Shroud of Turin

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Shroud of Turin

In the fall of 1978, the ancient Shroud of Turin was exhibited publicly for the first time since 1933, thus rekindling the fires of controversy that have raged intermittently around this icon since the first century c.e. Is this cloth truly the authentic burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.)? Is the full-sized human image impressed on its coarse fibers the actual physical representation of Jesus as he lay in the tomb after his death by crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers? When looking at the shroud, is one seeing a kind of supernatural photograph of Jesus that can accurately depict his actual human appearance?

The fourteen-by-four-foot shroud has been kept under guard in a Roman Catholic chapel in Turin, Italy, since 1452, and it has been previously examined by technical investigators in 1973 and 1978. Although at that time the researchers were unable to date the cloth with certainty, scientists at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico announced that the burial shroud appeared to be authentic, woven of a type of linen typically used in Jewish burials in the Holy Land about 30 c.e., thus approximating the date of Jesus' Crucifixion. As for the remarkable image imprinted on the shroud, Los Alamos chemist Ray Rogers, stated his opinion that the impression had been formed by "a burst of radiant energy light, if you will."

Such a view is in harmony with gospel references to a brilliant light from heaven and the process of transformation undergone by Jesus at the moment of his Resurrection after three days in the tomb. A statement issued by the Los Alamos Laboratory, operated by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy, explains one hypothesis that draws a parallel between the mysterious images on the shroud "and the fact that images were formed on stones by fireball radiation from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima."

Many of the experts who have examined the shroud insist that the image was not painted on the cloth, for the portrait is not absorbed into the fibers. Neither could the image have been placed on the shroud by any ordinary application of heat, they argue, or the fibers would have been scorched.

The gospel accounts of Jesus' Crucifixion state that he was whipped and beaten by Roman soldiers, who placed a crown of thorns on the head of the man who was identified as the "King of the Jews." The beating completed completed, Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem bearing the wooden cross on his back before he was nailed to its horizontal bar at the place of execution. After his apparent death, a spear was thrust into his side by a Roman soldier.

Certain researchers have declared the front and the back images on the Shroud of Turin to be anatomically correct if the cloth had been used to wrap a crucified man in its folds. The impressions on the shroud are of a tall man with a beard, his hands crossed with the imprints of nails through the wrists and feet. The right side of the man's chest was pierced. In addition, the image is said by investigators to bear the marks of whip lashes on the back. The man's right shoulder is chafed, as if from having borne a rough, heavy object. A number of puncture wounds appear around the head, and one cheek displays a pronounced bruise. The chest cavity is expanded, as if the victim had been trying desperately to draw air into the lungs, a common occurrence and a typical physical response during crucifixion.

Since its second examination in 1978, the Shroud of Turin has been hailed by some as physical proof of Jesus' Resurrection from the dead and his triumph over the grave, while others have condemned it as a hoax crafted by medieval monks who sought to create the ultimate in holy relics for spiritual pilgrims to venerate. Ray Rogers is one of a number of scientists who believes that the burial cloth is truly the shroud of Jesus Christ. In his viewand in that of many othersthe Shroud of Turin answers the eternal question of whether humans can achieve immortality. "If Christ was resurrected from the dead," Rogers stated, "then the gospels are true, and eternal life is offered to all."

In October 1978, the Shroud of Turin Research Project, the U.S. scientific group that examined the shroud, unanimously reported that "the image on the cloth is not the result of applied materials." In their estimation, the man on the shroud was not painted on the cloth and that an unknown event of oxidation selectively darkened certain fibrils of the threads so as to make a superficial image of a man with accurate details valid when magnified 1,000 times. Through some paranormal occurrence the body image is much like a photographic negative.

During the September/October 1978 exhibition of the shroud in Turin, more than three and a half million people viewed the relic. The viewing was followed by a Sindonological Congress of experts on October 7 and 8, and on October 813, a detailed, around-the-clock, 120-hour scientific examination of the shroud that included more than 30,000 photographs of various kinds. The latter effort was conducted primarily by scientists from the United States who had brought 72 crates of equipment weighing eight tons.

Also in 1978, Ian Wilson published The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? in which he presented the results of his historical research which brought continuity, from 33 c.e. to 1204 c.e., to the story of the shroud and its travels. Wilson concluded that the "Face of Edessa" and the "Mandylion of Constantinople" were but other designations for the Shroud of Turin. He also postulated a Knights Templar connection for the so-called missing years of the shroud from 1204 to 1357 which indicates that the relic was in Athens and Bescancon, France, during that period. It may well have been, Wilson suggested, that the extensive copying of the face on the shroud by the Knights Templar could have led to the papal revocation of their charter, which was later followed by the execution of their leaders by the French ecclesiastical court. The Templar involvement appeared to be validated by the discovery of a matching shroud face that was found behind the false ceiling of an outbuilding in Templecombe, southern England, on grounds that had once served as a Templar recruitment and training center.

From its earliest years, in legends and in art, there have been claims of miracles and healings through the shroud. Four credible witnesses reported that in 544 when Edessa was threatened with siege by a Persian army, the image was rushed to the top of the city wall and prominently displayed; the army turned and abandoned the attack. Eusebius and others state that King Agabar V of Edessa was mortally ill and was instantly healed when shown the face on the cloth. While the shroud was being carried to Constantinople in 944, it was said that a man possessed of demons was cleansed when he touched it.

