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The Shroud of Turin: modern, digitally processed image of the face on the cloth [left] and the full body image as seen on the shroud [right].

The Shroud of Turin: Jesus' Bloodstained Burial Cloth or a Fascinating Forgery?

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The Shroud of Turin is believed by many to be the bloodstained burial cloth Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped in after his crucifixion. But skeptics say it is a forgery, or at best only a religious article of historical significance. What can modern research tell us?

The Shroud of Turin , a pale sheet of woven fabric approximately 14-feet (4.5 meters) –long, might be considered unremarkable save for the distinctive reddish-brown markings on its front and back. The image of a prone man with hands folded can be made out on the cloth, with both the front and back views of the head meeting neatly at the middle of the sheet, suggesting it was folded over the front and back of a naked body in death. Countless horrible wounds to the body are revealed through the images on the fabric, from slashes to gouges, piercings, and welts. These images strongly indicate to proponents the evidence of crucifixion and the Biblical description of the death of Jesus. But science and history suggest there’s more to the story.

The full length of the Shroud of Turin. Scientists and scholars cannot resolve the mystery of the shroud.

The full length of the Shroud of Turin. Scientists and scholars cannot resolve the mystery of the shroud. ( Public Domain )

The Hidden History of the Shroud of Turin

Historical record can place the shroud in the late 1300s. Scholars debate its existence previous to 1390, describing the period before that as “very murky territory.” Even during the middle ages there was disagreement over authenticity of the cloth, with written claims at the time between church officials suggesting it was a forgery. However, historians raise the possibility that several such ‘shrouds’ were making the rounds at the time, and forgery claims might have had nothing to do with the cloth found today in the cathedral in Turin, Italy.

Since the 15th century, the existence of that shroud is well documented. It was deeded to the House of Savoy in Italy in 1453, and suffered damage in a fire. Patches and repair-work have been done at various times on the artifact. It was set in a chapel in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until 200 years later that it was put on public display and first photographed.

Full length negatives of the Shroud of Turin.

Full length negatives of the Shroud of Turin. ( Public Domain )

It was these photographs which elevated the cloth from relic to sensation. The photos were not remarkable in and of themselves, until viewed in the reverse negative, whereupon a detailed image of a wounded, bearded man became clearly visible. It had previously been suspected that the stains and images were painted on the linen by an artist at some point in its history, but the discovery of the detailed body image found embedded within the fabric drastically rewrote theories, and convinced many that the images were made through contact with an actual human corpse. Some Christians believe the image was transferred from Jesus’ body onto the cloth with a release of “divine light” or energy upon his resurrection.

A poster advertising the 1898 exhibition of the shroud in Turin. Secondo Pia's photograph was taken a few weeks too late to be included in the poster. The image on the poster includes a painted face, not obtained from Pia's photograph.

A poster advertising the 1898 exhibition of the shroud in Turin. Secondo Pia's photograph was taken a few weeks too late to be included in the poster. The image on the poster includes a painted face, not obtained from Pia's photograph. ( Public Domain )

If this was indeed the death shroud which encased the body of the historical Jesus of Nazareth , that would date the cloth to 30 AD, the biblical date of the death of Jesus. However, this dating is at odds with later historical record, as well as the modern scientific research on the artifact.

Scientific Examinations and Bombshell Revelations

A variety of tests have been carried out on the shroud since scientists were first allowed to examine it in 1969, including physical examinations, chemical analyses, and radiocarbon dating. Initial examinations led to the formation of an 11-member Turin Commission composed of scientists and advisors, and in 1977 the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was born.

Their findings, based on a gamut of rigorous tests, were reported in 1981, stating:

"We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved."

The researchers found no sign of artificial pigments, meaning the image had been made by a real human body, but the question of how this had happened was not answered.

Radiocarbon 14 dating of the cloth revealed the shroud material dated to 1260–1390 AD, a bombshell finding, conflicting with the timelines of the death of Jesus. But critics alleged that the samples of fabric that were tested came from more recent patches, rather than the original cloth.

And in 1998 the office of the former Cardinal Archbishop of Turin, Anastasio Alberto Ballestrero, issued a statement that the radiocarbon dating was tampered with in an “overseas Masonic plot.”

Adding to the wealth of strange findings on the enigmatic shroud, Italian researchers in 2015 discovered that the cloth may have been made in India , and contains DNA from all over the world. By sequencing DNA from dust and pollen on the shroud, the origins of people and types of environments that the cloth has come into contact with have been revealed.

It shows that the cloth may have been manufactured in India, and traveled the world before coming to Italy in the Medieval period, giving rise to doubts about a Medieval European origin. Plant types revealed from DNA sequencing included horsetail, clovers, ryegrass and chicory – pointing to origins from Asia, Middle East, or the Americas .

