Few artifacts associated with the Christian faith have come under the same level of scrutiny and research as the Shroud of Turin. Moreover, rightly so, for few objects have attracted the same level of both credulity and faith. Scientists have been approaching the question of the shroud’s authenticity from the perspective of forensic evidence rather than concerning faith. Conflicting information has been found, but the ultimate conclusion that many are coming to is surprising.
16. The Shroud of Turin is Believed by Many of the Faithful to be Jesus’ Burial Shroud
The New Testament gospels tell the story of how Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, which included being wrapped in a shroud, according to the Jewish custom of the day and Jewish law. They also tell of how, on the third day, some women went to visit His tomb to anoint His body with oils and spices. However, His body was no longer in the vault because He had been brought back to life. There was nothing there but pieces of cloth, one of which is believed to be the Shroud of Turin.
The Shroud of Turin has a negative image of what appears to be the body of a crucified man. There are blood stains that are consistent with crucifixion, mainly coming from the hands and feet, which Roman executioners would nail to a cross. Of particular interest is that on this shroud, there are also blood stains from the head that are consistent with a crown of thorns, something that the gospels describe as being pressed into Jesus’ head. Placing a crown of thorns on a condemned person’s head was not a normative practice for crucifixion; it was done to Jesus out of mockery for allegedly being the King of the Jews.
15. The Shroud is Kept at a Church in Turin, Italy
The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin is currently the home of the Shroud of Turin. It has been there since the Middle Ages, and the church has in many ways adapted itself to its unique position of hosting the shroud. It has been kept there since 1587. In 1649, the Vatican approved an enlargement project for the cathedral because many believed that the burial cloth of Jesus deserved to be stored in a place of elegance and luxury. The church has since then undergone many construction projects. The shroud itself is contained within a chapel inside the cathedral.
To protect the shroud from damage, it is kept inside an airtight box that is 99.5% filled with the inert gas argon. The remaining .05% is oxygen. It is held flat on an aluminum surface. In the past, people were frequently able to view it. Today, however, only on infrequent occasions is it available for viewing, even to those within the church or the Vatican. There have been some grants of approval for scientists to conduct testing on it, but as custodians of the shroud, the church’s utmost concern is its conservation. There have also been very meticulous restoration projects done to the cover itself to reverse the damage that it has sustained and prevented it from becoming contaminated.
Scientists usually must rely on photographs of the Shroud of Turin to conduct any types of research and analysis on it. In 1988, however, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist granted permission for scientists to perform testing on the Shroud of Turin to help determine whether or not it is authentic. A small swatch from a corner of the shroud was radiocarbon-dated at the University of Oxford, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the University of Arizona. Radiocarbon dating relies on the known breakdown rate of the carbon isotope known as carbon 14 and has been used to date numerous objects of an organic nature.
All of the tests from the different institutes revealed that the shroud dated from about the fourteenth century, with an error margin of plus or minus 65 years. For many, this proved that the cover was, in fact, a Medieval forgery. Few people were surprised, as it has long been disregarded by religious figures, particularly from John Calvin, who had a profound disgust for relics. The Vatican itself has never officially avowed that the shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. This concept is consistent with how it usually approaches relics, leaving authentication to the faithful as part of their own spiritual journeys.
13. Relics Were an Essential Part of Medieval Roman Catholicism
Religious relics, such as the Shroud of Turin, were highly valued among the faithful in Medieval Europe. The Canterbury Tales, which tell us much about life in the Middle Ages, contain references to swindlers who would go to different towns claiming that they had in their possession things like the bones of Saint John the Baptist or the nails that were used to pierce Jesus. Unsurprisingly, all that they had was perhaps chicken bones or common nails, but pious Christians would pay copious amounts of money to view the so-called artifacts.
Given the importance of relics and how frequently they were forged, it comes as no surprise that the Shroud of Turin was also a forgery. What is surprising is that there is little evidence that swindlers peddled it in a cheap attempt to make a few extra shillings. Perhaps the people who had it in their possession believed that it indeed was the burial shroud of Jesus, and they wanted to treat it with the reverence that it deserved. In the mid-fifteenth century, it was gifted to the prominent House of Savoy, and from there, it made its way to Turin Cathedral, where it has been to this day. It doesn’t fit the pattern of forged Medieval relics.
12. Nobody Knows How the Forger Created the Shroud
There are plenty of mysteries from about the time of Medieval Europe that are yet to be solved. For example, the Voynich Manuscript has yet to be deciphered; it is a perpetual riddle that will continue to plague scientists. There are also the prophecies of Nostradamus that have an uncanny way of being fulfilled in modern times. The Shroud of Turin seems to belong to this private collection of Medieval mysteries. However, most of these mysteries don’t have the markings of a forgery.
The challenge for modern scientists in uncovering the forgery is that it had to have been made with methods that were far beyond the skills that artists would have had during the fourteenth century, the time to which it has been dated. The shroud was created meticulously, with extreme attention to detail that even today’s forgers would marvel. However, all of this begs the question as to why: Why would someone go through all of the trouble of creating such an elaborate forgery as a relic for peddling money, when he or she could have just used strips of cloth that were lying around the house? Moreover, if it was a forgery, why did the church treat it as if it was authentic?
11. Some People Dispute the Validity of the Carbon-14 Tests
The Shroud of Turin has been in several fires, beginning about the time of its appearance in the fourteenth century. As such, it has undergone numerous restorations over the past six centuries. When the carbon-14 dates were done in 1988, some scientists claimed that the tests were done on a Medieval patch that was sewn onto the original cloth as a means of repairing some of the damage to it. Additionally, there may have been problems with the carbon-14 dating method that was used, as the way that carbon interacts with the molecules in linen was not accurately accounted.
Those claims may have some bearing, because there is other evidence that places the Shroud of Turin much, much earlier than the fourteenth century. There are some who suggest that at it must be at least 1300 years old, due to forensic evidence regarding the chemicals that are found in the linen material. Evidence like the technique that would have been used to create such an elaborate forgery also indicates that the shroud could not have been a cheap hoax.
What is telling is that the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is not among those contesting the validity of the 1988 test results. It would seem that to its custodian, hosting the shroud is not a commercial enterprise through which money can be made off of a fake Medieval relic. Perhaps it is taking the same stance as the Vatican regarding the authenticity of holy relics, that their authenticity is to be determined by the faithful, not by science.
10. The Shroud’s First Known Appearance Was in the Fourteenth Century
Geoffroi de Charny was a wealthy French nobleman and knight in the town of Lirey; he was born around the year 1300. He and his wife, Lady Jeanne de Vergy, are the first known owners of the Shroud of Turin. The timeline of his life corresponds to the carbon-14 dating done in 1988 and seems to suggest that it was a fake made during his lifetime, possibly even by him or by someone commissioned by him. The first known public appearance of the shroud was made in 1360 under either Geoffroi or his son, Geoffroi Junior.
The Shroud of Turin stayed within the de Charny family until it was passed on to the House of Savoy a hundred years later. During the time of its possession by the de Charney, Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote to the pope a letter claiming that the person who had created the shroud had confessed to its forgery. However, there is some doubt as to whether the cover in the possession of the de Charny family was the same shroud that was passed on to the Turin Cathedral. What is known is that there was a shroud in the town of Lirey that was believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. There may have been two: one a fake that was discredited, and one that was thought legitimate and passed on to the church.
8. The Shroud’s Image Corresponds Perfectly with the Human Body
Forged relics during the Middle Ages were familiar enough to be considered routine, but they were cheap imitations that had no hope of comparing to what would have been the real thing. For example, if a man came to a village declaring that he had the bones of John the Baptist, in his bag might be nothing more than what were chicken bones. However, the people who paid to see them would not be allowed close enough to know that they were not human bones. Furthermore, if someone did raise questions about the authenticity of the relic, the purveyor could make up an excuse, such as claiming that at the time of John the Baptist, people had a smaller stature, so their bones were more modest, which would account for the animal skeleton.
What is astounding is that while the Shroud of Turin may have been a fake, one thing that it was not is a cheap fake. It corresponds perfectly with the proportions of a man, so much so that even the bloodstains that appear on the shroud look precisely where they should. The precision is so remarkable that it corresponds exactly with how a human body would have been wrapped during the first century in Palestine.
