Shroud of Turin

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Many consider this image on the Shroud of Turin to be that of Jesus. The nature of this preserved likeness of Christ has stumped many experts, though theories abound as to whether or not it is genuine evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. National Geographic/Getty Images.

Shroud of Turin

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Shroud of Turin has emerged as one of the most important relics of Christendom. It is believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus. The Shroud is a woven linen cloth about 14 inches by 3.5 inches. Most extraordinary is the human image on it. There are actually two images, one of the front of the body and one of the backside, as if a person was lain to rest on one end of the Shroud and the other end was wrapped over the top of the body. The image pictures a person who seems tohave been crucified. Some believe that the image was implanted on the cloth by some mysterious means at the moment of Christ’s resurrection.

The Shroud first enters historical accounts in the middle of the fourteenth century. In 1355, its owner, Geoffrey de Charney, displayed it at a church in Lirey, France. He claimed that it was Christ’s Shroud. As pilgrims made their way to see the Shroud, in 1357 a pilgrimage medal was struck to commemorate their journey. The Shroud soon came under attack from a local bishop who questioned its authenticity and launched an investigation. It would remain a controversial object until one of de Charney’s descendants passed the cloth on to the Savoy family, who would later go on to become rulers of Italy. In 1532 a fire in the chapel where the Shroud was housed left burn marks on it (as well as water marks from attempts to douse the fire). In 1578 the Shroud was relocated to Turin, where it remains to this day. It is now housed in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. Ordinarily, the Shroud rests within a reliquary in the Shroud chapel, and only on special occasions is it taken out for viewing.

A new era for the Shroud began in 1898, when Seconda Pia was allowed to photograph the cloth. In developing the pictures, he discovered that the Shroud’s image was a negative image, very much like a photographic negative. This discovery opened an ongoing debate about the Shroud as to its scientific credentials. The first question posed was, essentially, how a negative image could have been created if, as many of the Shroud’s critics had long believed, the cloth was a product of the medieval traffic in relics?

Over the next decades, a variety of theories were discussed as to how the unusual image was created. Then, at the beginning of the 1970s, an American physicist named John Jackson called together a group of scientists who formed the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). After four years of preparation, in 1978 the STURP team traveled to Turin, where in October they were given a total of 120 hours of access to the Shroud and were allowed to take new pictures and conduct a series of experiments. The STURP group made its formal report in 1981. While inconclusive, the investigators offered a variety of findings that were basically favorable to its supernatural origins. Most importantly, they concluded that the image on the cloth had been produced in a moment of intense heat that emanated from a body that was, at that moment, weightless.

For skeptics, the most definitive experiments were conducted in 1988, when small samples of the Shroud cloth were removed and subjected to carbon dating analysis at three different laboratories. All three reported a date of origin between 1260 and 1390, which was consistent with the cloth having been produced shortly before Geoffrey de Charney first displayed it.

The 1981 STURP report and the 1988 carbon dating report are merely two highlights from a generation of continued study of and speculations about the Shroud that are by no means concluded. Additional testing has examined the Shroud from every angle imaginable, including the search for the remains of plant life from the Holy Land that might suggest the Shroud had at one time been there. Skeptics have been held at bay by their inability to reproduce an image similar to the Shroud. Proponents of the first century origin of the Shroud have countered the 1988 findings with suggestions that distortion occurred because of the 1532 fire, while simultaneously pointing to the many unique aspects of the cloth and image. They have also constructed various histories to fill the important gap between Jesus’ burial and the first historical mention of the Shroud. It does not appear that any consensus about the Shroud will be reached in the near future.

In 1994, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince published a book built on their theory that the Shroud was, in fact, an elaborate and creative product of the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. The account, largely built upon circumstantial evidence, satisfied neither skeptics nor believers, but received new life in the wake of the success of the publication of the da vinci code. Their book reappeared in a revised edition in 2007.


