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?


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


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. [Online] Available at:

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

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

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

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


Hello again Stuart

Sorry, I don’t buy into the Knight/Lomax theory. The sadistic jailers of Jacques de Molay may well have inflicted all kinds of hideous torture in the 7 years of Molay’s imprisonment (like extracting information on the location of Templar treasure), and that may have included that alleged nailing to a door as a mock-crucifixion. But that’s where the story becomes frankly incredible, namely that his living body was then wrapped in an up-and-over 4m length of high quality linen (thick, herringbone weave). Why would he have been wrapped in an imitation of a burial shroud, the common (in my view mistaken) purpose of the “shroud” of Turin? Joseph of Arimathea’s fine linen (or a medieval imitation thereof) was intended to restore status to the body of a crucified man. Why would jailers need to do that, if merely engaged in sadistic mockery?

Even if they had, the chances of imprinting so complete and homogeneous a body image as that we see on the TS seem vanishingly small, if as we are told, the image capture was accidental, and achieved in a relatively short time, given that Molay was returned to his cell, where he served out the rest if his internment till going to the stake in 1314.
I’ll say more in a day or two about why I think my model fits the bill, addressing the points you raise. Suffice it to say that the artisans who produced the imprint, whether from a real man, a bas relief or combination of the two, were total perfectionists who took enormous care to get the end-result they wanted needed to sustain a claim that the imprint was that of the real crucified Jesus.

There is something still bugging me about this whole process to ‘recreate’ the shroud to prove it’s not the burial/recuperation cloth of the Templar grandmaster Jacques de Molay, the image being caused by an unknown and untested chemical process, the source being an ailing and injured human body. 

Much trial and error has gone into your processes of recreation using various methods and I’m not convinced that de Charny, his wife or whomever else went to all the same trouble as you’ve done, just to create some kind of crowd-attracting artefact to prove the crucifixion of Christ.  Furthermore, let’s place ourselves in medieval times – there are absolutely no examples of artwork that display such good use of perspective as the shroud does. In medieval tapestries and paintings of the time, figures and landscapes are flat, two dimensional; differences in size are determined not by spatial location, but by importance, so, for example, a church or other religious subject in the background would appear larger because of its spiritual significance.  Art was rudimentary, at least until the onset of the Renaissance a few decades later. But we know the TS was not created as a painting with no evidence of artist pigment. So, even if someone went to great lengths to create such a stunning visual representation of a man interred or otherwise as you’ve done through flour or egg yolk, surely the effort would be reproduced in art or otherwise thereafter? I find it hard to believe that this brand new representation of the human form in medieval times was not reproduced by artists, or even attempted after or before! 

Colin, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond to my questions and the continued efforts in providing some form of process that created the image on the shroud, but surely the only way we can ‘test’ the outstanding hypothesis of image creation, is to actually torture and beat a real man, leave him as de Molay was left, under a cloth or shroud to recuperate and hopefully allow the chemical processes as Dr Mill’s suggests to take place, then finally storage of the cloth over a period of 50 years or more to allow the image to develop.  We simply don’t have the time for that and we’d risk serious repercussions legally and morally of course.

So, to the 64000 dollar question – what is the chemical nature of the body image, specifically the chromophore that is responsible for the colour, variously described as yellow, sepia, tan etc?

First, let’s be clear about what it’s not. It’s not any kind of artists’ pigment, at least known ones from the medieval era (see STURP Summary, 1981).

Pigments would have tell-tale microchemical properties.

"Pigments" would include the iron oxide, Fe2O3, that Walter McCrone claimed to have seen under the microscope. But John Heller and Alan Adler found that the body image is bleached by diimide (N2H2). Diimide is fairly specific for reducing/hydrogenating organic compounds that have –C=C- double bonds. There is no way it could make iron oxide become invisible (even if reduced to elemental iron it would still be visible).

Nor is it any known soluble dye. If it were the liquid imprinting medium would penetrate the weave to the opposite side.But there’s scarcely any coloration worth speaking of the opposite side of the TS, aprt from blood (or "blood").

Reflectance spectroscopy, part of the STURP investigation, found virtually no differences between the TS body image and the scorched edges of the 1532 burn holes. That made the TS image "scorch-like", even if STURP studisly avoided that description (why???).

STURP, for reasons that are not entirely clear, considered the TS image to resemble an acid-induced discoloration rather than one produced by heat. But my own experiments with fairly concentrated sulphuric acid, reported on my sciencebuzz site, allowed to evaporate on linen to become even more concentrated, gave no support to that view, unless the acid-soaked linen was also heated, and even then the coloration was not striking.

