The Shroud is an Icon written in blood; the blood of a man who was scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and whose right side was pierced. The Image impressed upon the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of his life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life.
Pope Benedict XVI from his Veneration of the Holy Shroud
During the course of my in-depth study of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, I arrived at the startling conclusion that the Turin Shroud served as a vital source of inspiration for the composer. This was not a preconceived assumption, but rather one crystallized over time by multiple observations. How could the Turin Shroud conceivably inspire Elgar to compose the Variations? As a practicing Roman Catholic, he was certainly aware of that relic’s importance to the Vatican as evidence of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Secondo Pia’s famous photographic negative of the Shroud become international news a mere five months before Elgar began work on the Variations. The Enigma Theme imitates a key feature of the shroud since it is a contrapuntal “negative” of a famous theme. Similarly, the shroud is a photographic negative of a famous person. It is hardly coincidental that the famous theme (Ein feste Burg) on which Elgar based his counterpoint glorifies the famous personage on the Holy Shroud and even names Him in its lyrics. Consider the following observations to determine if one of the greatest orchestral works ever written by an Englishman was inspired by the single greatest relic of Christendom.
An ingenious elimination cipher embedded in Variation XIII forms the anagram “S TURIN”, a veiled reference to the Shroud of Turin. This anagram may alternatively be spelled as “TURIN S”, as in Turin Shroud with the second word shrouded by its initial. The cipher reference to the burial cloth of Jesus is supported by the fact that Variation XIII is surreptitiously dedicated to Jesus Christ. The initials for Elgar’s hidden friend are revealed by the Roman numerals. X is ten, and the tenth letter in the alphabet is J. III is three, and the third letter in the alphabet is C. When considered together, the Roman numerals X and III may be interpreted as the initials “JC” for Jesus Christ. The references to Jesus and the Turin Shroud in Variation XIII are mutually reinforcing.
Elgar’s allusions to the Turin Shroud in the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII are bolstered by his use of numerological symbolism. The Turin Shroud is woven in a three-in-one herringbone twill. The numbers one and three turn up again and again within the Variations. The first two notes of the Enigma Theme are the third and first degrees of the G minor scale. The Enigma Theme is in common time with the strong beats falling on the first and third beats of the measure. Variation XIII refers to Jesus Christ and the Turin Shroud, and the number thirteen is the combination of the numerals one and three. Within that same variation are three Mendelssohn quotations in the major mode, and one in the minor mode. Modulations in Variation XIII cycle between the intervals of a first and third. Elgar’s repetitive use of the numbers one and three reflect a central tenant of the Roman Catholic faith, the doctrine of the Trinity. In the original sketch of Variation XIII, Elgar identified it with a solitary capital L. Why that particular letter? The Turin Shroud is composed of linen, contains a negative image of Elgar’s Lord mentioned by name in Luther’s famous hymn, and contains a set of L-shaped burn holes. The letter L is closely associated with the secret friend depicted in Variation XIII, the Turin Shroud, and the composer of the covert Theme.
Richard Santa made the insightful discovery that Elgar encrypted the number Pi (3.142) in the first four notes of the Enigma Theme using scale degrees (B flat = 3, G = 1, C = 4, A = 2). Pi (π) is a mathematical constant that precisely describes the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter. The Enigma Theme is in common time, a meter shown either by two fours in the time signature or by a capital “C” representing a broken circle. Merging Pi with “C” produces the phonetic equivalent for the Latin singular of the word fish (pisce). The Fish is one of the most popular symbols for Jesus. More relevant to this discussion is the obvious fact Pi and “C” are the first three letters in the word picture. This is a remarkable coincidence since Pia’s famous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud became an international sensation in the secular and Catholic press just under five months before Elgar began composing the Enigma Variations. Pia’s photographic revelation preceded Elgar's first performance of the Enigma Theme by 150 days, the equivalent of 4 months 27 days, 21 weeks, or 3600 hours.
To the left and right sides of the face on the Turin Shroud appear the faint outlines of blooming petal flowers indigenous to the Holy Land. The Passover takes place in March or April, and these flowers only bloom during those months. According to scripture, Jesus was crucified right before Passover. Researchers believe the flowers were used as a funeral bouquet for his hasty internment in the Garden Tomb. Elgar uses three asterisks to anonymously identify the hidden friend of Variation XIII, and it is remarkable that an asterisk (*) resembles a petal flower. There is a well-known floral connection with Christ since he is identified as the Rose of Sharon, and a Lily of the Valleys. Even if the floral impressions on the shroud were not visible during Elgar’s era, they serve as a prominent motif in Christian mosaics, icons, and Epitaphios.
The Turin Shroud is fourteen feet in length, and similarly, the Enigma Variations are fourteen in number. Observe that fourteen is the sum of two sevens. Regarding the Variations Elgar advised, “The drop of a seventh in the Theme (bars 3 and 4) should be observed.” His odd wording (observed) makes perfect sense theologically because of the language found in Exodus commanding to observe the Sabbath. Notice the sum of measure numbers (3+4) is also seven. Elgar's various references to seven are evocative of the Sabbath. And who is Lord of the Sabbath? Jesus, the secret friend of Variation XIII. By dying on the cross, he fell so that we might rise with him to everlasting life. The falling sevenths form a musical allusion to the front and back sections of the Turin Shroud, both of which are approximately 7 feet long.
