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Shroud of Turin
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Shroud of Turin

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries-old linen cloth bearing the image of an apparently crucified man and presently kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Many people believe it is the cloth that covered Jesus of Nazareth when he was placed in his tomb and that his image was somehow recorded on its fibers at the moment of his resurrection. Skeptics contend it is a medieval hoax or forgery. Scientists, theologians and historians continue to debate where, when and how the shroud and image were created.

Table of contents
1 General observations
2 History
3 The controversy
4 Conclusions
5 External links

General observations

The shroud is a rectangle measuring 4.4 m by 1.1 m. The material is woven in a herringbone twill, composed of flax fibrils entwisted with cotton fibrils. It bears an image showing a front view and a dorsal view of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin. The views are aligned along the midplane of the body, pointing in opposite directions, with the heads nearly meeting in the middle of the cloth. The views are consistent with vertical projection of a human body.

The man shown in the shroud had a beard, mustache, and long hair, and was well-proportioned and muscular. What appear to be bloodstains are found on the cloth, indicating that the man was wounded:

At approximately 175 cm (5' 9"), the man's height is quite large—both for the 1st century, the time the shroud is purported to be from, and for the Middle Ages, the time of its purported fabrication.

On May 28, 1898 an amateur Italian photographer, Secondo Pia, photographed the shroud and was startled by the resulting undeveloped negative. The negative gave the appearance of a positive image, seemingly indicating that the shroud image itself is a negative. The detail and heft of the man on the shroud was greatly enhanced in the photographic negative, inspiring believers and leading to renewed speculation on its origin. Most researchers and viewers have been struck by the realistically rendered dimensionality of the man and his unusually accurate anatomical depiction. These qualities inspired believers and fascinated critics, for no known artist, ancient, medieval or even later up to the advent of photography, approached this degree of fidelity to life, with the possible exception of a few ancient Greek and Italian renaissance sculptors. Even then, the transference of the image of a masterwork sculpture or a human model onto a flat surface while retaining its dimensional characteristics seems beyond any pre-19th-century process.


Early reports

Reports of Jesus's burial shroud have been circulating since before the 14th century. Ian Wilson raised the argument that the cloth now called the "Shroud of Turin" is the same as the one that had been known centuries earlier as the "Image of Edessa" though no connection can be substantiated. In fact, the Image of Edessa was said to have been sent to Edessa while Jesus was still alive. There are, however, some points that Shroud proponents cite in support of the hypothesis that the cloth reported to have been in Edessa was the same as the one now kept in Turin:

On August 15, 944 CE, a cloth known to us as the Cloth of Edessa, was forcibly transferred from Edessa to Constantinople. It had been in Edessa since at least the middle of the 6th century when it was found concealed behind some stones above one of the city gates. It was, to the people of Edessa, the lost cloth of a great legend, the cloth brought to Abgar V Ouchama, the King of Edessa (13 to 50 CE) by a disciples known to us as Thaddeus Jude (Addai) who was dispatched to do so by the apostle Thomas (Eusebius ca 325 A.D.; Doctrina Addai second half of the 4th century). According to the legend, the infirm king was miraculously healed when he beheld the image of Jesus's face. Problematically, written accounts of the legend refer only to a facial image, one that had been miraculously produced by Jesus.

In the late 6th century, Evagrius Scholasticus' Ecclesiastical History mentions that Edessa was protected by a 'divinely wrought portrait,' an acheiropoietos sent by Jesus to Abgar. In 730 CE, St. John Damascene. in his anti iconoclastic movement thesis, On Holy Images, describes the cloth as an himation, which is translated as an oblong cloth or grave cloth. This may be the first mention, among extant manuscripts, of it being a grave cloth.