In 1954, in a small village of Gloucestershire, England, 11-year-old Josie Wollam was in the hospital dying of a severe bone disease, osteomyelitis, in hip and leg, plus lung abscesses. The doctor advised that there was no hope for Josie, and she was given the last rites of the church. However, Josie had learned that retired RAF Group Captain Leonard Cheshire (19171992) was giving lectures in the area on the Shroud of Turin, and she told her mother that she was certain she would be able to walk again if she could only see the shroud. At Josie's urging, her mother wrote Captain Cheshire and his office sent a photograph of the shroud face. Merely holding the photograph appeared to accomplish a partial remission of the bone disease, and two weeks later, Josie was sent home from the hospital.

The girl was still unable to walk, and she continued to declare that if she could actually see the shroud and be in its presence, she knew that she would be completely healed. Cheshire was so impressed by Josie's faith that he took her with him to Portugal to see former King Umberto II (19041983), the shroud's owner, to ask permission for a rare private session with the shroud. Umberto readily granted their request, and Cheshire and Josie traveled on to Turin, where the rolled shroud was placed across the arms of her wheelchair. Cautiously, respectfully, the girl reached a hand into the end of the roll to touch gently the inner surface.

At the 1978 public exhibition of the shroud 24 years later, Josie, now 35, walked into the cathedral at Turin, once again accompanied by Cheshire but no longer in a wheelchair. The child who had been given last rites in 1954 had been allegedly healed completely by being in the presence of the shroud. She met Father Peter Rinaldi while at Turin and told him that after her healing she had matured normally through childhood and adolescence, married, had a daughter, and was gainfully employed.

While many scientists urged increased usage of carbon-dating techniques to determine once and for all the true age of the shroud, other experts warned that an accurate carbon dating might not be technically possible with present-day laboratory techniques and practices. In the 1970s, two researchers independent of each another suggested that the 1532 fire at Chambery, France, which caused the silver reliquary to drip molten silver onto the cloth, also may have created a "pressure-cooker effect" of driving known contaminants on the cloth into the molecules of the cloth, so that the carbon content would be skewed. At the Rome Symposium of 1993, and subsequently, Dmitri Kouznetsov of the Sedov Laboratory in Moscow asserted that during the 1532 fire the molten silver acted as a catalyst for carboxylation of the cellulose, so that subsequently the cloth became enriched with carbon, thus making it appear to be younger than it may actually be. In spite of such protests regarding carbon-dating techniques, laboratory tests conducted in 1985 reported that 1320 was the median date that the shroud cloth had been woven.

As might be expected, large numbers of diligent researchers object to the date of 1320 and the suggestion that some talented artisan in the Middle Ages had created the image on the shroud as a work of piety or as an instrument of deception. Those who champion the authenticity of the shroud point out that the scalp punctures and blood rivulets as seen on the forehead of the man of the shroud have the characteristics and proper location for both veinous and arterial blood flow, and yet, if the shroud were a hoax created in approximately 1320, circulation of human blood was not discovered until 1593. The cloth-to-body distance correlates so precisely that the image perfectly encapsulates three-dimensional data perfectly. When the shroud image is fed into NASA's VP-8 image analyzer, it produces a bas-relief of the man of the shroud with no distortion. No other image, drawing, painting, or photograph has this qualityonly star maps and the shroud image; everything else distorts.

Other researchers who claim the shroud is authentic point out that the 70 varieties of pollen found on the burial cloth come from the Near East and 38 varieties come from within 50 miles of Jerusalemand 14 of them grow nowhere else.

Among other significant data which would seem to testify to the shroud's authenticity are such items as the following:

  • The Z-twist thread and 3-to-1 herringbone-twill weave used in forming the shroud were known only to the Near East and Asia until recent centuries. The cotton fibers in the shroud linen could have come only by weaving on looms of the Near East.
  • Microscopes were perfected in the period between 1590 to 1610, and yet meaningful data in the shroud image has been found by magnifications up to 1,200 times. How could an artist working in the 1300s have fashioned such details?
  • The feet of the man of the shroud bears smudges of actual dirt that contain travertine aronite, a rare form of calcium that matches the spectral properties of this limestone substance found in caves near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate. No other source is known.
  • One oddity of the shroud image is that it can be seen only in an optimum viewing distance of six to 15 feet. Closer or farther and the image fades out of view. Did the supposed hoaxer paint the man on the shroud by holding a six-foot brush at arm's length?

Even the most recent translations of the gospels state that Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands. But the shroud correctly displays a medical truth: He was nailed through the "space of Destot" in the wrist, because a nail in the soft flesh of the hands would not support a man's weight. Another medical fact is that a spike driven through the "space of Destot" in the wrist will lacerate the median nerve, causing the thumb to flex sharply into the palm. The man of the shroud has no discernible thumbs. Would an artist in the Middle Ages have known such medical idiosyncrasies?

The man was crowned with a cap of thorns, typical of the Near East Judeans, not the Greek-style wreath so often depicted in artists' renderings of Jesus' "crown of thorns."