Antonacci, Mark. The Resurrection of the Shroud. New York: M. Evans & Co., 2000.
Guerrera, Vittorio. The Shroud of Turin: A Case for Authenticity. Rockford, IL: Tan Publishers, 2000.
Guscin, Mark. The Burial Cloths of Christ. London: Catholic Truth Society, 2000.
Nickell, Joe. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings. Prometheus Books, 1998.
Picknett, Lynn, and Clive Prince. Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? The Truth behind the Centuries-long Conspiracy of Silence. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Rev. ed. The Turin Shroud: How Da Vinci Fooled History. New York: Touchstone, 2007.
Wilson, Ian. The Mysterious Shroud. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1986.

Shroud of Turin

Holy Shroud

The Shroud of Turin is an aging strip of linen cloth that bears the imprinted image of a man who appears to have been beaten and crucified (for more on crucifixion, see Cross). This image resembles a photographic negative in that the areas one might expect to be dark are light and the areas that one might expect to be light are dark. For centuries the Shroud of Turin has been venerated as the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. How did the image get on the cloth? Many devout Christians believe that the cloth captured the radiance of Jesus' resurrection. Skeptics suggest that a clever medieval artist transferred the image onto the cloth and then sold it as a religious relic. Scientists have discovered many interesting things about the shroud but still do not agree about its origins.


The Roman Catholic cathedral in Turin, Italy, currently houses the shroud. This strip of linen measures 14 feet 3 inches (464 centimeters) long and 3 feet 7 inches (138 centimeters) wide. It bears two brownish images of a naked man, both his front and back sides. These two figures lie head to head, as if a dead man were placed lengthwise on one end of the cloth and the other end pulled over his head and body. These likenesses do not appear to have been painted on the cloth, and researchers cannot yet tell what they are made of. They have, however, determined that authentic blood stains mark the image in certain places. Trickles of blood run down the forehead. Small rivulets of blood also run down the arms, coming from apparent wounds in the wrists. Larger blood stains saturate an area on the right side of the chest and an area corresponding to where the victim's feet would have been. Moreover, the victim's back in particular shows marks that correspond well with those that would have been inflicted by a beating from a Roman flagrum, a whip of leather thongs tipped with balls of lead. The cloth also bears scorch and water marks from a fire that it survived in the year 1532. All these wounds correspond with the story of Jesus'death as told in the Bible.

Jesus' Shroud in the Bible

Biblical accounts of Jesus' death confirm that he was wrapped in a linen burial cloth. All four Gospels - books in the Christian Bible that summarize Jesus' life and teachings - agree that he was crucified on a Friday by soldiers carrying out an order given by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He died that afternoon and was removed from the cross shortly thereafter. Because the Jewish Sabbath started at sundown, and it was against Jewish custom to bury the dead on the Sabbath, Jesus' corpse was disposed of quickly (for more on Sabbath, see Sunday). Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, wrapped him in a linen shroud and sealed him in a stone tomb (Matthew 27:59, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:40). Christians commemorate these sad events on Good Friday.

The Gospel according to John offers one further mention of Jesus' shroud (John 20:1-18). On the Sunday following Jesus' burial, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus'tomb and found that the stone that sealed the entrance had been rolled away. She ran to fetch Peter and another disciple, and the three of them returned to the tomb. Peter and the other disciple entered the tomb and found the linen burial cloths as well as a napkin that had been on Jesus' head, but no body. After the men departed, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. These events are commemorated on Easter Sunday.

The History of the Shroud of Turin

The first documented appearance of the shroud now housed in Turin's cathedral dates back to the 1350s. In the early years of that decade a French knight, Geoffrey de Charny, the squire of the French village of Lirey, built a church in which to house what he claimed to be the burial shroud of Christ. The bishop of Troyes, Pierre D'Arcis, pronounced the cloth a fake and claimed that the artist who did it had confessed to the deed. Clement VII (reigned 1378-94), the Avignon antipope, declared that the image could be used as an object of devotion, so long as it was not presented as the true shroud of Christ. Later popes, however, presumed the relic to be authentic. In 1452 Marguerite de Charny, who did not have an heir, turned the shroud over to the duke of Savoy. In 1478 the Savoys moved the relic from Chambéry (France) to the family's new stronghold in Turin. The last of the dukes of Savoy, Umberto II, willed it to the Vatican upon his death in 1983.

