Shroud of Turin

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Negative image of the face of the Shroud; the photographic qualities of the Shroud were unknown until 1898.

The Shroud of Turin (in Italian, la Sacra Sindone) is the most studied artifact in the history of the world, causing some agnostic or atheist scientists to convert to Christianity.[1] Other scientists, who have not converted, still consider the Shroud to be the authentic burial cloth for Jesus Christ.

The Shroud contains real blood stains consisting of human male DNA, and a blood type that is AB - the same rare blood type found on the face covering for Jesus preserved in Spain.[2] The height of the man was between 5'9" and 5'11"; his weight, 168-180 pounds; his age, between 30 and 45 years old.[3] Coins visible only to modern technology had been placed over the man's eyes, an ancient Roman tradition not known to historians until modern archaeological excavations revealed the practice.[4] The coin over the right eye was minted by Pontius Pilate, and the coin over the left eye was minted only in A.D. 29, merely a few years before the estimated date of the Crucifixion.[5] The angle of the man's arms during the crucifixion can be inferred from the flow of blood seen on the Shroud: 65° for one arm; 55° for the other. The cloth was a finely woven linen that would have been available to a wealthy man as described in the Gospels, and was cut from the same fabric containing the same pollen as the face covering preserved separately in Spain.[2]

There is overwhelming forensic evidence on the Shroud indicating that it is the image of man who was both scourged and crucified, yet (as described in the Bible) without the breaking of the victim's leg as commonly done as part of the punishment.[6] The bloodstains on the Shroud were formed before the image was made, suggesting the image did not arise until after death. The image is scientifically precise in a way unknown to any medieval forgers: the thumbs are not visible because the nails were through the wrist, not through the hands as mistakenly thought until the 20th century.[6]

The long cloth is presently kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.[7] An agnostic British scholar studied the Shroud of Turin and concluded in his book, The Sign (2012), that the Shroud is authentic and was even the basis of disciples' acceptance of the Resurrection.[8]


The Shroud full-length, seen in positive (top) and negative (bottom).

The Shroud is about 14 feet 3 inches long by 3 feet 7 inches wide, consisting of a single piece of fine linen cloth made from fibers of the flax plant (Linum usitatisismum), and woven in a 3-over-1 herringbone twill.[9] Centered on the cloth is the front and back images of a man who is pictured as if in a burial repose; the man's estimated height is somewhere between 5'8" to 6'1".[10] He is rather powerfully-built, with classical eastern Mediterranean features. The images of the feet are at both ends of the cloth, indicating that if it was a burial linen the body was placed on one end with the other end bought over the head to cover the body. On either side of the image is a series of triangular patches, covering much of the damage from a fire which took place in 1532.

The image of the body shows a man who had died a violent death. Upon both front and back are dumbbell-shaped markings; approximately 140 such marks were applied upon the back, chest, and legs. Roman soldiers involved in "scourging" as a form of punishment for offenders employed a whip called a "flagrum",[11] which was studded with either bone or lead knobs, and when used it tore into flesh and muscle.

The wrists and feet bear large bloodstains consistent with historical descriptions of crucifixion. The feet themselves are placed one on top of the other within the image; both front and dorsal images display a single large bloodstain, indicating one nail was driven through both feet upon the cross. The left wrist likewise displays a large bloodstain; however, the left hand covers the right, preventing a view of the wound there. Blood flows are present on both lower arms, displayed to flow in a direction as if the victim was hanging on a cross. A single large bloodstain is also present on the right side of the chest - nearly-obliterated by the 1532 burn damage - and appears to have been mixed with a clear liquid from the body. Blood stains are also present about the scalp, and the marks of a severe beating are evident upon the face.

DNA Testing

DNA testing of material on the Shroud may prove to be the most reliable measure of its authenticity, and already preliminary results point to a legitimate Middle Eastern, rather than fake European, origin for the Shroud.[12]

Dating the Shroud

Raymond N. Rogers, a retired chemist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, studied the Shroud and declared, "The chemistry says it was a real shroud, the blood spots on it are real blood, and the technology that was used to make that piece of cloth was exactly what Pliny the Elder reported from his time," about A.D. 70. "It's a shroud from the right time, but you're never going to find out (through science) if it was used on a person named Jesus," Rogers said.[13]

Carbon dating test results conflict with each other and thus are not credible. In 1988, a small snippet of the Shroud was performed, but the "C-14 results of the three labs falls outside the bounds of the Pearson's chi-square test," illustrating a flaw in the dating that was likely due to a repair seam that ran diagonally "through the area from which the sample was taken."[14] A peer-reviewed scientific paper later demonstrated the invalidity of those results, suggesting instead that the Shroud is between 1,300 and 3,000 years old,[15][16] disproving the 1988 results that claimed that the Shroud originated between A.D. 1238 and 1430.

Indeed, the sample for the 1988 analysis had actually been taken from cloth woven into the Shroud during the Middle Ages, thereby giving a false result. Moreover, "the 12th Century Hungarian 'Pray Manuscript' come to depict Jesus being wrapped in the shroud - with authentic herringbone pattern and burn marks - 100 years before carbon-dating says the material originated."[9]

The defect in the carbon dating was that the samples were "uniquely coated with a yellow–brown plant gum containing dye lakes. Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud."[17] Instead, "[e]stimates of the kinetics constants for the loss of vanillin from lignin indicate a much older age for the cloth than the radiocarbon analyses."[18]


Historians and authors of written works on the Shroud have generally divided its history into two periods of time: a first period, from the time of the Resurrection ca. 33 A.D. to the fall of Constantinople in 1204; and the second period from about 1349 to present. The first version is based on largely on circumstantial evidence.

First Period: A.D. 33 to 1204


The Gospel of John contains the first description of what is today regarded as the Shroud of Turin (the "linen clothes"), and the "napkin", a small head wrap which may be a relic known as the Sudarium of Oviedo, Spain.[19]

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came early, while it was still dark, to the tomb, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
She ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other student, whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have laid Him!"
So Peter went out, and that other disciple, and came to the tomb.
They both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter, and came to the tomb first.
He stooped down and looked in, and saw the shroud stretched around nothing, but did not go in.
Then Peter came after him, and went into the tomb, and saw the empty shroud lying there, and the facecloth, that had been around His head. The facecloth was not lying with the shroud, but was rolled up in a place apart from them.
Then that other student went in also, the one who had come to the tomb first. He saw, and believed. For they still did not know the Scripture that said that He must rise again from the dead. - John 20:1-9; CBP (retrieved: May 25, 2010)

Bardesane of Edessa

The earliest possible extra-Biblical reference to the Shroud is found in a second century poem by Bardesane of Edessa. Called the "Hymn of the Pearl", it was embedded within the non-canonical Acts of Thomas, and tells the story of a boy - apparently the figure in the poem - to retrieve a pearl from Egypt. He describes the "mirror of myself" embedded in his robe in some detail similar to the Shroud:

"And because I remembered not its fashion / for in my childhood I had left it in my father's house, / on a sudden, when I received it, / the garment seemed to me to become like a mirror of myself. / I saw it all in all, / and I to received all in it, / for we were two in distinction / and yet gain one in one likeness. / And the treasurers too, / who brought it to me, I saw in like manner / to be two (and yet) one likeness, for one sign of the king was written on them (both), / of the hands of him who restored to me through them / my trust and my wealth"[20]

Image of Edessa/Mandylion

According to Eusebius, King Abgar of Edessa was afflicted of an illness, and hearing of the miracles of Jesus as a healer he sent a letter to Him, asking if He would come to his aid. Jesus responded that He could not come, but would send his disciple Thaddeus, who comes and heals him;[21] according to variants of this story King Abgar is left with the cloth image of Jesus, beginning with the Doctrine of Addai (ca. 400 A.D.) in which a court painter created an image of the Lord and "brought with him to Abgar the king, his master. And when Abgar the king saw the likeness, he received it with great joy, and placed it with great honor in one of his palatial houses."[22] Artistic works of this relic - called either the "Image of Edessa" or the "Mandylion" - generally have it portrayed as the face of Christ upon a towel or kerchief.

The Mandylion would surface again around 525 when Edessa was flooded by the Daisan River. Workmen repairing one of the city's gates discovered a niche with the cloth inside; the mandylion was declared to be Acheiropoietos (Greek: Αχειροποίητος), "not made by hands", meaning that it was a miraculous image created supernaturally and not by man. The Mandylion stayed in Edessa as a means of protection for the city from harm until forcibly taken to Constantinople in 944, where it was received with great fanfare by Emperor Romanus I. Placed within the church of Saint Mary of Blachernae, it stayed there as a Christian relic until disappearing in the sack of the city during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. One of the knights who participated in the sacking of Constantinople, Robert de Clari, left a detailed letter of what he observed at the time, and he referred to this relic as being more than a facial image:

"But among the rest, there was also another of the minsters, which was called the Church of my Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, within which was the shroud wherein Our Lord was wrapped. And on every Friday that shroud did raise itself upright, so that the form of Our Lord could clearly be seen. And none knows - neither Greek nor Frank - what became of that shroud when the city was taken."[23]

Geoffroi de Charney

Geoffroi de Charney was a French knight, the Preceptor of Normandy for the Knights Templar, who was executed by burning at the stake in 1314. His crimes are disputed, but during that time there was a backlash directed against the Templars; the King of France apparently either feared the power they wielded, or coveted their hidden wealth. But to march against them it was necessary to have the Pope (Clement V) declare them heretics, based on their alleged worship of a "bearded head"; in one account (1287), a French applicant named Arnaut Sabbatier was taken in to a "a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access" where he was instructed to venerate the image of a man on a long linen cloth.[24]

Little is known of Geoffroi de Charney. He participated in the sack of Constantinople in 1204, and may have been a witness with Robert de Clari when he first saw the shroud at the Blachernae Church. He certainly could have been well-placed to have taken the Shroud back to France for veneration. On March 19, 1314, he was burned at the stake, along with the leader of his order.[25][26]

Second Period: 1349 to present

In 1389 the French Bishop of Troyes, Pierre D'Arcis, wrote a letter to the Pope (Antipope Clement VII) detailing his complaints of a shroud "...upon which the whole likeness of the Saviour had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore" was being exhibited at nearby Lirey; he further stated to the Pope of his belief that the shroud was a fraud, having found "[a man] procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man… falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb." D'Arcis' predecessor, Henri de Poitiers, likewise was in a similar situation 35 years before, but did not launch an investigation into the matter; in his time he had concerns that the knight Geoffrey de Charny - who had just built the church at Lirey - was passing the relic off as the real shroud of the Lord. Whether or not de Charny was questioned about it is conjecture; he was killed in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Also undetermined is his relationship with the earlier Templar knight. But the one thing that is certain is de Charny is the first documented owner of the Shroud.

His church at Lirey continued to exhibit the Shroud despite Bishop D'Arsis and those within the Church demanding that it cease displaying a "false relic," as they claimed. The Church would eventually - grudgingly - allow the exhibitions to continue, provided that they billed the cloth as a "representation" of Christ, and not the true burial shroud. A century after his death the Shroud was sold to the Savoy family of Italy, who had it brought to Turin where it resided ever since.[27] It was willed in the late 20th century to the Roman Catholic Church, which has never taken a position for or against its authenticity.

The Lamb

According to a paper by Dr. Petrus Soons scientific research of some of the photographs of the shroud show an oval object under the beard of the image. After much research three cursive letters were identified and translated from the Hebrew. The meaning of the translation was, "The Lamb," a name in which Jesus was referred to in the New Testament.[28] This finding now makes the person on the shroud exclusively identified with Christ.