Heat or strong acid, with or without heat, tend to produce colour in carbohydrates (sugars, starches, cellulose etc) by the same chemical mechanism, one that involves a series of chemical steps that involve chemical dehydration (loss of H and O atoms in a 2:1 ratio), followed or accompanied by oxidation. Thus we have STURP referring to the TS body image chromophore as being a conjugated carbonyl, presumably with the sequence -C=C-C(O)-C-. That’s a little puzzling, since the simplest conjugated carbonyl, acrolein, has no colour! One generally needs a longer sequence of alternating single and double bonds, with or without carbonyl groups to produce yellow colour in organic compounds.

So it was interesting to have STUP's lead chemist, Raymond N. Rogers, propose an entirely different explanation for the chromophore. He said it was a Maillard browning product, formed by reaction between reducing sugars and amino (-NH2) groups. But he didn’t stop there. He conjured up a pro-authenticity explanation for the presence of Maillard reaction products entirely different from that which would be recognized by bakers, brewers etc who are familiar with Maillard “browning reactions” , usually between proteins with amino acid side chains, notably lysine, and reducing sugars like glucose. Let’s not dwell on the details, except to say that Rogers invoked the presence of a starch coating, used he said as a processing aid in 1st century linen manufacture, spot the pro-authenticity bi, then supposed it would supply reducing sugar without saying precisely how (starch does not easily depolymerise unless ‘helped’ to do so with enzymes or strong acid), and then – a feat of imagination – proposed that putrefaction products of a decomposing body provided the amino groups (ammonia, putrescine, cadaverine). What was lacking was analytical data to support was has come to be known as the diffusion model. One can overlook the absence of convincing experimental data for a degraded starch coating, or the credibility of a diffusing gas being able to generate a sharp image, but the major deficiency is the absence of spectral or other evidence to identify the TS chromophore specifically as a Maillard reaction product (though hardly surprising given the reaction pathways are exceedingly complex, leading to a vast range of end products, some of them high MWt and difficult to characterize).

Am I boring you folks?Yes, almost certainly. So let’s move from what STURP proposed 35 years ago, with scanty evidence (relying on fibres pulled off the TS with sticky tape with picogram amounts of sample) and move to the present day. Since Stuart has asked, what is my view, based on some 4 years of model building, while never having so much as seen the real TS, only photographs?

Using two entirely different routes, I have arrived at the same answer as Rogers – Maillard reaction products – but generated by conventional kitchen and bakery chemistry - human-aided.

The amino groups AND the ready-made reducing sugars are both provided by the same ingredient – white wheaten flour. They are encouraged to reaction together in a so-called non-enzymic browning reaction produced by high temperatures, typically 175 to 200 degrees C in a heated oven. (Yes, another deficiency of the Rogers model is that it required Maillard reactions to go at ordinary 1st century Palestine rock tomb temperature, but even in his model system he used 60 degrees to generate yellow colour with ammonia and semi-degraded starch).

Here’s the drill for producing an imprint with most if not all the known properties of the TS image. One smears one’s subject with vegetable oil (or egg yolk etc). One sprinkles white flour onto the oil-coated parts of the subject. One shakes off the surplus flour, leaving sufficient behind that remains 'stuck'to the skin for what follows. One then brings the coated subject into contact with wet linen, applying manual pressure. Various geometries are available for doing that. Getting the geometry just so is important for the quality of the end result, but the details need not concern us now. The wet imprinted linen is then carefully folded and suspended in a hot oven, and observed closely until the optimum degree of yellowing or browning is observed.

One has the Stage 2 imprint, but it's probably far too prominent to be regarded as a model for the TS, at least the faded one we see today. There’s a remedy: one washes the imprinted linen with soap and water, rubbing vigorously to get the final Stage 3 attenuated image. Is that also a Maillard product, or is it an ancillary product which is not ON the linen fibres but chemically part of them? Answer: I haven’t a clue, and even if I had a well-equipped chemistry lab at my disposal, there’s no guarantee of getting a quick or conclusive answer, such is the complexity of Maillard browning reactions and associated caramelization of carbohydrates that can occur via pyrolysis without protein or other amino-group involvement, and with or without involvement of oxygen.

Here’s are some images of my own hand, as seen at Stage 3 after washing, first as the yellowish-brown negative imprint, 3D-rendered, and then as the corresponding positive image after tone-reversal in Image J.

(Egg yolk successfully substituted for veg oil, showing the technology is robust).

Takeway message? One can model a passable imitation of the TS image using flour, vegetable oil, wet linen, a hot oven and soap and water. Whether the real TS was produced by that very same technology is anyone’s guess, but at least it’s technology that is simple and fully within the means of medieval artisans, requiring no knowledge of chemistry, merely an application of baking knowhow. As said earlier: models in science are for using, not believing.

