Trips to Italy inspire fictional story on Shroud of Turin

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

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FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Born Catholic and into a family of 12 kids, Michael Martino enjoyed his childhood and attending St. Patrick’s Parish in Watertown. First raised in Watertown and then Framingham, parochial school was a way of life in the Martino household.

He graduated from high school in 1971 and by October of the same year was living in Italy; “I thought it was going to be a few months,” said Martino, “and it turned out to be four years. I came back a few times [to the U.S.] in the interim, but my heart was in Italy.”

His mother was born in Italy and still had family and friends living there. Her friend from boarding school offered to take the young Martino in during his initial year in Italy, and then Martino moved to stay with his mother’s family. 

A parish church near where he was living was being reconstructed, a major renovation, which included the creation of new stained glass windows. Martino asked a family if they would hire him to work at a stained glass studio and scored an apprenticeship of sorts: “It didn’t start as an apprenticeship, it was more ‘the kid is bored, let’s let him hang out at the studio’ type of thing,” said Martino.

The studio was located in the basement crypt area of the church being renovated, and soon Martino was living in the basement as well. Martino learned the stained glass techniques first by watching, and then being allowed to lay glass in patterns until he worked his way up to more detailed employment.

In August of 1974, while visiting relatives in the Apennine mountains in Italy, where his mother was from, Martino was driving friends home after a party and the car flipped on the curvy roads “and ended up breaking my back and almost killing everyone in the car,” said Martino.

Taken to a hospital, Martino was initially diagnosed with a perforated bowel and the doctor wanted to do emergency surgery, but after Divine intervention worked through a bookkeeper, who worked at the hospital and who recalled an American kid who stayed with his aunt a few years ago — the same woman who took in Martino when he first arrived in Italy — arrangements were made to move him to a more reputable hospital and doctor. 

“Don’t do anything at the small hospital in the Apennines, but go to the University Hospital of Parma, a major hospital,” said Martino, of the conversation held with his Italian relatives and the bookkeeper’s aunt. “In the end, I believe it saved my life because they found no evidence of a perforated bowel, but that I had a trauma to my intestinal area.”

A few weeks later he came back to the United States and when he left Italy, Martino said he felt he was leaving stained glass work behind. As he was recuperating from the accident, he worked as a cook, and then met his future wife. Anna. The couple will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this September.

It was also during this time he came back to Christ, crediting his near-death experience after his car accident, which Martino said made him look at his life: “It was time to get serious because I could have killed myself young,” he said, and after meeting his wife, he went back to his roots and began to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish in Watertown. “From when we were engaged, she knew about this Spiritual search I was going through.”

He also explored the Charismatic renewal, attending Thursday night prayer meetings.

“I don’t want to sound like a religious fanatic but I do have a deep faith because I’ve seen what the good hand of the Lord has done in my life,” said Martino. “It’s not because I’m special, I believe everyone has a testimony, that there is this loving hand that guides and directs us to Him.”

A few years after he got married, he had his first daughter, ultimately having four children. Martino also fell back into working with stained glass after being employed for years in odd jobs. He had been supplementing his income with small stained-glass jobs until he realized he could make more money by focusing solely on stained glass, he said.

In the mid-80s, more than 10 years since he had left Italy, he was able to travel back to the country. Within a year he began to create and sell reproductive Tiffany lamp shades in Italy, thus beginning his regular travel back and forth to Italy that included stained glass window work in churches in Italy: “I think I’ve done 10 or 11 churches, now, in Italy,” said Martino. “The opportunity to do these stained glass windows I’ve considered a tremendous privilege.”

During one trip three years ago, knowing he always wanted to write a book, Martino’s wife came up with the idea of an adventure book that the Shroud of Turin would go missing and the protagonist of the book would go find it. The characters are drawn from people Martino knows, with a few names changed, and Martino came up with the idea of the main plot being based partly during World War II and having a fear that Nazis would steal the original Shroud, so a duplicate shroud was made. 

Though the plot of making a duplicate Shroud to hide it from the Nazis is completely fabricated, “obviously the history and research of Italy in 1943 was as accurate as I could be,” said Martino.

The self-published, “Shrouded Deception” was released only a few weeks ago, and Martino hopes to expand the main character and write two more books. Until then, he’s happy to get the word out about his first foray into the literary world.

“I didn’t want it to be a dark book. Someone once said, ‘a Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure but with a couple of middle-aged men.’ With the help of my wife and family, we’ve written this story, which I think is a fun read,” said Martino.

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