The Turin Shroud

The Shroud of Turin is reputedly Christ's burial cloth. It has been a religious relic since the Middle Ages. To believers it was divine proof the Christ was resurrected from the grave, to doubters it was evidence of human gullibility and one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of art. No one has been able to prove that it is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, but its haunting image of a man's wounded body is proof enough for true believers. The Shroud of Turin, as seen by the naked eye, is a negative image of a man with his hands folded. The linen is 14 feet, 3 inches long and 3 feet, 7 inches wide. The shroud bears the image of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Jesus. The shroud is wrapped in red silk and kept in a silver chest in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy since 1578.

Its first appearance in recorded history came in 1357, in the little village of Lirey in France. It was then taken to Chambéry, in the Savoy region of the country in 1457, and it was there in 1532 that the shroud was almost destroyed in a fierce fire. This experience left charred marks on the corner of the folds in the fabric, and in 1578 it was taken to Turin where it has remained ever since. The Catholic Church is convinced that the shroud genuinely possesses an amazing physical record of Christ’s body, and the cloth is now only shown to the public on rare occasions.

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.

In 1988, among much publicity, the Holy See allowed the relic to be independently radiocarbon dated by three separate research institutions: Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The laboratories all used parts from the same sample, a piece of cloth just 1 centimeter by 5.7 centimeter, taken from the corner of the shroud, for testing. The conclusion from the tests was that the object dated from sometime between A.D. 1260 and 1390, the era when the shroud was first exhibited, and was therefore not the burial cloth of Christ, but a medieval forgery.

However, recent research has thrown considerable doubt on the validity of the 1988 radiocarbon dates. A paper by chemist Raymond N. Rogers (published in the January 2005 issue of the scientific journal Thermochimica Acta) indicates that the original sample of cloth used for radiocarbon dating was invalid. Chemical testing found that the radiocarbon sample had completely different chemical properties than the rest of the shroud, persuading many researchers to believe that the sample used for radiocarbon dating must have been cut from one of the patches used to repair the cloth after the 1532 fire. Rogers concluded from his chemical analyses of the cloth that it was at least 1,300 years old.

During the 2002 restorations, the back of the controversial cloth was photographed and scanned for the first time. In 2004, the Institute of Physics in London published an article in the Journal of Optics A, revealing the results of the analysis of the photographs. Using image processing techniques, Italian scientists Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolio of Padova University identified a faint, ghostly image on the reverse of the cloth, showing mainly the face and hands. This second image corresponds with that on the front of the cloth, and is entirely superficial, thus ruling out the possibility of paint seeping through from the front. It would also appear to rule out the theory that the image on the shroud was created using early photographic methods.

This frontal image (above) shows the forearms, wrist, and hands. There appears to be a large puncture wound on the wrist. This is significant because if nails were placed through the palms of the hand, this would not provide sufficient support to hold the body to the cross and tearing of the hands would occur. Only if the nails were placed through the wrists would this provide sufficient support to hold the body fixed to the cross. We can also see a large blood stain and elliptical wound on the person's right side (remember, in a negative imprint left and right are reversed).

From studying the size and shape of this wound and historical records, we can deduce that this wound could have been caused by a Roman Lance. In addition, by measuring the angle of dried blood on the wrist, one can reconstruct the angle at which this person hung from the cross. He mainly hung from a position 65 degrees from the horizontal.

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 (1452–1519). 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.

100 Strangest Mysteries by Matt Lamy;
The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained by Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger;
Hidden History by Brian Haughton

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