Turin Shroud
A relic housed in a chapel in Turin (or Turino), Italy, and
believed by some to be the shroud in which Jesus was wrapped
after his crucifixion. In the accounts of Jesus’ burial in the
Christian New Testament, the earliest of which appears in the
Gospel of Mark 1546, it is noted, ‘‘And he [Joseph of Arimathea]
brought fine linen, and took him [Jesus] down and
wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which
was hewn out of a rock. . . .’’ There is no record of the survival
of that burial cloth for the next five centuries. Then about 570
C.E., a pilgrim reported that it was kept in a monastery by the
river Jordan. In 670 C.E. the French bishop Arculph, returning
from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was shipwrecked on the coast
of Scotland and traveled to a monastery on the island of Iona.
Here he said he had seen the shroud and been allowed to kiss
it.
Subsequent references are made to a surviving shroud by
the Venerable Bede, St. Willibald, St. John Damascene, and the
Emperor Baldwin. In 1284, Robert de Clari, chronicler of the
Fourth Crusade, described the triumphant entry of Crusaders
into Constantinople and mentioned the monastery of Lady St.
Mary of the Blachernes, in which a cloth claiming to be the
shroud was kept. In the Middle Ages some 40 different shrouds
were claimed to be the one in which Christ was buried. At this
time there also existed a variety of similar relics, including tears
from Jesus, milk from the Virgin Mary, thorns from the crown
of thorns worn by Jesus, and enough pieces of the cross to make
a number of different such instruments of execution. The reformation
of the church concerning such superstitions began in
earnest in the sixteenth century and continued in subsequent
centuries.
Nothing is known of the particular piece of cloth known as
the Shroud of Turin until its appearance in the church of Lirey,
Troyes, France, during the fourteenth century. At the time between
1353 and 1356, the shroud was placed in a small wooden
church at Lirey by Geoffrey de Charny, Lord of Lirey, but exhibition
of the relic aroused opposition from Henry of Poitiers,
Bishop of Troyes. Many years later, in 1389, the Lord of Lirey’s
son (Geoffrey II) obtained permission to exhibit the shroud,
but Henry’s successor as bishop of Troyes, Pierre d’Arcis, objected
most strenuously.
In a statement to the Avignon Pope Clement VII, he complained
that the exhibition was not for devotion, but for monetary
gain, and that the relic was a forgery, ‘‘a certain cloth cunningly
painted, upon which by clever sleight of hand was
depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say the back
and the front, [the canons at Lirey] falsely declaring and pretending
that this was the actual shroud in which our Saviour
Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb.’’ D’Arcis claimed that
Henry of Poitiers, 30 years earlier, after ‘‘diligent inquiry and
examination’’ had established that the shroud had been ‘‘cunningly
painted, the truth being attested by the artist . . . that it
was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought . . .’’
and that the first exhibition by Geoffrey’s father had been prohibited.
Meanwhile, however, Geoffrey’s widow had married Aymon
of Geneva, who had ecclesiastical influence with Pope Clement,
and the prohibition was bypassed, much to the anger of d’Arcis,
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hence his complaint in 1389. Pope Clement resolved the matter
by declaring that Geoffrey II could continue exhibiting the
shroud provided that it was always stated that it was only ‘‘a figure
or representation’’ of Christ’s cloth, and that d’Arcis must
keep silence in the matter under pain of excommunication.
This affair has often been revived as ‘‘proof’’ that the shroud
was a forgery, but the accusations of d’Arcis were never proved,
and the original campaign against the genuineness of the
shroud had started on the somewhat flimsy grounds that if such
a cloth imprinted with an image of Jesus Christ had really existed,
it would have been mentioned in the Gospels, and that the
exhibition at Lirey was all part of a plot to hire persons for pretended
miracles of healing. The statement that diligent inquiry
had revealed a cunning artist remains unconvincing, since the
artist was never named or punished.
After the death of Geoffrey II, his widow Margaret claimed
that the relic had only been loaned to Lirey by her grandfather,
but she was eventually obliged to give it up.
In 1452, it passed into the keeping of the Duke of Savoy. In
1532 it was kept in the sacristy of Sainte Chappelle, France,
where it was nearly destroyed in a fire. It was then taken to the
monastery of St. Clair where it was patched by nuns. It was
brought to Saint Charles Borromeo in Turin, Italy, in 1578,
and for more than four centuries remained the property of the
ruling House of Savoy from which came the kings of Italy. It
was exhibited annually until it was feared that frequent handling
might damage it. By the end of the nineteenth century
it was exhibited only on very special occasions.
