The Mysterious Holy Shroud of Christ

The Most Sacred Piece of Cloth

The most sacred and priceless piece of cloth on earth is a rectangular piece of ancient linen cloth 14 ft 3 in. long and 3 ft 7 in. wide (434 cm x 109 cm, almost 4:1 ratio), kept with great care in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Duomo San Giovanni) in Turin, Italy. Why is it so sacred and priceless? I shall show below that it is the actual burial cloth of Jesus which has a miraculous imprint of his full body with all the wound marks and body contour registered on it as a faint sepia colored image. This cloth shows how Jesus looked, what types of wounds he received at the Crucifixion, and it proclaims the resurrection of Jesus in great power.

How did this piece of cloth reach Turin? What kind of evidences exist to prove it is the burial cloth of Jesus? You have heard of a 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud which showed it was only less than 700 years old, and is not the real Shroud of Christ. How do we counter that? In the following paragraphs I shall summarize the Shroud history and research to the present.

For those of you have access to the Internet, there are many Shroud sites, and perhaps the most extensive is http://www.shroud.com. There are Shroud conferences taking place all the time in different parts of the world where Shroud experts present the latest findings. Books on the Shroud (both pro and con) are also available. My interest in Shroud study started in the early 1980s and ever since I have been following the Shroud history and research.

How Does the Shroud Look?

For starters a picture of the Shroud would be most appropriate. For the last 450 years until 1998 the Shroud had been kept rolled in a silver casket. When I first visited the Cathedral in April 1993, the Shroud in the silver casket was protected by bullet proof glass walls. Pictures of the casket and the Cathedral are shown below.

From June 21-July 23, 2002 a major restoration of the Shroud was undertaken with permission from the Archdiocese of Turing and the Vatican. The patches on the Shroud from the 1534 repair after the fire in the Chambery Chapel where the Shroud had been kept were removed by textile restoration experts, and the Holland backing cloth was also removed. The creases were straightened. A lighter Holland cloth was used as the new backing and also to fill the removed areas by invisible patching. The repair experts were Mechthild Flury Lemberg (Swiss) and Irene Tomedi.

The photograph released on September 21, 2002 of the ‘new’ Shroud is shown below. For more information visit www.shroud.com

The first public exposition of the Shroud that I could attend was the one held in 1998 April through June for two months in the same Cathedral. It was a most memorable event, and 2.6 million pilgrims came to see it. The exhibition was carried out in a most reverential manner, yet without fanfare. Crowd control was by advance free tickets issued before travel. The long line of viewers were led in small groups in front of the Shroud, as close as 10 ft, for a few minutes. That was enough time for me to take some non-flash pictures and video. The pictures taken in such short time cannot be expected to match those of professional quality; the video gave surprisingly clear image. The Shroud image shown below may be found in many Shroud publications. The image contrast has been increased for better viewing. The top corner patch is after removal of linen samples for radiocarbon dating.

You may be able to see the faint image in the picture, but close-up pictures are available for further inspection. The left half of the body image is the front view; the right half gives the back view. The feet are at the extremes.

The Shroud image shows the full front and back side of an unclothed male nearly 6 ft tall, with a beard and moustache. If the image does not look realistic, it is because it is a negative. The positive image is obtained by viewing the negative film! The positive image is shown below. The image, in black and white, is what one would see on the negative. Some image enhancement has been done to increase contrast.

It was in 1898 the first photograph (black and white) was taken. Secundo Pia of Turin, a lawyer and amateur photographer photographed the Shroud using glass plates. When he washed the negative plates he was overwhelmed to find a positive image, and realized he was watching the body of the Crucified Jesus!. I have seen the bellow type large box camera Pia used, now kept in a Shroud Museum in Turin. It was in 1931 the first colorized photograph was taken (by Giuseppe Enrie). The true color photo was taken in 1969.

There have been public expositions of the Shroud from time to time. In the 20th century there were expos in 1931, 1933 and 1978. The last one was a phenomenal event attended by three million people, but the crowd control was poor, with long waiting. After the expo, in October, about 40 scientists (a good many from USA) were allowed to do non-destructive tests on the Shroud for five days, though some threads were removed for microscopic examination. This study group is known as STURP. The next major study of the Shroud was a destructive test done in 1988 by removing postage stamp size pieces of the Shroud linen from a non-image area from a corner. The Shroud shows several patches of dark areas following a fire in the chapel where it had been kept in 1532 AD. The Shroud was in a folded state, and the spacing of these patches reveal how the cloth had been folded. There is a backing cloth also to protect it. The edges are protected by strips of linen. Since the 1998 expo, the Shroud is kept in a climate controlled frame, fully stretched and readily viewed. However, it is stored away when not shown. The most recent public expo was held August 12 to October 22 of AD 2000, and close to a million pilgrims viewed it. One has to wait another 25 years for the next expo planned for AD 2025. The Shroud is now kept locked behind a curtain in the Turin Cathedral in the new showcase made for the expos.

How Did the Shroud Get to Turin?

If the Shroud truly originated in Jerusalem, how did it reach Turin in northwestern Italy? We know for sure that the Dukes of Savoy owned the Shroud since 1453 AD, and when their capital was moved from Chambery, France to Turin in 1578, the Shroud was brought to Turin. The last King of Italy, Umberto II of the Savoy family was its final individual owner. He ruled only for a month in 1946 and spent the rest of his life in Portugal where he died in 1983. Before his death he gave the control of the Shroud to the Pope. The Archbishop of Turin is the local custodian of the Shroud.

This leads us to the next question: how did it get to France? The Shroud was first publicly exhibited in a small church in Lirey, France in 1357, and again in 1389. At that time bishop Pierre d’Arcy protested it was a fake, but the Pope ignored it because the charges could not be substantiated. A painting of the Shroud image was made in the 17th century (some time after the fire), which also showed how Jesus’ body was wrapped in the Shroud. See below.

While the Shroud was kept in Chambery, in 1532 a fire broke out in the chapel where it had been kept, as already mentioned. Molten silver burned the corners (the Shroud was kept folded, not rolled). It was rescued quickly; fortunately no damage was done to the image area. The next big fire occurred exactly a year before the last expo in 1998. Though the Shroud chapel was nearly burned out inside, the Shroud was rescued after breaking open the glass case.

Ian Wilson, the renowned Shroud historian in his book ‘The Shroud of Turin’ (1979) has put together a complete history of the Shroud, filling up the missing years. Wilson’s book is a classic. The Shroud came to France from Constantinople when the city was sacked by the Latin Christians from the west in 1204 AD. The Crusader knights played a big part in this raid. The Knight Templars had great reverence for holy objects, and they knew about the Shroud. It is believed they secretly smuggled it to France, their country of residence. The name of Geoffrey de Charny, the Knight Templar has surfaced, and we know he was beheaded by the King of France along with other Knights. The Lirey exhibit was carried out by the widow of another Geoffrey de Charny, suspected to be related to Geoffrey. In other words, the Shroud was passed on for safe keeping in the same family. The last survivor of this family bequeathed the Shroud to the Duke of Savoy in 1453 AD.

How did the Shroud arrive in Constantinople? The Byzantine empire capital was Constantinople (now, Istanbul, since its capture by the Moslems in 1453 AD). The emperor had it delivered it to him from Edessa 944 AD by the Sultan there under threat of a siege. It was in Constantinople the Shroud first was taken out of its show box and fully spread out. For the first time the faint front and back image was noticed. Paintings were made. The Shroud was reverentially exhibited periodically.

The final track is the Edessa connection. Where is Edessa? It is in southern Turkey under the name, Urfa. Would you believe this Urfa was the real Ur of the Chaldees where Abraham was born? Archaeologists have misled us by showing us another Ur near the mouth of the Persian Gulf as the birth place.

Edessa became a Christian center probably in the middle of the first century. The legendary King Abgar who had sent for Jesus to come and heal him became a Christian after he was healed by a cloth that was put on him (St.Jude or Addai is believed to have brought the cloth from Jerusalem). This cloth was most likely the Shroud. Unfortunately, after his death, the next rulers became anti-Christian, and the devout people hid it in the city wall till 525 AD. The Shroud had never been fully opened, but was folded again and again to show only the face, which came to be known as the Mandylion. A flood in 525 revealed the Mandylion which was moved to the Church of Hagia Sophia. In the following years the Shroud face was copied into paintings and on to coins. Later on, Edessa came under Moslem rule and the Shroud came to the possession of the Sultan there. The map below shows the main locations where the Shroud resided.

How Do We Know the Shroud is Genuine?

This is a valid question that needs to be answered satisfactorily in our scientific age. The Shroud image has been studied with the aid of the most sophisticated scientific instruments and analytical techniques. Further investigations have been carried out by forensic analysis, numismatic (coin) studies and by checking ancient crucifixion and burial customs, particularly in first century Roman Palestine, The gospel accounts provide a most valuable resource in identifying the Shroud image as that of Jesus of Nazareth. The total amount of investigative work to too large to be covered here; only highlights will be presented. Detailed information may be found from books published on the Shroud and from Shroud websites such as http://www.shroud.com.

The Gospel evidence (see also Shroud pictures to follow)

Let me start with the gospel evidence first before I deal with the scientific and other investigations.

All the four gospels cover vividly the trial, torture, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, though some gospels give more details than others. No one else in history passed through all these five phases. In Roman times criminals were hastily sentenced to death by crucifixion. In the case of Jesus the trial was a mockery of justice, and the torture was excessive. Jesus had wounds received by scourging, the crown of thorns, the fall on the way while he was alive, and a spear wound after he was dead. It was his tortured dead body that was placed hastily on the linen cloth (instead of the usual garment) for a quick burial because of the approaching Sabbath. Yet there was time for a quick washing followed by anointing with spices and adorning with some flowers.

The following is a tabulated list of gospel references and comparisons with the Shroud. In Greek of the New Testament the Shroud is ‘Sindon’ (Italian, ‘sindone’). It may be pointed out that the gospel of John mentions smaller pieces of cloth (‘Othonia’) used as chin bands. There is a facial cloth piece known as the ‘Oveido cloth’ kept in a cathedral in Oveido, Spain. This cloth does not show any image, but some blood marks are seen. There is evidence that this also came from the Tomb of Jesus. It is most likely the sudarium mentioned in John’s gospel (John 20:7).

Gospel account
Reference
Shroud evidence

1. Jesus was scourged

Matt. 27:26
(also Mk. & Jn)

Body covered with severe scourge wounds, as many as 120 on the back (including the legs). Whipping was done probably a Roman flagrum. Evidence for two men whipping from two angles.

2. Jesus was struck a blow to the face

Mt. 27:30
(also Mk, Lk, Jn)

Severe swelling below the right eye; nose is swollen or broken.

3. Jesus was ‘crowned’ with thorns

Matt. 27:29
(also Mk, Jn)

Bleeding from the scalp; thorn fragments.

4. Jesus had to carry a heavy Cross

Jn 19:17

Shoulder wounds

5. Jesus’ Cross had to be carried for him after a while

Mt.27:32
(also Mk, Lk)

Knees appear to be severely damaged as if from repeated falls.

6. Jesus was crucified by nailing hand and feet

Jn 20:25

Clear blood flows from nail wounds in the wrists and feet.

7. Jesus’ legs were not broken, but a spear was thrust into his side

Jn 19:31-37

The legs are not broken; there is an elliptical would on the right between the 5th and the 6th side rib and appears to have been inflicted by a Roman lance.

8. Jesus had a Jewish lineage

Matt. 1:16

Shroud face resembles that of a Sephardic Jew.

The man of the Shroud was about 6 ft tall; had a beard and moustache. Perhaps parted hair. Middle aged (ca. 30 years old). Eyes appeared to be closed with something round.Medical evidence

Death probably occurred by asphyxiation as happens with crucifixion victims. But other causes could also be cited. The body image would suggest no decay, hence no prolonged stay in the tomb. The thumbs do not show because they would be pulled inward by reflex action of nerves when nailing through the wrists. Nailing through the wrists alone would have supported the body weight. Popular medieval Crucifixion painting show nailing through the palms. Blood flow pattern confirms crucifixion. The lance would have penetrated the heart.

Pollen and flower fragments; wood cells

Max Frei, a Swiss criminologist examined the Shroud fibers between 1973 and 1983, and identified 58 types of pollen from plant species on the shroud from Jerusalem, Turkey, France and Italy. Some of the flower fragments point to flowers blossoming in the Jerusalem area in March-April. Jesus’ crucifixion date is believed to be April 6, 30 AD. More recently tiny wood cells from the scalp area have been identified with Oak (commonly used wood for Crucifixion). A recently published(1999) book, ‘Flora of the Shroud of Turin’ based on Israeli botanist Avinoam Danin’s work clearly identifies flowers and plant stems found on the shroud as originating from Israel; even the thorny plant used for the ‘crown of thorns’ has been identified.Fabric weaving

The weaving pattern is described as a ‘3:1 herringbone’, a rather expensive type. There is evidence of the previous use of the same weaving mill used for cotton, and points to a Middle Eastern origin.Scientific tests

The 1978 study of the Shroud revealed the image was not a painting or the result of vapor action. The outermost fibrils of the cloth on the body side show the light yellow-brown color. The fibers appear to have been discolored by dehydration and oxidation of the topmost fibers closer to the body, resembling but not identical to a scorch image. The intensity of the discoloration varies in inverse proportion to the distance from the body. If some type of radiation was the source, it appears to have acted perpendicular to the body surface. The image has no distortion. The cloth had to be stretched flat to produce this effect! Furthermore, the hair appears to be flowing down as if the body were vertical. There is some indication of something like x-radiation producing image of the bone structure of the teeth and other areas. No one really knows for sure what types of radiation were involved in the image formation.

Reddish stains near the wound marks have been confirmed to be due to human blood. An AB type male blood has been identified (common in northern Palestine). DNA analysis has been possible but only about 350 of the three billion base pairs have been left in the blood fragments.Archaeological evidence

In 1968 a skeleton of a Jewish male belonging to the time AD 70 was excavated from the area near Jerusalem. There was a 7 inch (18 cm) long nail found pinned to the feet. The wrists had pierced marks. The Shroud image indicates the nails were struck through the wrists, not through the palms of the hand as popularly shown (one medical doctor recently has questioned Barbet’s 1931 theory of nailing through the wrists, and suggests that the nail went obliquely from the thumb side of the palm to the lower back of the palm). Iconographic evidence

Early Christian art and some Byzantine coins portrayed the holy face of Christ, and the earliest of these date back to AD 550, and is a painting kept in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mt. Sinai (Jebel Musa). This is the renowned Christ Pantocrator painting made with reference to the Shroud facial image. Then we have a gold solidus coin struck by the Byzantine emperor Justinian II in AD 692-95 with the face of Christ. Some holy face paintings held in reverence by the medieval knights also should be mentioned. Using a Polaroid overlay technique, former Duke University professor Alan Whanger and his wife Mary have studied these carefully and compared to the Shroud face. The points of congruence are significantly high, indicating that it is the Shroud face that is represented on these paintings and coin. This means the Shroud, at least in its folded form, the Mandylion, was known then. The picture below shows the Pantocrator painting, the gold solidus and the Shroud face for comparison. Other sixth century icons include the mosaics found on the ceiling of the Cathedral of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.

Here is a later Byzantine bronze coin (‘Follis’) you can find with coin dealers. I acquired one recently. On the one side is clearly the Shroud face, and the other side has the inscription, ‘ihsus KRISTUS BASILE BASIL’ which means ‘Jesus Christ King of Kings’. This coin belongs to the period AD 976-1025 during the reigns of Basil and Constantine. Since the Shroud is reported to have arrived Constantinople in AD 944, this coin may be considered to commemorate the event.

Numismatic evidence

The two suspected coins placed on the eyes are believed to be Pilate coins, small bronze coins issued AD 30 or 31. Earlier attempts to identify the right eye coin seemed to reveal the letters UCAI and a lituus (the auger wand with a top end like a shepherd’s crook) at the center. All available Pilate coins with the lituus show the name of the Roman emperor at the time, Tiberius Caesar in Greek letters, TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC where the C, P and Y should sound like our S,R, and U respectively. It was thought that UCAI is an altered or even a mis-spelled form of Y KAI. A coin in the collection of Fr. Filas in Layola University in Chicago seemed to show the same letters. Later on, the coin on the left eye was conjectured to be a Julia coin (also issued by Pilate) with a simpulum (like a ladle) at the center. See pictures of these earlier identification below

Canadian numismatist Jean-Philippe Fontanille questions the above identification of the letters, and the identification of the left eye coin. He points out that the C letter is never found used in place of K in all the known Pilate coins. By enhancing the coin areas he has shown that both eyes were covered by similar Pilate coins; the right eye coin had the letters OY KAI APOC of the full name TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC (note the spacing between Y and K; the space between I and A should have the letter C which is missing) ; the left eye coin shows the letters TIBEPIOY. The obverse of the Pilate coins usually have the date indicator LIZ or LIH corresponding to the year 30 and 31 of the Christian era(LIZ and LIH mean Year 17 and Year18 respectively, from the accession of Tiberius Caesar). However, this side cannot be seen on the image. Two possible dates for the Crucifixion are April 6, AD 30 and April 1, AD 33 The LIZ coin may have been in circulation in April 30, and was definitely available in April 33. The LIH dated coin would also be available in AD 33. An interesting bit of information that may be added is that the birth of Christ is also given two possible dates: Sep 11, BC 3 (according to Dr. Earnest Martin) and Sep 27 BC 2 (according to Dr. Jerome Johnson). The latter date gives exactly 33½ years for the life of Christ and may be the more reliable dating . For more details on these dates, read ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ by Martin (ASK Publications), and ‘At The Right Time’ by Johnson (Bathkol Books, 1998).

The following picture collage is based on images extracted from the Shroud eye area image by Jean-Philippe Fontanille in Montral, Canada and sent to the author. In his book, ‘The Coins of Pontius Pilate’ (Shangri La Publications, July 2001), Jean-Philippe has identified the right eye coin as in the collage, but the left eye coin was not clearly identified, though an attempt was made to identify the AD 29 Pilate coin known as Julia lepton with three barleys and a simpulum as claimed by Dr.Alan Whanger who had used his polarized overlay technique (see pp. 92-96 of the above book). His later identification of the left eye coin as shown in the collage, not in his book, indicates that it is a Pilate lepton with a lituus similar to the one on the right eye.

Image magnification and enhancement

With the aid of a VP-8 Image analyzer, Sandia Laboratory scientists John Jackson and Eric Jumper were able to show that the Shroud image has three dimensional features unlike a photographic image. The 3-D reconstruction of the body is shown below. The manufacturer of the VP-8 Analyzer who watched it had a life changing experience!

Radiocarbon dating of the shroud

Radiocarbon (C-14) dating of the Shroud was conducted in 1988 on almost identical samples taken from it. Three labs capable of conducting the newly developed AMS (accelerometer mass spectrometry) carbon dating were the university labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona. They all came up with an age of 1260 to 1390 AD, and not 30 AD or earlier as expected. This was the most damaging evidence brought against the authenticity of the Shroud.

Shroud Skeptics

There are some stubborn skeptics of the Shroud out there who have published articles and books denouncing the Shroud as the work of a medieval artist. Chicago microscopist Walter McCrone examined a few Shroud fibers and concluded the image was made up of iron oxide and vermilion paint, and that the Shroud should be of medieval origin. McCrone has been repeatedly proven wrong about this, yet he adheres to his belief. Joe Nickell is another avowed skeptic. Some others, including some university researchers, have tried to create an image using ‘medieval’ techniques. There is also the view that the Shroud image was created by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 16th century. A primitive photographic exposure has been proposed (even attempted) by another set of Shroud critics. The radiocarbon dating gave medieval age as mentioned before, and the general public has been made to believe it is true.

The truth is, the Shroud image still baffles the scientists. They cannot duplicate it and they cannot explain it. The attempts by the critics to discredit the Shroud have not been successful. We should, however, look into the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud more critically, and this is where I am leading you.

To the skeptics list may be added new names as time goes on. One can read the more recent publications about a ‘reproduction’ of the shroud image by carbon dust (not really a close match!), an attempt to prove that Jesus did not really die but was in a coma, and so on.

What went Wrong with the Radiocarbon Dating?

Various theories have been proposed on how the radiocarbon dating could be in error. Among the views are: (1) C-14 was formed during the radiation event supposedly associated with the dematerialization of Christ’s body. (2) linen fibers may show higher proportion of C-14 with respect to C-12 (normal carbon isotope), (3) the samples taken were from later patch-ups. (4).the 1532 AD fire effect: that the overheated fabric reacted with new carbon dioxide produced in the fire, and changed the C-12 to C-14 ratio to higher C-14 content. Two Russian scientists have some experimental evidence to support this theory. (5) the specimens were contaminated (the samples were taken from a corner which had scorch and water marks nearby).

While the above proposals are of speculative nature, a remarkably new finding has been made of ancient fibers handled by human hands. Dr. Garza-Valdes, a San Antonio (Texas) medical practitioner and microbiologist has found evidence of a ‘bioplastic’ coating on ancient fibers made by certain bacteria. This coating is invisible, solvent resistant and claimed to be significantly thick.

The bioplastic coating theory and how the coating would have significantly altered the dating have been challenged by some scientists. More study is needed. There is also the need to repeat the Russian study on overheated linen.

Quite recently (later 2001), the speculation about taking the sample from a medieval patch has been resurrected by Joseph Marino and Sue Benford who attempt toshow by photographs that the sampled area indeed is a medieval patch (article posted Dec 23, 2001 on www.shroud.com website. If this is true, the radiocarbon dating is not to blame, but the sampling.

Conclusion

The overwhelming evidence is that the Shroud image is that of Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, but buried by Jewish disciples. The formation of the image is nothing short of phenomenal, and is still a mystery. To produce the perfect image we see, a lot more than we know had to take place.

As a believer in the authenticity of the Shroud, and as a Christian, I am excited about this most valuable relic which validates the fateful events in the last days of Christ on this earth. It also proclaims to the world the Resurrection, for without it there would be no image.

Like all the other Bible evidences that God has given to our generation, the Shroud should be considered a gift from God to validate His Word and to enlighten us with wonderful truths.

Further reading

In addition to the Shroud websites (which contain numerous articles) you can visit, there are excellent informative articles published by Shroud researchers and enthusiasts. A few years ago, there were ‘Shroud shows’ going around the USA with exhibit panels including a life size Kodak transparency of the Shroud, and it happened to come in 1989 to a Church in Pennsylvania and I was able to watch it. The exhibit items are now stored away except for the full size image panels..

(From the most recent to 1979):1. DNA of God?2. The Shroud of Turin3. The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin4. The Blood and the Shroud5. Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud6 The Mysterious Shroud7. Report on the Shroud of Turin8 Verdict on the Shroud9. The Shroud of Turin

Videos on the Shroud: excellent videos are available on the Shroud. Perhaps the best so far is the TLC video (The Learning Channel), ‘In Pursuit of the Shroud’, released 1998 by Discovery Communications Inc.

by Ian Wilson (Doubleday, 1979) by Kenneth E. Stevenson and Gary R. Habermas (Branbury Books, 1981) by John H. Heller (Houston Mifflin Company, 1983) by Ian Wilson and Vernon Miller (Double Day, 1988) by Gilbert R. Lavoie (Thomas More Press 1997) by Ian Wilson (The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1998) by John C. Iannone (Alba House, NY, 1998) by Mary and Alan Whanger (Providence Home Publishers, 1998) by Dr. Leoncio A. Garza-Valdes (Double Day, 1999)