The Mandylion and the Shroud

If the cloth housed in Turin's cathedral is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, where was it before 1350? Some shroud researchers believe they may have found the answer to that question. They suggest that the Turin shroud is, in fact, the Mandylion, an exact image of Jesus Christ miraculously imprinted upon a piece of cloth (see also Veronica). Legends about the Mandylion were popular in eastern Christian lands and date back at least as far as the fourth century. This cloth was originally believed to belong to King Abgar V of Edessa (4 B.C.-50 A.D.), who was healed by viewing it and so converted to Christianity. In 942 a cloth said to be the Mandylion was brought from Edessa to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), the capital of the Christian east. Scattered historical references from the next four centuries make mention of Constantinople's miraculous cloth, bearing an image of Jesus "not made by human hands." Some researchers suggest that the old Orthodox Good Friday custom of displaying a cloth icon of Jesus reposing in death can be traced back to the veneration accorded the Mandylion in this era (see also Epitaphios).

In 1204 soldiers from western Europe, taking part in a war of conquest known as the Crusades, sacked the city of Constantinople. The Mandylion disappeared without a trace. Certain writers suggest that the Knights Templar stole the Mandylion and brought it back to western Europe with them.

Science and the Shroud

Skeptics dismiss the idea that the Turin shroud dates back to ancient times, let alone that it once served as Jesus' burial cloth. The best piece of evidence in their arsenal is the carbon 14 testing done on the shroud in 1988. Three separate laboratories analyzed a small sample of the cloth and concluded that the linen was made between 1260 and 1390. Many scientists decided that these results confirmed the shroud to be a medieval forgery. Yet others were not convinced. They reminded the public that carbon 14 dating often comes with a wide margin of error. In 1993 Dr. Leoncio Garza-Valdes proposed that tiny micro-organisms build up on the surfaces of old artifacts such as the shroud. He showed how these micro-organisms can leave behind a biofilm which affects the accuracy of carbon 14 dating, making objects test newer than they actually are.

In the meantime, other shroud researchers were making interesting discoveries about the image itself. For example, the image on the shroud has certain three-dimensional properties which become visible when viewed through a relatively new piece of scientific equipment called a VP-8 image analyzer. Shroud supporters ask how a medieval artist could possibly have created an image akin to a photographic negative more than five hundred years before the invention of photography and then encoded it with 3-D information.

Artists, too, have commented on the uniqueness of the shroud. They point out that the shroud man appears to have been crucified with nails through his wrists. Standard medieval images of the crucified Jesus showed the nails piercing his hands. Indeed, not until the 1960s did historians realize that Roman soldiers nailed their crucifixion victims to the cross through their wrists, not their hands. How could a medieval artist have anticipated this knowledge? What's more, artists can find no sign of brushstrokes on the shroud, and no evidence that the image was painted or dyed onto the linen. Then there's the light. It doesn't appear to be coming from any particular direction. Photographs - whether illuminated by the sun or some man-made light source - appear brighter in some areas and darker, or shadowed, in others. In order to achieve their three-dimensional effect, realistic paintings imitate this fact of life. The shroud image resembles a modern x-ray more than a painting or photo in this regard, in that it seems to have been created by an unknown light source that radiated from the body to the cloth. Some researchers have concluded that the pattern of light and dark areas on the image correspond to the distance of the supposed body from the shroud; the closer the contact between the body and the cloth, the darker the imprint on the cloth.

Other scientific experiments have proven that the shroud contains microscopic grains of pollen from plants that grow in Israel and Turkey. Shroud supporters believe this proves that the shroud passed through those two countries at some point in its history.

