What is the Shroud of Turin?
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man that some believe to be Jesus Christ, who appears to have been physically traumatized in a manner consistent with crucifixion. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, from which it derives its most common name.
Some believe the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus and that his image was recorded on its fibers at his resurrection. Others contend it is a medieval hoax or forgery. The question of its true origins continues to be the subject of intense debate among some scientists, believers, historians and writers.
The Shroud of Turin is rectangular piece of linen cloth, measuring approximately 4.4 x 1.1 m. It has been kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, since 1578. The Shroud of Turin is also known as the "Holy Shroud" (in Italian, Santa Sindone). Some believers in the miraculous origins of the shroud refer to its study as sindonology, from the Greek word used for Jesus' burial cloth in the New Testament.
The nature of the shroud
The shroud is woven in a herringbone twill and is composed of flax fibrils entwined with cotton fibrils. It bears the image of a front and rear view of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin. The two views are aligned along the midplane of the body and pointing in opposite directions. The front and back views of the head nearly meet at the middle of the cloth. The views are consistent with an orthographic projection of a human body.
The "Man of the Shroud" has a beard, moustache, and shoulder-length hair parted in the middle. He is well proportioned and muscular, and quite tall (5'7" or 1.75 m) for a man of the first century (the time of Jesus' death) or the Middle Ages (the proposed time of possible forgery). Dark red stains, either blood or a substance meant to be perceived as blood, are found on the cloth, showing various wounds:
- at least one wrist bears a large round wound, apparently from piercing (The second wrist is hidden by the folding of the hands.)
- in the side, again apparently from piercing
- small wounds around the forehead
- scores of linear wounds on the torso and legs, apparently from scourging
On May 28, 1898 an amateur Italian photographer, Secondo Pia, took the first photograph of the shroud and was startled by the resulting undeveloped negative. The negative seemed to give the appearance of a positive image, which implies that the shroud image (which is primarily brownish-yellow on off-white) is itself effectively a negative of some kind.
Observers often feel that the detail and heft of the man on the shroud is greatly enhanced in the photographic negative, producing an unexpected effect. Pia's negative intensified interest in the shroud and sparked renewed efforts to determine its origin.
The Roman Catholic Church is the current owner of the Shroud of Turin. It was given to the Church by the House of Savoy, the owners of the shroud since 1453, in 1983. Some have suggested that if the identity of the Shroud with the Image of Edessa were to be definitively proven, the Church would have no moral right to retain it, and would then be compelled to return it to the Ecumenical Patriarch or some other Eastern Orthodox body, since it this case, it would have been stolen from the Orthodox at some time during the Crusades.
Some Russian Orthodox consider that with the fall of Byzantium, the title of "emperor" passed on to Russia, so that they would have sole rights to the shroud over all the other Orthodox. The shroud not publicly displayed except on rare special occasions. It is next scheduled to be displayed by the Catholic Church in 2025.
Timeline of the Shroud of Turin
History of the Shroud of Turin
There are numerous reports of Jesus' burial shroud, or an image of his head, of unknown origin, being venerated in various locations before the 14th century. (See Humbert, 1978.) However, none of these reports have been connected with certainty to the current cloth held in the Turin cathedral. Except for the "Image of Edessa," none of the reports of these (up to 43) different "true shrouds" were known to mention an image of a body.
The Image of Edessa was reported to contain the image of the face of Christ, and its existence is proven since the sixth century. Some have suggested a connection between the Shroud of Turin and the Image of Edessa. That image was reported reliably since the middle of the sixth century. No legend connected with that image suggests that it contained the image of a beaten and bloody Jesus, but rather it was said to be an image transferred by Jesus to the cloth in life. This image is generally described as depicting only the face of Jesus, not the entire body. Proponents of the theory that the Edessa image was actually the shroud, led by Ian Wilson, theorize that it was always folded in such a way as to show only the face.
Three principal pieces of evidence are cited in favor of the identification with the shroud. John Damascene mentions the image in his anti-iconoclastic work On Holy Images, describing the Edessa image as being a "strip," or oblong cloth, rather than a square, as other accounts of the Edessa cloth hold.
Shroud proponents cite an illustration in a 12th-century Hungarian manuscript (left) as evidence for the shroud's existence before the 14th century, noting an L-shaped patch near the hands, which would correspond to four burn holes in the relic. Also, the weave of the cloth in the lower panel suggests to them the unusual weave of the shroud.