The bloodstains on the shroud are precisely correct, both biblically and anatomically. If the shroud had been lifted off the man, one of two things would have happened: If the blood was still wet the stain on the cloth would smear; if the blood was dry it would have broken the crusted blood that had soaked into the weave. Neither occurred, thus leading some researchers to believe that the body must somehow have dematerialized without the removal of the shroud. If the shroud merely collapsed and was not thrown back, then the story of Peter and John's arrival at the tomb after Jesus' Resurrection (John 20:110) makes better sense when Peter saw "the linen cloths lying" and John "saw and believed."

Although the shroud had some contact with Jesus' body, for scientists have decreed the bloodstains on the cloth to have been made by real blood, the body-image is described by some of the researchers as "made through space" by an "image-making process" which they have named "flash photolysis," because the images are not pressure sensitive in that the back and front images of the man have the same shadow and lack of saturation characteristics. If contact with the bleeding physical body was the only factor, the man's lying on his back should have made the image darker and different.

Many of the critics of the authenticity of the shroud and its images argue that it is nothing more than a finely executed medieval painting. Some skeptics have even claimed that the shroud images were painted by Leonardo da Vinci (14521519). Such an argument was quickly dissolved by pointing out that the great artist was born in 1452, nearly one hundred years after the shroud had been on exhibit in Lirey in 1357. At the scientific symposium on the shroud conducted in Rome in 1993, Isabel H. Piczek of Los Angeles presented her conclusions that the controversial cloth is not and cannot be a painting of any sort, technique, or medium. Piczek is a professional artist with degrees in physics who has won international awards for painting and figurative draftsmanship. She has personally executed art works in every ancient and modern technique known, including nearly 500 giant-size items in public buildings throughout the world. In her opinion, Piczek cautions that the shroud must not be conserved as a painting would be, "or else we may destroy the only object on Earth which is the blueprint of the future of our cosmos."

There have always been critics, skeptics, and disbelievers when it comes to the authenticity of the shroud. Even King Abgar's second son, Manu V, was a doubter, in spite of his father's alleged cure after viewing the face on the shroud. The sons of the Byzantine emperor were also skeptics. Bishop Henri de Poitieres of Troyes (fl. mid-fourteenth century) vacillated between praising the exhibition in Lirey, then trying to have it closed down. His successor, Bishop Pierre D'Arcis (fl. late-fourteenth century), attempted to stop later showings of the burial cloth in Lirey, but the pope ordered him to cease such efforts or face excommunication.

Critical researchers in the twentieth century found an alleged memo from Bishop D'Arcis written in 1389 and presumably intended for the pope in which the bishop claimed to know the identity of the painter who was responsible for creating the shroud images. The French scholar Ulysee Chevalier (18411923) believed in the testimony of the memo and so did the Jesuit Herbert Thurston (18561939). Dr. John A. T. Robinson, the English theologian, also accepted the document at first, but he later rejected its allegations and accepted the shroud as genuine. In the 1990s, Parisian researchers determined that the so-called "D'Arcis memo" was no memo at all, but merely a clerk's draft in poor Latin, never dated nor signed nor sent to the Vatican, and with no official copy in either Troyes or the Vatican archives.

In sharp contrast to those critical researchers who attempt to diminish the shroud's credibility are those scientists of faith who are personally convinced that the shroud is truly the one that briefly enveloped the body of Jesus Christ and that the images on its cloth were made by a supernatural energy as part of a spiritual event that Christians call the Resurrection. At the Rome Symposium of 1993, Dr. Gilbert R. Lavoie of the Fallon Clinic, Worcester, Massachusetts, demonstrated that the blood and body images on the burial cloth are of a man who had been suspended upright as if hanging on a cross. According to tradition, the body of Jesus hung on the cross from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and he was not placed on his back within the folds of a burial cloth until about 5 p.m. Thus, according to Lavoie, a truly spiritual image resulted on the shroud in order for the image to show Jesus as if hanging on the cross.

Pope John Paul II (1920 ) authorized public exhibitions of the shroud for April 18 to May 31, 1998, and for April 29 to June 11, 2000. Among the latest findings prompted by the most recent showings was the report by two Israeli scientists who stated in June 1999 that plant imprints and pollen found on the shroud supported the premise that it originated in the Holy Land. Avinoam Danin, a botany professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that the shroud contained images of some plants, such as the bean caper (Zygophyllum dumosum ), which grows only in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt Sinai desert. The rock rose (Cistus creticus ) which grows throughout the Middle East was also detected, along with the imprint of a coin minted in the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (42 b.c.e.37 c.e.), who ruled at the time of the Crucifixion.

Clearly, while a number of scientists debate the accuracy of the radiocarbon dating resultssome insisting that the most reliable results date the shroud to 12601390and others defend the authenticity of the burial cloth and argue that it was the one that wrapped Jesus' crucified body until the cosmic event of the Resurrection, one can only echo the words of Archbishop Severino Poletto, the shroud's custodian: "The last word has not yet been said."

Delving Deeper

Riggi, Giovanni. The Holy Shroud. Roman Center for Shroud Studies, 1981.

