Rants & Raves

(Don Chance)

The Shroud of Turin


When I wrote this document first the first itme, it was Friday, April 10, 2020, a special day in Christianity.  Good Friday.  Now, I always wondered what was so good about it.  It was the day an angry mob engaged the Romans to kill Jesus.  But I guess that’s a different issue. 

So I have some things to say about the Shroud of Turin.  What an appropriate subject for an Easter weekend.  In October of 2018, I had the opportunity to attend an academic conference in finance in Turin, Italy, known there as Torino.  It is a beautiful city, providing a view of the Alps, and it was the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics.  There are about 900,000 people in Turin.  You can have a very enjoyable visit even if you don’t check out the Shroud.  But if you do, it is an incredibly powerful experience. 

The Shroud is the alleged burial cloth that may have been draped over the body of Jesus for his interment in the cave on land owned by Joseph of Arimathea .  It is a piece of high-quality linen, about 14 ½ feet long and three feet wide, and is in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, also known as Turin Cathedral.  The Shroud is not displayed.  It resides in a box off to the side near the altar, with the area blocked off by glass.  Nonetheless, you can get to within a few feet of the box, separated of course by the glass.  There are seats in front where you can sit and pray or whatever.  I mostly took pictures.  What you see is the box and a photograph of the Shroud.  It has been in this Cathedral since the 16th century (1578).  Even under those conditions, ,it has still continued to deteriorate, and the image has faded.   

The Shroud itself, if it were displayed, is very difficult to see.  As noted, it has faded over the years, one reason why it is kept inside a hermetically sealed aluminum and glass box that pumps out the air and replaces it with argon, an inert gas, where it has been kept since 1998.  In 1898, an amateur Italian photographer named Secondo Pia made a photograph of the Shroud but noted that the negative of the photograph was far more fascinating.  It revealed incredible detail.  I urge you to Google the photograph and the negative. 

There has been much research and debate over whether the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus. I happen to believe it is, and I will share my opinion as to why I hold this belief.  It is not based on faith, though I consider myself a faithful person.  (I am Catholic.)  My belief is based on the evidence.. There simply is no scientific explanation that doesn’t defy logic.  Even economic logic. 

Many people say the debate is over.  In 1988, a small piece of one corner was clipped and taken for carbon dating tests at Oxford University in the UK.  It revealed that the Shroud dated back to a range of 1260 – 1390 AD.  So, there in October, 1988 at the British Museum in London, scientists declared the object a medieval fake.  Case closed, right? 

Not so fast. 

I have read a great deal about the Shroud.  In fact, the study of the Shroud has generated its own term – sindonology, a sindon being a piece of linen or other cloth.  The primary research on this project has been part of an effprt called the Shroud of Turin Research Project or STURP, a consortium of American scientists started in 1978. 

Here are the main facts that I found.

Carbon Dating Accuracy 

First off, carbon dating is not always accurate.  For example, while examining another object, a team of scientistw sent samples from the object to two different labs for carbon dating.  The answers came back with a 500-year difference.  Another carbon dating test was once done on a mummy.  A piece of the mummy and a piece of the cloth in which the mummy was wrapped were sent to a lab.  The cloth wrapped around the mummy proved to be 500 years older than the mummy.  While not impossible, it does seem unlikely that Egyptians would wrap a mummy in a 500-year old cloth.  Wouldn’t they have used a more contemporary one?  Imagine what bad condition a 500-year old cloth would have been?  I cannot believe they would have used one.  Well, this was probably not the case.  The mummy and its cloth were probably of the same era.  The carbon dating was what was wrong. 

In addition there are three other facts that can bias carbon dating.  One is exposure to fire.  It is known that the Shroud has been in at least two fires, one in 1532 and another in 1997.  In addition, carbon dating can be biased by having been touched by humans.  Since the sample that was dated came from one of the four edges, the likelihood that the Shroud was held on its corners by human hands over the years can add further noise into the carbon dating process, a result of bacteria from human hands.  

Third, experts have now determined that the section from which the sample was taken is of a slightly different color than the rest of the cloth.  This has been confirmed with ultraviolet photography.  It appears to have been from restorative effort,,possibly from fire damage.  But in any case, the repair was probably done during the Middle Ages.  It is generally agreed that the section that was clipped in 1988 was probably the worst choice that could have been made. 

In addition,, there is a 12th document in Hungary called the Pray Codex that describes details that are consisetne with the Shroud.

What is on the Shroud?