Extant manuscripts don't suggest why the cloth was hidden away above a gate in the city's wall. Perhaps it was hidden to protect it from Persian invaders. If it was in Edessa very early then perhaps it was hidden to protect it during times of Christian persecutions. There is evidence of local persecutions in this early Christian community in the latter part of the 1st century and of Roman persecutions that persisted until the time of Emperor Constantine. If, in fact, the cloth was taken to Edessa in the 1st century, it might have been hidden for protection as early as the reign of Ma'nu VI, Abgar's son, who is thought to have reverted to paganism.

On the occasion of the transfer of the cloth, on the very day after the arrival of the cloth in the Byzantine capital, Gregory Referendarius, the archdeacon of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, preached a sermon that provides a vital clue. The sermon, which was recently rediscovered in the Vatican Archives and translated from the ancient Greek by Mark Guscin, reveals, explicitly, that the Edessa Cloth contained a full length image, one that was believed to be of Jesus. It had obvious bloodstains from a side wound. Other documents are in the Vatican Library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands: King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body (Faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere poteris, Codex Vossianus Latinus Q69 and Vatican Library, Codex 5696, fol.35).

14th century

The known provenance of the cloth now stored in Turin dates back to 1357, when the widow of French knight Geoffroy de Charny had it displayed in a church in Lirey, France nearby Troyes (Knights Templar). Both coats of arms are to be seen in a pilgrim medallion in the Museum Cluny in Paris, which shows accurately the Shroud of Turin.

During these years, the Shroud was publicly exposed, even if not continuously because the bishop of Troyes had prohibited this cult practice. But after 32 years the cult started again. Its propriety was contested by King Charles VI of France, who vainly ordered his sheriffs to obtain it and bring it to Troyes. In 1389, the then bishop of Troyes dismissed the relic as a fake, and reported the confession of the artist who had "cunningly painted" the image. But he had never seen it himself. In the following month, antipope Clement VII prescribed indulgences for those who celebrated the Shroud, and the cult continued.

15th century

In 1418, Humbert of Villersexel, Count de la Roche, Lord of Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs, who had married the grand-daughter of Geoffroy de Charny, moved the Shroud to his castle at Montfort, officially to protect it from criminal bands.

It was later moved again, to Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs. After the death of Humbert, a judicial battle was fought by Lirey canons, who wanted the widow to return the cloth, but the parlement of Dole, and later the Court of Besançon, both left it to the widow. She travelled with the Shroud, for several expositions (like in Liege and in Geneva).

In 1453 the widow sold it (for a castle in Varambon) to Ludwig Duke of Savoy, who stored it in the castle of Chambery (capital town of the Duchy), in a newly-built Sainte-Chapelle, which pope Paul II soon after elevated to the dignity of collegiate church. In 1464, the duke had to recognize an annual rent to the Lirey canons, and on their side these formally recognized the cloth as his property.

In 1471 the Shroud was moved to Vercelli, and in the following years it was in Turin, Ivrea, Susa, Chambery, Avigliano, Rivoli, and Pinerolo. In 1483 the cloth was described by two sacrists of the Sainte-Chapelle as "enveloped in a red silk drape, and kept in a case covered with crimson velours, decorated with silver-gilt nails, and locked with a golden key".

16th century to present

In 1532, a fire broke out in the chapel. The folded shroud was damaged by a drop of molten silver from the reliquary it was stored in, and (possibly) by water used to douse the fire. It was rewoven and patched by the Poor Clare Nuns.

The shroud was moved in 1578 to Turin, where it remains to this day. It remained the property of the House of Savoy until it was bequeathed to the Holy See in 1983.

In 1988, a sliver was cut from a corner of the shroud for analysis.

In 1997, the shroud was again threatened by fire, perhaps due to arson. Fireman Mario Trematore smashed its display case and saved it from harm.

The shroud was restored in 2002. The cloth backing and thirty patches were removed. The usually hidden reverse side of the shroud was scanned and photographed.

The controversy

Proponents of the authenticity of the shroud call the study of it "Sindonology" (from Greek sindón, the word used for a shroud and also for a cloth worn by someone in the Gospel of Mark). Skeptics, who find a connotation of pseudoscience in the term, tend not to use it.