In 1946, Umberto II, former king of Italy and the owner of
the shroud, was exiled. He settled in Portugal and in the ensuing
years, the Catholic Church, in the person of the archbishop
of Turin, became its custodian. In 1978 it was disclosed that
Umberto was leaving the shroud to the Pope, an event that occurred
in 1983 with Umberto’s passing. Italy did not challenge
the will or claim the shroud for itself. Since that time, the
Roman Catholic Church has had the power to respond directly
to pressure to have the shroud definitively tested by modern
scientific methods.
Description of the Shroud
The shroud always had vague markings indicating the outlines
of a body, but these took on a special significance only at
the end of the nineteenth century. Modern interest in the
shroud dates from 1898, when Secundo Pia obtained permission
to photograph it for the first time and discovered that his
negative plate revealed a perfect image of a noble and majestic
face with forehead wounds suggesting a crown of thorns, and
a body with wounds in the hands and side.
The supposition is that in some unknown way, emanations
from the body laid in the shroud reacted with the spices used
for burial in such a way as to cause an image on the cloth, rather
like a photographic negative. Although the shroud had been
venerated for centuries, nobody had formerly realized that the
markings might be more revealing than supposed. Pia’s negative
plate showed a positive picture, virtually a full-length photograph
of the occupant of the shroud.
The publication of Pia’s negative caused great excitement,
and led to a scientific investigation by Paul Vignon, professor
of Biology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. With his coworker
Yves Delage he presented his findings, favorable to the
authenticity of the shroud, to the French Academy of Science.
The collaboration was a strange one, since Delage was an agnostic
and Vignon a Catholic. Since then, the shroud has received
increased attention and scholarship, and Vatican experts
spent some years studying and verifying historical
documents connected with it.
On September 6, 1936, Pope Pius XI offered his opinion of
the cloth, ‘‘These are the images of the Divine Redeemer. We
might say they are the most beautiful, most moving and dearest
we can imagine.’’
The name sindonology has been given to studies of the
shroud, and in 1939 the first Sindonological Congress was held
in Turin. The Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia was created,
drawing upon the highest academic, scientific, and ecclesiastical
authorities.
In August 1978, the Holy Shroud was publicly exhibited
again in the Cathedral of Turin, Italy. Because Turin had been
a flashpoint for Red Brigade terrorism, special precautions
were taken to protect the relic. In addition to extra police protection,
the shroud itself was housed in a special display case
with bulletproof glass. Archbishop Anastasio Ballestrero of
Turin insisted that the shroud not be the subject of any form
of commercialism, and the cost of the new protective case was
born by a Turin exposition fund launched in the United States.
In October 1978, at the end of the exposition, a special
Shroud Congress was held in Turin and attended by scientists
from around the world. Advanced techniques of image analysis
were discussed, including infra-red photography, photomicrography,
high contrast photography, X-ray fluorescence, radiographic
examination, and carbon dating.
Unfortunately much of the scientific analysis and discussion
resulted in controversy and confusion. Many issues were hotly
debated, such as whether the amount of iron oxide on the
shroud indicated genuine bloodstains or artistic pigment. The
main issue of dating the shroud was delayed through the reluctance
of the authorities to permit destruction of a sample piece
of the material for carbon dating. For a presentation of scientific
views for and against the authenticity of the shroud, see the
book The Image on the Shroud by H. David Sox (1981) and more
recently The Mysterious Shroud by Ian Wilson (1986).
A significant breakthrough in the study of the shroud occurred
in early 1987, when Pope John Paul II finally approved
a plan to test fragments of the cloth in laboratories for radiocarbon
content. Tests had been scheduled to begin in 1986, but
were halted at the last minute by the Bishop of Turin.
Three major laboratories—in Switzerland, the United
States, and Britain—were involved in these carbon-14 dating
tests. Three other institutions were involved in statistical analysis
of the results of tests, which included scientific controls using
pieces of linen from known sources, ancient and modern.
These included fragments of medieval cloth and a specimen
from ancient Egypt, as well as modern cloth. The scientists involved
did not know which cloth they were being provided with
for testing until the results were correlated by the British Museum
Research Laboratory and evaluated at the Vatican in Rome.
Edward Hall, of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology
and Art at Oxford University, England, was one of the scientists
involved in testing. He used an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer,
generating a charge of two million volts. This massive new tool
for radio-carbon dating is said to have influenced the Vatican
decision to go ahead with the tests on actual fragments of the
Turin Shroud. Earlier apparatus would have required the destruction
of a sample about the size of a pocket handkerchief,
whereas the new machine required a sample of only about a
quarter of an inch.
In a report by Pearson Phillips in The Times, London, (April
15, 1987), Hall was quoted as stating ‘‘If we get a medieval dating
then we shall know it is a forgery and we can relax and forget
the whole business. Although there will still be a mystery
about how anyone in medieval times could have produced such
a complex and effective fraud.’’ Hall assumed an agnostic viewpoint,
stating ‘‘My view of Christ as a historical individual is
that he was obviously a powerful personality. I suppose it is possible
that, in some way we do not currently fully understand,
some kind of impression from him was transferred to the
shroud. But if we produce a carbon date around the start of the
first century A.D., the fat will really be in the fire. As a scientist,
I would then find it difficult to dismiss the shroud’s authenticity.’’
An official report on October 13, 1988, revealed that the
three laboratories in Oxford, Zürich, and Arizona had indeEncyclopedia
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pendently carbon dated the cloth fragments as medieval, and
not from the time of Jesus Christ. There was close agreement
on the possible dates, giving an estimated span of circa
1260–1390. For most skeptics, this established once and for all
that the shroud was a medieval forgery.
Die-hard believers in the authenticity of the shroud either
questioned the accuracy of the scientific evidence or propounded
fantastic theories to account for the dating of the cloth, e.g.,
that the image was formed by a burst of divine radiant energy
that somehow altered the texture of the cloth.
The close concurrence in dating of three independent scientific
laboratories, with the best and most accurate apparatus,
cannot be dismissed lightly. The normal margin of error in carbon
dating is considered to be about 100 years either way.
It is unlikely that these tests can resolve the enigma of the
shroud. Critics of the carbon testing have noted that scientific
tests of any kind sometimes overlook anomalies revealed by
later research. In the case of the dating of the shroud, there is
no reason to doubt the good faith and accuracy of reputable scientific
laboratories, but it is good to remember that the centuries-old
shroud has been through many vicissitudes, and we are
dealing with minute fragments of material.
In 1532, for example, when the shroud was kept in a silver
casket at the church of Sainte Chappelle in Chambery, France,
a fire broke out in the sacristy, melting drops of silver, which
fell on the shroud and burned through folds in the cloth. In
1534, the burns on the cloth were patched by nuns at the monastery
of St. Clair. The shroud has also suffered damp stains,
and may have been washed or cleaned with oil at some time.
Could the samples tested for carbon dating have been contaminated
with threads or solutions from the later history of the
shroud
Moreover, carbon dating, accurate or misleading, cannot
explain the extraordinary and awe-inspiring character of the
image on the shroud as disclosed by the camera negative of Secondo
Pia in 1898. There are no apparent brush marks, and
other theories of production of the marks, however ingenious,
hardly do justice to the beauty and accuracy of the icon. Common
sense suggests that even a medieval forger of genius would
be unlikely to have the prescience to produce a perfect and
noble image in negative. What the pilgrims of that period in an
out-of-the-way French district would surely have expected to
see would have been a stylized rudimentary positive image,
more like the icons in stained glass windows or the paintings
in churches.
Dr. Robert Otlet, of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment
at Harwell, had hoped that his famous laboratory would
be included in the carbon dating tests, and later commented
‘‘It is most unfortunate—entirely unnecessary when you put the
amount of material to be taken in context. It will lead to a result
which will be wide open to criticism and sadly will not be seen
as definitive.’’ It is clear that the story of the shroud has not
come to an end. True believers in its authenticity have found
ways to ignore and question the carbon dating evidence, while
many fully accept the carbon dating results as conclusive.
Sources
Barnes, Arthur Stapylton. The Holy Shroud of Turin. London
Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1934.
Heller, John H. Report on the Shroud of Turin. Boston
Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
Nickell, Joe. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. Buffalo, N.Y.
Prometheus Press, 1983.
Reban, John. Inquest on Jesus Christ. London Leslie Frewin,
1967.
Rinaldi, Peter M. The Man in the Shroud. New York Vantage
Press, 1972. Reprint, London Futura, 1974. Reprinted as It Is
The Lord A Study of the Shroud of Christ. New York Warner,
1973.
Sox, H. David. The Image on the Shroud Is the Turin Shroud
a Forgery London Unwin, 1981.
———. The Shroud Unmasked; Uncovering the Greatest Forgery
of All Time. Basingstoke, England Lamp Press, 1988.
Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit Gale Research,
1993.
Vignon, Paul. The Shroud of Christ. London Constable, 1902.
Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1970.
Walsh, John. The Mysterious Shroud. Garden City, N.Y.
Doubleday, 1986.
———. The Shroud. London W. H. Allen, 1964.
Wilson, Ian. The Turin Shroud. London Gollancz, 1978.
Wuenschel, Edward. Self-Portrait of Christ. New York Esopus,
1954.
Zugibe, Frederick T. The Cross and the Shroud a Medical Inquiry
into the Crucifixion. New York Paragon House Publishers,
1988.