Shroud skeptics return again and again to the evidence provided by the carbon 14 testing to settle the issue of the shroud's authenticity. Yet if the shroud is a medieval forgery, by what means did the clever artist create such an image? No one has yet been able to answer that question in a completely satisfactory manner. Some writers propose that a secretive medieval artist actually invented a primitive form of photography and developed the image of a corpse onto a piece of linen. Experiments along these lines have not yet furnished results that reproduce all the qualities of the shroud image. With the experts in disagreement, the public can only wait and see if the science of the twenty-first century unravels the mystery of the Shroud of Turin.

Further Reading

Drews, Robert. In Search of the Shroud of Turin. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1984. Gove, Harry E. From Hiroshima to the Iceman: The Development and Applica- tions of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry. Philadelphia, PA: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1999. Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, ed. "Shroud of Turin." In her Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Wilson, Ian, and Barrie Schwortz. The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence. London, England: Michael O'Mara, 2000.

Web Sites

The following web site on current shroud research was put together by Barry Schwortz, a photographer who was invited to photograph the shroud as part of the official 1978 research team: The Archdiocese of Turin maintains its own web site on the shroud: The Skeptical Shroud of Turin web site is sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal: http://humanist. net/shroud/
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The Shroud of Turin is said to be the actual burial shroud that covered Jesus Christ’s body. When Christ rose from the dead, His image was burned into the shroud. Questions remain as to its authenticity.

Shroud of Turin

If the shroud and the Man on the Cloth are ever definitively found to be authentic, one of the greatest reported miracles in world history will be acclaimed as true.

For millions of believers, the fourteen-by-four-foot shroud that has been kept under guard in a chapel in Turin, Italy, since 1452 is the authentic burial garment of Jesus of Nazareth. The cloth reveals a full-sized human image mysteriously impressed on its coarse fibers in what appears to be an exact physical representation of Jesus as he lay in the tomb after his death by crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers.

In the fall of 1978 the ancient shroud was exhibited publicly for the first time since 1933, thus reigniting the fires of controversy that have blazed around this icon since the first century. Many of the experts who have examined the shroud insist that the image was not painted on the cloth, for the colors are not absorbed into the fibers. Neither could the image have been placed on the shroud by any ordinary application of heat, or the fibers would have been scorched.

The gospel accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion state that he was whipped and beaten savagely by Roman soldiers, who contemptuously placed a cruel crown of thorns on the head of the man they sarcastically identified as the “King of the Jews.” The merciless humiliation completed, Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem bearing a wooden cross on his back before he was nailed to its horizontal bar at the place of execution. After his assumed death, a spear was thrust into his side by a Roman soldier.

Certain researchers have declared the front and the back images on the Shroud of Turin anatomically correct if the cloth had been used to wrap a crucified man in its folds. The impressions are of a tall man with a bearded, majestic countenance, his hands crossed, with the imprints of nails through the wrists and feet. The right side of the man’s chest was pierced. In addition, the image is said to bear the marks of whip lashes on the back. The man’s right shoulder is chafed, as if from having borne a rough, heavy object. A number of puncture wounds appear around the head, and one cheek displays a pronounced bruise. The chest cavity is expanded, as if the victim had been trying desperately to draw air into the lungs, a typical physical response during crucifixion. Champions of the shroud also claim that scalp punctures and blood rivulets detectable on the forehead have the characteristics and proper location for both venous and arterial blood flow—and yet circulation of human blood was not discovered until 1593.

When the shroud was examined by technical investigators from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico in 1978, the scientists announced that it appeared to be authentic, woven of a type of linen typically used in Jewish burials in the Holy Land about 30 C.E., thus approximating the date of Jesus’s crucifixion. As for the image imprinted on the shroud, Raymond Rogers, a thermo-chemist of the Los Alamos design engineering division, stated his opinion that the impression had been formed by “a burst of radiant energy—light, if you will.”