On the occasion of the transfer of the cloth to Constantinople in 944, Gregory Referendarius, archdeacon of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople held a sermon about the artifact. This sermon had been lost, but was rediscovered in the Vatican Archives and translated by Mark Guscin in 2004. This sermon says that this Edessa Cloth contained not only the face, but a full-length image, which was believed to be of Jesus. The sermon also mentions bloodstains from a wound in the side. Other documents have since been found in the Vatican library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, confirming this impression. "[Non tantum] faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere poteris" (You can see [not only] the figure of a face, but [also] the figure of the whole body). (Cf. Codex Vossianus Latinus Q69 and Vatican Library Codex 5696, p. 35.)
In 1203, a Crusader Knight named Robert de Clari claims to have seen the cloth in Constantinople: "Where there was the Shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright so one could see the figure of our Lord on it." After the Fourth Crusade, in 1205, the following letter was sent by Theodore Angelos, a nephew of one of three Byzantine Emperors who were deposed during the Fourth Crusade, to Pope Innocent III protesting the attack on the capital. From the document, dated 1 August 1205: "The Venetians partitioned the treasures of gold, silver, and ivory while the French did the same with the relics of the saints and the most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before the resurrection. We know that the sacred objects are preserved by their predators in Venice, in France, and in other places, the sacred linen in Athens." (Codex Chartularium Culisanense, fol. CXXVI (copia), National Library Palermo)
Unless it is identical with the Shroud of Turin, as some claim, the location of the Image of Edessa since the 13th century is unknown.
The known provenance of the Turin cloth dates to 1357, when the widow of the French knight Geoffroy de Charny had it displayed in a church at Lirey, France (diocese of Troyes). In the Museum Cluny in Paris, the coats of arms of this knight and his widow can be seen on a pilgrim medallion, which also shows an image of the Shroud of Turin.
During the fourteenth century, the shroud was often publicly exposed, though not continuously, since the bishop of Troyes, Henri de Poitiers, had prohibited veneration of the image. Thirty-two years after this pronouncement, the image was displayed again, and King Charles VI of France ordered its removal to Troyes, citing the impropriety of the image. The sheriffs were unable to carry out the order.
In 1389 the image was denounced as a fraud by Bishop Pierre D'Arcis in a letter to the Avignon pope, mentioning that the image had previously been denounced by his predecessor Henri de Poitiers, who had been concerned that no such image was mentioned in scripture. Bishop D'Arcis continued, "Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed." The artist is not named in the letter.
The letter of Bishop D'Arcis also mentions Bishop Henri's attempt to suppress veneration, but notes that the cloth was quickly hidden "for 35 years or so", thus agreeing with the historical details already established above. The letter provides an accurate description of the cloth: "upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb, and upon which the whole likeness of the Savior had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore."
If the claims of this testimony are correct, it would be consistent with the radiocarbon dating of the shroud (see below). From the point of view of many skeptics, it is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the shroud is a forgery.
Despite the pronouncement of Bishop D'Arcis, Antipope Clement VII (first antipope of the Western Schism) prescribed indulgences for pilgrimages to the shroud, so that veneration continued, though the shroud was not permitted to be styled the "True Shroud."
In 1418, Humbert of Villersexel, Count de la Roche, Lord of Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs, moved the shroud to his castle at Montfort, France to provide protection against criminal bands, after he married Charny's granddaughter. It was later moved to Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs. After Humbert's death, canons of Lirey fought through the courts to force the widow to return the cloth, but the parliament of Dole and the Court of Besançon left it to the widow, who travelled with the shroud to various expositions, notably in Liege and Geneva.
The widow sold the image in exchange for a castle in Varambon, France in 1453. Louis of Savoy, the new owner, stored it in his capital at Chambery in the newly-built Saint-Chapelle, which Pope Paul II shortly thereafter raised to the dignity of a collegiate church. In 1464, the duke agreed to pay an annual fee to the Lirey canons in exchange for their dropping claims of ownership of the cloth. Beginning in 1471, the shroud was moved between many cities of Europe, being housed briefly in Vercelli, Turin, Ivrea, Susa, Chambery, Avigliano, Rivoli and Pinerolo. A description of the cloth by two sacristans of the Sainte-Chapelle from around this time noted that it was stored in a reliquary: "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".
In 1532 the shroud suffered damage from a fire in the chapel where it was stored. A drop of molten silver from the reliquary produced a symmetrically-placed mark through the layers of the folded cloth. Poor Clare nuns attempted to repair this damage with patches. Some have suggested that there was also water damage from the extinguishing of the fire. In 1578 the shroud arrived again at its current location in Turin. It was the property of the House of Savoy until 1983, when it was given to the Roman Catholic Church.
