The priest. . . . Brought back to life on an operating room table after a horrific car crash, Father Paul Bartholomew is haunted by frightening visions—especially the moments when he seems to inhabit the body of Christ at Golgotha. The skeptics. . . . Dr. Stephen Castle, a New York City psychiatrist and renowned atheist, has built an international reputation for his book arguing that religion is a figment of human imagination. Professor Marco Gabrielli, an Italian religious researcher and chemist, has made a career of debunking supposed miracles, of explaining the unexplainable. The miracle. . . . For centuries, however, the Shroud of Turin has defied scientific explanation. Is this ancient remnant that bears such a vividly detailed pictorial representation truly the burial cloth that wrapped Christ after he was taken down from the cross? Or is it the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the Christian community? As Father Bartholomew—newly returned to his parish, the venerable St. Joseph’s Church in upper Manhattan—celebrates Mass, blood starts running down his arm. The horrified congregation watches him collapse to the ground, his vestments soaked with the blood pouring from wounds on his wrists. The phenomenon is known as stigmata, when a person appears to manifest the wounds that Christ suffered upon the cross. But in Father Bartholomew’s case there is a mysterious added dimension: he has been transformed to resemble in almost every physical aspect the Christ-like figure represented on the Shroud of Turin. Worried that Bartholomew’s case could be proved a hoax, the Vatican employs Dr. Castle and Professor Gabrielli to investigate. But for the well-known psychiatrist and the experienced man of science both, Father Bartholomew presents the most perplexing challenge either has ever faced. Dr. Castle watches in person while the priest appears to writhe in agony, blood spurting from wounds identical to those portrayed on the famous shroud, and he wonders if he too can have been sucked into some kind of shared hallucination. Meanwhile, Professor Gabrielli—confident that he can reproduce the shroud by using materials and methods available in the Middle Ages—works frantically to prove that the shroud is a medieval forgery.
But when the priest’s uncanny resemblance to the crucified Christ on the Shroud prompts the two men to investigate the famous artifact itself, each is finally forced to face mysteries that cannot be explained by sheer reason alone. It will be the most unsettling—and eventually soul-wrenching—journey of discovery they have ever undertaken.