Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin


by: Jim Dunning

(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author, Jim Dunning, for his kind permission in reprinting it here. Additional note: you can click on the image to the left to enlarge it.)

The authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the cloth believed to have covered Christ’s body in the tomb, was called into question in 1988 when Carbon-14 dating tests indicated that the Shroud originated in the 13th century. If that was correct it followed that the image on the Shroud of a crucified man purporting to be Jesus Christ must have been created by a 13th century forger.

These tests were carried out independently at three separate university locations – Oxford, Zurich and Arizona – and the results indicated that the linen sample taken from the Shroud provided a range of possible dates from AD 1260 – 1390. A statement issued on behalf of the three universities declared that there was ‘conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud is medieval’.

This announcement naturally caused great dismay among Christians of all denominations at the time, but in subsequent years the findings were challenged and it has since been proved, after intense scientific investigation, that the material provided for the Carbon 14 testing was not part of the original Shroud. At first it was thought that incorrect dating might have resulted from contamination since the Shroud was known to have been through many hands, but it was later discovered through scientific analysis of the fibres that the Carbon 14 sample used had been taken from a mended area of the cloth containing significant amounts of newer material.

Why was this not spotted earlier on? For a simple reason. The area of cloth provided as a sample for testing turned out to be a patch. But not any old patch. It is significant that ‘invisible weaving’ was a popular trade during the Middle Ages. Fabric was regarded as much more precious in those days, compared with present times, so repairs were considered essential. A method known as the ‘French Weave’, also called the ‘Invisible Weave’, was applied to valuable materials. All the major courts of Europe had teams of skilled weavers employed in the repair of high quality textiles. And we know that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man whose household would have provided a shroud of the highest quality.

In the case of the Shroud of Turin, it became clear that threads used for repair had been dyed to make them look older and to match other threads. The threads of the Shroud itself were not dyed. Just a small area in one corner of the Shroud –all that was permitted by the Church authorities – reveal some mending threads that were dyed to resemble the rest of the age-yellowed Shroud. This has been proved by meticulous chemical analysis.

It is now generally accepted that the Shroud is significantly older than the Carbon 14 dating suggested. A modern expert on textiles through the ages has expressed her conviction that the stitching on the Shroud is peculiar to the 1st century. Surprisingly true is the fact that the Shroud of Turin is the most studied object in all history. It even has its own area of study, sindonology, devoted exclusively to investigating the Shroud and its history. Some serious scholars have devoted a whole lifetime to researching the subject.

As described so vividly by Ian Wilson in his fascinating book "The Evidence of the Shroud" (1986), interest in the subject took a leap in May,1898, when the first-ever official photograph of the Shroud was taken by a Turin counsellor named Secondo Pia. As he watched his film develop he was amazed to see ‘a hauntingly majestic countenance with eyes closed in death.’ The account continues : ‘The Shroud revealed itself to be a kind of photographic negative which became positive when reversed by the camera.’ Subsequent photography with more sophisticated equipment has produced even better results.

The early history of the Shroud is quite vague, though some part of its movements are known. It is first mentioned by a crusader in Constantinople in the year 1203, and first recorded in Troyes, France, in 1389, when a certain Bishop d’Arcis complained to Pope Clement VII in Avignon that for the purpose of monetary gain the tiny church of Lirey had acquired a cloth purporting to be the very shroud in which Jesus Christ had been enfolded. The Bishop, of course, did not have the benefit of photography and was doubtless concerned over the number of fake relics being traded at the time. The family who owned both the church and the cloth at Lirey were the De Charnys.

The Shroud later came into the possession of the Duke of Savoy, whose descendants willed it to the Vatican as recently as 1983. Before that, in 1578, the relic, by now considered genuine, was ceremoniously moved to the family’s new capital of Turin, where it has remained ever since. Pope Julius II awarded the cloth a special feast day, that of the Holy Shroud.

There have been various expositions of the Shroud. It was during the exposition of 1898 that the first photograph was taken. Eighty years later, in 1978, the world was to see another significant development when a team of 24 American scientists were invited to subject the Shroud to scientific testing. Given only five days in which to carry out their investigations, they formed themselves into the ‘Shroud of Turin Research Project’ (STURP) and set to work.. Far from being a team biased in favour of positive findings, their number included 6 agnostics, 2 Mormons, 3 Jews, 4 Catholics and various Protestants. Their tests were formidable – X-ray fluorescence analysis, ultraviolet spectophotometry, visible and infrared spectroscopy, all designed to detect the possible use of an artist’s paintwork, which many of them expected would be the case.

In fact no such evidence was uncovered, but on their return to the United States, a famous microanalyst, Dr. Walter McCrone, was invited to examine some sticky-tape samples taken from the Shroud. He found numerous traces of iron oxide and announced unequivocally that the image on the Shroud had been painted. This was hotly contested and subsequent tests by the Sturp team revealed that the iron traces on the Shroud are pure. Comparison with Egyptian burial linen of 1500 BC showed the same degree of ‘chemically pure’ iron. This demonstrates that the iron found on the Shroud derives from a natural process in the production of linen from flax. It was even found within the fibres of the bamboo-like structure of the linen fibrils, which no paint from an artist’s brush could possibly have reached. Similarly, although Dr. McCrone had declared that the blood images on the Shroud were too red for their age, scientific experiments on both sides of the Atlantic confirmed that they were genuine. A Professor Bollone identified it as human and of the AB blood group.