On May 28, 1898, amateur Italian photographer Secondo Pia took the first photo of the shroud. It was observed that the images on the shroud seem to resemble photographic negatives rather than positives.
In 1988 the Catholic Church agreed to a Carbon 14 dating of the relic, for which a small piece from a corner of the shroud was removed, divided, and sent to laboratories. Another fire, possibly caused by arson, threatened the shroud in 1997, but a fireman was able to remove it from its display case and prevent further damage. In 2002 the Holy See had the shroud restored. The cloth backing and thirty patches were removed. This made it possible to photograph and scan the reverse side of the cloth, which had been hidden from view.
The most recent public exhibition of the Shroud was in 2000 for the Great Jubilee. The next scheduled exhibition is in 2025. So far, the Church has not allowed any samples from the image itself to be taken for testing.
Evidence and Analysis of the Shroud
In the last century, a variety of tests and observations have been made on the Turin Shroud, which have been interpreted in various ways. Following is a summary of the primary observations made on the shroud by scientists and others.
Crucifixion technique The piercing of the wrists rather than the palms contradicts traditional Christian iconography, especially in the Middle Ages, but many modern scholars suggest that crucifixion victims were generally nailed through the wrists. A skeleton discovered in the Holy Land shows that at least some were nailed between the radius and ulna, but this was not common knowledge in the Middle Ages. Proponents of the shroud's mystical origins contend that a medieval forger would have been unlikely to know this operational detail of an execution method almost completely discontinued centuries earlier.
Blood stains There are several reddish stains on the shroud suggesting blood. Chemist Walter McCrone (see above) identified these as simple pigment materials and reported that no forensic tests of the samples he used indicated the presence of blood. Other researchers, including Dr. Alan Adler, a chemist specializing in analysis of porphyrins, identified the reddish stains as type AB blood.
The particular shade of red of the supposed blood stains is also problematic. Normally, whole blood stains discolor relatively rapidly, turning to a black-brown color, while these stains in fact range from a true red to the more normal brown color. Supporters of the shroud counter that the stains were not from bleeding wounds, but from the liquid exuded by blood clots. In the case of severe trauma, as evidenced by the Man of the Shroud, this liquid would include a mixture of bilirubin and oxidized hemoglobin, which could remain red indefinitely. Adler and John Heller  (http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/ford1.pdf) detected bilirubin and the protein albumin in the stains. However, it is uncertain whether the blood stains were produced at the same time as the image, which Adler and Heller attributed to premature aging of the linen. (See Heller and Adler, 1980.)
Pollen grains Researchers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem reported the presence of pollen grains in the cloth samples, showing species appropriate to the spring in Palestine. However, these researchers, Avinoam Danin and Uri Baruch were working with samples provided by Max Frei, a Swiss police criminologist who had previously been censured for faking evidence. Independent review of the strands showed that one strand out of the 26 provided contained significantly more pollen than the others, perhaps pointing to deliberate contamination.
The Israeli researchers also detected the outlines of various flowering plants on the cloth, which they say would point to March or April and the environs of Jerusalem, based on the species identified. In the forehead area, corresponding to the crown of thorns if the image is genuine, they found traces of Gundelia tournefortii, which is limited to this period of the year in the Jerusalem area. This analysis depends on interpretation of various patterns on the shroud as representing particular plants. However, skeptics point out that the available images (http://www.shroud.com/danin.htm) cannot be seen as unequivocal support of any particular plant species due to the amount of indistinctness.
Sudarium of Oviedo In the northern Spanish city of Oviedo, there is a small bloodstained piece of linen that is also revered as one of the burial cloths mentioned in the Gospel of John. John refers to a "sudarium" (σουδαριον) that covered the head and the "linen cloth" or "bandages" (οθονιον—othonion) that covered the body. The sudarium of Oviedo is traditionally held to be this cloth that covered the head of Jesus.
The sudarium's existence and presence in Oviedo is well attested since the eighth century and in Spain since the seventh century. Before these dates the location of the sudarium is less certain, but some scholars trace it to Jerusalem in the first century.
Forensic analysis of the bloodstains on the shroud and the sudarium suggest that both cloths may have covered the same head at nearly the same time. Based on the bloodstain patterns, the Sudarium would have been placed on the man's head while he was in a vertical position, presumably while still hanging on the cross. This cloth was then presumably removed before the shroud was applied.
A 1999 study by Mark Guscin, member of the multidisciplinary investigation team of the Spanish Center for Sindonology, investigated the relationship between the two cloths. Based on history, forensic pathology, blood chemistry (the Sudarium also is said to have type AB blood stains), and stain patterns, he concluded that the two cloths covered the same head at two distinct, but close moments of time. Avinoam Danin (see above) concurred with this analysis, adding that the pollen grains in the sudarium match those of the shroud.
Skeptics say that this argument is spurious. Since they deny the blood stains on the shroud, the blood stains on this cloth are irrelevant. Further, the argument about the pollen types is greatly weakened by the debunking of Danin's work on the shroud due to the possibly tampered-with sample he worked from. Pollen from Jerusalem could have followed any number of paths to find its way to the sudarium, and only indicates location, not the dating of the cloth.
Coins over the eyes Using techniques of digital image processing, NASA researchers Jackson, Jumper and Stephenson report detecting the impressions of coins placed on both eyes after a digital study in 1978. The coin on the right eye was reported to correspond to a Roman copper coin produced in AD 29 and 30 in Jerusalem, while that on the left resembles a lituus coin from the reign of Tiberius. Skeptics argue that there is no recorded Jewish tradition of putting coins over the eyes of the dead.
Inscriptions on the shroud Also using digital image processing, Piero Ugolotti reported (1979) Greek and Latin letters written near the face. These were further studied by André Marion and his student Anne Laure Courage of the Institut d'Optique Théorique et Aplliquée d'Orsay (1997). On the right side they cite the letters ΨΣ ΚΙΑ. They interpret this as ΟΨ—ops "face" + ΣΚΙΑ—skia "shadow", though the initial letter is missing. This interpretation has the problem that it is grammatically incorrect in Greek, as "face" would have to appear in the genitive case. (Cf. Antonio Lombatti)
On the left side they report the Latin letters IN NECE, which they suggest is the beginning of IN NECEM IBIS, "you will go to death", and ΝΝΑΖΑΡΕΝΝΟΣ—NNAZARENNOS (a grossly misspelled "the Nazarene" in Greek). Several other "inscriptions" were detected by the scientists, but Mark Guscin (a shroud proponent) reports that only one is at all probable in Greek or Latin: ΗΣΟΥ This is the genitive of "Jesus", but missing the first letter. Shroud skeptics reject this claim because of the spelling errors. (Cf. Antonio Lombatti)
Gospel of John The Gospel of John is sometimes cited as evidence that the shroud is a hoax since English translations typically use the plural word "cloths" or "clothes" for the covering of the body: "Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes [othonia] lie, and the napkin [sudarium], that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (Jn 20:6-7, KJV). Shroud proponents hold that the "linen clothes" refers to the Shroud of Turin, while the "napkin" refers to the Sudarium of Oviedo.
The Gospel of John also states, "Nicodemus ... brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (Jn 19:39-40, KJV). No traces of spices have been found on the cloth. Frederick Zugibe, a medical examiner, reports that the body of the man wrapped in the shroud appears to have been washed before the wrapping. It would seem odd for this to occur after the anointing, so some proponents have suggested that the shroud was a preliminary cloth that was then replaced before the anointing, because there was not enough time for the anointing due to the Sabbath. However, there is no empirical evidence to support these theories. Some supporters suggest that the plant bloom images detected by Danin may be from herbs that were simply strewn over the body due to the lack of preparation time mentioned in the New Testament, with the visit of the women on Sunday thus presumed to be for the purpose of completing the anointing of the body.
Artistic style Many viewers of the cloth are struck by the anatomically correct depiction of the Man of the Shroud, which is often described as having a three-dimensional appearance. Since the presentation of perspective in two dimensional artwork was a relatively late development, some conclude that it could not have been a medieval forgery. Skeptics cite the great improvement brought about in early Renaissance masters.
The depiction of Jesus corresponds to that found throughout the history of Christian iconography. For instance, the Pantocrator icon at Daphne in Athens is strikingly similar. Skeptics attribute this to the icons being made while the Image of Edessa was available, with this appearance of Jesus being copied in later artwork, and in particular, in the Shroud. In opposition to this viewpoint, the locations of the piercing wounds in the wrists on the shroud do not correspond to artistic renditions of the crucifixion before close to the present time.
Theories of the Shroud's Origin
The Shroud of Turin is the subject of intense debate among some scientists, believers, historians and writers. Several theories have arisen regarding where, when and how the shroud and its image were created.
