Copyright © 2000 Mark Antonacci.
All rights reserved.
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The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relic of Jesus Christ in existence ... or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever products of the human mind and hand on record. It is one or the other; there is no middle ground.
John Walsh, The Shroud
The Shroud of Turin, a large linen cloth 14 feet 3 inches long and 3 feet 7 inches wide (4.34 m x 1.10 m), takes its present name from the city where it has been kept for the last 422 yearsTurin, Italy. In ancient times, burial shrouds were wrapped lengthwise around a body as shown below. Jesus would have been wrapped and buried in such a linen shroud.
The Shroud of Turin purports to contain evidence of some of the most startling events in all of history: that a man who was beaten and scourged, his head pierced repeatedly about the crown; a man who was crucified, pierced in the side, a man who was dead and buriedthat this man was resurrected; and, further, that he was Jesus Christ.
Unlike any other burial garment, this cloth contains the front and back images of the body of a man, which can be seen in the photographs on the following pages.
Of course, we might be tempted to dismiss such claims as colorful legends from the far reaches of the past, assumptions carried forth by our own philosophical desires. But the passage of time and the expansion of our knowledge about the world around us have, surprisingly, borne out these claims to greater and greater degrees. As the greatest advances in our knowledge have come about with increasing intensity during the twentieth century, so, too, has our knowledge about the enigmatic Shroud of Turin.
PREVIOUS SCIENTIFIC TREATMENT
OF THE SHROUD
It was near the turn of the twentieth century that scientists first began to take an interest in the Shroud of Turin. This resulted from the first photographs ever taken of the Shroud, by an Italian photographer named Secondo Pia, in 1898. In 1900, Yves Delage, a professor of anatomy at the Sorbonne and a director of the Museum of Natural History, showed his assistant, Paul Vignon, the Pia photographs and encouraged him to begin an investigation of the Shroud. Delage was an agnostic whose range of scientific interest and expertise included many fields. The photos disturbed Vignon so much that he agreed to undertake the investigation. This would be the beginning of a lifetime of investigation of the Shroud for Vignon, whose knowledge of biology and art would lend itself perfectly to this study. Delage lent Vignon his supervision and assistance for this investigation and put his laboratory at Vignon's disposal.
From 1900 to 1902, Vignon and Delage, assisted by three other scientists, undertook their investigation, conferring at every stage and agreeing on their conclusions. Though the investigation did not have access to the Shroud itself, it yielded some startling results, and Delage was emboldened to give a full-scale report to no less an audience than the French Academy of Science, the foremost scientific body in the world at the time. Aware of the subject of the report, a capacity crowd of academics and members of the general public gathered on April 21, 1902, for the regular meeting of the academy to hear Delage speak. Not since Louis Pasteur had reported on the vaccine for the cure of rabies had the long narrow hall of the academy accommodated so large a crowd.
Delage's talk would last about half an hour as he reviewed the findings of the investigation. Among the findings, the scientists determined that the images were those of a dead human male. They found that the images could not have resulted from painting but involved direct and indirect contact between the cloth and the body. The investigators went so far as to identify the body as being that of the historical Jesus and to declare the Shroud his burial garment. Delage concluded his presentation by proposing that the academy itself appoint a special committee to petition the Italian authorities for a more thorough examination of this amazing object.
In contrast to the customary conversation during presentations at the academy, the audience gave Delage their rapt attention. Upon his conclusion, however, a murmur of excited discussion broke out among the spectators on the public benches. After examining the glass photographic plates, members of the academy admitted that the images on the Shroud could not have been the work of an artist.
When the meeting adjourned, the president of the academy announced that a secret committee would go into session immediately. At that time, the academy was composed, to a great extent, of religious skeptics whose work and interests were in completely different areas from the subject of the presentation. In fifteen minutes, the committee returned to decline Delage's invitation to request a more extensive examination of the Shroud on the grounds that the actual owner of the Shroud, the royal house of Italy, had not made the request. They further stated that Delage's proposal was beyond the scope of the academy.