Theories of image formation

A recent BBC documentary proposed that the shroud is perhaps the first ever example of photography, showing the portrait of its maker Leonardo da Vinci. According to this theory, he produced the image with the aid of a Laterna Magica, a simple projecting apparatus, and light-sensitive silver compounds which were available at the time. However, Leonardo da Vinci was born one hundred years after the first documented appearance of the cloth: supporters of the da Vinci theory usually contend that the original cloth was a poor fake for which da Vinci's superior cloth was substituted a century later. The response of this theory's critics is that no evidence of any kind exists to document such a substitution, or any public or private reaction to a change in the cloth's appearance.

It has also been proposed that the image may have been formed as the shroud began to fall through Jesus' miraculously transmuted body during the Resurrection. Contributing to this theory is the perception by some of x-ray-like impressions of the teeth, and of bones in the fingers.

Recent investigation shows that cellulose fibers making up the threads of the shroud's cloth are coated with a thin carbohydrate layer of starch fractions, various sugars, and other impurities. This chemical layer, which is about as thick as the transparent scratch-resistant coatings used for eye glasses (about 600 nanometers thick), is essentially colorless. However, in some places, the layer has undergone a chemical change that appears straw-yellow. This chemical change is similar to the change that takes place when sugar is heated to make caramel or when proteins react with sugar giving beer its color. It is this straw-yellow discoloration, selectively present in some parts of the carbohydrate layer, that makes up the images we see on the shroud. When scientists speak of image fibers they are referring to the coating on lengths of fiber that have undergone this chemical change.

In a peer-reviewed paper (Scientific journal, Melanoidins vol. 4, Ames J.M. ed., Office for Official Publications of the European Communities) entitled "The Shroud of Turin: an amino-carbonyl reaction (Maillard reaction) may explain the image formation," R. N. Rogers and A Arnoldi suggest a natural explanation (which does not rule out a supernatural invocation of a natural process). Maillard reactions of amines from a human body with the carbohydrate layer will occur within a reasonable time, before liquid decomposition products stain or damage the cloth. The gases produced by a dead body are extremely reactive chemically. Within a few hours, in an environment such as a tomb, a body starts to produce heavier amines in its tissues such as putrescine (1,4-diaminobutane), and cadaverine (1,5-diaminopentane). This will produce the color seen in the carbohydrate layer. But it raises tough questions about why the image (both ventral and dorsal views) are so photorealistic and why the images were not destroyed by later decomposition products (a question obviated if a resurrection occurred, or even possibly if a body was removed from the cloth at the opportune time).

Second Image on Back of Cloth

The peer-reviewed journal of the Institute of Physics in London, on April 14, 2004, announced that Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, both of the University of Padua, Italy, have found a second image on the back of the Shroud of Turin. This image, consisting primarily of the face and hands, is very faint, and much less detailed than the image on the front side of the shroud. Like the front image, it is completely superficial (meaning there is no image or colorant of any kind between the two image layers on the extreme outer faces of the cloth) and the images are in registry with each other. No details from the dorsal view are evident. The discovery is the result of processing of photographs taken in 2002, when the reverse side was exposed during the restoration.

This discovery of imaging on the backside of the cloth makes artistic and photographic methods somewhat less plausible, and lends credence to the idea that gaseous amines released by the body reacted with the carbohydrate layers. Some gases would have penetrated through the weave of the cloth and reacted with the backside carbohydrate layer. It does not rule out miraculous causes (no scientific evidence can ever rule out a miracle, which makes scientific investigation of "miracles" somewhat quixotic).

Analysis of the Shroud

Radiocarbon dating

In 1988 the Shroud was independently examined by Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Using the technique of radiocarbon dating, they all agreed that the cloth dated to the 13th or 14th century (1260 to 1390).

However, some argue that the results may have been distorted by such factors as the fire of 1532, bacteria and bacterial residue that would not have been cleaned by the testing team's methods, or even neutrons released at the time of the Resurrection. The bacterial "bioplastic coating" argument is the strongest, as there have been cases in which ancient textiles have yielded radiocarbon dates much younger than other artifacts in the same sites—most notably in the instance of mummy 1770 in the British Museum, whose bones dated 800 to 1,000 years older, according to the radiocarbon tests, than the textile in which they were wrapped. The portion of the shroud used for the radiocarbon dating was from a corner, which would have been handled often, increasing the likelihood of contamination. Bacteria and bacterial residue carry additional carbon and would skew the radiocarbon date toward the present. This theory gained considerable force when Harry E. Gove, the nuclear physicist at the University of Rochester who designed the carbon-dating technique used on the shroud, stated, “There is a bioplastic coating on some threads, maybe most.” If the coating is of a great enough thickness, according to Gove, it "would make the fabric sample seem younger than it should be" to the radiocarbon method. Skeptics have countered that, to shift the date by thirteen centuries, the contamination would have had to weigh twice as much as the entire Shroud. Other researchers have countered this counter and insist only a new radiocarbon test using a properly cleaned swatch from a better location will settle the matter.

Recent investigations by Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan and Raymond N. Rogers, a retired Fellow of the University of California Los Alamos National Laboratory with ultraviolet photography and spectral analysis show that the area from which the samples were taken was chemically unlike the rest of the cloth. Analysis reveals the presence of Madder root dye and an aluminum oxide mordant (a reagent that fixes dyes to textiles) not found elsewhere on the Shroud. The presence of Madder root and mordant suggests that the Shroud was mended in the carbon 14 sample area.

Microchemical tests also reveal vanillin (C8H8O3 or 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) in this same sample area. The rest of the cloth does not test positive for it. Vanillin is produced by the thermal decomposition of lignin, a complex polymer, a non-carbohydrate constituent of plant material including flax. Found in medieval materials but not in much older cloths, it diminishes and disappears with time. For instance, the wrappings of the Dead Sea scrolls do not test positive for vanillin.

Material historical analysis

The latest research has investigated the implications of the burn holes and water marks. The shroud was damaged in 1532 by a fire in the Chapel of Chambery Castle, in France, where it was kept before being brought to Turin. The burn marks date from that time and it was believed that this was also when it was damaged by being dowsed with water. However, a fabrics historian has now suggested that the water damage occurred earlier, since the pattern indicates that the cloth would have been folded in the same way as treasured fabrics that were kept in clay jars, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. These date from the 1st century AD, around the time of Jesus, which may indicate that the shroud is of a similar age.

Another piece of evidence fits this theory. A seam in the cloth is of a particular type that has only ever been seen in fabric from the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea, which dated from the same period. Also, the weaving pattern and size of the cloth are consistent with 1st century Syrian design. Master textile restorer Mechthild Flury-Lemberg of Hamburg, Germany states, "The linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin does not display any weaving or sewing techniques which would speak against its origin as a high quality product of the textile workers of the 1st century."

Biological and medical forensics

Piercing of the wrists, rather than the palms, is not consistent with most medieval depictions of the crucifixion. However, it has been conjectured by Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a noted shroud researcher, that the nails may have been hammered in on an angle, entering in the palm, and exiting in the wrist. This would have tended to better support the body, and would explain the apparent contradiction with the Gospel description of Jesus' wounds being "in the hands". The depiction of wrist punctures on the shroud rather than palm punctures has been cited as evidence it is no medieval forgery, as medieval representations invariably show palm wounds and even a clever forger would have been unlikely to know this operational detail of an execution method used centuries earlier.

Whether the red-tinged stains on the shroud are actually blood has been questioned. Chemist Walter McCrone, has identified the substance as a combination of red ochre and vermilion tempera paint, although many others have identified it as type AB blood, with no evidence of any artificial pigments. Note that only fibrils lifted from the shroud on sticky tape were tested for blood. Decoloration of blood over time is an issue: if the pigment were whole blood the stains would not be red any more, whereas red pigment would be. However, defenders of the "blood" theory argue that the stains in question were not produced by blood, per se, but by liquid exuded from blood clots, and that such liquid from the body of a beaten, traumatized person would include bilirubin in addition to oxydized hemoglobin, and the combination would be red, and remain red indefinitely.

Avinoam Danin and Uri Baruch of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem claimed to have identified pollen grains originating from around Jerusalem. They were, however, working with shroud samples sent to Danin by Max Frei, a Swiss police criminologist (who had been censured for faking evidence to obtain convictions). When Frei's 26 sticky tapes were independently examined, one of them was found to have more pollen grains than all the others combined, leading to the conclusion that the tape had been deliberately or inadvertently contaminated.

The two Israeli researchers also contended that images of a plant bloom on the shroud matched plants which flower only in March and April in the environs of Jerusalem. The most remarkable trace is the casting of the thorn crown, which comes from the plant Gundelia tournefortii, which grows only at this time of the year in the Jerusalem area. These comparisons depend on interpreting the patterns on the shroud as representing particular plants. The indistinct images relied on by Shroud proponents do not unequivocally suggest particular plant species. Danin also compared the shroud with the Sudarium of Oviedo, which has a detailed provenance to the 1st century, determining from the pattern of blood-colored stains that they could have both covered the same head.

Sudarium of Oviedo

In the northern Spanish city of Oviedo, there is a small bloodstained dishcloth-sized piece of linen that some believe is one of the burial cloths mentioned in John's Gospel. Tradition has it that this cloth, commonly known as the Sudarium of Oviedo, was used to cover Jesus' bloodied face following his death on the cross.

Numerous historic documents tell us that the Sudarium, unquestionably, has been in Oviedo since the 8th century and in Spain since the 7th century. It seems, too, to have arrived from Jerusalem. Documents from the late Roman period and the early Middle Ages are often sketchy and prone to chronological mistakes, and those pertaining to the Sudarium are no exception. But from a multiplicity of sources, scholars have extracted core elements of historical certainty and plausibility sufficient for a fair degree of historical reconstruction.

Forensic analysis of the bloodstains suggests strongly that both the Sudarium and the Shroud covered the same human head at nearly the same time. Bloodstain patterns show that the Sudarium was placed about the man's head while he was still in a vertical position, presumably before he was removed from the cross. It was then removed before the Shroud was placed over the man's face.

In 1999, Mark Guscin, a member of the multidisciplinary Investigation Team of the Centro Español de Sindonología, issued a detailed forensic and historical report entitled, "Recent Historical Investigations on the Sudarium of Oviedo." Guscin's report detailed recent findings of the history, forensic pathology, blood chemistry, and stain patterns on the Sudarium. His conclusion: the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin had been used to cover the same injured head at closely different times.


Through the use of microscopy, it has been determined that the image is a result of discoloration of only the outermost fibers of the fabric, which suggests that the image may have been created through a radiative process. This characteristic is advanced as a reason to reject any theory that the image was formed by the application of pigment.

Digital image processing

Even more remarkable features are said to be noticeable when the image is digitally processed (although such claims are highly criticized):

Criticism by Gospel reference

Many Protestants contend that evidence the shroud is a hoax might be found in the Gospel of John in which the Christian biblical narrative identifies the wrappings of Jesus as two separate objects: "Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:6, 7; King James Version).


Until the authorities allow further dating tests to be done, there can be no definite answers on the origins of the Shroud of Turin.

However, for Christians, who state that their faith is independent of the authenticity of any relic, the results of the research would be irrelevant for their faith. Moreover, many believe the marks on this piece of linen to be a miraculous image of Jesus Christ, or at least something comparable to an icon, so its veneration need not diminish.

External links

Two photos of the Shroud (all text is in Italian)

News reporting