Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a mysterious 4.34-meter-long (14-foot-3-inch-long), 1.09-meter-wide (3-foot-7-inch-wide) piece of ivory-colored linen that is believed to be the shroud in which Christ's body was wrapped after the crucifixion. Imprinted on the shroud is a yellowish image of a man thought to be Christ himself. The Catholic church makes no claims to its authenticity, but says it is a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering. [Source: Kenneth Weaver, National Geographic, June 1980]

The shroud is owned by the Vatican and can not be viewed. It is rolled in red silk and rests in a silver-bound reliquary, placed high above a marble altar in a locked chamber of the Renaissance Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista) in Turin. When it was displayed in 2000 about 1 million people turned up to see it. Another showing occurred in 2010. About 2 million people came out to see in 2015.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that at least parts of the relic date to Medieval times, suggesting it was an elaborate hoax created to beguile 14th-century believers. Subsequent research has revealed that However, follow-up research found the shroud could be much older — dating to between 280 B.C. to A.D. 220 — well within Jesus's lifespan. The debate rages on about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ;

Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images ;

Image on the Shroud of Turin

The long and narrow shroud has images of both a man's front side and backside which are amazingly clear. The man has long hair and beard and six hands are crossed over his crotch. No one knows how the image was made and scientists have been unable to reproduce it.

The man’s faces appears swollen from blows. Up and down both sides of the man's legs and torso are scourge marks from whip lashings. At the end of the marks there appears to be contusions consist with wounds made by a Roman whip called a flagrum. There is even dried blood around the image's head, wrists, legs and left side which match up with the crown of thorns, crucifixion nails and lance wound that Christ sustained as he walked to Cavalry.

The image shows markings of a Roman crucifixion (the nails were in the wrists not the hands). Some scholars have said that over the eyebrows are impressions of coins with the name Tiberius Ceasar, dating from A.D. 30-31. Other scholars have suggested the image could have been made been with oils used to anoint Jesus's body and the intense heat created during resurrection (but images left behind by heated oils are different than those on the shroud).

History of the Shroud of Turin

artist impression of the man in the Shroud of Turin

The shroud has been surrounded by controversy ever since it was its first recorded display in 1349 in France. The shroud was brought back by French knight Geoffrey de Charny from Constantinople after it was sacked during the Forth Crusade. He didn't say how he got it. Presumable it arrived in Constantinople, the capital of Christendom for more than a thousand years, from the Holy Land. Around 1400 it was declared a fraud by a French bishop.

In 1432, the shroud was purchased by the House of Savory, the source of many Italian kings, A fire in 1532 nearly destroyed the shroud. A drop of molten silver from the reliquary dropped on it and the clothe still bears scorch marks from the incident. It arrived in Turin in 1578. It was placed in a baroque chapel, built by the Duke of Savoy, where it continues to reside today.

In 1898, the first photographs of the shroud were taken. The photographer who took them was astonished to find the image was more visible on a photograph and it was a negative image. During World War II it was taken out of harms way to southern Italy. In March 1983, the shroud became the possession of The Vatican after the death of Umberto II, the exiled last king of Italy, who willed it the Holy See.

Evidence that the Shroud of Turin is Fake

Scientists were allowed to examine the Shroud of Turin during a 1978 exhibition. A U.S. team studied it non-stop for 120 hours with $2.5 million of equipment and spent 150,000 man hours doing analysis and study. Carbon testing was not allowed on the grounds that a valuable fragment was needed for the testing and it is destroyed in the test. Even if the shroud turns out to be 2000 years old would be impossible without divine intervention or a great technological breakthrough to determine whether the shroud holds the image of Jesus himself.

Shroud of Turin on display

Carbon 14 testing was finally done in 1988. The test concluded that the Shroud of Turin was woven from flax harvested between A.D. 1262 and A.D. 1390, which means the 4.3 meter (14-foot) shroud could not be Christ's burial cloth, unless the power of God can transcend time. Pieces of the shroud were analyzed by three different laboratories—at Oxford and in Arizona and Zurich—and all of whom came up with the same dates.

Some scholars maintain the blood was made by red ocher or red pigment rather blood. Other have recreated similar shrouds using various techniques. Even the Vatican admitted the shroud could not what it claimed to be.