Shroud of Turin Research at McCrone Research Institute. 14 August 2001.

Shroud of Turin. 14 August 2001.

Tribbe, Frank. Portrait of Jesus?The Illustrated Story of the Shroud of Turin. New York: Stein & Day, 1983.

Wilson, Ian. The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? New York: Doubleday, 1978.

Turin Shroud

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Turin Shroud

A relic housed in a chapel in Turin (or Turino), Italy, and believed by some to be the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped after his crucifixion. In the accounts of Jesus' burial in the Christian New Testament, the earliest of which appears in the Gospel of Mark 15:46, it is noted, "And he [Joseph of Arimathea] brought fine linen, and took him [Jesus] down and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock." There is no record of the survival of that burial cloth for the next five centuries. Then about 570 C.E. , a pilgrim reported that it was kept in a monastery by the river Jordan. In 670 C.E. the French bishop Arculph, returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was shipwrecked on the coast of Scotland and traveled to a monastery on the island of Iona. Here he said he had seen the shroud and been allowed to kiss it.

Subsequent references are made to a surviving shroud by the Venerable Bede, St. Willibald, St. John Damascene, and the Emperor Baldwin. In 1284, Robert de Clari, chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, described the triumphant entry of Crusaders into Constantinople and mentioned the monastery of Lady St. Mary of the Blachernes, in which a cloth claiming to be the shroud was kept. In the Middle Ages some 40 different shrouds were claimed to be the one in which Christ was buried. At this time there also existed a variety of similar relics, including tears from Jesus, milk from the Virgin Mary, thorns from the crown of thorns worn by Jesus, and enough pieces of the cross to make a number of different such instruments of execution. The reformation of the church concerning such superstitions began in earnest in the sixteenth century and continued in subsequent centuries.

Nothing is known of the particular piece of cloth known as the Shroud of Turin until its appearance in the church of Lirey, Troyes, France, during the fourteenth century. At the time between 1353 and 1356, the shroud was placed in a small wooden church at Lirey by Geoffrey de Charny, Lord of Lirey, but exhibition of the relic aroused opposition from Henry of Poitiers, Bishop of Troyes. Many years later, in 1389, the Lord of Lirey's son (Geoffrey II) obtained permission to exhibit the shroud, but Henry's successor as bishop of Troyes, Pierre d'Arcis, objected most strenuously.

In a statement to the Avignon Pope Clement VII, he complained that the exhibition was not for devotion, but for monetary gain, and that the relic was a forgery, "a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say the back and the front, [the canons at Lirey] falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Saviour Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb." D'Arcis claimed that Henry of Poitiers, 30 years earlier, after "diligent inquiry and examination" had established that the shroud had been "cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought " and that the first exhibition by Geoffrey's father had been prohibited.

Meanwhile, however, Geoffrey's widow had married Aymon of Geneva, who had ecclesiastical influence with Pope Clement, and the prohibition was bypassed, much to the anger of d'Arcis, hence his complaint in 1389. Pope Clement resolved the matter by declaring that Geoffrey II could continue exhibiting the shroud provided that it was always stated that it was only "a figure or representation" of Christ's cloth, and that d'Arcis must keep silence in the matter under pain of excommunication.

This affair has often been revived as "proof" that the shroud was a forgery, but the accusations of d'Arcis were never proved, and the original campaign against the genuineness of the shroud had started on the somewhat flimsy grounds that if such a cloth imprinted with an image of Jesus Christ had really existed, it would have been mentioned in the Gospels, and that the exhibition at Lirey was all part of a plot to hire persons for pretended miracles of healing. The statement that diligent inquiry had revealed a cunning artist remains unconvincing, since the artist was never named or punished.

After the death of Geoffrey II, his widow Margaret claimed that the relic had only been loaned to Lirey by her grandfather, but she was eventually obliged to give it up.

In 1452, it passed into the keeping of the Duke of Savoy. In 1532 it was kept in the sacristy of Sainte Chappelle, France, where it was nearly destroyed in a fire. It was then taken to the monastery of St. Clair where it was patched by nuns. It was brought to Saint Charles Borromeo in Turin, Italy, in 1578, and for more than four centuries remained the property of the ruling House of Savoy from which came the kings of Italy. It was exhibited annually until it was feared that frequent handling might damage it. By the end of the nineteenth century it was exhibited only on very special occasions.

In 1946, Umberto II, former king of Italy and the owner of the shroud, was exiled. He settled in Portugal and in the ensuing years, the Catholic Church, in the person of the archbishop of Turin, became its custodian. In 1978 it was disclosed that Umberto was leaving the shroud to the Pope, an event that occurred in 1983 with Umberto's passing. Italy did not challenge the will or claim the shroud for itself. Since that time, the Roman Catholic Church has had the power to respond directly to pressure to have the shroud definitively tested by modern scientific methods.

Description of the Shroud

The shroud always had vague markings indicating the outlines of a body, but these took on a special significance only at the end of the nineteenth century. Modern interest in the shroud dates from 1898, when Secundo Pia obtained permission to photograph it for the first time and discovered that his negative plate revealed a perfect image of a noble and majestic face with forehead wounds suggesting a crown of thorns, and a body with wounds in the hands and side.