Many skeptics regarding the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity have long claimed that the image seen on the linen cloth is nothing more than a figure that an artist painted. In 1978, scholar John Jackson got permission from the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist to carry out tests to determine what kind of paint may have been used. What he found when he tested pieces of the cloth is that no binding or mixing agents were used in the color, meaning that it did not correspond with the known painting practices of the fourteenth century. In fact, what was used to create the image on the shroud wasn’t paint at all. It was blood.
Jackson’s truly astounding find, though, was that it was human blood on the shroud. The blood type has been identified as type AB. Furthermore, there are two distinctive types of blood found on the cover: pre-mortem blood, the kind before a person dies, and post-mortem, which has undergone changes following death. If the Shroud of Turin indeed is a Medieval forgery, as the carbon-14 tests show, it is genuinely the most elaborate forgery of the entire Middle Ages, perhaps in world history. However, Jackson’s findings indicate that there may have been errors in the 1988 tests.
7. Perhaps the Shroud Was Made by a Medieval Embalmer
Embalmers have long had expertise in understanding death and how the human body changes in distinct phases following death. One theory postulates that if a painter did not create the image on the shroud, then it must have been formed by an embalmer in the fourteenth century. Perhaps someone with a particularly macabre bent would have taken a recently dead body and subjected it to the wounds of crucifixion, then laid the piece of linen over the body to create the image. He then might have figured that he could become rich by selling it to the wealthy de Charny family, convincing its master that he would be in possession of the funeral shroud of Jesus Christ.
The problem with this theory is that there are precise details on the shroud that cannot be explained by this theory. For example, there are some anatomical parts, such as the eye sockets and hair details, that would not have come into direct contact with the shroud. Had an embalmer pressed the cover down to force these different details to come into contact with the shroud, the image would have been distorted. The embalmer theory, while seemingly plausible at face value, is not capable of explaining the remarkable forgery behind the Shroud of Turin.
A painter could not have made the shroud, nor could it have been done by an embalmer. Perhaps it was created by a sculptor. After all, the image on the cover is three-dimensional; there are variations in the picture that corresponds to how different parts of the body stand concerning each other. A sculptor, rather than a painter, would theoretically have known three-dimensional figures to create the image seen on the shroud.
To test the sculptor theory, John Jackson created a human sculpture, laid it face-down, and heated it so that its image would be imprinted on the linen cloth that he put over it. What he found was that at the temperature necessary to stamp an image on the fabric, the forger would have had to remove it within 1/10 of a second after laying it down. It is highly, highly unlikely that an unscrupulous conman from the 1300s would have that kind of precision. Furthermore, what cannot be explained by the sculptor theory is that a scorched material or paint did not create the image. It was made by blood, and the blood’s precise pattern on the linen’s weave could not correspond to what would have feasibly been created by a sculptor.
Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and seat of the Orthodox Church, also had a shroud that the people believed was the real burial shroud of Jesus. This shroud was documented in the year 1196, but evidence suggests that it had been in the possession of the Byzantine Church long before then. It is recorded both visually and textually in a document known as the Pray Codex or the Pray Manuscript. If the shroud that surfaced in Constantinople and the Shroud of Turin are actually both the same shroud, then the carbon-14 tests are incorrect. The Shroud of Turin would date to at least 1196, if not earlier.
There is forensic evidence suggesting that the two shrouds may be the same. Visual depictions of Jesus on the cross, which were probably based on the image in the cover held at Constantinople, in the Pray Codex are compellingly similar to the image found on the Shroud of Turin. Additionally, the Pray Codex reveals a herringbone pattern in the weave of the linen, the same pattern seen in the Shroud of Turin. Experts who have studied the Constantinople shroud suggest that the two are almost definitely the same. The Shroud of Turin is at least 12th century, not 14th. It may not be a Medieval forgery, after all.
4. The de Charny Family Was Connected to the Battle at Constantinople
During the Fourth Crusade, instead of going all the way to the Holy Land, many of the European crusaders went to their Christian brothers and sisters in Constantinople and ransacked the city. Most of these crusaders were from France, and Geoffroi de Charny’s wife was a direct descendant of one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade during the ransacking of Constantinople. Presumably, he obtained the shroud while on the crusade, and it quietly remained within the family until Geoffroi made it public.
