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The Shroud of Turin

Some research Results and general Information

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The Shroud is in the care of the Roman Catholic Church. Many Catholics tend to be relic oriented. The Shroud has a large number of devotees in the Church, clerics and laymen alike, who revere the cloth as the genuine grave garment of Jesus Christ.

The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is not interested in proving the genuineness of the Shroud nor in exposing it as a hoax – and for very good reasons. Were they to declare the sacred relic as genuine they would be encouraging church members to base their faith upon it.

Despite the overwhelming weight of the evidence available at present which tends to substantiate the authenticity of the Shroud, the remote possibility still remains, that it could nevertheless turn out to be a clever hoax at some future time. This could then undermine the believers’ faith in the Lord and in the Church leadership.

The path they have apparently chosen is to leave the question open while not appearing to be adverse to attempts at scientific assessment. They have, however, only once allowed the Shroud to be subjected to a thorough scientific examination. That was in 1978. The results of that examination, conducted by a neutral and illustrious army of experts, were overwhelmingly positive – pointing toward genuineness.

 

 
   

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The following passages are, for the most part, from an article by Kenneth F. Weaver, science editor of National Geographic Magazine.

This article reports on the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project under the auspices of which possibly the most rigorous tests any artifact had ever been submitted to were conducted.

The international team of scientists participating included representatives of the most advanced scientific institutions in the world.

·        Lockheed Corporation
·       
US Air Force Weapons Laboratory
·        Brooks Institute, Oceanographic Services Incorporated
·        Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory
·        Nuclear Technology Corporation
·        Oriel Corporation
·        New England Institute
·        US Air Force Academy
·        Jet Propulsion Laboratory
·        Sandia Laboratories
·        Santa Barbara Research Center ... and others.

The article which appeared in the June 1980 issue of National Geographic was entitled, Science Seeks to Solve the Mystery of the Shroud. Here are some excerpts:

 
   

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“This treasured strip of linen cloth - an object of veneration by millions - is one of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times. It is, in fact, the focus of an intensive scientific investigation that reads like a mystery story. ...

The clue that transcends all others is the remarkable image on the shroud itself. A ghostly image, life-size, of an unclothed bearded man with long hair.

 

The face, hauntingly serene in death, would grace a masterpiece of art. The body, anatomically correct, bears the frightful marks of scourging, crucifixion and piercing -perhaps by thorns and lance. It would appear to be a portrait, uncannily accurate when matched against the gospel accounts of Jesus of Nazareth, and indeed some believe that this stretch of ivory linen is the very cloth that Joseph of Arimathaea placed under and over the body of Jesus ... nearly 2000 years ago. ...

 
   

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The shroud first emerges on the stage of [western] history in the mid-14th century in the town of Lirey, France. Its owner was a famed knight - Geoffrey de Charny, Seigneur of Lirey. Where and how he got the relic, no one knows although there was talk of "spoil of battle". A chronicler of the fourth crusade, Robert de Clari, had written of seeing in Constantinople in 1203, a shroud that bore "the figure of our Lord". The following year he recounted it had disappeared when the Crusaders looted the Byzantine capital. ...

 

For reasons that are somewhat murky, de Charny's granddaughter, Marguerite, surrendered her prize possession to Luis, Duke of Savoy, in 1453. .... The shroud, from then to this day, has belonged to the house of Savoy. Duke Luis built a special church at Chambery, the Sainte Chapelle, where the shroud was enshrined. ...

 

 

An incident at Chambery in 1532, takes on special significance today. Fire broke out in the sacristy of Sainte Chapelle. Before the shroud was rushed to safety, drops of molten silver from its casket dropped on the cloth and severely charred some of the corners of the folds. Water, used to put out the fire, left large and unsightly stains. Fortunately, the image was largely spared. ...

 
   

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In 1578, the Duke of Savoy moved the shroud across the Alps to his new capital, Turin. ... Save for a period during World War II, it has been there ever since. ... In 1978, the shroud was brought out for public exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of its arrival in Turin.

 

The author continues:

I had long been interested in art forgeries and the amazingly clever ways in which scientists detect them. This interest led me to Turin to get a first hand look at perhaps the most important relic in all Christendom.

 
     
 


He then describes his first impression of the shroud:

The twin lines of scars and the water stains from the 1532 fire dominated. The image itself – mist-like sepia impressions – seemed to fade into the cloth as I moved in closer. It was necessary to back off for the eye to resolve details.
 

