Episode 12: The Shroud of Turin
Last Fall, I shared some scientific insights involving the study of the second-most scrutinized human artifact in history…Juan Diego’s Tilma dating back to 1531 and the region of Tepiac, Mexico . Now I would like to take some time to update you on the only human artifact to top that one. The Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus is currently preserved at Turin, Italy. Scientific study of it has been ongoing since the 1969 establishment of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (aka STURP).
The Dating of the Shroud – Although the Church does not claim with any infallibility that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ, this is, nevertheless, a widely held belief. However, this claim came under direct attack as a result of a widely publicized carbon dating test done in 1988, which dated the cloth from the 13th Century AD. Of course, because the press drew great attention to this test result, many sceptics have gone on to dismiss the authentic claim of the Shroud’s origins. You should know though that the test itself has been debunked and rejected by other researchers from the STURP project on two grounds. First, the carbon dating methodology was not correctly followed, opening the possibility of contamination being introduced. And second, the sample itself was contaminated. The sample was taken from a repaired and patched area of the shroud that had been damaged during a church fire started by an arsonist in 1997 in an attempt to destroy the Shroud. The patch itself was not from the same era as the Shroud so the carbon dating was inaccurate. The best way to dismiss this carbon dating anomaly/error is to consider, as a whole, the other dating tests used, which all place the Shroud’s date within the time of Christ’s death on the Cross. Consider the vanillin test of Dr. Raymond Rogers, two spectroscopic tests made by Dr. Giulio Fanti and the compressibility and breaking strength test also done by Fanti. All of these date the Shroud as early 1st Century. These results coincide with pollen dating tests (it seems that flowers, from the Middle East/Jerusalem area were placed with the body at the time of burial and pollen from them is found on the Shroud) and the Roman coins placed over the eyes of the man (details of which can be seen on the cloth) also place it at this early date. Finally, the man whose image is on the Shroud was clearly crucified in a unique way (e.g. the crown of thorns was an unusual detail) and, in general, crucifixion as a form of execution was only used at a very early date. Also there are over 120 unique blood stains whose pattern perfectly matches those found on the Sudarium or face cloth preserved in Oviedo, Italy. It has long been claimed that this cloth is also part of the burial garments of Christ as mentioned in John’s Gospel in 20:6-7. “He went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” Two cloths are described there and both have very well documented provenance, in word and in art, describing their separate travel from the Middle East through Turkey to Europe as they were visited by many pilgrims throughout the centuries. The Sudarium has been dated to the 1st Century as well. All of these data points speak with one harmonious voice as to the fact that the Shroud of Turin has a high probability of being the burial cloth of Christ.
The Image Itself – Through testing it has been determined that the negative image on the Shroud was not created by scorching, vapors, dyes or chemicals. “The only known explanation for the formation of the image is an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation (equivalent to the output of 14,000 excimer lasers) emitted from every three-dimensional point of the body in the Shroud” (Magis Center). Obviously, such technology was unavailable to the ancient world and would even be difficult to access today. Even with it, we still do not have the technical means to attempt to forge an image like that found on the Shroud. Scientists have shown that in order for the Shroud not to have been destroyed by fire through the generated heat, the image would have to have been made instantaneously and the image created is definitely a three-dimensional one. In other words, at the time of its creation, it was draped over a body and not lying on a flat surface. Forensic scientists have even been able to recreate the face and the wounds from this image in an accurate three-dimensional rendering, which would have been completely impossible with an artistic forgery.
The Blood Stains – Finally, based on a 1978 test conducted by Drs. Adler and Heller, the blood stains on the cloth are real. Submitted to thermal analytical chemistry tests, blood proteins and iron were identified and the blood type was determined to be from the AB group found to be from a human, male subject (which, by the way, also matches the blood type found on the Sudarium/face cloth in Oviedo). All of these details mentioned so far would have been impossible for a forger of the 13th Century to fake (as the outlier carbon dating test of 1988 might seem to imply). For those who wish to know more about the science of the Shroud, the full 33-page report by Fr. Robert Spitzer can be read in detail on-line at Magis Center. I think what we are left to conclude (at least I am) is that the burial cloth is a perfect match with the Sudarium of Oviedo and that both are authentic and ancient with a high probability that they are the real burial clothes that John described 2000 years ago. Faith is still required there. But even if they are not, the ultraviolet image on the cloth (not created from bloodstains but through some instantaneous, radioactive event (the Resurrection?) are still unexplained by science.