The supposition is that in some unknown way, emanations from the body laid in the shroud reacted with the spices used for burial in such a way as to cause an image on the cloth, rather like a photographic negative. Although the shroud had been venerated for centuries, nobody had formerly realized that the markings might be more revealing than supposed. Pia's negative plate showed a positive picture, virtually a full-length photograph of the occupant of the shroud.

The publication of Pia's negative caused great excitement, and led to a scientific investigation by Paul Vignon, professor of Biology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. With his coworker Yves Delage he presented his findings, favorable to the authenticity of the shroud, to the French Academy of Science. The collaboration was a strange one, since Delage was an agnostic and Vignon a Catholic. Since then, the shroud has received increased attention and scholarship, and Vatican experts spent some years studying and verifying historical documents connected with it.

On September 6, 1936, Pope Pius XI offered his opinion of the cloth, "These are the images of the Divine Redeemer. We might say they are the most beautiful, most moving and dearest we can imagine."

The name sindonology has been given to studies of the shroud, and in 1939 the first Sindonological Congress was held in Turin. The Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia was created, drawing upon the highest academic, scientific, and ecclesiastical authorities.

In August 1978, the Holy Shroud was publicly exhibited again in the Cathedral of Turin, Italy. Because Turin had been a flashpoint for Red Brigade terrorism, special precautions were taken to protect the relic. In addition to extra police protection, the shroud itself was housed in a special display case with bulletproof glass. Archbishop Anastasio Ballestrero of Turin insisted that the shroud not be the subject of any form of commercialism, and the cost of the new protective case was born by a Turin exposition fund launched in the United States.

In October 1978, at the end of the exposition, a special Shroud Congress was held in Turin and attended by scientists from around the world. Advanced techniques of image analysis were discussed, including infra-red photography, photomicrography, high contrast photography, X-ray fluorescence, radiographic examination, and carbon dating.

Unfortunately much of the scientific analysis and discussion resulted in controversy and confusion. Many issues were hotly debated, such as whether the amount of iron oxide on the shroud indicated genuine bloodstains or artistic pigment. The main issue of dating the shroud was delayed through the reluctance of the authorities to permit destruction of a sample piece of the material for carbon dating. For a presentation of scientific views for and against the authenticity of the shroud, see the book The Image on the Shroud by H. David Sox (1981) and more recently The Mysterious Shroud by Ian Wilson (1986).

A significant breakthrough in the study of the shroud occurred in early 1987, when Pope John Paul II finally approved a plan to test fragments of the cloth in laboratories for radio-carbon content. Tests had been scheduled to begin in 1986, but were halted at the last minute by the Bishop of Turin.

Three major laboratoriesin Switzerland, the United States, and Britainwere involved in these carbon-14 dating tests. Three other institutions were involved in statistical analysis of the results of tests, which included scientific controls using pieces of linen from known sources, ancient and modern. These included fragments of medieval cloth and a specimen from ancient Egypt, as well as modern cloth. The scientists involved did not know which cloth they were being provided with for testing until the results were correlated by the British Museum Research Laboratory and evaluated at the Vatican in Rome.

Edward Hall, of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and Art at Oxford University, England, was one of the scientists involved in testing. He used an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer, generating a charge of two million volts. This massive new tool for radio-carbon dating is said to have influenced the Vatican decision to go ahead with the tests on actual fragments of the Turin Shroud. Earlier apparatus would have required the destruction of a sample about the size of a pocket handkerchief, whereas the new machine required a sample of only about a quarter of an inch.

In a report by Pearson Phillips in The Times, London, (April 15, 1987), Hall was quoted as stating: "If we get a medieval dating then we shall know it is a forgery and we can relax and forget the whole business. Although there will still be a mystery about how anyone in medieval times could have produced such a complex and effective fraud." Hall assumed an agnostic viewpoint, stating: "My view of Christ as a historical individual is that he was obviously a powerful personality. I suppose it is possible that, in some way we do not currently fully understand, some kind of impression from him was transferred to the shroud. But if we produce a carbon date around the start of the first century A.D. , the fat will really be in the fire. As a scientist, I would then find it difficult to dismiss the shroud's authenticity."

An official report on October 13, 1988, revealed that the three laboratories in Oxford, Zürich, and Arizona had independently carbon dated the cloth fragments as medieval, and not from the time of Jesus Christ. There was close agreement on the possible dates, giving an estimated span of circa 1260-1390. For most skeptics, this established once and for all that the shroud was a medieval forgery.

Die-hard believers in the authenticity of the shroud either questioned the accuracy of the scientific evidence or propounded fantastic theories to account for the dating of the cloth, e.g., that the image was formed by a burst of divine radiant energy that somehow altered the texture of the cloth.

The close concurrence in dating of three independent scientific laboratories, with the best and most accurate apparatus, cannot be dismissed lightly. The normal margin of error in carbon dating is considered to be about 100 years either way.

It is unlikely that these tests can resolve the enigma of the shroud. Critics of the carbon testing have noted that scientific tests of any kind sometimes overlook anomalies revealed by later research. In the case of the dating of the shroud, there is no reason to doubt the good faith and accuracy of reputable scientific laboratories, but it is good to remember that the centuries-old shroud has been through many vicissitudes, and we are dealing with minute fragments of material.

