The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a woven linen (flax) cloth that measures roughly 14 feet by 3.5 feet. It bears the image of the front and back sides of a crucified man. The image corresponds to a photographic negative. The Shroud is preserved in a cathedral in Turin, Italy; hence its name.

The Shroud has been subjected to more scientific study than any other human artifact. Scientists have determined that the image was not produced by paint, pigment, dye, chemicals, vapor, or scorching. It is not the work of an artist. Then what is it?

Scientific analyses that date the Shroud to the time of Jesus, anatomical details that closely correspond to Jesus’ injuries described in the gospels, and the unique and unrepeatable process by which the image was generated show that the Shroud is likely the burial cloth of Jesus. However, we can trace the history of continuous physical custody of the Shroud back to 1349, not to the time of Christ. So is it a medieval forgery? Consider the following cumulative scientific evidence that dates the actual origin of the Shroud to the time of Jesus.

Dating Tests

1. Carbon-14 test of 1988. This initial test is the only one that did not date the Shroud to the time of Christ. Two facts cast doubt on the result. First, in 1532, the Shroud, while folded and stored in a church reliquary in Chambréy, France, was damaged in a fire. Carbon-14 dating measures age by the extent of carbon decay. The carbon from the fire would have skewed the results. Second, nuns repaired the scorched areas by weaving in cotton fibers dyed to match the flax (unrepaired areas contain no cotton). Originally, multiple places on the Shroud were to be sampled for testing. But the samples used by all 3 testing labs came from the same repaired spot, containing the “younger” threads of cotton, and dye. This certainly affected the resulting age given to the Shroud — about 638 years old, dating it to approximately 1350 AD. The sample was flawed from the outset.

2. Vanillin Test. Vanillin is an organic compound that—like carbon—decays with age. Tests of linens from the middle ages indicated that they typically retained about 37% of their vanillin, while older artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls had none. Comparing the Shroud’s test results with these other linens established the Shroud’s origin as between 1022 BC and 678 AD (mean=172 BC).

3. Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy Test of Cellulose Degradation. With an infrared light beam, scientists tested 9 ancient textiles of different ages (from Egypt, Israel, and Peru) as well as two modern fabrics, to establish the rate at which cellulose in textiles decays over time. Testing the Shroud, and comparing it with the other samples, established the Shroud’s origin as between 700 BC and 100 AD (mean=300 BC).

4. Raman Laser Spectroscopy Test for Cellulose Degradation. This test used lasers to probe cellulose degradation in the same samples as in the previous test. This test found that the Shroud originated between 700 BC and 300 AD (mean=200 BC).

5. Mechanical tests of compressibility and breaking strength. These tests compare the physical properties of the fibers of various ancient fabrics; for example, how much tensile strength individual fibers retain over time. Correlating the Shroud fibers with other known ancient fabrics, these tests found that the Shroud originated between 1 AD and 800 AD (mean=400 AD).

The range of dates resulting from each of the last 4 tests includes the date of Jesus’s crucifixion, held by scholarly consensus to be during the governorship of Pontius Pilate, who ruled from 26 AD to 36 AD, and most likely during the year 30 AD or 33 AD. The average mean date of the 4 tests is 136 AD. Given the wide ranges of dates these tests produce, 136 AD very closely correlates with the actual date of Jesus’ death.

Extrinsic Dating Evidence

1. Pollen grains. Max Frei, a Swiss botanist and criminologist, took dust samples from the Shroud and identified 58 pollen grains. 45 pollen grains were from Israel (matching pollen from 2000 year old sedimentary deposits near the Sea of Galilee) including 13 that are unique to that region. 6 grains were from the Middle East (including 2 from Edessa, Turkey, and 1 grain unique to Istanbul/Constantinople) and the remaining 7 were from France (where the Shroud surfaced in the Middle Ages) and Italy (where the Shroud is now). The predominance of 2000-year-old Israel-based pollen grains places the Shroud in the time and region of Jesus. Importantly, it also renders a medieval forgery nearly impossible.

2. The presence of two Roman coins (leptons) on the eyes of the man in the Shroud. Numismatists have identified partial imprints of coins on the eyes of the man of the Shroud. They may have been used to keep the deceased’s eyelids closed. Overlaid photographs correlate these coins with a specific variant of a Jewish lepta coin minted in Judea in 29 AD by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. There is a misspelled word on the coins in the Shroud image, but this is only further evidence of their authenticity. Numismatists have found six lepta coins of that time that have this same misspelling.

3. Similarities to the Face Cloth of Oviedo indicating that the Face Cloth touched the same face as the Shroud. Covering the face of the deceased with a cloth was a Jewish custom of respect, especially if the face was disfigured. (The gospel accounts indicate that Jesus was beaten). While we cannot trace the continuous custody of the Shroud to earlier than 1349 AD, the Face Cloth (or Sudarium) has a traceable history back to 616 AD. There are 120 points of blood stains on this Face Cloth that match the blood stains from the face on the Shroud. Far too many for a mere coincidence. The Gospel of John 20:6-7 records that the Face Cloth and the burial cloths of Jesus were found in the tomb after the Resurrection.

The Nature of the Image

1. The image is limited to the surfaces of the cloth. The image does not penetrate the fibers anywhere but resides only on the outer 6 microns. This excludes paint, dyes, chemical vapors or scorching.

2. The image is virtually a photographic negative in which the image intensity is related to the distance of the cloth from the body. Thus the image is present whether or not the cloth touched a part of the body. This implies that radiation, not chemicals or vapors, likely caused the image. A negative of the actual Shroud image appears below.

3. Some scientists have concluded that the image is formed by discoloration from dehydration. So as not to scorch the cloth with heat, his would require a very brief, but incredibly intense, burst of rapidly dissipating ultraviolet light radiation:

In 2010, scientists successfully reproduced the kind of coloration found on the Shroud by firing a burst of “vacuum ultraviolet radiation” through an excimer laser at a linen fabric. From their results, they calculated that producing the image on the Shroud would require a burst of radiation incredibly brief (less than one forty-billionth of a second) and incredibly intense (several billion watts). This would be equivalent to focusing one million search lights @ 10,000 watts on a spot roughly 3.5’ x 14’. In our entire world today, we do not have enough of this type of laser power to produce the image on the shroud. (From “Little Book – Vol. 3” )

A medieval forger would not have had access to such “firepower.” All of this power, apparently, emanated from the body.

4. Parts of the frontal image, particularly the hands, are resolvable into 3 dimensions. The skeletal parts of the hands are proportionately related to the surrounding exterior flesh. So the radiation that discolored the cloth, it seems, was radiating from all parts of the body, inside and out, simultaneously.

5. On the half of the cloth covering the anterior of the body, there are 2 anatomically corresponding images, 1 on each side. Of these 2 images, the image on the side facing the body is more intense than the image on the outward facing side. There is no coloration of the fibers between the 2 sides of the cloth.

How can we explain points 4 and 5 above? We may infer that the body, transformed by a burst of light energy, passed through the Shroud, leaving the images on the surfaces of the cloth, which then collapsed. This is consistent with the Gospel account of Jesus suddenly appearing in the locked upper room where the Apostles were meeting ( John 20:19-23). Likewise, it fits with his disappearance when the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized him after the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:13-35). It seems appropriate, then, for St. Paul to describe Jesus’ resurrected body as a spiritualized body (soma pneumatikon in Greek).

The Testimony of the Image: Agony, Death, and Triumph

Whatever one concludes about the origins of the Shroud, it bears the most fascinating human image of all time. It portrays with startling accuracy the sufferings of a tortured and crucified man. But even more, it conforms in detail to the biblical accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. The Bible recounts that the Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head to mock the Jewish charge that Jesus claimed to be “King of the Jews.” The Shroud reveals 40 puncture wounds extending from the mid forehead to the low back of the neck, more like a helmet of thorns than the halo-like crowns known in later Europe and portrayed by medieval artists.

The Shroud shows over 200 bleeding wounds from scourging. The Roman whip, or flagrum, had 2 or 3 thongs that would cut the skin. To each of these were attached metal balls or small sheep bones to both bruise and dig contusions down to the muscle.

The Bible records that the soldiers struck Jesus on the head with their hands and with a reed, perhaps driving the crown of thorns into his scalp. The eyes of the man on the Shroud are swollen and his nose may be broken, as from a beating.

Jesus, the Bible records, was forced to carry his cross. The man of the Shroud has abrasions on the shoulder blades superimposed on the wounds from the scourging, consistent with carrying the heavy crossbeam to the place of crucifixion. We learn from the biblical account that Jesus’ hands were nailed to the cross. The back of the right wrist in the Shroud image appears pierced. The nail would have severely damaged the median nerve in the wrist, inflicting excruciating pain and causing the thumb to fold sharply into the palm. Accordingly, the fingers, but not the thumbs, are visible on the Shroud. The left foot is also pierced. The left hand and right foot are not visible.

The blood marks on the Shroud are clear and red, not dark brown as typical of dried blood. Also, the blood stains are complete, without signs of flaking off. Medical doctors have suggested that the stains are exudate from clotted wounds rather than whole blood. A severe beating can cause the break up of red blood cells, releasing extraordinarily high levels of bilirubin and producing the lasting red color of the exudate. The color of the blood confirms the shock of torture endured by the man of the Shroud.

Experts disagree whether the primary cause of death of the man of the Shroud was shock from trauma and fluid loss (hypovolemia) or progressive suffocation (prolonged hanging from the arms during crucifixion impedes exhalation). Either way, history records that Jesus died on a cross — an agonizing, slow, and gruesome form of execution reserved by the Romans for heinous criminals.

If the Shroud is truly the burial cloth of Jesus, then it accurately chronicles the immense suffering Jesus chose to endure to demonstrate God’s love and atone for sin. Then, also, the astonishing burst of energy necessary to create the Shroud image eloquently testifies to the power of Jesus’ resurrection in glory, defeating death itself.

Adapted by Mike Noggle – Magis Center, Garden Grove, CA. (c) Magis Publications – 2021

Select Resources:
Big Book V3, Chapter 8 – (by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.) and, in particular,

The Bible. See Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-20.

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