The Shroud of Turin
Real or Reproduction?
Dr. Roger G. Ford, Ph.D., P.E.
For a few years, I was blessed and privileged to work in Western Europe, Mexico, and the U.S., with other contacts in China. I traveled mostly in Sweden, Germany, France, and Italy. And, it was in Italy that I spent the majority of my time. The main focus of my job was in Northern Italy in a place called Mirandola that is in the region in Italy known as Emilia-Romania with its main city Bologna.
While there, I happened to see a notice that the Shroud of Turin (Sindone di Torino) was going to be on public display in May of 2010. You will notice from the picture of the announcement poster that it says “Torino” which is the Italian name of the city Turin. Torino is located in the upper northwestern corner of Italy, very near France and Switzerland, and only around an hour’s drive from Mirandola. I had to make a reservation, get a ticket, and then stand in line for more than an hour to finally get five minutes inside the Chapel of the Shroud (Cappella della Sacra Sindone) of Turin Cathedral. The poster announces the Exposition of the Shroud (Ostensione Della Sindone). The Passio Christi and Passio Hominis mean the Passion of Christ and His Passion for Mankind’s sake. By Friday, April 30, the number of reserved tickets to view the Shroud had increased to 1,727,996, with 121,827 – just over 7 percent of the total – coming from outside Italy. The Archdiocese of Turin expected well over 2 million to book reservations on the exposition’s official website at Sindone.org. Additionally, another half million reservations were allocated for those who arrived in Turin without having secured on the Internet a specific time and date to view the Shroud. In total, roughly two and a half million saw the Shroud in 2010.
I must admit it was fun driving to Turin because Italian cars are small, sporty, and powerful. Plus, it didn’t hurt that the odometers are in kilometers per hour, so it was also fun driving at 140 kpm. The highways in Italy are quite nice, several lanes wide, trucks limited to the farthest right lanes, and all countries in Europe, with the exception of Great Britain, drive on the right as we do. So, getting to Turin was easy, but then I had no idea where the Capella della Sacra Sindone was. Since I know only a few Italian words, the street signs were of little help, and this was almost eight years ago and GPS was not as good as it is now. But, I finally located it with a little dead reckoning, but it was difficult since the city’s population is over two million.
The Turin Cathedral is on several acres that are a well-kept park with beautiful trees and landscaping. The location of the Shroud is in a relatively small (it’s really quite large) chapel called the Capella della Sacra Sindone where the Shroud (Sindone) is displayed whenever Rome decides. Otherwise, the Shroud is hidden away and kept from the public.
When I got there, it was easy to find a parking garage about a block away from the site, but about a half mile to where I needed to be to enter the grounds with my ticket. The Shroud committee organized by the Archdiocese arranged for entrance to the exhibit to not be at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where the Shroud is on display, but in the large Royal Gardens of the previously ruling Savoy Family, adjoining the Royal Square and the Piazza San Giovanni in front of the Cathedral. The tickets were timed every thirty minutes to try to control the crowd, and it was well designed because the lines of people were smoothly progressing toward the goal with only the length of the line a little daunting. The line, I would estimate, was over a half-mile log twisting and turning outside in the Spring weather (a pleasant and sunny May day), and eventually going inside the Cathedral proper, or really through hallways designated and especially built for this occasion. After over an hour of shuffling pleasantly along with myriads of Catholics and others (most Italians, some with children), I finally made it to the point where I felt like I was in an Epcot experience since a group of about a hundred people were directed into a large room with a huge screen up high extending at least thirty feet across that showed a film of the Shroud, some of its history, and many pictures. I don’t remember if it was all in English, but enough of it was, so I understood what was going on. By the way, Europeans, for the most part, study and learn English starting in elementary school, so, most of the time, negotiating your way around Italy is not really that bad.
When I first stepped into the Chapel where the Shroud was displayed, I did not see it. The Chapel has two rows of columns running down the center, and they kept me from seeing the Shroud. But, as the crowd shuffled down a side aisle, there it was hanging in the very center of the Chapel at the front (the long rectangle in the picture).
There was a priest near the Shroud on the right that would say a prayer every few minutes, but otherwise it was very quiet and respectful in the Chapel.
My impressions of the Shroud surprised me. I have always thought that the Shroud was the genuine burial cloth of our Lord Jesus Christ because of the evidence, but I did not know how I would react to this artifact that is almost 2,000 years old. Frankly, I saw no one while I was in the Chapel acting strangely or overly worshipful at all. Everyone seemed interested, very interested, but silent as we all stared at this amazing sight. But my reaction was like seeing the paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, or seeing some of the Founding Fathers pictures in the Smithsonian. Fascinating, but no spiritual or emotional or special feeling – just a keen interest in the very presence of the burial shroud of Jesus. I came away satisfied that I had seen the Shroud that enveloped our Lord’s body before the resurrection, but, beyond that, there was no “special” feeling or insight.
Information and Background (Adapted from articles in World Net Daily, 2010)
This was the first time the Shroud had been shown to the public since the 2002 restoration, which removed patches placed on the Shroud by the Poor Clare Nuns in 1534 to repair damage from a fire in 1532 that nearly destroyed the Shroud. The appearance of the Shroud in that exposition differed dramatically from the appearance of the Shroud when last shown to the public in 1998 and again in 2000.
The Shroud of Turin is a long strip of cloth, measuring 14’3″ x 3’7″ (4.36m x 1.10m). It contains two images: a front and a back side of a man, as though the shroud was first wrapped underneath the body, then over his head and down to his feet. The man is thin, bearded, 5 feet 7 inches tall, and appears to suffer from wounds consistent with crucifixion.
Located behind the apse of Turin Cathedral, the Chapel of the Shroud has become a prominent part of the cathedral complex with its unique spiral roof. It was built by Guarino Guarini in 1668-97 and restored after a fire in 1997.In the chapel, the Shroud is locked in a silver casket within an iron box inside a marble case. Facing this is an altar, on which stands the urn that traditionally held the relic. Pews facing the Shroud provide a place for prayer and veneration. Encased in bullet-proof glass that for the first time was illuminated from the back, the Shroud had a distinctly pale white color highlighted with red-maroon tones. Also removed was the previous backing cloth, known as the Holland cloth, sewn onto the Shroud in 1534. The new, lighter-colored backing cloth is more translucent in the current backlit display case.
The observer who had seen the Shroud in person in previous expositions was immediately struck, not only by the distinctively different color of the Shroud seen today, but also by the now clearly visible segments of the Shroud that were destroyed in the 1532 fire, as well as the surprisingly large rectangle that was cut from the Shroud in 1988 to permit the carbon-14 testing done at that time. In the restoration, carbonized material around the burn holes was scraped clean, making the holes now appear even larger than they did when covered by the patches placed on the Shroud in 1534. Weights were applied to the edges of the Shroud flattened out creases in the fabric, so that in the current display case, the Shroud appears almost as if it were a photograph of the original, rather than the Shroud itself. Look closely and you can see Christ’s image with His back at the right and His arms folded on the left. The dark markings are the result of that 1532 fire and the repairs.
Scientists examining the Shroud of Turin since the restoration that began in 2000 have found a “second face” on its reverse “hidden side,” a discovery they believe adds evidence to the argument it is not a medieval painting or photographic rendering. As part of the restoration undertaken in the summer of 2002, the Holland cloth – the backing cloth placed on the shroud by the Poor Clare Nuns to preserve it after the 1532 fire – was removed, permitting for the first time in centuries an examination of the backside.
In 2004, Professors Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Padua in Italy published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Optics their study, “The Double Superficiality of the Frontal Image of the Turin Shroud.” They concluded there exists a second, even fainter face image on the backside of the Shroud of Turin, corresponding but not identical to the face image of the crucified man seen in head-to-head dorsal and ventral views on the front side.
The second face image on the back of the shroud was hidden for centuries, until the 2002 restoration when the Holland cloth was removed. Fanti and Maggiolo used image-processing techniques, including Gaussian filters and Fourier transformations, to highlight the extremely faint second face on the backside of the shroud, including details of a nose, eyes, hair, beard and mustache.
To the naked eye, the backside of the shroud appears to show no image whatsoever. Like the face image on the front side of the shroud, the previously hidden image on the backside is a superficial image that exists only on the topmost linen fibers, created by the same dehydration process characteristic of the face and body image on the front.
The researchers concluded the image of the face on the backside of the shroud was not created by a process of painting in which the facial image on the front “bled through” to create an image on the reverse side. The two scientists demonstrated this by noting the image of the face impressed on the backside has “some slight differences” from the front image. For instance, the nose on the back presents “the same extension of both nostrils, unlike the front side, in which the right nostril is less evident.”
The researchers found a “doubly superficial” face image on both the front and back sides such that “if a cross-section of the fabric is made, one extremely superficial image appears above and one below, but there is nothing in the middle.” The shroud, therefore, they concluded, was not created by paint soaking through the linen or by a photographic image printing through to the reverse side, because the front and back facial images are not identical and the center fibers show no image creation whatsoever.
Fanti and Maggiolo concluded the shroud image was created by a “corona discharge,” understood as a radiant burst of light and energy that scorched the body image of the crucified man on the topmost fibers of the shroud’s front and back sides, without producing any image on the centermost of its linen fibers. “Imagine slicing a human hair lengthwise, from end to end, into 100 long thin slices; each slice one-tenth the width of a single red blood cell,” writes Daniel Porter, editor of ShroudStory.com. “The images on the Shroud of Turin, at their thickest, are this thin.”
Fanti and Maggiolo found the faint image of the face on the reverse side of the shroud contained the same 3-D information contained in the face and body image of the crucified man seen on the shroud’s front side. The backside of the shroud is not being shown for public observation; a new backing cloth has been sewn on to replace the Holland cloth, hiding the reverse side once again.
Computer graphics artist Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth used today’s most sophisticated electronic tools and software in a yearlong effort to recreate the face imprint on the Shroud of Turin. “The presence of 3-D information encoded in a 2-D image is quite unexpected, as well as unique,” Downing said. “It is as if there is an instruction set inside a picture for building a sculpture.” In 2009, Downing and the History Channel traveled to see John Jackson, a physics lecturer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who runs the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, to learn more about the science of the cloth from the man who has studied it first-hand.
In 1978, Jackson led a team of American scientists which was given exclusive access to the Shroud of Turin for five days of intensive scientific examination. Jackson has continued his analysis of that data until the present time. Jackson said the shroud shows all the blood wounds that are recorded in the gospels. Among Jackson’s findings he cited:
• Bloodstains on the shroud are real, and the blood has not been degraded by heat. The main bloodstain on the image forehead caused by the crown of thorns resembles a “3” for the Trinity?
• Historians say the stains are consistent with crucifixion, including puncture wounds from thorns and scourge marks from a Roman whip.
• A puncture wound in the man’s side is consistent with a Roman spear. And the wound marks showing nail holes through the wrists and heels are consistent with Roman crucifixion.
• A textile restorer, Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, in 2002 announced the stitching found in the material had been seen in material from only one other source: the ruins of Masada, a Jewish settlement destroyed in A.D. 74. And the herringbone weave was common in the First Century but rare in Middle Ages.
“It would seem that it’s pretty unique,” Jackson explained. “Crucifixion was done quite a bit in the Roman Empire. It was their way of controlling the population that they wanted to subjugate. But the crown of thorns, according to the gospel accounts, was something that was invented for Jesus because of his claim of being King of the Jews. He was also scourged as well. There was no record that the other two men who were crucified along with Jesus had it happen to them.”
In 1988, radiocarbon dating placed the origin of the Shroud in the years A.D. 1260 to 1390, suggesting it is a medieval forgery. However, some scientists have argued that the sample cut from the Shroud by the Archdiocese of Turin for the radiocarbon dating was compromised by a medieval reweaving with cotton by nuns in 1534 to repair damage by a fire that nearly destroyed it.
In a February 2017 study by the Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Padua, Padua, Italy, titled “Mechanical Characterization of Linen Fibers: The Turin Shroud Dating” by Giulio Fanti and Roberto Basso, new data confirms the age of the Shroud. “As the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud was debatable also from a statistical point of view, new dating methods have been proposed. This paper presents the result of an improved mechanical dating. A recent cyclic-load machine has been improved to better fix fibers under test by using a special support designed for the purpose. The mechanical behavior of linen fibers of three different ages are measured and compared discussing these results in reference to the complex structure of aged linen fibers; the three samples are a linen fiber from an Egyptian mummy of the 27th Century B.C.; a linen fiber coming from the Turin Shroud, and a recent linen fiber. This machine allowed to confirm the previous results regarding the Turin Shroud mechanical dating, showing that these results are again compatible with the First Century A.D., the period in which Jesus Christ lived in Palestine…” This is a confirmation of the true age of the linen cloth that wrapped Jesus’ body after He was taken down from the cross and placed in the unused and new tomb of the rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, thus fulfilling Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 53:9).
The cloth is in the custody of the Vatican, which stores it in a protective chamber of inert gases in Turin’s Cathedral of St. John. History reveals it was exhibited in France about 1360 by Geoffrey de Charney, a French knight who owned it then.
There is a long tradition in western Christianity of relics said to bear the imprint of Christ’s face, such as the Image of Edessa and Veronica’s Veil. But neither of these were said to be the burial shroud of Christ; they were made when Christ wiped his face with the cloth.
The unique qualities of the image on the Shroud were first noticed in 1898, when Secondo Pia took the first photo of the relic. To his astonishment, the image looked far more clear and natural in the photographic negative, even having a three-dimensional quality. This discovery launched the modern investigation of the Shroud of Turin on a scientific basis, which still continues today.
According to believers, the divine light and power that brought Christ back to life at the Resurrection made a unique imprint of his body on his burial shroud. Discarded when Christ left the tomb on Easter morning, the Holy Shroud was preserved by Christians to this day, eventually finding its way to Italy via Cyprus and France.
From my point of view, the evidence is overwhelming that this is, indeed, the cloth that wrapped Jesus’ body after He was taken down from the cross. The question, however, is whether this makes any difference in faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The answer, of course, is “NO”, but, the cloth confirms the Bible in so many ways, the cloth seems to be preserved for two thousand years by divine influence, and it is intriguing, to say the least, that God would leave behind confirming evidence of the Truth of Scripture that only we, in the 21st century, in the very End Times, could scientifically validate.
Is the Lord showing us that His return is “at the door”? Is He reaching out to skeptics to investigate and realize that a book that is millennia old is as true today as it was when it was written? Is He graciously, sweetly, and boldly revealing that the wholly man, wholly God, Jesus of Nazareth is Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
How much material evidence does anyone need to believe? Really, no material evidence at all since faith is all we need – belief is a spiritual thing. But, it is just somehow beautiful and comforting for Jesus to allow us to glimpse a hint of His humanity in a physical manner and know that, just like us, what is real is spiritual not material.