The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have been physically traumatized in a manner consistent with crucifixion. It is presently kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Some believe it is the cloth that covered Jesus when he was placed in his tomb and that his image was somehow recorded on its fibers at or near the time of his imputed resurrection. Skeptics contend the shroud is a medieval hoax or forgery. It is the subject of intense debate among some scientists, believers, historians and writers regarding where, when and how the shroud and its images were created.

Forceful arguments and evidence cited against the miraculous origin of the shroud images include a letter from a medieval bishop to the Avignon pope claiming personal knowledge that the image was cleverly painted to gain money from pilgrims; radiocarbon tests in 1988 that yielded a medieval timeframe for the cloth's fabrication; and analysis of the apparent "blood flecks" by microscopist Walter McCrone who concluded they are ordinary pigments. Forceful arguments and evidence cited for the shroud's being something other than a medieval forgery include textile and material analysis pointing to a 1st century origin, the unusual properties of the image itself which some claim could not have been produced by any image forming technique known before the 19th century, analysis indicating that the 1988 radiocarbon dating was invalid, and chemical analyses of the purported blood stains which flatly contradict McCrone's assertions.

Both skeptics and proponents tend to have very entrenched positions on the cause of formation of the shroud image, which has made dialogue very difficult. This may prevent the issue from ever being fully settled to the satisfaction of all sides.


General observations

The shroud is rectangular, measuring approximately 4.4 x 1.1 m (14.4 x 3.6 ft). The cloth is woven in a herringbone twill and is composed of flax fibrils entwined with cotton fibrils. It bears the image of a front and dorsal 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, but see Analysis of artistic style

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 (1.75 m or roughly 5 ft 9 in) for a man of the first century (the time of Jesus' death) or for the Middle Ages (the time of the first uncontested report of the shroud's existence, and 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 negative image. 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.


Possible history before the 14th century: The Image of Edessa

There are numerous reports of Jesus' burial shroud, or an image of his head, of unknown origin, being venerated in various locations before the fourteenth 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 reported reliably since the sixth century. Some have suggested a connection between the Shroud of Turin and the Image of Edessa. 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 [1], describing the Edessa image as being a "strip", or oblong cloth, rather than a square, as other accounts of the Edessa cloth hold.

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 [2] 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). (In Italian: [3].) (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 the Shroud of Turin, then the location of the Image of Edessa since the 13th century is unknown.

14th century

The known provenance of the cloth now stored in Turin 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." (In German: [4].) 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". [5]

15th century

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".

16th century to present

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 Holy See.

In 1988 the Holy See 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. (More on the testing is seen below.) 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.

The controversy

The origin of the relic is hotly disputed. Those who believe it to have been used in Christ's burial have coined the term sindonology to describe its study (from Greek σινδων—sindon, the word used in the Gospel of Mark to describe the cloth that Joseph of Arimathea bought to use as Jesus' burial cloth). The term is generally not used by skeptics of the mystical origins of the relic.

It may be impossible to ever fully resolve the controversy over the cloth because some believers are willing to accept supernatural explanations for the creation of the image, which lack falsifiability, while most skeptics do not consider any supernatural explanations to be acceptable. Three independent radiocarbon datings of the shroud (all working from the same controversial sample) date it between 1260 and 1390.

Theories of image formation

The image on the cloth is entirely superficial, not penetrating into the cloth fibers under the surface, so that the flax and cotton fibers are not colored. Thus the cloth is not simply dyed, though many other explanations, natural and otherwise, have been suggested for the image formation.

Miraculous formation

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. These theories are not verifiable, and skeptics reject them out of hand. 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).


Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas (1997) 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, possibly to a large wooden door. According to Knight and Lomas, 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. They claim that 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, purportedly 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 carbon dating 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 alleged 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.