The permanent secretary of the academy, Pierre Berthelot, was a leader of the "free thought" school in France. Knowing beforehand the results of Delage and Vignon's investigation, he attempted to prevent Delage from even presenting his report to the academy; however, he was overruled. Thereafter, he abused his authority as secretary by eliminating from the journal of the academy any part of Delage's lecture that even mentioned the Shroud or Delage's reasons for holding that the images were of the historical Jesus Christ.
From Berthelot and others who behaved like him, Vignon and Delage received a great deal of criticism and abuse, particularly Delage, because he was a prominent scientist and professor. He was derided as a traitor to his agnosticism and to science. In a response to his critics, Delage published an open letter to the editors of the Revue Scientifique. It contained a statement of the facts from the investigation and included the portions of his lecture that Berthelot had excluded from the journal of the academy. Thereafter, he addressed the accusations against his integrity as a scientist: "I recognize Christ as a historical personage, and I see no reason why anyone should be scandalized by the fact that there still exists material traces of his earthly life."
He then pointed out that the real reasons for the criticisms actually had nothing at all to do with science. "If our proofs have not been received by certain persons as they deserve to be, it is only because a religious question has been needlessly injected into a problem which in itself is purely scientific, with the result that feelings run high and reason has been led astray. If, instead of Christ, there were questions of some person like a Sargon or Achilles, or one of the Pharaohs, no one would have thought of making any objection."
The numerous awards, achievements, and honors that Delage achieved during his lifetime have now been forgotten, but his part in the scientific investigation and his dedication as a scientist remain as an example for the world. "I have been faithful to the true spirit of Science in treating this question, intent only on the truth, not concerned in the least whether the truth would affect the interests of any religious party. There are those, however, who have let themselves be swayed by this consideration and have betrayed the scientific method."
Those would be the last words that Delage ever published on the subject, about which he never recanted. Immediately following Delage's lecture at the Academy, newspaper and magazine accounts of his presentation and articles on the Shroud appeared all over Paris. Numerous books were soon published throughout France, the most notable of which was by Vignon, containing a fuller explanation of the investigation into the Shroud. About half the publications favored the Shroud's authenticity as declared by the investigation. Similar reactions came from the rest of the world, though the response was less vociferous.
The debate remained unsettled. All efforts to conduct a thorough scientific examination of the cloth itself failed and would not occur for another seventy-five years. Gradually, the debate and the relic became forgotten outside of continental Europe. The reasons behind both sides of the debate, along with a much larger set of evidence than was ever present at that time, will be developed in the chapters that follow. The important thing to note about this debate, however, was that it was based on very little information. This was the first scientific investigation ever undertaken concerning the Shroud of Turin, and it was based on the first photographs ever taken of the Shroud. Three fourths of the twentieth century would pass, years in which horrors of an unprecedented scale would result in the deaths of more than 100 million people throughout the world. Two world wars, the Holocaust, massive killings by nation's rulers of their own residents, and numerous wars and conflicts, some of which are continuing today, in which religion is an underlying element or contributing cause, would all take place before a comprehensive, scientific examination of the cloth would finally occur in 1978.
The overwhelming majority of evidence supporting the claims that the man in the Shroud is Jesus Christ has only recently come to light. In fact, some of the most astonishing aspects of it were discovered only within the past few years. Most people are still completely unaware of this evidence.
Only in the last twenty years has the Shroud gained widespread publicity, almost exclusively in the western world. Throughout its history, it has rarely been displayed to the public. Prior to 1978, it had not been publicly displayed in the twentieth century except in the early 1930s. And it was not until 1978, when the first comprehensive scientific examination of the entire cloth was performed, that the most intriguing and, in some cases, supernatural qualities of the Shroud image surfaced. This first examination was conducted by a team of esteemed scientists who called themselves the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP).