One thing we know for sure.  The Shroud contains an image of a man who is aproxomately five feet, ten inches.  Some have said that this height is too tall for a man of that era.  Now, anthropologists really do not know much about the heights of people of that era, but some bones have been found and the estimated heights have varied.  They know a lot more about the heights of people in the middle ages, and five feet, ten inches wuold have been unsuaully tall.  I have my own completely unprovable theory that Jesuis was taller than most men.  I believe God would have made him that way so that he would stand out.  He neded to be noticed in a crowd.  Height would have been a good way to do it.


Several facts about the Shroud are indisputable.  The image on the Shroud is not paint, as found by the STURP group using modern technology.  The image is only on the surface.  It did not sink into the fibers, as would paint.  The Shroud does contain male blood, type AB, and the blood is in the appropriate locations for a man who was scourged and crucified.  The image contains evidence of swelling, whipmarks and cuts and bruises on the face, knees (Jesus fell down carrying the cross), and upper back. There is no evidence of broken bones, which is consistent with stories of the crucifixion.  Jesus’ legs were not broken, as was common when finishing off a person being crucified.   

The image portrayed by the Shroud is completely consistent with a man who underwent what Jesus did.  If it was a fake, someone gave it incredible detail.  But of course, that is possible.  There were many talented people at that time. 

Also, the Shroud also contains pollen from plant that are known to grow in the Jerusalem area.   

In the modern restoration project, a Swiss expert determined that the herringbone stitching style was unique and not associated with any style used in the middle ages.  In fact, it was the same style found in cloth in the Masada, a first century fortress of Jews that was besieged by Romans. 

So How Could it Have Been Faked? 

But if it was a fake, how was it done, with the state of knowledge of that time?  One scientific theory that has been replicated is that it is a very primitive photograph.  Yes, a photograph.  Photography did not come along until the 19th century.  Could it have been done earlier?  Yes, it could have.   

A camera obscura is a box with a pinhole that can be used to create an image using simply light shining through the pinhole.  It is sometimes known as a pinhole camera.  I have done it.  One of my children had a science fair project, and I helped her make a pinhole camera.  We took some Kodak film and projected the image onto the film.  It was amazingly good.  This would be harder to do today with film being virtually non-existent.  But the point is that you can make the camera itself quite easily. 

And to take a picture, all you need is the right chemical, specifically silver sulfate, and paper or cloth, and that would have been possible in the 12th and `13th centuries.  A camera obscura, some cloth, and silver sulfate.  You can soak the cloth in the silver sulfate and it becomes light-sensitive can absorb the rays of light created by the primitive camera.  Now, all you need is a pretty beat up body.  Perhaps the forger could have gotten a cadaver.  There is general agreement that the image is of a man who was dead.  If it were a photograph, a live person probably could not have stayed still as long as would be needed for the exposure to work, around eight hours.  It has been argued that further chemical analysis of the cloth could be done to look for silver residue, the presence of which had not previously been tested.  That is what scientists say, but there is a problem.  It is known that molten silver got onto the Shroud in the fire of 1532, and that would almost surely contaminate any such results. In addition, the STURP project did a chemical analysi and found only a modest amout n of silver around the side.  Had this been a photograph, it would have been saturated with silver.  Modern photographers have analyzed the Shroud and determined that it does not meet the characteristcis of a photograph. Efforts to reproduce it have all been exposed as inconsisetnt with the Shroud.

Now, let’s be clear.  This alleged replica didn’t have to necessarily be intended as a fake, that is, to  fool people.  It could have been merely a work of art that would have been displayed.  A fake would have been like something a traveling carnival huckster would have done.  “Step right up folks.  Just two ducats is all it’ll cost to see an original image of Jesus.”  Whether it was a work of art or a hoax, it is certainly possible. 

But think about it.  What followed makes no sense.  Suppose it is 1300 AD and you have just faked or created n image of the most important event in Christianity.  But that isn’t all you did.  You did something else that was really big.  You just created the first photograph.  Imagine the commercial potential of creating a photograph as early as 1300 AD.  Why did you keep this quiet?  Even traveling around charging admission showing a replica to people wouldn’t have had the money-making potential of photography.  But, the earliest known photograph was taken in 1826, roughly a half millennium later. It simply makes no sense that someone would have made one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries – that you can project an image onto cloth – and not developed the idea into a hugely profitable business.  Why did it take 500 years for someone to figure out how to really do it and make money?  The only other explanation is that the person died almost immediately and took the secret to his grave.  Yeah, that’s probably it, you say.  But surely someone else would have figured out in less than 500 years that you can take a picture  According to experts, it’s not that difficult. 