In 1977, a team of scientists selected by the Holy Shroud Guild developed a program of tests to conduct on the Shroud, designated the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP). Cardinal Ballestrero, the archbishop of Turin, granted permission, despite disagreement within the Church. The STURP scientists conducted their testing over five days in 1978. Walter McCrone, a member of the team, upon analyzing the samples he had, concluded in 1979 that the image is actually made up of billions of submicron pigment particles. The only fibrils that had been made available for testing of the stains were those that remained affixed to custom-designed adhesive-backed tape applied to thirty-two different sections of the image. (This was done in order to avoid damaging the cloth.) According to McCrone, the pigments used were a combination of red ochre and vermilion tempera paint. The Electron Optics Group of McCrone Associates published the results of these studies in five articles in peer-reviewed journals: Microscope 1980, 28, 105, 115; 1981, 29, 19; Wiener Berichte uber Naturwissenschaft in der Kunst 1987/1988, 4/5, 50 and Acc. Chem. Res. 1990, 23, 77-83. STURP, upon learning of his findings, confiscated McCrone's samples and brought in other scientists to replace him. In McCrone's words, he was "drummed out" of STURP, and continued to defend the analysis he had performed, becoming a prominent proponent of the position that the Shroud is a forgery. As of 2004, no other scientists have confirmed McCrone's results with independent experiments.

Other microscopic analysis of the fibers seems to indicate that the image is strictly limited to the carbohydrate layer, with no additional layer of pigment visible. Proponents of the position that the Shroud is authentic say that no known technique for hand-application of paint could apply a pigment with the necessary degree of control on such a nano-scale fibrillar surface plane.

Solar masking, or "shadow theory"

In March 2005 Nathan Wilson , an instructor at New Saint Andrews College and amateur sindonologist, announced in an informal article in Books and Culture magazine that he had made a near-duplicate of the shroud image by exposing dark linen to the sun for ten days under a sheet of glass on which a positive mask had been painted. His method, though admittedly crude and preliminary, has nonetheless attracted the attention of several sindonologists, notably the late Dr. Raymond Rogers of the original STURP team, and Dr. Antonio Lombatti , founder of the skeptical shroud journal Approfondimento Sindone. Wilson's method is notable because it does not require any conjectures about unknown medieval technologies, and is compatible with claims that there is no pigment on the cloth. However, the experiment has not been repeated and the images have yet to face microscopic and chemical analyses. In addition, concerns have been raised about the availability or affordability of medieval glass large enough to produce the image, and the method's compatibility with Fanti's claim that the original image is doubly superficial.

Second Image on back of cloth

During restoration in 2002, the back side of the cloth was photographed and scanned for the first time. The journal of the Institute of Physics in London published a peer-reviewed article on this subject on April 14, 2004. Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo of the University of Padua, Italy, are the authors. They describe an image on the reverse side, much fainter than that on the other side, consisting primarily of the face and hands. Like the front image, it is entirely superficial, with coloration limited to the carbohydrate layer. The images correspond to, and are in registration with, those on the other side of the cloth. No image is detectable in the dorsal view section of the shroud.

Supporters of the Maillard reaction theory point out that the gases would have been less likely to penetrate the entire cloth on the dorsal side, since the body would have been laid on a stone shelf. At the same time, the second image makes the photographic theory somewhat less probable.

Analysis of the Shroud

Radiocarbon dating

In 1988, the Holy See permitted three research centers to independently perform radiocarbon dating on portions of a swatch taken from a corner of the shroud. All three, Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology agreed with a dating in the 13th to 14th centuries (1260-1390), although recently published chemical analysis (see below) indicates that the sample used was invalid. The scientific community had asked the Holy See to authorize more samples, including from the image-bearing part of the shroud, but this request was refused. One possible account for the reluctance is that if the image is genuine, the destruction of parts of it for purposes of dating could be considered sacrilege. Another possible explanation is a reluctance to have the shroud definitively dated.