The Body Within

Stains indicate the proposed wounds and blood of the dead man. The images on the cloth are said to show a body damaged by cuts on nearly all surfaces; punctures, gouges and linear wounds can be seen. On one hand a large, round pierce mark is visible, and similar large puncture wounds can be seen in the feet.

The renowned Shroud of Turin, religious relic and mysterious artifact.

The renowned Shroud of Turin, religious relic and mysterious artifact. ( Public Domain )

The man’s bearded face is interpreted to be swollen and misshapen from severe beatings. Stains from blood are seemingly everywhere, especially near the area of the face and both arms.

The Question of Questions – How was the Image Made?

For all the scientific tests, no good answers present themselves on how the image in the shroud came to be, save, as believers would have it, a miracle. It has been determined the images are not painted on, but are imbued within the linen, and numerous attempts have been made to recreate the images, and to reproduce the unusual penetration of the color into the fabric, but have all fallen short. Physicist Paolo Di Lazzaro and leading expert on the phenomenon of the shroud calls this “the question of questions”: how was the image produced?

Di Lazzaro and colleagues used state-of-the-art lasers to direct short, intense bursts of ultraviolet light on raw linen to try to replicate the shroud’s images. In the end they were not successful in matching the shroud’s qualities, nor even could they reproduce a whole human figure. Regardless of the age of the cloth, science cannot duplicate the Shroud of Turin. How was this artifact created so many years ago?

“It is unlikely science will provide a full solution to the many riddles posed by the shroud. A leap of faith over questions without clear answers is necessary—either the ‘faith’ of skeptics, or the faith of believers,” Di Lazzarro told National Geographic in 2015.

3-dimensional model of the Shroud of Turin imprint.

3-dimensional model of the Shroud of Turin imprint. (Flickr/ CC BY 2.0 )

Results of the Most Recent Study

The Shroud of Turin was examined once again in 2018 . This time, forensic investigators used a fresh approach to examine the alleged blood stains on the shroud. Matteo Borrini of John Moores University and Luigi Garlaschelli, an organic scientist, decided to carry out an experiment to see if the shroud is actually fake. They employed a forensic technique called bloodstains pattern analysis (BPA) to see what the necessary arm and body position would have had to have been to make the blood pattern seen on the Shroud of Turin.

A volunteer was enlisted for the experiment. Human and synthetic blood were applied to the person who laid out in various poses over a cloth. Then the blood spatter patterns obtained in the experiment were compared to what is depicted on the shroud.

The results published in the Journal of Forensic Science suggest the Shroud of Turin is almost certainly a fake. They state the BPA was a result of someone adopting several poses and some of the blood on the cloth fell off of someone standing above the shroud. This information contradicts the belief that Jesus was buried in the cloth lying down. They describe the different positions necessary to meet the BPA visible on the shroud as follows:

“The two short rivulets on the back of the left hand of the Shroud are only consistent with a standing subject with arms at a ca 45° angle. This angle is different from that necessary for the forearm stains, which require nearly vertical arms for a standing subject. The BPA of blood visible on the frontal side of the chest (the lance wound) shows that the Shroud represents the bleeding in a realistic manner for a standing position while the stains at the back—of a supposed postmortem bleeding from the same wound for a supine corpse—are totally unrealistic. Simulation of bleeding from the nail wounds contacting wood surfaces yielded unclear results.”

However, the findings have been criticized by at least one forensic scientist, who suggests the BPA could have resulted through the transportation of a corpse in the cloth.

Does the Shroud’s Authenticity Really Matter?

The latest investigation indicate that the Shroud of Turin was most likely one of the many fake religious relics made in Medieval Europe.  But Borrini himself has stated that the status of the shroud as a fake shouldn’t be seen as an attack against the faith of believers.

The cloth’s authenticity has never even been officially declared by the Catholic Church, and it has only been described as a “mirror of the gospel”, and even a “distinguished relic” by Pope John Paul II. As The Independent mentioned following the 2018 discovery, “The official Church position is that the shroud is only an artistic representation of Christ and not a holy relic.”

Nevertheless, the church encourages devotion to it, and the cloth has been protected and venerated by the faithful for centuries. It now sits on display under bulletproof glass in an airtight, environment-controlled case in Turin, northern Italy where it is guarded by cameras, drones, and police.

Philip Ball, former editor of science journal Nature hinted at the shroud’s enduring challenge: “it's fair to say that, despite the seemingly definitive tests in 1988, the status of the Shroud of Turin is murkier than ever. Not least, the nature of the image and how it was fixed on the cloth remain deeply puzzling.” Parts of the puzzle are still unresolved decades later, securing the Shroud of Turin as one of the more controversial and inexplicable relics in history, regardless of its authenticity.

Top Image: The Shroud of Turin: modern, digitally processed image of the face on the cloth [left] and the full body image as seen on the shroud [right]. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By: Liz Leafloor

References

Barcaccia, G.  et al.  Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud.  Sci. Rep.  5, 14484; doi: 10.1038/srep14484 (2015).

Charles Freeman. “The Origins of the Shroud of Turin” 2014. HistoryToday.com [Online] Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/charles-freeman/origins-shroud-turin

Rhodi Lee. “ Shroud Of Turin Possibly Created In India But Contains DNA From Plants All Over The World: Study. ” 2015. TechTimes.com [Online] Available here.

April Holloway. “Could ancient earthquake explain face of Jesus in Shroud of Turin?” 2014. Ancient-Origins.com [Online] Available here.

Frank Viviano. “Why Shroud of Turin's Secrets Continue to Elude Science” 2015. NationalGeographic.com [Online] Available here.

Mark Guscin, B.A. M.Phil. "The Sudarium of Oviedo: Its History and Relationship to the Shroud of Turin". 1997. Shroud.com [Online] Available at: https://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm

Comments

Two years ago or so, I would have agreed with you Stuart that the image on the TS was NOT that of the crucified Jesus, but an artist's portrayal of the barbecued Jacques de Molay.

But it was necessary to account for the crucifixion paraphernalia (yes, clearly visible have to say, as do others) on the Lirey medallion, despite its small size (6cm x 4cm). I got round that by supposing that the body image was imprinted first, using a hot metal template - the so-called "scorch hypothesis" - target I might add for much ill-informed and frankly hostile, mainly pseudoscientific criticism- and displayed secretivelly in Templar initiation rites etc as described in somewhat vague terms by Barbara Frale.

Later, maybe a few decades, the potential of the image was realized as a lucrative draw for pilgrims to de Charny's 'private' chapel at his Lirey country seat, read cash cow for a chivalrous knight with a predilection for getting captured and ransomed by the English foe (twice!). Yes, It may have been displayed initially by de Charny himself, maybe without deception as a 'liturgical prop' in conjunction with something else - like a wooden statue of the crucified Jesus, as suggested recently on the lapsed shroudstory site by BSTS Editor Hugh Farey OR maybe by his widow, immediately following her hubby's death at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.

The re-invention required addition of blood including those 372 scourge marks in all the right places - while noting the Adler/Heller claim that blood was imprinted BEFORE body image - but there's a possible flaw in their interpretation of the experimental observations under the microscope that can wait for now.

In other words, I was suggesting that a Mark 1 Templar exhibit was re-invented and Christianized so to speak, it being handy that Jacques de Molay and Jesus were both reputed to have facial hair (we'll gloss over the age difference, and/or whether the faint negative image allows one to estimate age at time of death).

So what suddenly caused me to drop the Templar connection altogether, and with it the idea that the image was a simple contact scorch from a hot metal template? Answer: the Machy mould for a Lirey medallion that followed ( or possibly preceded) the one that is in the Cluny Museum in Paris.

Are you au fait with Ian Wilson's two monograph (pdf) articles in BSTS newsletters on the Machy mould? I expect you are, being well-informed, but I'd be happy to provide a short summary and overview on my previous postings on the subjec if you wish.

The key feature, replacing the crucifixion paraphernalia on the Cluny badge is the addition of what Wilson describes as a "disembodied face" above the word SUAIRE ("shroud"). Curiously he fails to link the two, despite being next to each other, but I think I know why they were added.

Think another contact imprint, arguably more legend than history, a supposed "holy relic", immediate smaller-scale antecedent of the TS, one that was drawing huge numbers of cure-seeking, indulgence-paying pilgrims to Rome in the 1350s, the subject of a posting on this very site in December last year, one to which I'm presently composing a belated response!

Best stop here. Now back to that other 'holy relic'.

With all due respect, I can’t see the justification in your Elvis allegory to answer my question. Here’s why: In c 1355 when those first public expositions were held, and described only in the "D'Arcis Memorandum", written more than thirty years later, it would appear to me that neither de Charny nor his wife Jeanne de Vergy ever made mention that the shroud had anything to do with Jesus Christ. And if so, surely the medallion would have reference to Jesus/Christianity by means of some form of Christian symbolism on it. Even the name Jesus? The reference of a cross on the medallion is merely a reference to a crucification surely? Crucifixions or practices like it (nailing to doors) were of course in fashion around that time by The Church. The coats of arms of the owners, tomb and depiction of the shroud on the medallion are just that. As far as I can see, it was only in 1389, after de Charny had passed, that Bishop Pierre d'Arcis of Troyes appealed to anti-pope Clement VII at Avignon concerning the exhibiting of the Shroud at Lirey. He described the cloth as bearing the double imprint of a crucified man and that it was being claimed (by who?) as the true Shroud in which Jesus' body was wrapped. So the connection with Jesus is made years later devoid of any confirmation from the original owners. You yourself state on your blog: “De Charny is considered by some to be the nephew of Geoffroi de Charney, one of the Knights Templar burned at the stake in Paris on the same day in 1314 as Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master. Any objective evaluation of the Shroud of Turin has to consider the possibility that the figure represented was a Knight Templar, undergoing torture and/or death by burning.” You’ll forgive my enquiry and perhaps it’s de Molay who I want as my Elvis! ;-)