STURP was formed after some of its members discovered that an actual three-dimensional image could be derived from the Shroud image contained on the two-dimensional cloth, a quality impossible to achieve with traditional painting and photographic methods. In 1902, scientist Paul Vignon first observed that a correlation existed between light and dark on the Shroud image and those parts of the cloth that would have been closest to and farthest from the body. Not until 1976 had space-age computer technology advanced to the point that this phenomenon could be tested.
When images of planets and moons in outer space are produced, they are not recorded with a traditional camera. The photons of light from a three-dimensional object in outer space are measured electronically, and based on the distance that each of these light impulses has traveled from the object to the space probe, a true, three-dimensional, computer-generated image of the object can be interpreted and displayed. When a photograph of the man in the Shroud is put in a similar device, a miraculous three-dimensional image results.
The three-dimensional image is produced because the lightness or darkness on the image of the man in the Shroud is directly correlated with how close the body was to the cloth at the time the image was generated. A normal photograph is created by light reflecting off many surfaces, generated from many different light sources. The human mind can imagine the contours of a face from a flat photograph because we see faces so often from so many angles, in so many lighting situations. A computer does not have this advantage. To a computer, a normal photo is impossible to interpret correctly (see fig. 5). The image on the shroud, however, is not like a photograph, but is a perfect contour map of the body of the man in the shroud.
In 1976, computer technology had evolved to the point that it could confirm the three-dimensionality of the Shroud image. This discovery and its dissemination among other world-class scientists provided the impetus for the organization of STURP. Coming from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world, the scientists who founded and joined STURP had access to the most advanced technology available. When scientists viewed the three-dimensionality of the Shroud image for the first time, they were stunned.
Having learned of a few of the Shroud's amazing characteristics, the STURP team wrote the cloth's custodians in Turin in 1978 for permission to scientifically examine it. The Shroud was scheduled to be exhibited that year in celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of its arrival in Turin, where it had been brought and kept by the Savoys, a family that would ultimately become the first royal family of Italy. The STURP team negotiated with the custodians in Turin for a hands-on examination to be undertaken at the contusion of the 1978 Shroud exposition in Turin.
In October 1978, STURP assembled in Turin, armed with about seventy-two crates of scientific equipment weighing approximately eight tons and costing nearly $3 million. Physicists, chemists, pathologists, engineers, and photographers, they came from some of the most renowned institutions in the world, including NASA, Sandia Laboratory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Air Force, and Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. For 120 consecutive hours, the STURP team members were given an unprecedented degree of access to the cloth and permission to conduct a battery of tests and examinations on the ancient relic. The researchers applied an extensive array of sophisticated, nondestructive scientific testing to the Shroud of Turin for the first time in its history. In addition, the researchers were allowed to bring samples taken from the Shroud back to their laboratories for further examination and study.
The STURP examination yielded a wealth of information that began to appear in scientific journals during the 1980s. Many of the STURP scientists had assumed before the landmark examination was undertaken that the Shroud would not live up to its traditional claims as the burial garment of Jesus Christ. After all, there had never been a scientific examination conducted on the cloth; therefore, there was very little substantial evidence to support its authenticity. But in the years to follow, as the scientists' conclusions were released in scientific journals, the Shroud's mystique quickly deepened, as did the scientists' respect for it.
The scientists realized that this was no ordinary relic they were studying. The Shroud of Turin is perhaps the most extraordinary relic in existence. There is nothing else we know of that even comes close to it. The characteristics present in the Shroud are so unprecedented and difficult to reproduce that the notion is preposterous that an artist used any media or technique to create it. Such an artist would have had to have a knowledge of light negativity, light spectrometry, microscopy, radiology, human physiology, pathology, hematology, endocrinology, forensics, and archaeology. In fact, even with all the technology available to us today at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Shroud's unique characteristics still cannot be duplicated.
As a result of the first thorough scientific examination in 1978, the Shroud received a physical such as no other relic has ever received before or since. It was magnified; illuminated; photographed; thermographed; bombarded with visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light as well as radiation and X rays, and vacuumed. The cloth was examined in microscopic detail. Fiber composition and discoloration were analyzed, as well as chemical content. Pollen and other minute particles were identified. And those first 120 hours the team spent with the cloth were just the beginning.
As the team members returned to their laboratories, mounds of data awaited organization and analysis. From it would come a plethora of theories and hypotheses as to what the image was. Little by little, the team found out what the Shroud was not.
It was not a painting.
It was not a vapograph.
It was not an imprint due to body heat or funeral anointing.
It was not made by any natural means of draping a cloth over a human body.
It was not a block print.
It was not a scorch.
It was not formed by draping the cloth over a statue or bas relief.
It was not made from rubbing dry compounds on the cloth.
As for what it was, the team still could not say. What they did discover was that every bit of scientific and medical data that had been gathered from the testing and examination of the clothits samples, the blood, the particles removed from between or attached to the cloth's threads, and the thousands of photographs taken of the Shroud in every wavelength possiblewas entirely consistent with what the cloth was reputed to be: the burial garment of the historical Jesus Christ.
At the same time the scientific and medical examination was occurring, an extensive history on the Shroud was published by historian Ian Wilson, titled The Shroud of Turin. This book provided the first plausible explanation of the Shroud's entire history going all the way back to the first century. Archaeologists, numismatics, polynologists, ethnologists, art historians, exegetes, textile experts, limestone analysts, botanists, and various other experts have added their own critiques and analyses to this body of knowledge over the past two decades. The results of their studies have been published in various archaeological and historical journals and other publications, and have been consistent with the findings from the scientific and medical examinations.
This book discusses this comprehensive evidence derived from or pertaining to the Shroud and its history. In the process of obtaining this evidence, I acquired unlimited access to the most up-to-date and, perhaps, extensive research sources on the Shroud in the world. This material was supplemented by evidence derived from years of personal interviews, documentaries, conferences, and seminars conducted around the world. While the majority of the important evidence pertaining to the Shroud has been acquired since 1978, this book examines evidence from various sources, some of which are many centuries old. In addition, this book will reveal a good deal of new evidence being published for the first time.
At times, this book criticizes various scientists and other people. Such criticisms are mentioned only so that truth and knowledge critical to the future testing of the cloth, and the world's understanding of the Shroud and its evidence, are revealed. At times, including recent ones, crucial evidence about the shroud has been held back or obscured. This book will examine those setbacks as it reveals the evidence.
The goal of science has always been to ascertain the truth. In the coming chapters you will witness actions and attitudes of scientists involved in the carbon dating of the Shroud who intentionally helped prevent the acquisition of facts about the cloth by another group of scientists, who were the most knowledgeable in the world on the subject. Some of this additional evidence would also have related to the questions of the age, origin, and history of this burial garment.
This book will challenge and discredit the results of the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud. Due to the unprofessional, unscientific, and even incompetent behavior of certain scientists, many otherwise open-minded people are under the misapprehension that the Shroud is a fraud. This book will not hold back in exposing the real frauds. Moreover, further evidence concerning the age of the Shroud, could be much more accurate than any radiocarbon dating of the cloth, or any ancient object, could ever be.
Many other incredible aspects of the image on the Shroud will be discussed in the forthcoming chapters. This incredible image has never been explained or accounted for, despite centuries of efforts from people in various fields of study throughout the world. Instead of revealing how the image was encoded, science has been able to reveal only how it was not encoded. The more science has learned about the image, the more it appears to transcend the laws of physics, requiring something very extraordinary to account for all of the Shroud's unique features.
This book lays before you all the facts available, and the one theory that is consistent with the various scientific, medical, archaeological, and historical evidence.