Radiocarbon dating under typical conditions is a highly accurate science, and for materials up to 2000 years old can produce dating to within one year of the correct age. Nonetheless, there are many possibilities for error as well. It was developed primarily for use on objects recently unearthed or otherwise shielded from human contact until shortly before the test is conducted, unlike the shroud. Dr. Willi Wolfli, director of the Swiss laboratory that tested the shroud, stated, "The C-14 method is not immune to grossly inaccurate dating when non-apparent problems exist in samples from the field. The existence of significant indeterminate errors occurs frequently."

Bacterial residue

Several phenomena have been cited that might account for possibly erroneous dating. Those supporting image formation by miraculous means point out that a singular resurrection event could have skewed the proportion of Carbon 14 in the cloth in singular ways. Naturalistic explanations for the discrepancy include smoke particles from the fire of 1532 and bacterial residue that would not have been removed by the testing teams' methods.

The argument involving bacterial residue is perhaps the strongest, since there are many examples of ancient textiles that have been grossly misdated, especially in the earliest days of radiocarbon testing. Most notable of these is mummy 1770 of the British Museum, whose bones were dated some 800–1000 years earlier than its cloth wrappings. Proponents also point out that the corner used for the dating would have been handled more often than other parts of the shroud, increasing the likelihood of contamination by bacteria and bacterial residue. Bacteria and associated residue (bacteria by-products and dead bacteria) carry additional carbon and would skew the radiocarbon date toward the present.

The nuclear physicist Harry E. Gove of the University of Rochester, who designed the particular radiocarbon test used, stated, "There is a bioplastic coating on some threads, maybe most." According to Gove, if this coating is thick enough, it "would make the fabric sample seem younger than it should be." Skeptics, including Rodger Sparks, a radiocarbon expert from New Zealand, have countered that an error of thirteen centuries stemming from bacterial contamination in the Middle Ages would have required a layer approximately doubling the sample weight. Because such material could be easily detected, fibers from the Shroud were examined at the National Science Foundation Mass Spectrometry Center of Excellence at the University of Nebraska. Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry examination failed to detect any form of bioplastic polymer on fibers from either non-image or image areas of the shroud. Additionally, laser-microprobe Raman analysis at Instruments SA, Inc. in Metuchen, NJ, also failed to detect any bioplastic polymer on shroud fibers.

Chemical properties of the sample site

Another argument against the results of the radiocarbon tests was made in a study by Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan and Raymond Rogers , retired Fellow of the University of California Los Alamos National Laboratory. By ultraviolet photography and spectral analysis they determined that the area of the shroud chosen for the test samples differs chemically from the rest of the cloth. They cite the presence of Madder root dye and aluminum oxide mordant (a dye-fixing agent) specifically in that corner of the shroud and conclude that this part of the cloth was mended at some point in its history. Plainly, repairs would have utilized materials produced at or slightly before the time of repair, carrying a higher concentration of carbon than the original artifact.

A 2000 study by Joseph Marino and Sue Benford, based on x-ray analysis of the sample sites, shows a probable seam from a repair attempt running diagonally through the area from which the sample was taken. These researchers conclude that the samples tested by the three labs were more or less contaminated by this repair attempt. They further note that the results of the three labs show an angular skewing corresponding to the diagonal seam: the first sample in Arizona dated to 1238, the second to 1430, with the Oxford and Swiss results falling in between. They add that the variance of the C-14 results of the three labs falls outside the bounds of the Pearson's chi-square test, so that some additional explanation should be sought for the discrepancy.

Microchemical tests also find traces of vanillin in the same area, unlike the rest of the cloth. Vanillin is produced by the thermal decomposition of lignin, a complex polymer and constituent of flax. This chemical is routinely found in medieval materials but not in older cloths, as it diminishes with time. The wrappings of the Dead Sea scrolls, for instance, do not test positive for vanillin.