In October 2009 an Italian group called the Committee for Checking Claims of the Paranormal announced that it had figured out a way to duplicate the images made on the Shroud of Turin. The lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said the team used a line woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged it by heating it in a an oven and washing it with water. The clothe was then placed on a student who wore a mask to reproduce the face and rubbed with red ocher.

Evidence that the Shroud of Turin in Genuine

The scientist in 1978 concluded that image on the Shroud of Turin was not painted on and they couln't explain how it was made; that the "blood" responded to X-ray analysis, thermography and chemical analysis the same way real Type AB blood does; and that it was not a forgery based on the conclusuion that an image like the one on the shroud could not be made using any known method.

Some scientists have suggested that the carbon dating done in 1988 may have been affected by the 1532 fire or microorganism that had attached themselves to the cloth in recent centuries. Carbon dating works only on samples less than 5,730 year old. After a living things dies that ratio of Carbon 14 isotopes to Carbon 12 isotopes decays at a known rate. The measurement of this ratio with a high energy mass spectrometer reveals the date.

In 1997, scientists reported that pollen found on the shroud matches that of plant species found only in the Palestine area. Analysis done in 1999 at the Hebrew International University showed that the pollen came from around the Jerusalem area sometime before the 8th century.

Pollen grain found in the shroud matches grains found on the Sudarium of Oviedo, a relic kept at the Cathedral in Oviedo Spain. The sudarium has been dated to the first century and has also been described as the burial facial cloth of Jesus. Both the shroud and the sudarium appear to carry type AB blood, plus they have the same pattern of blood stain and the same kinds of pollen.

There are no traces of any paint on the shroud. The image is a negative. It is unlikely medieval forgers could have made such an image, they had no knowledge of photography. The body was prepared in a way that is consistent with burials in Jesus's time (except some scholars believe hand were folded across the chest not placed on the groin).

John Jackson, a physicist at the University of Colorado, has hypothesized the cloth was contaminated by high levels of carbon monoxide and the this caused the carbon-14 tests to be off. His assertion has been taken seriously enough that Oxford has said it will work with him to get permission to test the shroud again. In addition, Los Alamos National Laboratory presented research that the 1988 finding might be off because the piece of cloth sample might be a medieval addition added during repairs. Jackson also asserts that there is too much evidence that the shroud is older than Carbon 14 tests concluded and the matter needs a fresh look.

Storage and Rescue of the Shroud of Turin

The shroud is normally rolled up and kept in a silver reliquary, which in turn is sealed behind bulletproof glass. A computer controls the climate inside, making adjustments for humidity and temperature. The shroud itself is so fragile it has been stitched to a white lining to keep it from disintegrating. It is no longer rolled up but should no be exposed to light.

In April 1997, a fire destroyed most of the church that houses the shroud. Turin firefighter Mario Trematore had to break though three layers of bulletproof glass case with a sledgehammer to rescue the shroud. "I was afraid for the shroud,: the fireman told the New York Times, "because when I smashed through the glass, I could easily smash the casket and the shroud, and then I would have been known as the biggest cretin in the world."

Trematore said in an another interview, "A force in the cloth...was the faith of millions of believers, not my own; I knew I had to save the shroud for them, not for me. Before then, I was an indifferent Catholic, but that moment changed my life. When I carried away the shroud in the silver case, it was incredibly light, like a newborn child. I felt like the donkey carrying Jesus into Jerusalem."

Displaying the Shroud of Turin

In the fall of 1978 the Shroud of Turin was displayed for six weeks inside a bullet-proof glass and steel case and over three million people came to see it. Some waited in line 16 hours to see it. Before 1978, it was shown only in 1931 and 1933.

The shroud was displayed from mid April to mid June 1998. It was hung lengthwise over a purple drapery in the dark nave of Turin Cathedral. Tens of thousands of people visited each day. Each person was allowed to view it for two minutes before being asked to move on. Among those who saw it were Pope John Paul II. Another showing was held in 2000, a Holy Year for the Roman Catholic Church.

More than 500 books have been written on the Shroud of Turin. There are also a bunch of web sites.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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