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The Shroud of Turin


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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet What do people believe the shroud to be?
bullet History of the shroud
bullet What is on the linen?

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What do people believe the shroud to be?

There are about forty shrouds which have been alleged to be the true shroud of Jesus. 1 Beliefs about the Shroud of Turin are seriously divided. Some of the options are:

bullet Relic: It may be the actual burial shroud of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). This was described in Mark 15:46, Matthew 27:59, Luke 23:53, and John 19:40 as a clean linen cloth (or cloths) or shroud. The word translated as "shroud" in English is pronounced "sindón" in Greek or "sindone" in Italian. The gospels explain that Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus, wrapped it in linen and laid it in his unused tomb during the spring of perhaps 30 CE.
bullet Historical artifact: It may be the burial shroud of another crucified man from the first few centuries CE. 
bullet Icon: It may be a work of art -- a religious icon which was painted, perhaps in the 14th century, as a legitimate attempt to portray what Jesus' shroud may have looked like. If this is the actual source of the shroud, then it is likely to have been painted shortly before 1353 CE. That is when the shroud is definitely known to have been in existence. It makes no sense to have created such a masterpiece and then kept it hidden for decades.
bullet Fraud: It may be a pious counterfeit, also painted sometime before 1353 CE -- a forgery intended to fool Christians into believing that they are looking at the actual burial shroud of Jesus. If so, then the linen and image would probably have been made shortly before 1353 CE. 

The basic question being debated is whether the linen dates from the early 1st century or mid 14th century CE. i.e. does it date from the time of Jesus' execution or from approximately the time when the existence of the shroud was first definitely known.

It is kept at the Roman Catholic Turin Cathedral in Italy where it is displayed on rare intervals. Millions of believers come to Turin when it is on exhibit.

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History of the Shroud:

bulletPre 14th century: There are ancient legends that talk about an cloth called the Mandylion having being seen in Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey), and later in Constantinople. This was alleged to contain the imprint of Jesus' face. Some speculate that this might have been the Shroud of Turin, folded so that just the front of the face was showing. The are stories about relics being removed from Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) after the sack of the city in 1204 by western Christians, during the Fourth Crusade, and transported to Europe. However, these are unconfirmed.
bullet14th century:  
bullet 1353 CE: Geoffrey de Charny, a French knight, is known to have been in possession of the shroud in the mid-14th century CE. 2 He displayed it in a private chapel in Lirey, near Troyes in northeastern France.
bullet 1389: " Pierre d'Archis, in a concerned letter to Pope Clement VII, writes: 'the Shroud is a product of human handicraft...a cloth cunningly painted by a man.' This is followed by the Pope himself stating that the Shroud may still be displayed, but only in the presence of a priest to announce to all present that, the Shroud 'is not the true burial cloth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only a kind of painting or picture made as a form or representation of the burial cloth." 3

An artist allegedly confessed to the Bishop of Troyes, Henri of Poitiers, that he had painted the shroud. 4

bullet15th century: Margaret de Charny gave the shroud to the House of Savoy. It was initially kept in a chapel at Chambéry, France.
bullet16th century:  
bullet 1532: The shroud was was partly damaged by a fire on DEC-4. The shroud was stored in a silver casket. Drops of melted silver burned through one edge of the folded shroud. The burn marks were later patched.
bullet 1578: It was taken to Turin, where it has remained to the present time.
bullet 1598: The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud and the Blessed Virgin of the Graces was founded. One purpose of the Brotherhood was to spread knowledge of the shroud among Christian believers.
bullet19th century: 
bullet 1898: Photographs were first taken of the shroud. The amateur photographer was Secondo Pia. His camera is on display in Turin.
bullet20th century: 
bullet 1931: The shroud was displayed to the public for the first time in the 20th century. Giuseppe Enrie took a second set of photographs.
bullet 1933: The shroud was again shown publicly.
bullet 1939:The shroud was temporarily stored in the Abbey of Montevergine to protect it from damage during World War II.
bullet 1951: The Cultores Sanctae Sindonis association was founded. It is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
bullet 1959: The Cultores Sanctae Sindonis was renamed the International Centre of Sindonology. "Sindone" is Italian for "shroud."
bullet 1969: A commission of experts was appointed by Cardinal Michele Pellegrino to examine the shroud. They view and photograph the shroud, but do not test it.
bullet 1972: A criminal broke into the Chapel and unsuccessfully tried to set fire to the Shroud.
bullet 1973: The shroud is shown for the first time on television.
bullet 1973: The shroud is examined in secret by a group of experts. Samples of the linen itself and of surface dust are taken.
bullet 1978: After the public display of the shroud, during an interval of 120 hours, 44 Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) researchers from the U.S. conducted tests on the shroud, using photography, X-rays, ultraviolet light. More surface material is removed. A sample of the linen with a red stain is removed.
bullet 1983: At the death of the owner of the shroud, Umberto II, it became the property of the Holy See.
bullet 1988: The age of samples of the linen was estimated independently using the Carbon-14 dating method on multiple samples in multiple laboratories. The findings date the shroud to the early to mid 14th century -- the approximate time when its existence first was positively recorded.
bullet 1989: During an interview by journalists, Pope John Paul II described the Shroud as an authentic relic. He added that "The Church has never pronounced on the matter."
bullet 1990: The Vatican commented that the Carbon-14 results were "strange"; they called for further testing.
bullet 1992: The shroud is examined by five textile experts; no samples were taken.
bullet 1997: There was a fire in the chapel where the shroud is kept. The cloth was rescued by a fireman before it was damaged.
bullet 1998: Two million pilgrims visit the shroud during an eight-week exhibition.
bullet 1999: "An article in the Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a major newspaper in Frankfurt, Germany, announces the discovery of a previously unknown, precise copy of the Shroud of Turin in the West Bohemian Benedictine Monastery at Broumov, Czechloslovakia. The copy is accompanied by a letter of authenticity signed by the Archbishop of Turin," dated 1651-MAY-4. 5
bullet 2000: The shroud was on public display for ten weeks: AUG-12 to OCT-22.
bullet 2025: This is the expected date of the next public showing of the shroud.