Since its examination in 1978 the Shroud of Turin has been hailed by some as physical proof of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and his triumph over the grave, while others have condemned it as a hoax crafted by medieval monks who sought to create the ultimate in holy relics for spiritual pilgrims to venerate. Raymond Rogers is one of a number of scientists who believe that the cloth is truly the shroud of Jesus Christ. In his view—and in that of many others—the Shroud of Turin answers the eternal question of whether humans can achieve immortality. If Christ was resurrected from the dead, then the gospels are true and eternal life is offered to all.

In October 1978 a U.S.-based scientific group, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP), reported unanimously after examining the shroud 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; rather, 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 even when magnified 1,000 times. Through some paranormal occurrence the body image is very much like a photographic negative.

If the blood was still wet on the body, the stain on the cloth would have smeared; if the blood was dry, it would have broken where crusted. Neither occurred, thus leading some researchers to believe that the body must somehow have dematerialized without the physical removal of the shroud.

Some members of the STRP have drawn a parallel between the mysterious images on the shroud “and the fact that images were formed on stones by fireball radiation from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.”

Among other significant data that seem to testify to the shroud’s authenticity are the following:

  • The seventy varieties of pollen found on the burial cloth came from the Near East. Thirty-eight varieties came from within fifty miles of Jerusalem—and fourteen of them grow nowhere else.
  • The Z-twist thread and three-to-one herringbone-twill weave used in forming the shroud were known only to the Near East and Asia until recent centuries.
  • The cotton fibers in the shroud’s linen could have come only by weaving on looms of the Near East.
  • The feet of the Man of the Shroud bear smudges of actual dirt that contain travertine aronite, a rare form of calcium that matches the spectral properties of this limestone substance found in caves near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. No other source is known.

Even the most recent translations of the gospels state that Jesus was nailed to the cross by his hands, but the shroud correctly displays a medical truth: He was nailed through the “space of Destot” in the wrist, because a nail in the soft flesh of the hands would not support a man’s weight. A spike driven through the space of Destot will lacerate the median nerve, causing the thumb to flex sharply into the palm. The Man of the Shroud has no discernible thumbs. Would an artist in the Middle Ages have known about such medical idiosyncrasies?

The man was crowned with a cap of thorns typical of the Near East Judeans, not the Greek-style wreath so often depicted in artist’s renderings of Jesus’s “crown of thorns.” The bloodstains on the shroud are precisely correct, both biblically and anatomically.

In The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? (1978) Ian Wilson postulated a Knights Templar connection for the so-called missing years of the shroud, from 1204 to 1357. Wilson indicates that the relic was in Athens and Bescançon, France, during that period. The extensive copying of the face on the shroud by the Knights Templar could have led to the papal revocation of their charter, which was later followed by the execution of their leaders by the French ecclesiastical court. The Templar involvement appears to be validated by the discovery of a matching shroud face that was found behind the false ceiling of an outbuilding in Templecombe, southern England, on grounds that had once served as a Templar recruitment and training center.

Pope John Paul II authorized public exhibitions of the shroud for April 18 to May 31, 1998, and April 29 to June 11, 2000. Among the findings prompted by these showings was the report by two Israeli scientists in June 1999 that plant imprints and pollen found on the shroud supported the premise that it originated in the Holy Land. Avinoam Danin, a botany professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that the shroud contained images of some plants, such as the bean caper (Zygophyllum dumosum), which grows only in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt Sinai desert. The rock rose (Cistus creticus), which grows throughout the Middle East, was also detected, along with the imprint of a coin minted in the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, who ruled at the time of the crucifixion.

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—an argument countered by the fact that the great artist was born in 1452, nearly one hundred years after the shroud is reported to have been on exhibit in Lirey, France, in 1357.

On January 26, 2005, Raymond Rogers, the retired Los Alamos chemist and former member of the Shroud of Turin Research Project, reported the findings of new microchemical tests that placed the age of the shroud at between 1,300 and 3,000 years, much older than previous radiocarbon tests have suggested. Even those skeptics who dismiss the shroud as a medieval hoax concede that the controversy is not yet resolved.

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