A January 20, 2005 paper (see References) by Raymond Rogers in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta provides apparent chemical proof that the sample cut from the Shroud in 1988 was not valid. Also in the paper, his determination of the kinetics of vanillin loss suggests the shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old.

This aspect of the controversy can likely only be settled by more radiocarbon tests, which, as noted, the Holy See does not presently allow, citing sacrilegious damage to the relic. In his 2005 paper, Rogers suggests that elemental carbon in pieces of charred material removed during the restoration in 2002 could be used to date the shroud if cleansed using concentrated nitric acid.

Material historical analysis

Much recent research has centered on the burn holes and water marks. The largest burns certainly date from the 1532 fire (another series of small round burns in an "L" shape seems to date from an undetermined earlier time), and it was assumed that the water marks were also from this event. However, in 2002, Aldo Guerreschi and Michele Salcito presented a paper [6] at the IV Symposium Scientifique International in Paris stating that many of these marks stem from a much earlier time because the symmetries correspond more to the folding that would have been necessary to store the cloth in a clay jar (like cloth samples at Qumran) than to that necessary to store it in the reliquary that housed it in 1532.

According to master textile restorer Mechthild Flury-Lemberg of Hamburg, a seam in the cloth corresponds to a fabric found only at the fortress of Masada near the Dead Sea, which dated to the first century. The weaving pattern, a 3:1 twill, is consistent with first century Syrian design, according to the appraisal of Gilbert Raes of the Ghent Institute of Textile Technology in Belgium. Flury-Lemberg stated, "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 first century."

Biological and medical forensics

Details of crucifixion technique

The piercing of the wrists rather than the palms goes against traditional Christian iconography, especially in the Middle Ages, but many modern scholars suggest that crucifixion victims were generally nailed through the wrists, and a skeleton discovered in the Holy Land shows that at least some were nailed between the radius and ulna; this was not common knowledge in the Middle Ages. Proponents of the shroud's authenticity 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 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 [7] 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 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 John 20:7. 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 [8] 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. [9]

Digital image processing

Using techniques of digital image processing, several additional details have been reported by scholars.

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 claimed to correspond to a Roman copper coin produced in AD 29 and 30 in Jerusalem, while that on the left was claimed to resemble a lituus coin from the reign of Tiberius.

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 appliquée 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 inital 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. 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 [10] (himself 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.

These claims are strongly rejected by skeptics, because there is no recorded Jewish tradition of putting coins over the eyes of the dead, and because of the spelling errors in the reported text. (Cf. Antonio Lombatti [11]) Guscin concurs with the skeptics who hold that these details are based on highly subjective impressions, much like the results of a Rorschach test.

Textual criticism

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[12] that the body of the man wrapped in the shroud appears to have been washed before the wrapping. It would be 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.

Analysis of 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. Also, in the city of Pompeii, one can find murals with perfect perspective. Though the art may have been lost or unused for a long time, this proves knowledge about perspective did exist far before the Middle Ages.

As a depiction of Jesus, the image on the shroud 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.

In contemporary humans the ratio of the distance between the eyes and the top of the head and the distance between the eyes and the tip of the jaw (as seen from a frontal perspective) is roughly 1:1 - the eyes are roughly in the middle of the face. The Shroud of Turin, however, has a top/bottom of face ratio of roughly 0.75. Four possible explanations have been offered for this:

  1. The imprinting process somehow skewed the perspective, such that Jesus' jaw, nose and mouth area seem larger and the forehead appears diminished.
  2. Interpretation and measurement of the proportions of the image on the shroud may be imprecise.
  3. Jesus had a cranial deformity considerably outside the norm of modern humans and the fossil record.
  4. The shroud of Turin is a fake created by someone with only cursory knowledge of human facial anatomy. It should be noted that enlarging the lower part of the face and diminishing the forehead is a common error of inexperienced artists, as well as a distinguishing feature of medieval and early renaissance art.