The Hyphen Cipher
Variation II is dedicated to Hew David Stewart Powell with the initials H. D. S-P. The problem with this is Powell's university records prove he did not use a hyphen in his name. Then why the hyphen? Because it designates another name entirely, that of Secondo Pia (S-P.) The number of this variation (II) gives the first name, for the Italian word for “second” is secondo. The last name is found in Powell’s musical recreation as a pianist. As an amateur pianist, he would routinely warm up by playing fast Toccata-like diatonic passages. For this reason, Elgar opens this movement with a pianistic Toccata figure. Notice the first three letters in the word piano furnish the last name — Pia. Elgar all but spelled out the hidden name with the Roman numerals and his portrayal of Powell's piano playing. Elgar literally hid (H.D.) the initials for this famous photographer in the title of the movement. The Roman numerals “II” symbolize two eyes, for Pia was the first to gaze on the miraculous image of Jesus revealed by his photographic negative of the Turin Shroud.
Turin and Lady Elgar’s Obituary
Lady Elgar's obituary in The Musical Times specifically mentions her accompanying Elgar on a trip to Turin where he conducted the local orchestra in a performance that included his Enigma Variations. Why mention Turin in his wife's obituary? Elgar probably asked The Musical Times to cite this particular trip because of that city’s special connection to the Holy Shroud, a place where he conducted his first great orchestral work, one inspired by that sacred relic. According to Michael Kennedy, Elgar conducted the Turin orchestra in October 1911, nine years before Lady Elgar's death in 1920. Shortly after her passing, Elgar burned his musical notebook covering the period when the Variations were composed. If Lady Elgar was privy to the secret of the 'Enigma' Variations, the decision to burn that notebook assured the secret would die with her unless someone could decode Elgar's baffling Enigma Polybius Box Cipher.
A Thin Connection
The caramel-colored image of a crucified man on the Turin Shroud is extremely thin, ranging between 200 and 600 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and 200 to 600 nanometers is the thickness of the wall of a soap bubble. In the original 1899 program note, Elgar said, “The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture.” One definition of slight is slim or thin. My discovery of a musical checkerboard cipher in the opening measures of the Enigma Theme reveals a dark saying, i.e., a hidden message. One of the six plain text solution words is teni, an approximate phonetic spelling of the Latin word tenuis which means thin. The word teni is also an anagram for nite, a fitting link with Elgar’s phraseology referencing a dark saying. Just as the image on the Holy Shroud is thin, so too is the link between the unstated Principal Theme and the Variations which Elgar described as being of the “slightest texture.”Similarly, just as the hidden image on the Holy Shroud was brought to light in a dark room, so is the hidden message of the Enigma Variations contained in a “dark saying” — a cipher.
Tasso, Turin, and the Holy Shroud
At the end of the original score of the Variations, Elgar quotes from the epic Christian poem La Gerusalemme liberate (Jerusalem Delivered) by Torquato Tasso. One of my most popular articles describes the very special connection between Tasso and the Holy Shroud on its arrival to the city of Turin in 1578. For a person of Elgar’s literary breadth and sensitivity, the Tasso quote serves as yet another marker of his Shroud epiphany.
Elgar's Veiled Dancer
Elgar once said if the Variations were a ballet, the Enigma Theme should be represented by “a veiled dancer.” A veil is a piece of cloth used to cover or conceal the body, usually the face. In a similar fashion, a shroud is a cloth that covers or conceals the body before burial. Some interpret Elgar's reference to a veiled dancer as a suggestion the hidden friend from Variation XIII was a woman. On the contrary, multiple veiled references to the Turin Shroud within the Variations confirm his special friend is not to a lady, but a lord – the Lord.
The Enigma Locks Cipher
The opening six measures of the Enigma Theme contain an intriguing cipher based on the number of notes played by each section of the string quartet. When all notes performed by first and second violins, violas and cellos are tabulated over the first six measures of the Enigma Theme, the following sums are realized: 24, 17, 15, and 12. When these note totals are converted into their alphabetical equivalents (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, etc.), they produce the plain text solution “LOQX”. This is phonetic for the term locks. Locks have keys, and so do pianos . . . ciphers. When the same conversion process is applied to the alphabet in reverse order (1 = Z, 2 = Y, 3 = X, etc.), it generates the plain text “CJLO”. This is an anagram of “LOJC”. Lo is a common biblical term meaning to look, see, or behold. “JC” is the initials for Jesus Christ, the secret friend of Variation XIII. “LOJC” may therefore be interpreted to mean “Behold Jesus Christ.” Combining both solution sets of plain text counting in the alphabet from the beginning (the Alpha) and the end (the symbolic Omega) produces “LOQXLOCJ”. This is an anagram for “LOOX LQ JC”, a phonetic rendering of the phrase “Looks like JC”. What looks like Jesus Christ? For many devout Roman Catholics, there can be only one compelling answer: The Turin Shroud. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.