Miraculous or Supernatural Explanations Many believers consider the image to be a side effect of the resurrection of Jesus, sometimes proposing semi-natural effects that might have been part of the process. Some have suggested that the shroud collapsed through the glorified body of Jesus. Supporters of this theory point to certain x-ray-like impressions of the teeth and the finger bones. Others suggest that radiation caused by the miraculous event may have burned the image into the cloth.
Carbohydrate layer A scientific theory that does not rule out the association of the shroud with Jesus involves the gases that escape from a dead body in the early phases of decomposition. The cellulose fibers making up the shroud's cloth are coated with a thin carbohydrate layer of starch fractions, various sugars and other impurities. This layer is very thin (180 - 600 nm) and was discovered by applying phase contrast microscopy. It is thinnest where the image is and appears to carry the color, while the underlying cloth is uncolored. This carbohydrate layer would itself be essentially colorless but in some places has undergone a chemical change producing a straw yellow color. The reaction involved is similar to that which takes place when sugar is heated to produce caramel.
In a paper entitled "The Shroud of Turin: an amino-carbonyl reaction (Maillard reaction) may explain the image formation," (see References) R. N. Rogers and A. Arnoldi propose this natural explanation (which does not rule out a supernatural invocation or enhancement of a natural process). Amines from a human body will have Maillard reactions with the carbohydrate layer within a reasonable time, before liquid decomposition products stain or damage the cloth. The gases produced by a dead body are extremely reactive chemically and within a few hours, in an environment such as a tomb, a body starts to produce heavier amines in its tissues such as putrescine and cadaverine. These will produce the color seen in the carbohydrate layer. But it raises questions about why the images (both ventral and dorsal views) are so photorealistic and why they were not destroyed by later decomposition products (a question obviated if the Resurrection occurred, or if a body was removed from the cloth within the required timeframe).
Auto-oxidation In their 1997 book The Second Messiah researchers Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas claim that the image on the shroud is that of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Templar, arrested for heresy at the Paris Temple by king Philip IV of France on October 13, 1307. de Molay suffered torture under the auspices of the Chief Inquisitor of France, William Imbert. His arms and legs were nailed, possible to a large wooden door. After the torture de Molay was laid on a piece of cloth on a soft bed. The excess section of the cloth was lifted over his head to cover his front and he was left, perhaps in a coma, for perhaps 30 hours. The use of a shroud is explained by the Paris Temple keeping shrouds for ceremonial purposes.
De Molay survived the torture but was burned at the stake on March 19, 1314, together with Geoffroy de Charney, Templar preceptor of Normandy. De Charney's grandson was Jean de Charney who died at the battle of Poitiers. After his death, his widow Jeanne de Vergy found the shroud in his possession and had it displayed at a church in Lirey.
Knight and Lomas base their findings partly on the 1988 radiocarbon dating and Mills 1995 research about a chemical reaction called autooxidation and they claim that their theory accords with the factors known about the creation of the shroud and the carbondating results.
Photographic image production Skeptics have proposed many means for producing the image in the Middle Ages. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince (1994) 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, the image was made with the aid of a magic lantern, a simple projecting device, and light-sensitive silver compounds applied to the cloth. However, Leonardo was born a century after the first documented appearance of the cloth. Supporters of this theory thus propose that the original cloth was a poor fake, for which Leonardo's superior hoax was substituted, though no contemporaneous reports indicate a sudden change in the quality of the image. However, the resemblance between the shroud image and Leonardo's famous self-portrait has been described as striking by many.
- - "Turin, Shroud of." Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- "Shroud of Turin." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article incorporates some public domain text from this source.
- John Damascene, On Holy Images
- Gregory Referendarius' Sermon, 944
- Letter from Bishop Pierre d'Arcis to Pope, 1389. (In German.)
- Joe Nickell, "Scandals and Follies of the 'Holy Shroud''" Skeptical Inquirer, September 2001. Books on the Shroud of Turin - Barbet, Pierre. A Doctor at Calvary.
- Janice Bennett, Sacred Blood, Sacred Image - The Sudarium of Oviedo (New Evidence of the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin)
- Harry E. Gove, Relic, Icon or Hoax? Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud
- Holger Kersten & Elmar R. Gruber, The Jesus Conspiracy: The Turin Shroud and the Truth About the Resurrection. Claims that the shroud is genuine and Jesus was alive when he was entombed.
- John C. Iannone, The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence
- Walter McCrone, Judgement Day for the Turin Shroud
- Nickell, Joe. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin.