|Q & A
Studies and Research
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. The image on the shroud is commonly associated with Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and burial.
The Shroud of Turin 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 of Nazareth when he was placed in his tomb and that his image was recorded on its fibers at or near the time of his proclaimed 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.
Arguments and evidence cited against a 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 image by microscopist Walter McCrone, who concluded ordinary pigments were used.
Arguments and evidence cited for the shroud 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; objective indications that the 1988 radiocarbon dating was invalid due to erroneous sampling; and repeated peer-reviewed analyses of the image mode which strongly contradict McCrone's assertions.
The shroud is rectangular, measuring approximately 4.4 × 1.1 m (14.3 × 3.7 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 "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:
On May 28, 1898, amateur Italian photographer Secondo Pia took the first photograph of the shroud and was startled by the negative in his darkroom. The negative gave the appearance of a positive image, which implies that the shroud image is itself effectively a negative of some kind, as a negative of a negative is a positive. Observers often feel that the detail and contours of the man on the shroud is greatly enhanced in the photographic negative. Pia's results intensified interest in the shroud and sparked renewed efforts to determine its origin.
Researchers have coined the term sindonology to describe the Shroud of Turin's general study (from Greek — sindon, the word used in the Gospel of Mark to describe the type of cloth that Joseph of Arimathea bought to use as Jesus' burial cloth).
Some identify the Shroud of Turin with the Image of Edessa first mentioned in a 4th century Christian legend. According to the legend, the Image of Edessa was a holy relic consisting of a square or rectangle of cloth upon which a miraculous image of the face of Jesus was imprinted — the first icon ("image").
According to the Gospel of John (20:5-7), the Apostles John and Peter entered the sepulchre of Jesus, shortly after his resurrection — of which they were still unaware — and found the "linen clothes" that had wrapped his body and "the napkin, that was about his head".
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. However, none of these reports has 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" was known to mention an image of a body.
The Image of Edessa was reported to contain the image of the face of Christ (Jesus), 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 favour of the identification with the shroud. John Damascene (c. 676-749) mentions the image in his anti-iconoclastic work On Holy Images , describing the Edessa image as being a "strip", or oblong cloth, rather than a square, as other accounts of the Edessa cloth hold.
On the occasion of the transfer of the cloth to Constantinople in 944, Gregory Referendarius, archdeacon of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, preached a sermon about the artefact. This sermon had been lost, but was rediscovered in the Vatican Archives and translated by Mark Guscin  in 2004. This sermon says that this Edessa Cloth contained not only the face, but a full-length image, which was believed to be of Jesus. The sermon also mentions bloodstains from a wound in the side. Other documents have since been found in the Vatican library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, confirming this impression. "Non tantum faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere poteris" (You can see not only the figure of a face, but [also] the figure of the whole body). (In Italian) (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.
The known provenance of the cloth now stored in Turin dates to 1357, when the widow of the French knight Geoffroi de Charny had it displayed in a church at Lirey, France. 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.
In 1389 the image was denounced as a fraud by Bishop Pierre D'Arcis in a letter to the Avignon Antipope Clement VII, mentioning that the image had previously been denounced by his predecessor Henri de Poitiers, who had been concerned that no such image was mentioned in scripture. Bishop D'Arcis continued, "Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed." The artist is not named in the letter.
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 Margaret. 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 Liège and Geneva.
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 and an attempt was made 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 radiocarbon 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 on April 11, 1997, but fireman Mario Trematore was able to remove it from its heavily protected 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. Using sophisticated mathematical and optical techniques, a ghostly part-image of the body was found on the back of the shroud in 2004. The most recent public exhibition of the Shroud was in 2000 for the Great Jubilee. The next scheduled exhibition is in 2025.
As with all relics of this kind, the Roman Catholic Church has made no pronouncements claiming it is Christ's burial shroud, or that it is a forgery. The matter has been left to the personal decision of the Faithful. In the Church's view, whether the cloth is authentic or not has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of what Christ taught.
The late 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.
The origin of the relic is hotly disputed. The main controversy relates to a mound of scientific evidence collated before the radio carbon dating (pre 1988) versus the radio carbon dating experiments. Three research centers, Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, independently performed radiocarbon dating .All three 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 (people think that the material used may have come from one of the patches used to repair it from fire in 1532). 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 often 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.". The chance that all three independent datings would have been grossly inaccurate does however seem less likely.
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. Pictorial evidence dating from c. 1690 and 1842  indicates that the corner used for the dating and similarly several evenly-spaced areas along one edge of the cloth were handled each time the cloth was displayed, the traditional method being for it to be held suspended by a row of five bishops. These small areas of the cloth had increased 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, fibres 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 fibres.
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 aluminium 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 artefact.
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.
Raymond Rogers' January 20, 2005 paper  in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Thermochimica Acta provides apparently conclusive chemical evidence 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.
The piercing of the wrists rather than the palms goes against traditional Christian iconography, especially in the Middle Ages. Many modern scholars suggest that crucifixion victims were generally nailed through the wrists. A skeleton discovered in the Holy Land shows that at least some were nailed between the radius and ulna; 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.
There are several reddish stains on the shroud suggesting blood. Dark red stains, shown to contain iron oxide and asserted to be a result of the presence of medieval pigment (McCrone, W. C., The Microscope, 29, 1981); Walter McCrone identified these as containing iron oxide. McCrone suggested that the presence of iron oxide was likely due to simple pigment materials used in medieval times. Other researchers, including Alan Adler, a chemist specializing in analysis of porphyrins, identified the reddish stains as type AB blood.
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.
These claims are rejected by skeptics, because there is no recorded Jewish tradition of placing coins over the eyes of the dead.
In the summer of 2002, the Shroud was subjected to an aggressive restoration which shocked the worldwide community of Shroud researchers and was condemned by most. Authorized by the Archbishop of Turin as a beneficial conservation measure, this operation was based on the claim that the charred material around the burn holes was causing continuing oxidation which would eventually threaten the image. It has been labeled unnecessary surgery that destroyed scientific data, removed the repairs done in 1534 that were part of the Shroud's heritage, and squandered opportunities for sophisticated research.