In 1532, for example, when the shroud was kept in a silver casket at the church of Sainte Chappelle in Chambery, France, a fire broke out in the sacristy, melting drops of silver, which fell on the shroud and burned through folds in the cloth. In 1534, the burns on the cloth were patched by nuns at the monastery of St. Clair. The shroud has also suffered damp stains, and may have been washed or cleaned with oil at some time. Could the samples tested for carbon dating have been contaminated with threads or solutions from the later history of the shroud?

Moreover, carbon dating, accurate or misleading, cannot explain the extraordinary and awe-inspiring character of the image on the shroud as disclosed by the camera negative of Secondo Pia in 1898. There are no apparent brush marks, and other theories of production of the marks, however ingenious, hardly do justice to the beauty and accuracy of the icon. Common sense suggests that even a medieval forger of genius would be unlikely to have the prescience to produce a perfect and noble image in negative. What the pilgrims of that period in an out-of-the-way French district would surely have expected to see would have been a stylized rudimentary positive image, more like the icons in stained glass windows or the paintings in churches.

Dr. Robert Otlet, of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell, had hoped that his famous laboratory would be included in the carbon dating tests, and later commented: "It is most unfortunateentirely unnecessary when you put the amount of material to be taken in context. It will lead to a result which will be wide open to criticism and sadly will not be seen as definitive." It is clear that the story of the shroud has not come to an end. True believers in its authenticity have found ways to ignore and question the carbon dating evidence, while many fully accept the carbon dating results as conclusive.


Barnes, Arthur Stapylton. The Holy Shroud of Turin. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1934.

Heller, John H. Report on the Shroud of Turin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

Nickell, Joe. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1983.

Reban, John. Inquest on Jesus Christ. London: Leslie Frewin, 1967.

Rinaldi, Peter M. The Man in the Shroud. New York: Vantage Press, 1972. Reprint, London: Futura, 1974. Reprinted as It Is The Lord: A Study of the Shroud of Christ. New York: Warner, 1973.

Sox, H. David. The Image on the Shroud: Is the Turin Shroud a Forgery? London: Unwin, 1981.

. The Shroud Unmasked; Uncovering the Greatest Forgery of All Time. Basingstoke, England: Lamp Press, 1988.

Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Vignon, Paul. The Shroud of Christ. London: Constable, 1902. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1970.

Walsh, John. The Mysterious Shroud. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1986.

. The Shroud. London: W. H. Allen, 1964.

Wilson, Ian. The Turin Shroud. London: Gollancz, 1978.

Wuenschel, Edward. Self-Portrait of Christ. New York: Esopus, 1954.

Zugibe, Frederick T. The Cross and the Shroud: a Medical Inquiry into the Crucifixion. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1988.

Shroud of Turin

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The Shroud of Turin, an aged, patched and scorched rectangular piece of linen that has been preserved since the late 16th century in the Cathedral of St. John at Turin, is perhaps the best-known artifact in the Christian West. The entire fabric, woven in a fine three-to-one herringbone twill, measures 14.25 feet long by 3.58 feet wide, including a 3.5 inch matching linen strip that at some point was attached to one of the long sides. On one side of this cloth can be seen faint images, sepia-yellow in color, of the front and back of a naked human body, the body of a 5 foot, 11 inch bearded male Caucasian weighing about 170 pounds. Because these images are oriented on the cloth in a head-to-head fashion, the object appears to be a burial shroud. If indeed such, the body would have been placed on one half of the cloth and the other half would have been drawn over the head and upper body of the corpse and then down over the feet to enshroud the dead person completely.

Many wounds and bruises are visible on the body images, some in association with apparent bloodstains. The conformity of this evidence with the gospel accounts

of Jesus' crucifixion is striking. For example, bloodstains flow from the base of the man's left handhis right wrist, covered by the left hand, is not visibleand from both of his feet. Furthermore, at his rib cage on the right side there is also a wound with a large blood stain around it (see Jn 19.3137). Visible around the man's head are smaller lesions from which blood has trickled downward, a detail corresponding to Jesus's crowning with thorns (Mt 27.29 and parr.). Also visible are numerous small wounds covering the entire body, front and back, from the shoulders downward, and these accord with the account of Jesus' scourging by Roman soldiers preparatory to his crucifixion (Mt 27.26 and parr.). Given the many points of agreement between the gospel narratives and the evidence of the shroud, scholars agree that this object can only be either Jesus' actual burial shroud or a well-crafted later imitation.

