Religion and Spirituality

Shroud of Turin, Shroud of Turin image, Shroud of Turin negative, Shroud of Turin jesus
Barrie M. Schwortz/AP
A negative of the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud of Turin

December 01, 2011 11:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Many believe that the Shroud of Turin is Jesus Christ’s burial cloth and bears the image of his face and body, but skeptics call it a medieval forgery.

What Is the Shroud of Turin?

The Shroud of Turin is a piece of cloth measuring 4.42 by 1.13 meters (14.3 by 3.7 feet) in a herringbone pattern that bears “a faint impression of an image, the frontal and dorsal one of a man who suffered the death of crucifixion,” according to the official site of the Holy Shroud.

Encyclopedia Britannica describes the shroud. “The images contain markings that allegedly correspond to the stigmata of Jesus, including thorn marks on the head, lacerations (as if from flogging) on the back, bruises on the shoulders, and various stains of what is presumed to be blood.”

Many Catholics believe that the shroud was the one placed on Christ after his burial. The authenticity of the shroud has been debated for centuries and scientists are divided over whether it could possibly be Christ’s shroud.

The Vatican has no official position on the shroud. Pope John Paul II said in 1998 that the church “entrusts to scientists the task of continuing to investigate,” but the shroud nonetheless has deep religious meaning.

“For the believer, what counts above all is that the Shroud is a mirror of the Gospel,” he declared. “In fact, if we reflect on the sacred Linen, we cannot escape the idea that the image it presents has such a profound relationship with what the Gospels tell of Jesus' passion and death, that every sensitive person feels inwardly touched and moved at beholding it.”

History of the Shroud

The first definitive reference to the Shroud of Turin is found in the 14th century. A 1389 document states that in the 1350s, the shroud was displayed in a church in Lirey, France, by French knight Geoffroy de Charny. Even then, the authenticity of the shroud was debated. In 1389, Bishop Pierre D’Arcis sent a letter to Clement VII, a French pope, saying that the shroud was a forgery.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The pope, without absolutely prohibiting the exhibition of the Shroud, decided after full examination that in the future when it was shown to the people, the priest should declare in a loud voice that it was not the real shroud of Christ, but only a picture made to represent it.”

In 1453, the House of Savoy, the Italian royal family, took possession of the shroud, which was housed in Chambery in France’s Savoy region. In 1532, a fire at the Chambery chapel nearly destroyed the shroud. It was moved in 1578 to Turin, Italy, where it has remained since.

In 1898, photographer Secondo Pia took the first photograph of the shroud. When examining the negative, the faint image on the shroud became clear, revealing the body and face in stunning detail.

Determining the Authenticity of the Shroud

In 1978, a team of American scientists called Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) studied the fabric of the Shroud and issued a report three years later. It pronounced: “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 bloodstains 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.”

In 1988, a small piece was cut from the edge of the shroud and sent to three separate laboratories in Europe and the U.S. for carbon dating testing. The tests all found that the shroud dated back to 1260-1390, more than a millennium after Jesus’ death.

The accuracy of the test has been called into question, however. Some scientists, including Christopher Ramsey of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and STURP scientist John Jackson, believe that the fabric was contaminated by the multiple fires it endured, carbon monoxide, bacteria or other contaminants. According to Jackson, a 2 percent contamination is capable of skewing results by 1,500 years.

Others, including Raymond Rogers of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, believe that the outer section of the shroud was repaired in the Middles Ages; therefore, the section that was tested is not the same fabric that makes up the rest of the shroud. Examining the loss of the chemical vanillin in the shroud, Rogers estimates that it is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

Believers in the shroud’s authenticity contend that it could not have been reproduced. But in 2009, Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli reproduced the shroud and declared that “this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure.”

In 2010, a team of computer artists used the shroud to create a computer-generated 3D image of Jesus Christ’s face. The image was featured in a documentary for the television channel History.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines