Truth and the Shroud of Turin

The Mountain

There is, on the net and elsewhere, in the media in general, and the world at large, a Kilimanjaro of information on the Shroud of Turin.  The effort of climbing this mountain of information is more than simply daunting, it leaves you breathless, and in a state of mind probably outside the one you are used to…  in short, to paraphrase Dorothy, we will not be in Kansas anymore.  Whether or not you are Christian it is a tantalizing and ultimately inspiring climb.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.Current resting place of the Shroud.

We will talk a little about the climb here, some of the sights along the way, the mystery of the Shroud will not be removed, indeed we may end up a little lost, and the descent may be something different than intended, and perhaps something we will not be quite looking forward to or ready to complete.

The Shroud of Turin is kept in the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, in northern Italy.  It has been a home now for the Shroud since 1578 when it arrived in Turin, heralded by a gun salute courtesy of the local artillery.

The so-called ‘undisputed’ or documented history can be traced back to about 1350.  Its whereabouts and exhibitions since that date are generally agreed upon but before that time, well before that time even its existence remains in question.

The Shroud has been around a long time… and it isn’t too difficult to trace back to the 14th century.  The documentary trail doesn’t come to an abrupt halt but peters out, fades away slowly in the sands of time.  We find hints and guesses about its travels, and less and less certainty the further back we go.  Is it the Cloth of Edessa, the Mandylion..?  These may very well be other names for the Shroud of Turin and are indicatvie of  some of the hurdles in trying to establish a provenance for the Shroud.

The Trail

We could begin with a quote from the Bible:

And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. (Mark 15:46)

Churchgoer prays in front of Holy Shroud.

And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and 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.  (John 19:39-40)

The story that has been handed down with the Shroud of Turin is that it is this same linen cloth(s) that wrapped the Christ.

The Shroud now belongs to the Holy See, bequeathed to them by the House of Savoy rather recently; the year was 1983.  The House of Savoy guarded this treasure for hundreds of years before that.  And it was moved to Turin, Italy back in 1583, still under the protection of the House of Savoy.

The occasion of the move to Turin was to offer the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Borromeo, an opportunity for worship, so sparing him a long journey to Savoy where it had resided until that time.

Duke Louis I of Savoy agreed to pay the canons of Lirey an annual rent in return for ownership of the Shroud.  The Savoys can date their ownership from that time, the year 1464 to be exact.  And before that, the earliest unquestioned possessor, from the year 1349,  is the famed knight Geoffroi de Charnay, Seigneur de Lirey; the Shroud remained in his family until the accord with the House of Savoy.  It is the time before 1349 that becomes murky, and speculation has placed it with the Templars for an uncertain period.

Now it is kept in one of two reliquaries.  One reliquary, when not on exhibition, keeps the Shroud flat and horizontal, in an inert atmosphere, behind a multi-layered ‘sarcophogus’ to protect it from fire.  The other reliquary used when on exhibition is a parallelepiped able to rotate from a horizontal to vertical position.  The upper surface of both is bullet-proof laminated glass.  See the photo at right.  The official site is here.

How Old is the Shroud?

Most of the relevant information re the Shroud is available, in one form or another, via the internet.  Though this article isn’t a summary of the various results about the Shroud it is still necessary to be able to say something about what it is as opposed to what it isn’t.  The age of the Shroud is illustrative of the treatment it has received in microcosm.

Container of Shroud contents with papal seal.

The only Carbon 14 test that was done dated the Shroud to the 14th century.  After this test was published the consensus was the Shroud was not what it pretended to be; that it was indeed a fake, probably one of the many ‘manufactured’ religious relics from the Middle Ages…   The Middle Ages invited an atmosphere conducive to trafficking in these relics and it could be a lucrative business in those days.

There is little doubt this test was not the whole story.  And in fact as far as dating the Shroud itself was more misleading than anything else.  From a copy of a report re the Carbon 14 tests in Thermochemica Acta:

Damon et al. reported that “The age of the shroud is obtained as a.d. 1260–1390, with at least 95% confidence.” However, that date does not agree with observations on the linen-production technology nor the chemistry of fibers obtained directly from the main part of the clothin 1978.

Without going into the twists and turns of the story that is the Carbon 14 ‘scandal’ the fact of the matter now rests in the possibility the linen may indeed have an age that reaches back 2000 years.


The more one follows the arguments and evidence for and against the Shroud the more one notices the number of contradictions in the ‘vast’ literature; in concert with this one also notices the number of people with an ax to grind, not always obvious.

Staying neutral is a difficult stratagem in this arena.  And indeed it is now a study all to itself- Sindonology.  Courtesy of Wikipedia: Sindonology is from the Greek σινδών—sindon, the word used in the Gospel of Mark to describe the type of the burial cloth of Jesus.

Jewish Burial Customs

The question of Jewish burial practices in the 1st century and whether or not the Shroud is evidence of same is a case in point.  Many sources claim the Shroud to be consonant with such customs.  And several, often quoting the Bible, say just the opposite.

These opposing standpoints are typical of many facets of the Shroud; getting to the bottom of them isn’t always easy or possible.  It would seem the Shroud itself however is not in accord with typical customs.  The body in most cases was not wrapped with but a single shroud but several strips of linen according to Jewish customs, generally.  So either this particular instance of a burial shroud is rather unique, or it’s simply not the real thing…  or is it?

Here from is a comment about this issue:

One of the points of confusion with the Shroud is that it was a custom to wash the body before burial. Yet the Shroud seems to depict a man whose wounds were never cleaned. However there appears to be an exception to this custom for those who have died a violent death. Here is an excerpt from The Jewish Way of Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm (1969):

“The blood that flows at the time of death may not be washed away. When there is other blood on the body that flowed during lifetime (while alive), from wounds or as a result of an operation, the washing and taharah (purification) are performed in the usual manner.”

“Where the deceased died instantaneously through violence or accident, and his body and garments are completely spattered with blood, no washing or taharah is performed. The body is placed in the casket without the clothes being removed. Only a sheet is wrapped around it, over the clothes. The blood is part of the body and may not be separated from it in death.”

“Where blood flows continually after death, the source of the flow is covered and not washed. The clothes which contain the blood that flowed after death are placed in the casket at the feet.”

Notice how only a single sheet is used. Also, the man on the Shroud is naked because they cast lots for his garments. The reason for this unusual custom was due to the belief that “life is in the blood”. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

In other words the Shroud doesn’t appear to be inconsistent with these practices.  Their practices covered many possibilities and changed depending on certain characterisics of the body: if they died through violence or accident leaving the body covered in blood they were treated differently.

So it goes with many aspects of the Shroud.  You can find people on both sides of the fence making contradictory claims about the Shroud.  Yet the truth here seems obvious once we have studied the complete picture.

The Image

The image on the cloth is…  unusual.  Now it has a subtle, almost ghost-like quality, but whether it has always been just so isnt really known with any certainty.

The discovery of the three dimensional aspect of the Shroud by Dr. John Jackson in 1976 using the VP-8 analyzer is still a source of wonder.  That in some way the image on the Shroud is a negative, in a photographic sense, as uncovered by Secondo Pia at the beginning of the last century, and additionally has encoded in it information that allows a three dimensional version of the image to be reconstructed, these characteristics by themselves make the image unusual enough.

Still beyond that the image has a quality, not done complete justice to online, that is hard to put into words, a new experience, as the following comments show.  You can examine the Shroud for yourself here, on

Chemists now know the coloration for the images is superficial at the topmost fiber surfaces of the cloth. The fibers are coated with a thin film of impurities made up mostly of starch. It is in this coating that the image resides. The visible image is the result of a chemical change, in certain places, that results in an observable change of color.

The coating can be physically removed from the fibers with adhesive tape. In fact, flakes of color can be seen where it separated from the fiber and stuck to tape used to collect particulate samples from the Shroud. You can see the thin coat of color through a microscope and it is hard to imagine how an artist could have accomplished this.

The images on the Shroud look ghostlike. They look scorched into the cloth. But chemically they don’t resemble scorches. They don’t contain the chemical byproducts produced by scorching.

Sculpture by Luigi E. Mattei

More here.

While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whicheverangle you look at it from it remains the same, with the Shroud itself that is not the case.

Moving around that table from a certain angle I saw this image  so faded as if to practically disappear, whilefrom others it seemed as if the figure were almost outside the sheet; it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion.At that moment I knew that this image was unique.

Let me tell you more.

I asked permission to photograph  some details of the face.  As I said previously, I thought I knew it well..

I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20 – 30 cm, aimed the camera at the face andsaw ………… nothing in the viewfinder; “and yet” I said ” I know it by heart.”  I had to beg my friend topoint to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as Imoved away from it.

So it is a barely perceptible image, one which escapes you, which leaves you perplexed.  I am convinced thatif people could see it from close up they would not only feel great emotion, but would also realise the realconsistency of this image, which would dispel the many doubts surrounding the authenticity of this sheetwhich unquestionably enshrouded a corpse, and of this there is absolutely no doubt.

See here for complete article.

In order to correctly perceive what is actually on the Shroud, one must undand not only the nature of the images but also the physiology of visual perception. The retina of the human eye has the built-in characteristic of automatically suppressing images which are fuzzy or of very low contrast in order to sharpen what is finally perceived. This ordinarily helpful function creates a problem when viewing the Shroud, since one may not perceive images which are actually there. Various enhancement techniques are necessary to correctly discern some of the images. Also, most people are not accustomed to looking at partial, complex images in the negative, and hence miss much of what is actually there.  If one’s visual memory banks are not programmed with a large number and variety of images, one may simply overlook images that are there.

See here for details.

Tonal changes from light areas to dark areas are exceedingly smooth and gradual. Artists sometime describe this as lacking outline. We see this when the Shroud is viewed up close. When we look at the image from less than about a six-foot distance, the image seems to completely disappear. It does not disappear, but our visual senses cannot easily discern it. To many, this had seemed a most mysterious property. But there is nothing mysterious about it. It has to do with the way our brain interprets what our eyes see. Though we are not consciously aware of it, our minds automatically create the semblance of boundaries and shapes from changes in color and tone. So subtle are the gradual shifts of tone on the Shroud that if we get close enough, thus stretching our field of view, changes in tonality are imperceptible. Step back, and the tonal shifts become tolerably narrow enough for our brains to discern the pattern. Paintings, and other hand produced works of art, do not display this characteristic for the simple reason that the artist must stand close to apply his or her paint or colorant. Artists – because they must – consciously or unconsciously, create outlines. The Shroud has none. It is beyond imagination to think that an artist could apply colorants so precisely and so gradually as to be viewable only from a distance of more than six feet.

See here for more details.

If fashioned in the fourteenth century, then the facade it showed its intended audience was pretty unconvincing.  Seeing the Shroud with the naked eye is seeing it at its worst. Only five hundred years later, when modern science thoroughly penetrated this facade did the Shroud become really convincing.

See here for more.


Just What Does the Shroud Mean?  A Fifth Gospel?

It is understandable that people on both sides of the debate, not re authenticity, but the debate that is underlying the formal debate about authenticity, the ‘debate’ between let’s say believers and atheists, this underlying difference of opinion that sharpens the axes of almost everyone involved in Sindonology, it is understandable how for both atheists and believers alike seeing the Shroud as a fake or imitation, an artifact of some kind, but not the real thing, would make the whole matter less difficult to swallow.  We would no longer need to give thought to this strange image.  Indeed many on both sides of this underlying issue agree it is not the real thing.