History of the Shroud. The whereabouts of this object is well attested back to the mid-14th century but not earlier. While Ian Wilson and other investigators have proposed various theories about the shroud's history prior to that date, these, because of the lack of hard evidence, have not enjoyed universal scholarly support. There is clear evidence, however, that about 1357 the shroud was exhibited in Lirey, a village near Troyes in northeastern France. The Musée de Cluny in Paris still preserves a pilgrim's medallion from this exhibition, and this object attests that the shroud was then in possession of Geoffrey de Charny and his wife, Jeanne de Vergy. In 1460 its ownership passed from the de Charnys to the House of Savoy. They at first kept the shroud in a silver reliquary chest in the chapel of their castle at Chambéry, France, where it narrowly escaped destruction in a serious fire that broke out in 1532. Although the reliquary was daringly rescued from the flaming chapel, a drop of melting silver burned right through the shroud's many folds, and the entire cloth, which had also suffered extensively from scorching and water damage, required two years of patching and repair work. Despite all this, the body images on the shroud remained generally intact. In 1578 the Savoy family decided to move the shroud from Chambéry to the Royal Chapel in the Cathedral at Turin, and there it is still preserved. Only in 1983, however, did actual legal title to the shroud pass from the House of Savoy to the Holy See.

Authenticity. Church authorities have been generally reserved, or even quite negative, about the shroud's authenticity. When the de Charny family displayed the shroud at Lirey in 1357, the bishop of Troyes, Henry of Poitiers, objected strongly, claiming that the shroud was a fraudulent invention. In 1389 a later bishop of Troyes, Pierre d'Arcis, wrote a letter to Pope Clement VII at Avignon in which he expressed strong agreement with his predecessor's concerns. Because the shroud, said Bishop D'Arcis, is "a product of human handicraft" (manufactus ) and "an artificial painting or depiction" (artificialiter depictus ), the pope should act to put an end to its public display. While the pope in his response chose a more cautious route, he did insist that when the shroud was displayed, there should be no liturgical ceremony or pomp. Furthermore, he ordered that on each occasion a priest was to announce to those present "in a loud and intelligible voice, without any trickery, that the aforesaid representation [the shroud] is not the true burial cloth (sudarium ) of our Lord Jesus Christ but only a kind of painting or picture made as a form or representation (in figuram seu representationem ) of the burial cloth." While later Church leaders were more receptive to the shroudin 1578, for example, Charles Borromeo, then the archbishop of Milan, journeyed on foot to Turin in order to venerate the shroudthey avoided making any affirmation of the shroud's authenticity. Although in 1670 a papal congregation granted an indulgence to those who would come and pray before the Shroud, it carefully specified that those who did so would receive the indulgence "not for venerating the cloth as the true Shroud of Christ but rather for meditating on the Passion," a neat sidestepping of the question of authenticity.

During the whole of the 20th century, and particularly after 1969 when it became possible for scientists and other researchers to study the shroud in greater detail, debate has raged about its authenticity as Jesus' actual burial cloth. While at this point the preponderance of evidence would seem to suggest a medieval date for the origin of this object, there are still scholars who would strenuously argue for its authenticity. The matter is made all the more complicated because there is no agreement whatsoever as to how the body images came to exist on the cloth.

Particularly damaging to any theory of authenticity were the Carbon-14 tests separately conducted in 1988 by laboratories in Tucson, Oxford, and Zurich on small fragments taken from a single portion of the shroud clear of any patching or charring. Although each laboratory utilized its own methods for eliminating possible contaminants from its sample and checked its results against control samples of known origin and date, their results with respect to the shroud accorded closely. The Research Laboratory of the British Museum did a statistical analysis of these results and reported that, within 95 percent confidence limits, the date for the linen of the shroud had to range somewhere between 1260 and 1390 AD, not earlier. These findings have been vigorously contested by the defenders of the shroud's authenticity. They argue, for example, that the fire of 1532 may well have added carbon isotopes to the linen and that the shroud's fibers over time became coated with bacteria and fungi, a factor which also could have added C-14 to the cloth and so have produced an inaccurate later dating. While debate continues about such issues, C-14 dating is hardly a new technology and scientists at this point have extensive familiarity with the problem of contaminants and methods for dealing properly with them in this sort of analysis.

There are other problems as well, particularly with the bloodstains. Questions remain, first of all, as to whether these stains were produced by actual human blood or even by blood at all. The team of scientists who examined the shroud in October 1978 at the close of its public display found albumin, porphyrinic material and iron associated with these stains and concluded that they had to have been produced by genuine human blood rather than by paint or some other substance. W. McCrone and others have questioned these findings. They link the iron discovered to the iron-oxide of artist's paint and raise difficulties about the red color of the stains, very odd for such ancient blood. On the other hand, the scientists involved in the 1978 study found no evidence whatever of brush strokes or other "directional" markings that would indicate that either the blood stains or the body images as a whole had been painted on the cloth.

Whatever is to be said about the medium that caused these bloodstains, there is a further and much more serious difficulty. These stains, clear in outline and unsmudged, show a downward trend in their flow. Such would have been the direction taken by blood flowing from Jesus' various wounds while he hung vertically on the cross but not while his body lay prone in the tomb, if such flows could still have occurred at that point. Assuming the authenticity of the shroud, this state of affairs required that when Jesus' friends drew the nails from his hands and feet, took his body from the cross, carried it for some unknown distance to the tomb, and then laid it on the cloth of the shroud, they did all these things without smearing or disturbing the bloodstains on his body, an impossible supposition. F. Zugibe, who supports the authenticity of the shroud, has argued that Jesus' body was washed before being placed upon his burial shroud and that the shroud preserves a post-mortem oozing of blood from the various wounds. But in saying this, he fails to address the directionality of the blood flows seen on the shroud.

