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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

I support the Jacques de Molay theory wholeheartedly, with the basis of my thoughts resting on the carbon dating performed in in 1988 which sets the origins of the shroud between 1260 and 1390.  Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight provided reasonable explanation for the distortions in the shroud in their book The Second Messiah, which I will address here:

- Arm distortion (impossible length) created by body lying on a soft surface with head raised on pillow which moves arms down.

- The apparent lack of facial distortion is present becuase the shroud was suspended a short distance from the face and the image was caused by an as yet unknown convection process explained by Dr Allan Mills.

To address your questions:

“If it is the image of Jacques DeMolay, then either he was considerably thinner than the image, or had a flat face/body.” Explained above but if you can read further by purchasing the book I refer to for £2 on eBay.

“If he was ‘nailed to something’ while undergoing torture, fine, but the details are important as the shroud exhibits evidence of crucifixion (hands and feet) and flogging as well as a side wound that bled profusely. Did Jacques DeMolay undergo specifically this torture? Is it documented?” Indeed it is. The victim was tortured in a parody of the crucifixion of Jesus to extract a confession for crime against Church dogma. The back marks were caused by scourging delivered by someone standing in front of the victim. Evidence suggests the victim’s right arm was raised above the head and left arm outstretched horizontally, as proved by blood flow on the arms. The fact that some researchers have suggested the victim’s right shoulder was dislocated also supports this prognosis. A crown of sharp objects was forced onto the victims head – it is recorded that the Inquisition regularly nailed people to posts or other convenient objects as a form of torture.

“And if he did, he apparently survived because it is also put forth he was later publically burned at the stake. If that is accurate, it means THIS ISN’T a death shroud at all? It can’t possibly be his shroud after being burned at the stake, because, how the hair/beard???” The victim was alive but unconscious after the ordeal and was taken down from the crucifixion object. The chemical processes then got to work after a shroud was wrapped under and over the victim. The inquisitors were under strict orders not to kill de Molay. Once he was well enough after being cared for by Jean de Charney, a 'confession’ was extracted. He later died in the flames after retracting his ‘confession’.

“The explanation of Jacques DeMolay still doesn’t explain the necessity of a flat surface to create the image on the cloth.” Jacques de Molay was not rested on a flat surface.

 

Really interesting discussion going on here. I have never heard of the Jacques DeMolay explanation. I’m very curious about it all too. But I’m still confused by the two sides.  One is stating that the image on the cloth is proportional and cannot be created by draping over a human body in 3D. It requires a flat surface. That is perfectly logical. The other explanation is that the image is that of Jacques DeMolay. Okay. The historical evidence is strong for that explanation, but several questions pop out at me. 

  1. If it is the image of Jacques DeMolay, then either he was considerably thinner than the image, or had a flat face/body.  ???
  2.  If he was ‘nailed to something’ while undergoing torture, fine, but the details are important as the shroud exhibits evidence of crucifixion (hands and feet) and flogging as well as a side wound that bled profusely. Did Jacques DeMolay undergo specifically this torture? Is it documented? And if he did, he apparently survived because it is also put forth he was later publically burned at the stake. If that is accurate, it means THIS ISN’T a death shroud at all? It can’t possibly be his shroud after being burned at the stake, because, how the hair/beard???
  3. The explanation of Jacques DeMolay still doesn’t explain the necessity of a flat surface to create the image on the cloth.   

Call me confused. Great discussion tho!

 

I'm not a non-believer... I'm just talking about this one cloth.

Or are you joking... because that would be a funny comment you made. And yes, if they dig the Ark of the Covenant out of King Tut's tomb... that would be something. :-) Although, the Egyptians used similar ark boxes, also carried on poles containing an icon or statue or other sacred objects the priests would haul out for processions. So... one would need to look inside--beware of face melting though! ;-)

All you non believers will soon change your mind about this when they dig the Ark out of King Tuts tomb. Wake up, we are in the Revelation!

What the heck? Settle... :-) I read that book. It's on my bookshelf! I bought it when it first came out, in hardcover!

You are not addressing what I and other have pointed out. It (this cloth under discussion) is not an image on a draped cloth, of anyone.

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