversial artifacts in human history.