The hand of an artist may also be betrayed by the way in which the body of Jesus appears on the shroud. If Jesus' dead body actually produced the images seen on the shroud, those bodily areas closer to or touching the cloth should be delineated very clearly while those further away should be less distinct. In fact, however, Jesus' hands and face, including even the recessed areas around his eyes, are quite distinct (as one would expect in portrait art) while other areas of his body such as his buttocks and his navel are faintly outlined or even invisible. A pious concern for modesty may well account for this discrepancy. Very likely such a consideration also explains why the right arm and hand of the figure on the shroud are abnormally elongated. This permitted Jesus' genital area to be covered in modest fashion by his hands, an arrangement physically impossible for an ordinary dead body lying relaxed and prone. A further oddity is that no wrinkles or other irregularities distort the shroud's images, an improbability if this cloth had actually covered the irregular form of Jesus' body. Finally, the very fact that the man of the shroud looks just like our typical devotional images of Jesus raises questions since this so familiar iconographic convention can only be traced with certainty back to the Byzantine period. Earlier representations of Jesus in the catacombs of Rome, for example, depict him as beardless, and the canonical Gospels provide no description whatever of Jesus' physical appearance.

In terms of chronology, all efforts to situate this cloth in 1st century Palestine have so far proven inconclusive. Both its three-to-one herringbone weave and the presence of cotton fragments amid its linen threads as easily point to medieval Europe as to the Greco-Roman world. Pollen from Palestinian flora found trapped in the weave could well be contaminants carried by the wind or deposited by other means. Some think that they can discern a coin from the administration of Pontius Pilate covering Jesus' right eye. Yet the photographs of this "coin" are very blurred, and the use of coins to cover the eyes of the dead is not attested for 1st century Palestine.

In short, while many unanswered questions still remain, not least that of how the images came to appear on the cloth in the first place, it is most unlikely that this object is the authentic burial shroud of Jesus. Instead, while possibly a forgery deliberately intended to deceive the faithful, it very well could have been produced to serve as a devotional object, a pious reminder of how Jesus gave up even his own life for the salvation of humanity.

Bibliography: n. caldararo, "The Status of Research into the Authenticity of the Shroud," Approfondimento Sindone 1.1 (1997) 5166. p. e. damon et al., "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature 337, 6208 (1989) 61115. j. h. heller, Report on the Shroud of Turin (Boston 1983). j. iannone, The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence (New York 1998). r. wild, s.j., "The Shroud of TurinProbably the Work of a 14th-Century Artist or Forger," (Biblical Archaeology Review) 10, 2 (MarchApril 1984) 3046. i. wilson, The Shroud of Turin (New York 1978); The Mysterious Shroud (Garden City, N.Y.1986); The Blood and the Shroud (New York 1998).

[r. a. wild]

Shroud of Turin Research Project

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Shroud of Turin Research Project

Former project founded in 1978, with a membership of professionals, logistics support personnel, and physical scientists whom acted as principal investigators in research work being performed on the Turin Shroud.

The purpose of the project was to determine the physics and chemistry of both the cloth and image in order to verify or refute the authenticity of the Shroud. The project conducted nondestructive testing and research and attempted to simulate and analyze various images and stains found on the Shroud through laboratory testings, including chemical analysis, infrared spectroscopy and thermography, optical and ultraviolet reflectance and fluorescent spectroscopy, photography, X-radiography, and X-ray fluorescence.

The project reported findings in the form of technical papers to the scientific press, seeked to coordinate all activities in the field, reviewed research proposals, and distributed funding. It published a quarterly called Update. The project was formally dissolved by the Connecticut Secretary of State in 1993.

Shroud of Turin

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Shroud of Turin. Christian relic venerated as the burial shroud of Jesus (mentioned e.g. in Matthew 27. 59). It is a strip of linen, 4.3 × 1.1 m., bearing the shadowy image of the front and back of a man's body, as if it had been folded over him at the head and the image somehow transferred. The shroud has reposed since 1578 in Turin cathedral. It seems likely that it came to Europe from Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade, but the theory which attempts to trace its history further back, by identifying it with the image of Christ known as the mandylion of Edessa, has not won acceptance.

By 1988 tests on the material had made it clear that the shroud itself (i.e. the material) could not be dated earlier than 1260. The way in which the image was produced is still unknown.

Turin shroud

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Turin shroud Sheet of very old linen kept in Turin Cathedral, nw Italy, by tradition the cloth in which the body of Christ was wrapped after the Crucifixion. When photographed in 1898, negatives appeared to show the outline of a human figure. In 1988, results of carbon dating tests revealed that the shroud had in fact been made sometime between ad 1260 and 1390, more than a millennium after the death of Christ.

Turin Shroud

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Turin Shroud a relic, preserved at Turin in NW Italy since 1578, venerated as the winding-sheet in which Christ's body was wrapped for burial. It bears the imprint of the front and back of a human body as well as markings that correspond to the traditional stigmata. Scientific tests carried out in 1988 dated the shroud to the 13th–14th centuries.

Turin Shroud

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Turin Shroud (Christian relic): see SHROUD OF TURIN.