Still a great many have seemingly been persuaded to its authenticity.  The amount of material on the web seems disproportionately taken with the idea of its authenticity.  Of course there are plenty of skeptics out there… sometimes harder to find.  And their arguments often, as a matter of course, include the original results of the Carbon 14 tests, for instance, and just as the believers have found a way to stand these tests on their head the skeptics have ways of re-interpreting the so-called errors made. So we are involved in this perpetual game of interpretation as opposed to ‘truth’.

From Requiem for the Shroud of Turin:

Take, for instance, the appearance and anatomy of the figure on the Shroud. The first reaction of many who view it is that it resembles a Gothic — perhaps vaguely Byzantine — representation of Christ. Since, as Augustine lamented, the world has no idea what Jesus looked like, the conventionally medieval appearance of the image ought to be evidence for its being an artifact. But wait: if the Shroud is authentic, might it not be that the standard Gothic representations of Jesus are in fact derived from the Shroud, rather than vice versa? And that is precisely the argumentative strategy of most of the Shroud enthusiasts. “Where was the Shroud before the mid-fourteenth century?” ask Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas in their book on the Shroud (Stevenson is a former STURP member, Haberrmas is on the faculty of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College). Clues come from Byzantine art. Before the sixth century Christ’s face was painted in many ways, but then artists began to render it in a way uncannily resembling the face of the man buried in the Shroud of Turin.” Uncanny!

This particular ‘see-saw’ is highlighted by Denis Dutton in his article but characterizes the entire dialogue re the Shroud.  Of course for this author these characteristics underline its artificial nature.  Finding the truth is like looking for a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  Hard to see! And if the Shroud is not His burial Shroud…  well just what is it?  An artifact from another time, meant to fill probably a slightly different purpose than it does today…  or was it meant to be a ‘prop’ to faith…  and is that all it is whether or not its real?

Believing the Shroud to be the real thing, to be His burial shroud, to have found at long last a face to put with the Man of Sorrows, is an amazing thing, indeed a miraculous gift.  How can everyone not realize He has left this evidence for us, it seems almost a kind of secret knowledge, literally millions have accepted its authenticity yet, to cross that line, to believe not only it could be true but is His Shroud…  beginning to live with that knowledge…  it becomes a very personal thing.  Is it just an old cloth, an ancient piece of linen with a strange image, or is it something from His life, something very personal left over from His time on Earth?

Strangely the final answer may elude us.  Even if the cloth itself is proven, and that word is used advisedly, to hail from His time period we may never be able to say with certainty if the image itself was formed back then.  And even if we can at some time take that step, well the fact of the matter is obvious.  Without the skeptics, if none existed, if it seemed opinion was unanimous, there would still be a measure of faith in accepting this truth.  There is a measure of faith in all science.  Absolute certainty belongs to another world.

The Faces of Jesus

This is from the History channel’s reconstruction based on the Shroud.  Details here.









Painting by Glenda Green…  see details here.

Richard Neave, from the University of Manchester in England, recreates an image based on forensic and archaeological evidence.  Article appeared in Popular Mechanics here.







By Ariel Aggemian in 1935.  Details here.


“The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai). The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ’s dual nature as fully God and fully human.”  Courtesy Wikipedia.


There are many copies of the Shroud in existence.  Many of them were made in homage to the original and reside in various churches now.  From

Ever since the earliest days of Christendom, the Shroud of Christ has been a most precious relic, which “palladium” was safeguarding rulers, nations and cities….. The image on the Shroud has been copied by numerous artists on countless icons. Today more than 50 copies of the Shroud of Turin are guarded in churches, museums and private collections in Italy, Spain, Portugal, USA, Argentina and Belgium. Even non “connoisseurs” will not have any trouble at all, to see that these copies are certainly not “”acheiropopoties”” but works of art, made by human hands. The best “hand made” copies were made in 1898, by Ruffo and Cusseti, both guarded today in Turin. Today some excellent full size photographs of the Shroud are placed in churches all over the world.

