Shroud of Turin

Probably the most studied religious relic of all time, the Shroud of Turin is an enduring mystery which continues to defy science and rational explanation. Could this really be the actual burial cloth that Jesus was buried in? Let's take a look at this intriguing relic.

The Shroud has a known provenance since 1356, when Geoffrey de Charny, a French knight, displayed a linen cloth in Lirey, France, claiming to be the burial shroud of Christ. It bears the image of a man who appears to have been crucified in a manner consistent with the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Shroud as it appears naturally, frontal and dorsal aspects of the body aligned head to head.

The Shroud was one of a number of relics during this period, including other shrouds claiming to be the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. These relics were a great source of revenue for the churches in custody of them, so much so that the Bishop of a nearby town attempted to draw attention away from the Shroud by denouncing it as a fraud, claiming that he had spoken with the artist himself : "Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed." This memorandum was found in the Vatican archives in 1895 and is known as the D'Arcis memorandum after the Bishop who authored it, who had concerns that no such image was mentioned in scripture, and quotes his predecessor in the memorandum, Henri de Poitiers. With such information available, surely the Shroud couldn't be the real burial cloth of Christ? Nearly 700 years science would be able to put Bishop D'Arcis right about what the Shroud isn't, a painting.

At 14 feet by 3 feet , the Shroud was folded over the body tip to toe, and shows both front and back full length images of the body, as if it had been imprinted from within the enclosed cloth where it came into contact with the body.  In 1898, an Italian photographer named Secondo Pia took the first photo of the Shroud. What he saw as the image developed took him by surprise. The photo negative revealed an extremely detailed image never before seen. This was to bring the Shroud under the realm of scientific scrutiny.

Shroud negative image reveals intricate details of the body image, including x ray qualities.

Science reveals a lot of information about the Shroud of Turin but remains silent as to how the image was created and whether it is the actual burial shroud of Christ. In 1978, scientists were given unprecedented access to the Shroud to carry out a range of scientific testing. The group of scientists went under the pseudonym of STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project). At the time they presumed that they would spend a few days testing the cloth and quickly arrive at the conclusion that it was a skilfully crafted work of art. Over thirty years later, STURP is still in existence, and still trying to work out how the image on the cloth was formed.

Some of the main findings of STURP demonstrated that the fibers of the cloth were covered in a very fine starch layer,  finer than human hair, and that the image resides there. The image bearing fibers were shown to have had their starch layer dehydrated somewhat, causing a discolouration, which is what we see as the image on the Shroud. To cause a discernable image, some fibrils are darker than others. This variation in subtle tones can be referred to as a grayscale of tones, and is what makes up the image. So precise are the values of these tones, that when the image is subjected to 3D computer imaging or relief mapping techniques designed to pick up on these variations in tone, the Shroud returns a near perfect 3D image. To put this in perspective, a painting, photograph, rubbings or scorch methods of producing images will not render a proper 3D image.This is because a 3D image works on reliefs or distances between the image and the source of the image. In the case of the Shroud, it was the linen draped over the body, in places it was in contact with the body, in others further away. This distance information has been encoded into the subtle grayscale on the cloth, and therefore modern technology is able to render a 3D image from it.


But wait, didn't scientists declare the Shroud a fake in 1988 when it was subject to a new method of carbon dating? They certainly did, amongst great fanfare and backed up by an atheist organisation, a date range of between 1260 AD and 1390 AD followed by a forthright exclamation mark to hammer the point home, was when the Shroud was made. Anyone who clinged to the belief that it was the burial cloth of Christ was equated with the Flat Earth Society, so they said. To many people this was conclusive, the Shroud had been put to the scientific test and had been found guilty of being a fraud. However, to a pair of amateur scientists, the carbon dating result was in error, and they would show why. Their explanation for the carbon dating anomaly was that the samples used for the dating had been taken from a medieval repair, a repair so good that it wasn't visible to the naked eye. This prompted a member of the STURP team to investigate their claims and essentially validate them. A difference in chemical composition between the sample area and the rest of the cloth was found, inidcating a siginifcant amount of cotton in the samples as opposed to linen. Also linen threads unwoven and then rewoven with cotton threads "invisibly" were also found in the sample area.

Another important piece of "proof" against the carbon dating result is the "Hungarian Pray Manuscript". This document dates to 1192 AD, well before the earliest carbon date, and shows Jesus being laid in his burial cloth. The bottom image shows the cloth again in more detail with the distinctive herringbone weave that the Shroud is famous for. Look closely at the bottom image and you will see a sequence of circles in an L shape, which correspond to the Shroud's L shaped burn holes. In the top image, Jesus has his arms crossed as in the Shroud, and importantly, his thumbs are missing, as they are in the Shroud. The unusualness of these points of congruence between the Pray Manuscript and the Shroud of Turin can only lead the observer to one conclusion, that the Manuscript depicts the Shroud, and therefore invalidates the carbon dating result.



 Pathological investigations reveal the physical extent to which the man on the Shroud suffered. Scientists who have carried out such forensic pathology on the Shroud are in no doubt that the physical attributes and injuries are that of a real man.  The man on the Shroud bears over 100 lash marks from a Roman torture device known as a Flagrum, which is like a whip with shards of bone attached to the end designed to tear into the flesh. So realistic are these lash marks that around the waist and leg areas the marks can be seen wrapping around to the front as would be expected from an over zealous torturer inflicting maximum damage.

Blood flows down the arm reveal the angle at which the man was crucified, ten to two, or a Y shaped position. Occasional changes in the blood flow also reveals the man was trying to repeatedly pull himself up in order to breathe properly, as the crucifixion position puts enormous stress on the respiratory system.

Traditional imagery of Jesus' crucifixion sees the nails being driven through the palms of the hands. The image on the Shroud reveals the back of the hands, and interestingly the nail marks exit through the wrist. That isn't to say that the nails didn't enter through the palms, as it has been demonstrated that the nails could have been driven in the palm at such an angle so as to exit through the wrist. To support the body on the cross, the nails would have to be driven through the wrist as opposed to the palm, assuming there was no other form of support. As for the gospel accounts that mention the hands, the whole of the lower arm was considered to be the "hand" in the time of Jesus.

There is little doubt that the blood on the Shroud is actually real blood. This theory was controversial as the Microscopist, Walter McCrone, who was working for the STURP team, stated that his investigations revealed a red ochre (paint). Indeed, fragments of paint where found, but this was spread finely and was found not to form the image, and as has already been mentioned, the image has been scientifically shown to exist in a fine starch layer, finer than a human hair, on top of the outer most fibers. Critics of the Shroud point out that the blood appears red and therefore must be paint, as blood turns almost black after a short time exposed, so how can the Shroud's blood still retain a red colour? Well, forensic investigations on the Shroud reveal a stain around the blood marks which has been determined to be bilirubin, a substance secreted when the body is under extreme stress. Haemoglobin was also found along with myrrhs and aloes, preservants, and in combination with bilirubin have been determined as the elements giving the blood stains a red colour. Indeed, the blood type has been determined as group AB.