 The 'blood' showed darker than the body and stood out more sharply. Trickles on the head and arms, splotches on the side, wrist and feet and multitudes of what appeared to be lash marks. At the ends of the lash marks seemed to be contusions of a type that could have been inflicted by a Roman whip called the 'flagrum' whose thongs were tipped with bits of lead or bone. Clearly the figure on the shroud has suffered savage and humiliating treatment.
 

 I could not guess from my vantage point if the shroud was genuine or a hoax. These were the questions the scientists had come to address.

 
   

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Upper and lower torso (frontal view)

[photos and graphic depictions]

 
   

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Upper torso, legs and feet
(back view)

 
   

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  It would not be the shroud's first brush with science. That happened 80 years before in 1898 with the first photographs of the relic. Those pictures uncovered the most surprising of the shroud's many mysteries.

 

When the photographer Secondo Pia examined his first glass plate negative as it emerged from the developing bath, he almost dropped it in shocked excitement. He was looking not at the usually unrealistic confusing photographic negative, but at a clear positive image.

 

 

 

The shroud was revealed as a negative image ... hundreds of years before the invention of photography. The idea that the shroud was a hoax suddenly seemed less plausible, for how could a medieval artist have produced a negative image and why would he choose to do so ?

 

 

 
   

 

 


  As long ago as 1974, two young Air Force scientists had begun an intensive study of later shroud photographs. ... They processed the pictures with the VP-8 Image Analyzer, a sophisticated instrument designed to convert image intensity to vertical relief.

To their surprise they found that the shroud contains accurate three-dimensional data, something that ordinary photographs or paintings do not have. With the computer information, they were able to construct a three-dimensional model of the image.

 

 



 
   

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     ... a noted French surgeon, Doctor Pierre Barbet, saw the shroud and became interested in the new set of photographs made in 1931 by Giuseppe Enrie. Barbet sought to verify the anatomical accuracy of the marks on the shroud by experimenting with cadavers.                         

He quickly learned that nails in the palms will not support a man's body. On the other hand, a nail in the wrist or forearm will not tear out.

 

This knowledge made the case for the shroud's authenticity seem stronger, for the mark of the nail on the shroud image is not in the palm (as it is traditionally seen in paintings of the crucifixion), but in the wrist area.

 

 A medieval hoaxer would presumably have based his image on what he had seen in paintings and on the fact that the Gospels speak of nail holes in the hands. He would not likely have known that the Greek word for hand – 'cheir' – can include wrist and forearm as well.

 

 

The shroud conceals further anatomical information, which only emerged during the modern investigations and which could hardly have been available to a mediaeval forger.

 

For instance, it could be determined that the penetration of the nail into the wrist would damage the nerve regulating the movement of the thumb in such a way that the thumb would bend inward, towards the centre of the victim's palm.

 

This phenomenon of the in-bent thumb is not to be found in any painting. But on the shroud it is clearly recognizable.

 

... unearthing a cemetery in Jerusalem in 1968, ... archeologists found the bones of [another Roman crucifixion victim.] ... The nail driven into the right arm had left a clearly defined scratch and worn place on the inside of the radius, close to the wrist. Archeology had confirmed the medical evidence that the shroud's image is correct.

 
   

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Furthermore, in the traces of blood on the shroud flowing from the wounds in the wrists, two clearly divergent angles can be observed.

 

The crucifixion victim, in order to breathe, had to continually prop himself up with his legs. This was very strenuous, as well as extremely painful, and after a while the victim would have to allow himself to sink down again in order to rest. In the resting position he could not breathe and would have to prop himself up again.

Depending on the general strength and physical condition of the victim, this excruciating cycle could last a few hours or a few days. Ultimately the victim became too weak to support himself, and eventually died from a combination of blood loss and a lack of oxygen. If the process of dying took too long, the Roman soldiers would break the victim's legs, making it impossible for him to prop himself up, and he would die of asphyxiation.

This agonizing shifting of the body's position, where the victim had to repeatedly push himself up and lower himself, would cause the blood from the wounds in the wrists, to flow in two different angles. These anatomically exact angles of the blood traces were discovered only relatively recently by a team of medical criminologists, called in to assist in the examinations.

 
 
   

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     The image reveals yet another significant piece of information which further corroborates the Gospels accounts, namely, that, in contrast to the practice mentioned above, the legs of the victim on the shroud image were not broken.