Many of the arguments by modern skeptics against the authenticity of the Shroud have been disproven. For example, some claimed that a misspelling on one of the coins over an eye could not be authentic, but in fact several other coins having the same misspelling have since been found.[5]

Over the centuries there have been critics and doubters of the Shroud being the authentic burial cloth of Jesus. One of the earliest unbelievers was Pierre d'Arcis, Bishop of Troyes who wrote a scathing letter to the pope in 1389 claiming that the Shroud was a "cunning" painting and that the artist had been discovered.[29] A harsh critic of the Catholic Church, John Calvin, repeatedly ranted against relics and he wrote against the Shroud in 1543:

"How is it possible that those sacred historians, who carefully related all the miracles that took place at Christ's death, should have omitted to mention one so remarkable as the likeness of the body of our Lord remaining on its wrapping sheet? This fact undoubtedly deserved to be recorded. St John, in his Gospel, relates even how St Peter, having entered the sepulchre, saw the linen clothes lying on one side, and the napkin that was about his head on the other; but he does not say that there was a miraculous impression of our Lord's figure upon these clothes, and it is not to be imagined that he would have omitted to mention such a work of God if there had been any thing of this kind."[30]

The flaw in Calvin's argument, is that the disciples had no reason to study the Shroud at the time, and no access to modern photographic equipment; they had far greater concerns during the chaotic period after Christ's Resurrection.

Another argument against the legitimacy of this artifact is based on the account of John, as mentioned by Calvin above.

...[Simon Peter] saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. -John 20:6-7, NKJV

This account clearly says that the cloth around his head was separate from the cloth around the rest of his body. Some translations even refer to strips of cloth which had been wrapped around him, rather than one solid cloth.

[Simon Peter] saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head -John 20:6b-7a, NIV

These arguments have been used by a variety of people to say that scripture itself disproves the claims of the Catholic church.

Another critic was the scientist Walter McCrone (1906-2002), who insisted that it was a painting; this possibility has been thoroughly disproven.[31]


Luigi Garlaschelli, professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, announced that he had made a full size reproduction of the Shroud of Turin using only medieval technologies on October 5, 2009. Garlaschelli placed a linen sheet over a volunteer and then rubbed it with an acidic pigment. The shroud was then aged in an oven before being washed to remove the pigment. He then added blood stains, scorches and water stains to replicate the original. The image on the reproduction would closely match that of the Turin Shroud with differences explained as the result of natural fading over the centuries.[32] But according to noted sindonologist Giulio Fanti, "the image in discussion does not match the main fundamental properties of the Shroud image, in particular at thread and fiber level but also at macroscopic level."[33] Further criticism of Garlaschelli's replica has come from shroud scholars Peter Soons [34] and Thibault Heimburger.[35]


  1. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Shroud of Oviedo.
  3. Excellent scientific article about the Shroud
  4. Coins over the eyes were particularly necessary to keep the eyes shut if the person died with his eyes open.
  5. 5.0 5.1
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. [2]
  9. 9.0 9.1 [3]
  10. [4]
  11. [5]
  15. Rogers, Raymond N., "Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin". Thermochimica Acta, Volume 425 Issue 1–2, pp. 189-194 (Jan. 20, 2005)[6]
  16. Mark Antonacci "Resurrection of the Shroud: New Scientific, Medical, and Archeological Evidence"
  20. [7]
  25. 141.—Stemler, Contingent zur Geschichte der Tcmplcr, pp. 20-1.—Raynouard,pp. 213-4, 233-5.—Wilcke, II. 236, 240.—Anton, Vcrsuch, p. 142
  26. A History of the Inquisition of the Middle ages, Vol III by Henry Charles Lea, NY: Hamper & Bros, Franklin Sq. 1888 p.324. Not in copyright.
  28. Dr. Soons Paper
  29. The Shroud, Ian Wilson, 2010, page 102.
  30. John Calvin: Traité des Reliques, Geneve 1543, translated by Valerian Krasinski: A treatise on Relics, Edingburgh 1854
  31. Disproof that the Shroud is a painting, as explained by a professional artist
  32. Italian scientist reproduces Shroud of Turin
  33. [8]
  34. [9]
  35. [10]


See also