The Shroud was frequently copied by artists, working directly from the Shroud itself, so it is not surprising that Dr. McCrone found traces of paint pigments such as vermilion, ultramarine and orpiment, in addition to the iron oxide already mentioned. Even while the STURP team were working in the Turin Palace, stray particles of paint fell on to the Shroud from frescoes on the ceiling above them – in only five days!

here are other reasons for discounting the possibility of a skilled painter being responsible for the creation of the Shroud. A study of the wounds in the hands reveals that the nails used were driven through the wrists. Medical experiments have shown that nails driven straight through the palms would not have supported the weight of a body on the cross. Paintings of the crucifixion show that artists have got this detail wrong throughout history, and there is no reason to suppose that a mediaeval forger would have corrected the error.

Experts at the Hercules Aerospace laboratory in Salt Lake, Utah, carried out a study of a sample of dirt taken from the foot region of the Shroud. They identified crystals of travertine argonite, a relatively rare form of calcite found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Would a mediaeval forger have taken the trouble to impregnate the linen with marble dust from the ground near Golgotha? Hardly.

Strenouous efforts have been made to replicate the Shroud, but all such efforts have been unsuccessful. No one has been able to point to a painter of any age with the skill to create a shroud with all the realistic features of the Shroud of Turin. Members of the STURP team, in particular, agreed that the images on the Shroud could only have been caused by a man who had been subjected to a savage scourging before being crucified, with unusual head wounds suggestive of the wearing of a crown of thorns, consistent with Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Portraits of Christ from the sixth Century, compared with the face on the Shroud, suggest that the Shroud, or a copy of it, must have been seen by artists at the time since there are close similarities. Previously, Christ had often been depicted as clean-shaven, but this no longer occurred.. The theory has been advanced that the Image of Edessa, described at the time as a miraculously imprinted image of the face of Jesus, and known to have been moved to Constantinople in AD 944, was responsible for the change. Some believe that it was, in fact, the face of the Shroud, resulting from the latter being folded in four so that only the face showed. It is believed that the Image had been hidden in a niche above the gate of Edessa in Eastern Turkey until its rediscovery in the sixth century.

Whatever the case, the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is strongly supported by a close study of the Sudarium of Oviedo, the small face-cloth believed to have covered the face of Jesus immediately after his death on the Cross. [The author of this article, Jim Dunning, has written an excellent article on the Sudarium of Oviedo here].

Since I originally wrote this article back in August [2009], I have seen further evidence regarding the true date of the Shroud. I suggest those interested read the online article "Secrets of the Dead -an interview with Mechthild Flury-Lemberg", a master textile restorer who came out of retirement to examine the Shroud. Comparing it with weaving techniques of the first Century, she concluded quite firmly that an appropriate date for the cloth of the Shroud was between 40 BC and 73 AD.

-Jim Dunning lives in the United Kingdom. His hobbies include watching rugby and writing short stories and religious articles.

More information about the Shroud of Turin:
Several million people are expected to view the Shroud of Turin, including Pope Benedict XVI, when it goes on public display in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Turin, Italy. The Shroud will be availible for public viewing in the northern Italian city from April 10 to May 23, 2010.

Pope Bendict XVI will pay homage to the Shroud of Turin during a special visit on May 2, 2010. Pope Benedict stated last June that his visit would be "a propitious occasion to contemplate this mysterious visage that speaks silently to the heart of men, inviting them to recognise the face of God."


Melissa said...

Thank you very much for publishing this excellent article. I wish I could go to Turin in May.

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for your kind comnment. I am really glad to hear that you enjoyed the article.

May God bless you and yours!
-Glenn Dallaire

Glenn said...

interesting article. out of curiosity, has there been any research into the ethnic typology of the face depicted? I've always found that the face is disconcertingly European rather than Semitic - ie more in line with the expectations of the subsequent primary demographic of Christianity than with the local population at the time of the crucifixion

Jim Dunning said...

Hello, Glenn,
I have been asked by Glenn Dallaire to reply to your question regarding the above,
in which you query whether there has been any research into the ethnic typology
of the face on the Shroud.
The simple answer is, I don't know. However, I doubt it. The bibliography at the
back of Ian Wilson's comprehensive work entitled 'The Evidence of the Shroud' (1986)
contains more than 150 works in a variety of languages on aspects of the Shroud, but
I failed to find among the titles anything remotely answering your question.
Mind you, that does not surprise me. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was Jewish, but He
had no earthly father. No one has ever seen the face of God the Father, but I sometimes
wonder if the wonderfully dignified face of the Shroud is a reflection of Him.
Earlier this month a French magazine, 'Famille Chretienne', published a piece by Dominique Pomman entitled: 'The Most Moving Face I have ever Seen'. Part of it reads:-
....this face of a man tortured to a face that honours to an exceptional degree
of honour, the humanity of man.....I have seen many faces of men. I have loved and admired very many. Men living or dead, I have seen, in masterpieces of art and in life
encounters, faces which moved and touched me, transforming me, perhaps, beyond words.
I have not seen any face like this one. I have never seen one which radiates such
sovereign serenity, such grave and sweet majesty.'
It is this sort of aspect that fascinates me, rather than all the scientific findings.
Best wishes, however, to you and your enquiring mind!
-Jim Dunning

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this article. I saw the shroud on tour some time in my early childhood. It's one of the few mystical experiences I've ever had. I just felt overwhelmed with respect and awe. Like I wanted to fall on my knees or bow or something. I did not want to leave the small room. It's interesting because I was so young when I saw it. I didn't really understand what it was. Yet I can still feel the sacred feeling anytime I think about it. In my opinion, that's no ordinary piece of cloth.

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