Hello again Stuart. It’s said that the Turin Shroud is the most studied artefact in all of history, which I can well believe. Scarcely a month goes by without some new quasi-sci-fi scenario being tossed to the media like red meat to a slavering carnivore in a zoo.

So forgive me if I stand aside from the showbiz element, as I have these last few years, and patiently try to separate the science from the pseudoscience, focusing instead on hands-on modelling of the TS image.

It’s been quite a challenge, believe me, attempting patiently and hopefully systematically to match all the so-called enigmatic features of the TS body image – faint, fuzzy, negative, non-fluorescent, superficial, 3D properties, half-tone and other microscopic properties, but I do believe we are getting there (bit by bit).

Why the slow progress?

The main reason is the attempts by the godfathers of sindonology to rule out any mechanisms that involve (a) imprinting by direct contact and (b) thermal modification of linen fibres, aka the “scorch hypothesis” (taking scorch in its widest sense to mean superficially-discoloured linen, via one or other thermally-induced mechanism). So one’s essentially a one-man-band playing to an audience with fingers in its ears, though there are a handful of fellow experimentalists – Hugh Farey, Thibault Heimburger, some helpful and supportive, some less so...

You ask for me to state my current position. Well, I can tell you with a FAIR DEGREE OF CONFIDENCE (howzat!) that the TS image is a contact imprint, mainly on the grounds that (a) it looks like an imprint – explaining why it’s a negative image with reversal of normal light/dark tones, (b) the various non-contact processes that have been proposed are for the most part unscientific, especially those involving air-attenuated radiation of unspecified wavelength and (c) that the attempts to exclude contact-imprinting are based on flawed reasoning – assuming loosely-draped linen instead of that which is manually-impressed by employees of Relics-U-Like (founded circa 1350?). Likewise the attempts to rule out thermal imprinting: arguments based on “ultra-superficiality” (notably the alleged 200nm image thickness), or allegedly undisturbed crystallinity of cellulose etc are simply not the killer-points they are made out to be.

On the one hand we’re told that a 200nm thick image (based on Ray Rogers’ guesstimate) needs a 21st century uv excimer laser to stand any chance of being modelled. Yet elsewhere the same light-sabre wielding Star Wars team are accepting without question a contrary finding of Ray Rogers’, namely that image fibres are mechanically-weak compared to non image fibres. Spot the discrepancy – how can a modification of a highly superficial surface layer of a linen fibre – maybe the flaky primary cell wall of the flax cell, weaken the entire fibre that is maybe 50 times as thick?

More importantly, the underlying bias is plain for all to see – the all-too-apparent attempt to shoot down the ideas and experimental approaches of those questioning authenticity (“not made by human hands”) without bothering to evaluate thoroughly, or even do the most basic experiments with conventional forms of energy, notably heat, whether conducted, convected or radiated. This experimentalist has tried all three: in chronological order: radiated heat, i.e. infrared (thermostencilling with a radiation-absorbing blackbody – plain charcoal); conducted heat requiring physical contact (hot metal template); convected heat using moving hot gas (oven roasting flour imprint in moving hot air )

Which does the business? Brief pause for further fence-sitting and vacillation. Answer: convection (current flour-imprinting model !). I say that with a FAIR DEGREE OF CONFIDENCE (howzat ;-)

Best I stop there for now. I’ll be back later in the day, setting out what we know versus what we don’t know about the chemical nature of the TS image. Hopefully it will become clearer why one has to proceed so cautiously and avoid making rash pronouncements that one might later regret. I’m certainly not in the business of tossing those juicy morsels of red meat to the ever-hungry mass media. Indeed I would like to see the latter moved to a blander vegetarian diet. Give plodding ol’ conventional mainstream science a look-in is what I say, being careful to distinguish from pseudoscience (agenda-driven "discoveries" dressed up to look like science). That’s easier said than done, when physics-trained technologists and others with their latest gee-whizz box of tricks decide to become sindonologists, nuff said).

Hi Colin, me again. I’ve read through your last few responses and also tried to gain an understanding of what your current hypothesis is on the origin, purpose and meaning of the TS – you’ve been careful to pose questions of self-enquiry rather than coming out with your conclusion on the matter.  I appreciate the research and experiments you’ve re-created but I’m not sure to what end? I’m a bit lost in the verbose to be honest and I’m struggling to understand what you believe (so far) the TS to be. You’ve gone to great lengths to ‘recreate’ similar images of the shroud so I suppose you believe the shroud is some form of crude, but well-planned work of art. Quick question – has anyone ever been able to identify what exactly the darkened areas (that form the image) on the original shroud are composed of? By example of your experiments with flour, has there been conclusive evidence on the original shroud of the presence of flour? It’s a layman’s question but one I’m sure other readers will appreciate.


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