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Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

The face of Jesus Christ has inspired artists throughout the ages.  But how did they know what Jesus looked like?  A piece of linen may hold the answer.  It is called the Shroud of Turin.  Many believe it is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ, and his image was imprinted on its threads. Fr. “Kim” Dreisbach, Jr. has spent the majority of his career studying the shroud:

“When I first began to study the Shroud of Turin, I was convinced it was a crock and it would take me probably less than two hours to put away this pious fraud.  After all, anyone with an I.Q. 100 or over knows that all relics by definition are frauds.  But I must admit, here I am some 17 years later, I who came to scoff, have stayed to pray.  My own personal belief is the shroud is probably authentic.”

The shroud was first exhibited publicly in France during the Renaissance period.  No one seemed to know where it came from.  Then in 1578 A.D., the shroud was moved to Turin, Italy, where it was rarely shown in public.  Three centuries later, in 1898, the shroud was photographed for the first time.  According to Fr. Dreisbach, the photographer’s negatives showed more detail than could be seen by the naked eye:

“He was to write of this experience years later and would never forget that as he lifted that glass plate, he believed he was the first person in 2,000 years to have seen the face of Jesus of Nazareth.”

From that point on, the Shroud of Turin became more and more an object of scientific inquiry.  Dr. Robert Bucklin, a forensic pathologist, has examined life-sized photographic negatives of the shroud:

“The body shows a number of injuries.  On the head we see a series of bloodstains around the forehead, high in the scalp and along the posterior portion of the scalp. These are consistent with the application of a crown or a cap of thorns.  On the chest area, there’s a rather unique wound.  It is quite consistent with a puncture type wound made by an implement which entered the chest cavity and produced an outflow of blood and water.  In the region of the left wrist, there’s a puncture wound, which was clearly made by some implement, which passed into the tissues of the wrist and produced bleeding.”

 

Is this the face of Jesus?

Is this the face of Jesus?

The crucifixion of Jesus has traditionally been depicted with nails driven through his palms.  But according to Fr. Dreisbach, modern research has confirmed that at the time of Jesus’ death, nails were driven through the victims’ wrists:

“The Romans did enough of these, sometimes 500 a day, to be excellent anatomists.  And like a butcher, they knew where the bones were. They put it in the wrist and it held the body and held it well.”

In 1978, the shroud was made available to a number of scientists for the first time.   Using particles lifted from the shroud with adhesive tape, biophysicist John Heller and chemist Alan Adler determined that there was blood on the cloth.  They found chemical evidence of severe torture, consistent with crucifixion.  Their findings however, are not universally accepted.

Some scientists, like Dr. Walter McCrone, have claimed that the shroud is a forgery—the work of a highly skilled artist who painted with tiny brush strokes:

“When I first started working on it, I expected it to be authentic and I looked for body fluid… that’s where I started.  But the red turned out to be red ochre and another pigment, vermillion, common artist pigments.  There’s no question in my mind that it is a painting.”

However, Fr. Dreisbach disagreed with that theory:

“Many copies of the shroud were made.  It was felt by pious people at the time that if you touched the copy to the original, it would give the copy extra sanctity.  It’s called a brandiums, the technical name.  When they were touched, of course some of that pigment ended up on the shroud.  And that is what has been discovered.  But it is not responsible for the image, let alone the whole body image, total front and total back.”

A computer image of the Shroud

A computer image of the Shroud

In recent times, other scientists have used computer technology to study the shroud.  Optical specialist Kevin Moran claimed his computer analysis revealed that the image has unique optical qualities that confirm the shroud’s authenticity:

“When I take a normal photograph… you can immediately see a very distorted figure, the nose with respect to the cheek is totally distorted.  And this is because this is a reflected image.  This image is made by reflected light.  This is not what we see on the shroud.  The shroud is a very different type of image.  The image immediately comes into a three dimensional form, the eyes, nose, mouth relationship are all clearly recognizable.  The image on the shroud is so unique that it almost enters a scientific faith factor all by itself. There simply is no way that we can duplicate this image, even today… and people have certainly tried.”

In addition to Moran’s findings, believers claimed that the absence of brush strokes on the shroud proves it is not a painting.  However, skeptics have pointed out that Leonardo da Vinci’s brush strokes were often invisible.  In an effort to resolve the controversies surrounding the shroud, the Vatican allowed samples to be cut from its outer edges in 1988.  Three universities were given a tiny piece of linen for carbon dating. 

Dr. Paul Damon, at the University of Arizona, headed the carbon dating team in the United States.  His findings placed the shroud’s origin between 1290 and 1360 A.D.:

“Within less than five minutes we could see that it could not possibly be 1st century.  The difference between 14th century and 1st century is so great that you could see it within minutes, in the first measurement.  We made quite a few measurements, like 16, but that was enough.”

The Vatican accepted the results of Paul Damon’s carbon dating.  At the same time, carbon dating tests in Switzerland and England confirmed Damon’s findings.  Since then, questions have been raised about the carbon dating process.  The Vatican has refused to allow further testing, but it did approve a major restoration.  Critics say that restoration will make further research even more difficult.  But for true believers, further testing will make little difference.  For them, the shroud has always been a matter of faith.