... that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day [the leaders of the synagogue] besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:

 

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

(John 19:31-37)

Traces of blood and water on the shroud, from the lance wound to the side

            graphic depictions (l. view of front; r view of rear)
 

 

 

 

medical criminologist's diagram
  
of the wound to the side

 

 
 
   

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"... The body, anatomically correct, bears the frightful marks of scourging … At the ends of the lash marks seemed to be contusions of a type that could have been inflicted by a Roman whip called the 'flagrum' whose thongs were tipped with bits of lead or bone.  ..."


 
 
   

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Until this time, the shroud had been studied almost entirely from photographs. But in 1969, and again in 1973, experts ... were allowed to examine the shroud itself. ... The 1973 group made startling discoveries. For one thing, they learned that the image is completely superficial, it lies on the topmost fibrils of the thread and has not penetrated at all. Moreover, they recorded that no pigment could be seen even under magnification. ...

burned area

rust

blood

image area

A Swiss criminologist, Max Frei, was permitted to press adhesive tape on the shroud to remove dust and other particles for laboratory analysis.

 

Under his microscope, Frei found 48 samples of pollen. ... Among his identified samples, Frei found a number from plants that are found in France and Italy, as would be expected. In addition, there were seven from palophylic (salt loving) plants found in saline areas such as the Dead Sea and others from Palestine and Anatolia.

 
   

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     ... A further set of findings was based on two small fragments and a number of threads snipped from the shroud in 1973 and turned over to an internationally known textile expert, Professor Gilbert Raes, of the University of Ghent, Belgium.

Some of the textile indications seemed to point to the Holy Land and to great antiquity. The material is linen, commonly used in ancient Palestine for grave clothes. Raes found that it has traces of cotton of a Middle East variety.


The weave is a herringbone twill, a pattern not unknown to the ancients, although plain weave was much more common in those days. The thread appears to be hand spun, an ancient technique ... . Finally the threads are believed to have been bleached before weaving, also an ancient practice.

 

"... The weave is a herringbone twill, a pattern not unknown to the ancients, although plain weave was much more common in those days. ..."

[The Shroud linen cloth was apparently an expensive material, more likely to have been used for the burial of a rich man than a poor one.]
 

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. ...

And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb ...”

(Matthew 27:57-60)

 
   

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Continuing with the National Geographic article …

Speaking of the 1978 Turin investigation, the author says:

 Perhaps never before had an object of art or archeology been subjected to such exhaustive examination. The scientists bombarded the relic with ultra-violet radiation and x-rays and watched for fluorescence. They measured variations in the way the image, the 'blood' and the background emitted or reflected energy across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum.

In infra-red, visible light, ultraviolet and x-ray, they searched for 'fingerprints' of the shroud's chemical makeup. X-ray fluorescence, for example, can detect iron and potassium in blood or spot heavy metals usually found in paints.

Other specialists photographed every square inch of the linen in detail. Some 500 exposures using various wavelengths. They examined it microscopically and took photomicrographs. With sticky tape and a vacuum device they captured bits of fiber, dust, pollen and other particles for analysis. They loosened the backing cloth to see what is on the back of the shroud. Biologist, Giovanni Riggi of Turin, photographed the back surface with the use of fiber optics and collected micro-particles. ...

Under magnification, the scientists report the fibrils from the image area show a light yellow coloring that lies only on the topmost surface of the thread. The coloring has not diffused or soaked into the threads, has not run down the sides of the threads and had not left deposits between threads as one would expect if pigments had been painted or rubbed on.

 
   

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    Here the fire of 1532 becomes helpful. Some of the scientists say that heat sufficient to char the fabric should have been enough to alter the color of organic pigments or vehicles, and the color change should be greatest close to the burned area. Yet, the yellow coloring on the shroud image is remarkably uniform right up to the edge of the burns; it has not been altered. Moreover, water thrown on the shroud to put out the fire would have caused inks to run. Clearly, that did not happen.

    In light of these facts, the scientists, as a group, have settled on one far-reaching conclusion. Chemist Ray Rogers of the Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, sums it up:

  Nearly all of us now believe that the shroud is not a painting. Except for a small amount of iron oxide, we find no pigment. And we do not think that either liquid or vapor could have produced the image we see.

“... The findings from various instruments suggest

that the image is like faint scorch.

 Indeed, the image shows up in the tests in much the same way as the lightly burned portions of the areas
damaged in the 16th-century fire.

“Unlike pigments, scorch would have
gone through the fire
without changing color.

“Also, scorch could have been subjected to water
without fading or running.

“What scorching mechanism could have produced the delicate image we see on the shroud is still undetermined.”