Of course, the fact that Geoffroi de Charny was connected to a leader in the Fourth Crusade doesn’t mean that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. It doesn’t even mean that the shroud that he came to possess was the same one that had been in the possession of the Byzantine Church. Some might decry that the evidence is circumstantial at best. However, given the forensic evidence connecting the Shroud of Turin to the shroud at Constantinople, there may be something of substance to the otherwise dubious claim. Not the claim that the Shroud of Turin indeed is the burial shroud of Jesus, but that Geoffroi de Charny came to possess the cover of Constantinople.
3. A Similar Shroud Dates to at Least the Fifth Century
The Sudarium of Oviedo is a piece of cloth kept at Cathedral of San Salvador, within the camara santa (holy chamber), in Oviedo, Spain. Many of the faithful believe that it was the cloth used to wrap the face of Christ when He was buried. It has reliably been dated to at least the fifth century, and its history for at least a century prior can be accurately traced. If the Shroud of Turin can be connected to the Sudarium of Oviedo, then it is likely much, much older than even the 12th century.
As it turns out, not only was the image on the Shroud of Turin made with human blood, but it was of the same blood type – AB – as the blood on the Sudarium of Oviedo. AB blood is the rarest type in the world, so the fact that it is found in both shrouds is not likely to be a coincidence. Additionally, the facial images on both of the coverings match up exactly, showing that they were probably both used on the same person. Not only is the blood stain a match, but so is the pattern of pre-mortem and post-mortem blood. The forensic evidence gathered is strong enough to reasonably conclude that both clothes were used on the same body. The Shroud of Turin is probably the fifth century, if not earlier.
2. Forensic Evidence Suggests the Shroud of Turin May Date to the First Century
There are several remarkable details regarding the shroud that suggests that not only is it not a Medieval fake, but it can be reliably placed within what is known about first-century Palestine. For one, Jewish law required that a body had to be wrapped in linen cloth that had not been mixed with wool. The Shroud of Turin is made of linen, and though there are traces of cotton in it, there is no wool. It also corresponds precisely with the measuring unit that was used by first-century Jews, the cubit. It is exactly two cubits wide and eight cubits long.
Furthermore, the Shroud of Turin seems to perfectly match the burial cloth that is described in the book of John. The gospel says that many clothes were used – the Sudarium of Oviedo, the Shroud of Turin, and probably also strips of cloth to securely wrap the shroud around the body, evidence of which can also be seen on the Shroud of Turin. If it corresponds not only to the cover of Constantinople and the Sudarium of Oviedo but also to the shroud described in John, then it may be more than a first-century burial cloth. It may be the shroud that was used to wrap the body of Jesus after His death.
1. The Bloodstains are Consistent with Roman Crucifixion
To further reiterate the significance of the blood stains on the cloth, researchers have pointed to the fact that they perfectly resemble what is now known about Roman crucifixions. In Christian art, particularly in the Middle Ages, Jesus is frequently depicted as having nails going through the palms of His hands and the fronts of His feet. However, what we now know about the Roman crucifixion, based on skeletons of crucifixion victims, is that nails went through the wrists and the heels.
If a Medieval forger were trying to make the shroud as a hoax, he would have undoubtedly mimicked the bloodstains common in Christian iconography, as he or she would likely have not know where the Romans placed the nails. The image on the shroud shows that the nails went through the wrists and the heels. If the cover indeed does predate the Middle Ages and if it is a forgery, it could only have been made by someone with firsthand knowledge of Roman crucifixion practices. Furthermore, the shroud shows bloodstains consistent with what the New Testament gospels describe as a crown of thorns being placed on Jesus’ head. Using a crown of thorns was not known to be a common practice, and it is unlikely that many other crucifixion victims were subjected to it.
All of the evidence suggests that the Shroud of Turin could actually be, in fact, the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. The mystery as to how the image came to appear is still a mystery, one that again convinces people that it is a fake. However, perhaps the fact that an image formed on the shroud is evidence of the resurrection.
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