OK, Stuart. Here's a preliminary reply to your question, i.e. “Colin, why would anyone want to ‘fake’ or ‘paint’ a shroud produced during the middle ages?”

It’s a valid question to ask, Stuart, given that it’s unique as far as we’re aware, aka a “one-off”. Folk elsewhere have quite rightly asked somewhat pointedly how the know-how could have been kept a total secret such that nothing derivative has appeared since. (I’m purposely ignoring the irksome proposals from a certain tour guide historian that it’s just a painted linen from which all the original paint – of unspecified chemical nature – has conveniently dropped off, making the hypothesis conveniently unfalsifiable while giving a temporary boost to the circulation figures of a certain 'pop history' magazine found on newsagent shelves).

Let’s recast your question in a modern context, and maybe the answer to your question becomes self evident.

Imagine you read this headline in a tabloid newspaper:

Suntan lotion imprint of ageing Elvis Presley’s face found on Miami hotel bed linen. Scientists express surprise at its near-photographic quality!

Below which you read the following: "Yes, it looks as if those reports of Elvis’s death WERE greatly exaggerated. DNA tests say it’s really HIS saliva on the pillow! Souvenir hunters have descended in their hundreds, paying hotel staff $$$ for their cell phones despite blurry images...

Would you be surprised, Stuart, to learn weeks or months later that it had all been a hoax, but that a lot of money had in the meantime changed hands before that became apparent?

Why? Because there are still millions of ageing fans out there who desperately want to believe Elvis is still alive, that he had merely “left the building” to go and have a quiet life out of the public eye.

OK,so it's a somewhat downmarket answer your question. But might not the same be said for those Lirey public expositions, circa 1355, accompanied by the minting of the Lirey badge, which used actors among hordes of pilgrims to pretend to be cured of their ailments, at least according to the later testimony of that Bishop Pierre d'Arcis in his fiery memorandum sent to the Avignon Pope?

Thanks for reminding me about Alan Mills, Stuart. It's some years since I last read "The Second Messiah", but it's still on my Kindle, ready for a re-read. My chief reservation as regards the singlet oxygen mechanism was that this particular form of active oxygen is far better at destroying pre-existing colour than creating new colour.

It's the colour associated with conjugated double bonds that is particularly susceptible - single oxygen adding across the -C=C- linkages to form dioxetanes, interrupting the highly extended and delocalized cloud of electrons on which light absorption and subtractive colour in organic chromophores often depends. I'm not saying their mechanism is wrong, merely that it's not mainstream singlet oxygen chemistry (a field with which I'm personally acquainted, having done some research in Philadelphia in the early 70s with J.D.Ostrow MD on the photochemistry of bilirubin, resulting in a paper proposing a novel singlet-oxygen mediated mechanism!).

Explaining why a medieval knight came to display the Shroud of Lirey ("shroud" being a misnomer in my view if, as I believe, it was intended to represent Joseph of Arimathea's linen deployed in conceal-and-transport mode for a recently-deceased corpse - NOT as final burial shroud) may take a little time to organize and summarize. The ingredients are all there for what I consider a plausible narrative, indeed for 3 or 4 different ones - each highlighting some facet or other of the colourful Geoffroy de Charny's carefully-laid plans re his so-called "private chapel", ho ho, aided and abetted by King John The Good no less. It may be a day or two before I'm able to pare things down to essentials, but most of the raw material is in that lengthy review I did of the late Dorothy Crispino's research (see earlier link above).

Hi Colin, I think you’ll find a few others receive alerts for this thread as well. You seem to be one of the few, perhaps the only one, here with credible research on the subject. I admit I found some of the Knight/Lomas chemistry inventive even though most of it was based on Dr Alan Mills’ work. It’s worthwhile adding that Knight and Lomas themselves admitted to literally stumbling upon the shroud story in their research of the history of Freemasonry and specifically de Molay – I was waiting for a follow-up from them of sorts on the matter. I’ll visit your blog for further information and hopefully that can explain the question I ask which remains ‘Why fake an image of a man interred or otherwise on a piece of cloth?’

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