In 1978, the scientific perception of the Shroud of Turin began to change forever. The catalyst for this change, the world-class innovative research study by STURP, allowed the Shroud cloth to receive intensive attention from a group of scientists representing a variety of disciplines. This inquiry, conducted by a team of thirty-two investigators, had a scope and dimension of unprecedented magnitude. The comprehensive sixty-three-page "Operations Test Plan" that the team launched on the Shroud remains the only thorough scientific examination of the cloth thus far conducted. It was never the scientists' intention or purpose to draw conclusions about the Shroud's authenticity as Jesus' burial cloth. Devising their own plan completely independent of any restrictions from the cloth's custodians (except that the tests be nondestructive), the STURP scientists traveled to Turin to collect the physical and chemical evidence contained on the cloth and test different theories related to how the image might have been formed. As highly trained and disciplined scientists guided by facts, objectivity, and logic, STURP members were attracted to the project because no serious scientific explanation of the image on the Shroud had ever been proposed. As engineer Eric Jumper and physicist Robert Mottern put it, "Ordinarily science remains detached from [religious relics], but in this case, the unusual quality of the image intrigues the scientific mind."
The idea for forming a scientific group to investigate the Shroud came from John Jackson and Eric Jumper, both of whom worked at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the mid-1970s. They soon acquired the interest of Robert Dinegar of Los Alamos National Scientific Laboratory, who helped recruit several other scientists. Although many were employed by the government at the time, STURP members volunteered their personal time and money to study the Shroud. Neither the government nor any other employer of STURP members has ever funded or endorsed the project. When the Shroud's three-dimensional features became known, other scientists took up the challenge of deciphering the body image and joined the STURP effort. With religious orientations ranging from Catholic to Jewish, Protestant to agnostic, many were highly skeptical at first and even believed the Shroud would be declared a fraud within minutes after they began the examination.
After enduring prolonged delays with customs officials, the scientists were finally allowed to unload numerous boxes of fragile high-tech equipment in seven rooms that were part of the Savoy royal palace. The palace itself is part of a complex that also includes St. John the Baptist Cathedral and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, where the cloth was kept high above the altar, rolled on a large spool, inside a long, rectangular reliquary. (The part of the splendid palace where the examination was conducted was completely destroyed in a fire in 1997. Had the Shroud been kept at its normal location above the chapel, it, too, would have been destroyed. Fortunately, the Shroud had been moved to temporary facilities within the cathedral several years earlier due to extensive remodeling at the chapel. Several firemen were able to carry the reliquary containing the Shroud to safety before any flames could even reach the several layers of thick, bulletproof glass that completely surrounded it. We will see later, however, that the Shroud had a much narrower escape from a fire in 1532.)
STURP began its examination of the Shroud on the night of October 8, 1978, and by the time the scientists finished at 2:00 A.M. on October 14, the Shroud and its image had been probed in every nondestructive manner the team could devise. Knowing their time with the cloth would be limited, STURP project leaders had apportioned every available minute of the 120 hours for testing. Because they had to work around the clock, STURP members ate carry-out food and slept on cots whenever they got breaks; outside, five different police forces guarded the palace that temporarily housed the scientists and the object of their intense investigation.
The STURP team's first act was to transfer the Shroud to a specially designed aluminum mounting frame that could be rotated through 360° and would thereby make testing easier. After the cloth was secured in the frame with small, polyethylene-coated magnets, a wire grid marked with coordinates was placed over the Shroud so the exact location of all tests and each thread or particle removed could be documented. Every action by every person was photographed, logged, and recorded on audiotape to ensure that all data could be accounted for and verified.
Once the fabric was mounted, STURP members studied the cloth itself, the image on the cloth, the threads and their fibrils, even the foreign particles lodged within and between the threads. Imaging specialists took between five thousand and seven thousand photographs at various wavelengths of the light spectrum (including X ray, gamma ray, infrared, and ultraviolet). The cloth was scanned with a thermograph, which measures differences in the emission of infrared heat energy. Areas of the body image, the bloodstains, the background cloth, the thread fibrils, and the marks left by fire and water in 1532 were photographed extensively through microscopes.
Since all tests were nondestructive, samples of particles and thread fibrils were removed from the Shroud with sticky tape. A specially designed pressure-sensitive roller applied the tape to selected areas of the cloth. When removed, the tapes were stuck, adhesive side up, to microscopic slides and carefully identified. The back of the cloth was vacuumed to collect some of the loose debris, such as dust and pollen, that has collected on the linen over the centuries. Through visual and chemical tests, many substances contained on and in the cloth were identified, and the absence of other materials was confirmed. By the time STURP left Turin, the scientists had collected samples needed for the more than one thousand chemical experiments later carried out to determine "the nature of the image and blood marks, as well as the history of the linen, water stains, miscellaneous fibrils, particles and debris, and the presence of organic and inorganic pigments and vehicles, oxidants, reductants, and all known human means for creating the image on the Shroud." The STURP team used every scientific testing method it could think of to inspect the image on the Shroud and gain a better understanding of its composition and characteristics. The studies revealed information never before suspected by allowing observation of features not visible to the human eye. This was the first necessary step in investigating how the image might have been formed.
All data collected in Turin were taken back to laboratories throughout the world for more detailed analysis. Interpretation of the results continues today as numerous scientific disciplines apply their expertise in an effort to explore and explain the Shroud image. Professions involved in evaluating the STURP data include nuclear and molecular physics, along with the fields of optics, spectroscopy, radiography, volcanology, and meteorology. In biology, the specialties of entomology, microscopy, botany, mycology, physiology, bacteriology, pathology, endocrinology, anatomy, immunology, and hematology have participated in the study. Investigation has also incorporated the chemical science disciplines of analytical, inorganic, organic, biological, physiological, geological, pharmaceutical, and textile chemistry.
It is not necessary for lay readers to understand in detail the many scientific tests conducted on the Shroud. Instead, people need to grasp the broad scope of the scientific assault that has been directed at this one, very old piece of linen. In addition to tests already mentioned, investigation of the Shroud (both in Turin and in laboratories) has included three-dimensional analysis with the VP-8 Image Analyzer; computer-image enhancement and mathematical-image analysis; mapping or directional-function analysis; topographic imaging; reflectance spectroscopy at ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths; microdensitometry; macroscopy; fluorescent, phase contrast, and electron microscopic study; biostereometry; laser microprobe Raman spectroscopy; electron energy dispersive spectroscopy; microspectrophotometric transmission spectra; wet chemistry; cyanmethemoglobin and hemochromagen testing; protease lysis; generation of porphyrin fluorescence; and immunofluorescence. These words may not mean much to us, but they give no doubt that science has used every means available to shed light on the mystery of the Shroud.
As a result of the STURP investigation and the continual scientific study during the last twenty yearsbased on the voluminous data acquired from this examination, we can now shed an enormous amount of light on this debate, an overwhelmingly greater amount than those at the turn of the century had available to them. Moreover, the light that will be shed will contain not only an enormous amount of scientific information, but it will contain comparable amounts of medical, archaeological, and historical information.
There is so much about the Shroud of Turin that the general public is not aware of. A small portion of this has been introduced in the preceding pages. Much more is to come. As a result of the number and length of the worldwide exhibits of the Shroud of Turin occurring at the end of the second millennium, the discrediting of the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud, and the bringing to light of the voluminous amount of information learned about the Shroud since its examination in 1978, the debate and entire subject of the Shroud is today experiencing what one would call a resurrection. It has been not only resurrected but placed prodigiously on the world stage where everyone can learn of it. Despite the desires of its many skeptics, the Shroud image will not fade from view. He continues to challenge and enlighten us, the man of the Shroud, to agitate us into reconsidering some of the most important questions humankind has ever faced. These are all questions worth knowing. There is much at stake. With an open mind and a keen eye, let us begin our inquiry into the mysterious Shroud of Turin.