 
   

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    One curious sidelight of scorch hypothesis emerges from the research of [scientists who] found a reference by the Roman historian, Pliny, to the use of a substance called 'struthion', for washing and softening fabrics. Struthion was the classical name for the soapwort 'saponaria officinalis'. Some of the sources indicate that weavers used starch to coat warp threads to stiffen them and then washed out the fabric with saponaria when it was completed.

... Linen samples similar to the shroud material, were washed, some in saponaria and some without, and then briefly heat was applied. The saponaria treated swatches scorched much more rapidly and deeply than the untreated samples. Thus, if the shroud had ever been washed with saponaria it would have been rendered quite susceptible to scorching.

    Saponaria proves of interest in another way. It is toxic to lower forms of life and is a fungicide. That, perhaps, could explain why the shroud shows no obvious mold or mildew despite having been kept for long periods in damp and musty churches.


 
   

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Despite the admitted initial skepticism of most of the researchers, 99% of the results of the numerous scientific investigations to which the Shroud of Turin was subjected, over many years, testify to the genuineness of the relic.

The attempted carbon-14 dating in 1988, which initially suggested a medieval origin of the shroud, later proved to be inconclusive. Apparently it was a part of the material sewn on after the fire of 1532 which was tested, not a part of the shroud itself.

 
   

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     Of particular interest is the answer of the Shroud of Turin research team to the central question:

how then did the image get onto the shroud ?
 

The scientific conclusion seems to indicate that

a source of energy emanated from the crucifixion victim himself, intensive enough to have burned his image into the cloth.

 

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.


There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial. ... So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. ...

 

Behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye ...

(1.Corinthians 15:21-23, 40, 42-43, 51-52)


     Many of the scientists working on the research project have since become believers.
They still keep an eye on the material being published on the subject and try to make sure that no papers released by scientists, journalists or commentators with a preconceived anti-faith agenda go unchallenged.

 
   

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The Carbon-14 Dating Results

A further experiment was conducted in 1988. The Church agreed the Shroud be subjected to examination applying the Carbon-14 dating method. The result was inconclusive but a mediaeval date surfaced. It was however not clear if the shroud itself had been tested or merely the backing cloth to which it was sown after it was damaged in a fire in 1532.

Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric method that uses the naturally occurring isotope carbon-14 to determine the age of carbonaceous materials. Part of the process requires that some of the sample material be burned. It goes without saying that the Church would not have allowed parts of the cloth bearing the image or even close to it to be destroyed.

Indeed it appears that the samples tested came for areas toward the damaged edge of the cloth and thus inadvertently included large portions of the textile used to repair the fire damage. Photomicrographs of fibers from the middle of the carbon-14 sample later clearly showed it was chemically unlike the rest of the Shroud.

Although leading experts from the scientific community immediately declared the test results to be inconclusive, the media was quick to publish the statements suggesting the mediaeval date. Large numbers of interested experts have since published literally hundreds of papers and opinions questioning the validity of the 1988 radiocarbon test.

 
     
 


    One of the more recent articles was published on January 20, 2005 in the scholarly, peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta by Raymond N. Rogers, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California.

Rogers sums up,

“The combined evidence from chemical kinetics, analytical chemistry, cotton content, and pyrolysis/ms proves that the material from the radiocarbon area of the shroud is significantly different from that of the main cloth. The radiocarbon sample was thus not part of the original cloth and is invalid for determining the age of the shroud.”

The chemical expert then provides alternative ways to understand that the Shroud was certainly much older than the date range of A.D. 1260 to 1390 which the 1988 carbon-14 dating implied, based on age-related data about the depletion of vanillin (a pigment) from the lignin of the flax (cellulose) fibers.

“A linen produced in A.D. 1260 would have retained about 37% of its vanillin in 1988. The disappearance of all traces of vanillin from the lignin in the shroud indicates a much older age than the radiocarbon laboratories reported.”

 
     
 


    All efforts to discredit the Shroud as a hoax have failed. After over 30 years of examination with the most sophisticated technical and forensic instruments known to man, the scientific community is still baffled.

Summing it up, Philip Ball, one of today's most respected science writers, recently wrote in the prestigious scientific journal Nature (Jan 2005):  "It is simply not known how the ghostly image of a serene, bearded man was made."

 
   

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More detailed information on Shroud history and research
may be obtained from the following sources:

Shroud of Turin Story

The Shroud of Turin Education Project

The Shroud of Turin Website