Details here.

Of course there are many copies now made in effort to simulate the original Shroud, efforts to uncover the original process that led to its creation.  Such is the one by Luigi Garlaschelli.  See here for details.

Healing Powers

There have been healing properties associated with the Shroud as well:

From its earliest years, in legends and in art, there have been claims of miracles and healings through the shroud. Four credible witnesses reported that in 544 when Edessa was threatened with siege by a Persian army, the image was rushed to the top of the city wall and prominently displayed; the army turned and abandoned the attack. Eusebius and others state that King Agabar V of Edessa was mortally ill and was instantly healed when shown the face on the cloth. While the shroud was being carried to Constantinople in 944, it was said that a man possessed of demons was cleansed when he touched it.

See here for details.

Something more recent:

May 11, 1955- Cheshire receives letter from Mrs. Veronica Woollam of Gloucester, asking if her ten-year-old daughter Josephine, crippled with osteomyelitis in the hip and leg, ‘could be blessed with the relic of the Holy Shroud’. Unable to travel by air because of his lungs, Cheshire takes Josephine and her mother by train, first to Portugal, for ex-King Umberto’s permission, then to Turin in the hope of her being healed via the Shroud. The Shroud is taken out of its casket, its seals are broken and Josephine is allowed to put her hand in beneath the silk covering. But it is not unrolled. Although there was no immediate change in Josephine’s condition, she later recovers to lead a normal life, though she will die young.

DNA & the Shroud

Dr.Leoncio Garza-Valdes with the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, after his discovery of a bioplastic veneer coating some ancient Mayan artifacts, had speculated about the Shroud of Turin’s Carbon 14 dating that the veneer might have been partly responsible for an error in dating the Shroud.  This speculation eventually led not only to testing the Shroud for the veneer but also to DNA tests of the blood on the Shroud.

Dr.Victor V.Tryon, director of the University’s Center for Advanced DNA Technologies, is reported to have cloned extracts from these bloodstains and deposited them, for safe keeping, in the University of Texas’ bloodbank.

There are so many stories associated with the Shroud, not only those from its ‘legendary’ time, but obviously stories with the immediacy of so-called urban legends whose truth is obviously questionable.  Other reports re DNA and the Shroud indicate what little is there is hardly enough to generate much of anything substantial in the way of evidence, one way or another, beyond the mere existence of blood on the Shroud.  More details here.

The Violet Apple

The Shroud of Turin is not unlike the violet apple re-disovered in Lindsay’s novel The Violet Apple.  The parallel is interesting…  In the novel a seed from the Tree of Life in Genesis has somehow been protected against the vicissitudes of Time and found its way into our wondrous Modern Age.

The fact of the Shroud of Turin, that it has survived into our time, a fragile thing that, unlike so much of human culture from bygone ages, is somehow still around, it would seem miraculously, may betoken something in itself…  as if it has been protected against those same vicissitudes itself.

In The Violet Apple it is a glass, in the shape of a serpent, has carried the seed on its journey, and the story has wended its way along with it.  When the glass is broken, by accident, the seed is transplanted and a dimunitive tree grows and its fruit is the violet apple of the title.  Tasting this fruit is an experience beyond the ordinary and brings one to the beginning of a knowledge of their true being.  Is it impossible to suspect less of the Shroud of Turin?

From The Violet Apple:

I happen to be one of those queer folk who have faith in Eden or its equivalent.  The farther back you go the lovelier people seem to have been.  Somewhere, sometime there has been a very lofty chain of celestial mountains from wich the rivers have been flowing down ever since, to water our modern civilization, and should they ever run dry they can never, never be replenished.


One thought on “Truth and the Shroud of Turin

  1. Pingback: A Daunting Mountain of Information « Shroud of Turin Blog

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