A Natural Response 

What about the possibility that the image got on the cloth naturally?  Indeed, there is a scientific theory, back by experimental evidence, that bacterial microorganisms could have caused an image to transfer to the cloth.  Blood and sweat are known to be a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.  It is similar to what happens when a white shirt turns slightly yellow over time.  But if this happened, it doesn’t invalidate the authenticity of the Shroud.  And if it did happen, why is it that this is the only cloth in the world we know of where it did happen?  Well, says the skeptic, this is the only one because everyone else was buried, either in a grave or a cave.  Setting aside the fact that many other bodies have been disinterred and yet no one found such a cloth with an image, the only explanation is that this person didn’t stay buried.  Which is exactly what Christians believe. 

The Nails 

Another piece of evidence points toward the authenticity of the Shroud.  As you have probably observed, most paintings of the crucifixion have shown the nails driven into the palms of the hands.  Scientists now know that the nails could not have been driven into the palms of the hands, as there is not enough muscle tissue to support the body weight.  The nails would have to have gone through the wrists.  This is exactly where the nail wounds are in the Shroud.  So, in spite of most artwork of the time showing the nail wounds in the wrong place, the Shroud shows them in the right place. 

The Sudarium of Oviedo 

Most people who are aware of the Shroud do not know of the Sudarium of Oviedo, which provides some additional evidence of the Shroud’s authenticity.  A sudarium is a piece of cloth, which among other uses, is wrapped around the face of a dead person who has suffered a violent death.  It is more or less, a handkerchief.  The Sudarium of Oviedo has been documented as having been in Jerusalem in the sixth century.  The Sudarium of Oviedo has been carbon dated back to about 700 AD but there is written historical evidence that it is at least as old as 570 AD, and there is evidence of contamination that can influence the carbon dating.  It is located in Oviedo, near the northern coast of Spain.  The Sudarium is also documented in manuscripts in various countries. 

This Sudarium is blood-stained but shows no image, though the stain patterns are consistent with various facial wounds.  It has been mentioned in the book of John.  The blood patterns on this Sudarium of Oviedo match very closely to those of the Shroud.  The blood type is also male AB.  Coincidence?  Could be, but AB is found in less than 5% of the population.  If the Shroud was faked, then the Sudarium was almost surely faked at the same time, because the markings so closely match.  So, did the forger make two objects?  Yes, it seems possible, but that might push the date further back, since the Sudarium is clearly older than the Shroud, carbon dating-wise. 

The Veil of Veronica 

The veil of Veronica is another alleged relic, representing what was thought to be an image of Jesus’ face ona  cloth used by Veronica to wipe his face as he was carrying the cross.  This event is depicted as the 6th Station of the Cross in most Catholic Churches.  It is not documented in the Gospels, however, but there is documentation elsewhere.  Supposedly, the image was left on the veil.  The veil is in the Vatican.  It has not been studied much, and I do not have an opinion on it, but I may form one later. 

Anomalous Evidence 

There is one moderately troubling piece of anomalous evidence for believers.  Recall that I said that the wounds had to be in the wrists.  The Apostle Thomas supposedly said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  So it sounds like Thomas believed the nails were driven into his hands, just as we said wouldn’t support his body.  I am troubled a bit by this, but there are explanations.  The Gospels were written 60-90 years after Jesus died.  Perhaps the exact location of the nail wounds wasn’t remembered by the writer.  It is also known that while the nails were driven into his wrists, they were done so at an angle toward his hands, so there would have been wounds on the backs of his hands.  In addition, there is no indication in the Gospels that either Thomas or any other of the other apostles were at the crucifixion.  Maybe Thomas just made an assumption. 

My Conclusions 

Science always expects hard evidence, but scientific tests are not without flaws, as I have pointed out here.  These are not my ideas.  They are those of learned scholars who have examined the Shroud.  The evidence points overwhelmingly to there being no scientific explanation that isn’t cast with a tremendous amount of doubt.  Even the notion that someone made the first photograph around 1300 AD defies economic logic.  Surely the successful making of a photograph would lead to commercial development of this new technology.  The amount of money to be made would have been astounding.  And even if the person chose to keep his achievement a secret, why did it take a half-millennium for the next person to figure it out?  There is no scientific explanation that is not loaded with irrationality.  And that leaves us with the only explanation:  that there is no earthly explanation.  


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Last updated: May 11, 2020