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What is on the linen?:

There are four types of known "traces imprinted on the Shroud," and some controversial markings:

bulletFire marks: These were left by the fire of 1532. There are two scorch marks: dark parallel lines where the fabric was folded. There are also 29 triangular linen patches which were added in 1534. They cover the holes burned into the fabric by drops of molten silver from the casket. 
bulletWater stains: These are lozenge-shaped stains left by the water that was used to extinguish the 1532 fire.
bulletThe image of a human figure: A negative image of a male about 180 cm tall (5 ', 11").
bulletRed marks: Unlike the image of the figure, the marks resemble a positive likeness of blood, not negative (like the rest of the image). There have been a number of tests on these marks:
bullet In "...1978 Pierluigi Baima Bollone, the present Director of the International Centre of Sindonology, identified some threads taken from the so- called 'bloodstains' of the Shroud as being first of all traces of blood, which he later confirmed as being human blood, and finally as belonging to the AB group...The STURP scientists confirmed the presence of traces of blood. By means of a complex series of tests...they confirmed the absolute absence of pigments and dyes on the Shroud." 6,8 This sounds very strange, because dried blood is not red in color. Joe Nickell, an expert skeptic of religious miracles, writes that "batteries of analyses conducted by internationally known forensic serologists" concluded that the stains were not blood. They were "conclusively proven to be red ocher and vermilion tempera paint." 4 "Walter McCrone, who was one of the researchers who directly and physically subjected the Shroud to prolonged and intensive micro-analysis, found that, indeed, there was paint on the Shroud! In fact, he defined the specific paints used, which turned out to be consistent with the both the paint pigmentation and style used the 14th century." He found that the red marks contained red ocher and vermilion tempera paint. Both are materials were use by artists during the 14th century CE. Actually, he did not subject the shroud to direct microscopic analysis; he examined the particles attached to sticky tape samples obtained by STURP researchers in 1987.

[Author's note: These results are amazing. Some researchers claim that the stains are blood and even determine the blood type. Another researcher claims that the stains are paint and even determines the pigmentation and style to be from the 14th century. Somebody is either incompetent, lying, or deluded.]

 The answer to this conflict lies in replication -- a rare practice in shroud investigations, with the exception of the Carbon-14 dating.
bulletAn image of a second face, and perhaps hands: The underside of the shroud has been rarely discussed. It was hidden by a piece of cloth sewn on by nuns in 1534, and was closely examined in modern times only in 2002 when the additional cloth was removed during the shroud's restoration. Photographs were taken at that time. Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermic measurements at Padua University comments: "I was caught by the perception of a faint image on the back surface of the shroud. I thought that perhaps there was much more that wasn't visible to the naked eye." He and a colleague, Roberto Manniolo, used sophisticated image-processing techniques that can extract pictures from background "noise," They were able to detect a nose, eyes, hair, beard and moustache; they may also have detected a set of hands. The new image is not a duplicate of the image on the front of the cloth. For example, the nose on the reverse side shows the same extension of both nostrils; that on the front side shows the right nostril as less evident.
bulletOther items: Various investigators, working from photographs, believe that they have seen a 1st century coin above one of the eyes of the figure. Some have seen flowers, inscriptions, the inscriptions "Jesus" and "Nazareth" and a spear-tip. Others have looked at the same photograph and have detected nothing. Ian Wilson, long a passionate believer that the linen is Jesus' shroud, commented "While there can be absolutely no doubting the sincerity of those who make these claims, the great danger of such arguments is that the researchers may 'see' merely what their minds trick them into thinking is there." 7

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  1. Barry Karr, "Review of Evidence Confirms Shroud of Turin Is a Forgery," Religious News Service, at:
  2. G. R. Lavoie, "Unlocking the Secrets of the Shroud," Thomas More, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. Bruce Monson, "Oh what a tangled web we weave," Review of Ian Wilson, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real." Review is online at:
  4. Joe Nickell, "Blooming 'Shroud' Claims," Skeptical Inquirer magazine, 1999-NOV/DEC issue, Page 22-23.
  5. "Shroud History,"
  6. "Science," at:

  7. Ian Wilson, The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster, (1998). Read reviews or order this book
  8. Fr. William Saunders, "Shroud's Scientific Research (Part 2 of 4)," at:
  9. Charles Arthur, "Scientists find another face on reverse side of Turin shroud: Scientists debate meaning and origin of image on little-see back surface of shroud," The Independent. Online at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-18
Latest update: 2005-MAR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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