Analysis of optical perspective

One further objection to the shroud turns on what might be called the "Mercator projection" argument. The shroud in two dimensions presents a three-dimensional image projected onto a planar two-dimensional surface, just as in a photograph or painting. A true burial shroud, however, would have rested nearly cylindically across the three-dimensional facial surface, if not more irregularly. The result would be an unnatural lateral distortion, a strong widening to the sides, in contrast to the kind of normal photographic image a beholder would expect, let alone the strongly vertically elongated image on the shroud fabric.

The Shroud in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, owners of the shroud, have made no pronouncements claiming it is Christ's burial shroud, or that it is not a forgery. The matter has been left to the personal decision of the faithful. Pope John Paul II stated in 1998, "Since we're not dealing with a matter of faith, the church can't pronounce itself on such questions. It entrusts to scientists the tasks of continuing to investigate, to reach adequate answers to the questions connected to this shroud." He showed himself to be deeply moved by the image of the shroud, and arranged for public showings in 1998 and 2000.

As the image itself is a cause for prayer and meditation for many believers, even a definitive proof that the image does not date from the first century would likely not stem devotion to the object, which would then become something of an icon of the crucifixion. Pope John Paul II called the shroud "the icon of the suffering of the innocent of all times."

The Shroud was given to the Catholic Church by the House of Savoy 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 if this was the case, it would have been stolen from the Orthodox at some time during the Crusades. Some Russian Orthodox consider that with the fall of Constantinople, the title of "emperor" passed on to Russia, so that they would have pre-eminent rights to the shroud over all the other Orthodox.


The carbon 14 dating, which was intended to settle the issue conclusively, and did so for many scientists, has not quelled speculation about the possible authenticity of the shroud. Some scientists call for more radiocarbon tests of areas of the cloth containing the image, which the Holy See to date has refused. Given their expressed concerns about the destructive nature of current testing methods, it is unlikely that this resistance will change in the near future. Skeptics hold that the Vatican simply wants to avoid definite proof of forgery.

Devotion to the image of the Man of the Shroud has made argument about this issue particularly heated. Because of the deeply-held beliefs touched by this piece of cloth, complete resolution of the issue may never be reached to the satisfaction of all parties.


  • Guscin, Mark: "The 'Inscriptions' on the Shroud" British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, November 1999.
  • Heller, J.H. and Adler, A.D.: "Blood on the Shroud of Turin" Applied Optics 19:2742-4 (1980).
  • Humber, Thomas: The Sacred Shroud. New York: Pocket Books, 1980. ISBN 0671418890
  • John Damascene: On Holy Images [13]
  • Lombatti, Antonio: "Doubts Concerning the Coins over the Eyes" British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, Issue 45, 1997.
  • Marino, Joseph G. and Benford, M. Sue. "Evidence for the Skewing of the C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin due to Repairs". Sindone 2000 Conference, Orvieto, Italy. [14]
  • Mills, A.A: "Image formation on the Shroud of Turin" Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 20, 1995
  • Nickell, Joe: "Scandals and Follies of the 'Holy Shroud'" Skeptical Inquirer, Sept. 2001. [15]
  • Picknett, Lynn, and Prince, Clive: The Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?, Harper-Collins, 1994 ISBN 0552147826
  • Rogers, R.N, and Arnoldi, A.: "The Shroud of Turin: an amino-carbonyl reaction (Maillard reaction) may explain the image formation". In Ames, J.M. (Ed.): Melanoidins in Food and Health, Volume 4, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2003, pp. 106-113. ISBN 9289457244
  • Rogers, Raymond N.: "Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the shroud of turin". Thermochimica Acta, Volume 425 Issue 1-2 (January 20, 2005), pages 189-194.
  • Zugibe, Frederick: "The Man of the Shroud was Washed" Sindon N. S. Quad. 1, June 1989.

See also

External links

Sites which claim the shroud is of natural or supernatural origin

Sites which claim the shroud is man-made or not associated with Christ

Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:59:40
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04