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Shroud of Turin

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Face on the Shroud of Turin

History of the Shroud

Fragment of the Shroud of TurinThe Shroud of Turin, a 14 1/2 foot by 3 1/2 foot linen cloth, has been kept in Turin, Italy since 1578.  The cloth bears the image of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Jesus Christ.  It has long been rumored to be the burial cloth of Jesus but a carbon dated sample and its sketchy history leads some to believe it may be a fake.

The history of the Shroud of Turin can be traced definitively back 600 years to April 10, 1349.  At that time a French Knight named Geoffrey de Charney was in possession of the shroud.  In 1355, the first exposition of the shroud took place in Lirey, France, after which, the shroud was hidden away for many years.  These facts are most easy to ascertain since the D’Arcis Memorandum (written in 1385) clearly documents the shrouds movement.

Around 1453, the shroud was obtained by the Dukes of Savoy, the former ruling family of Italy, from Margerat de Charney who graciously gave the House of Savoy the shroud as a gift. The Shroud of Turin remained in the Savoy family for many years, being passed down from generation to generation.  When the family moved the capital of Savoy to Piedmont, the shroud went with them.

In 1502, the shroud was deposited in the Chapel of Chambery Castle for safekeeping.  Thirty years later a fire in the castle nearly destroyed the shroud.  After this unusual incident, the Shroud of Turin’s protection was given the highest priority.

The shroud has been kept in Italy since 1578, where it arrived from Chambery, then the Capital of the Duchy of Savoy.  Currently the shroud is owned by the Catholic Church where it is stored in a special repository in a chapel behind the altar in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  This cathedral, which adjoins the Royal Palace, was specifically built to house the shroud.

Early History

Prior to 1349 the whereabouts of the shroud is somewhat unclear.  In the earliest years it is quite possible that the existence of the shroud was kept highly secret, this being a time of great persecution for the followers of the Christian faith.  An item of such extreme importance to the Christian faith would most certainly be a prime target for enemies of the new religion.

Through careful analysis, some have concluded that the shroud was held by the Carpocratian Gnostics for 150 years after the resurrection, at which time it was then taken to an Eastern area near Edessa around 177 A.D. There it remained in possession of the Gnostics until 700 A.D. when the Edessan Monophysites gained possession of the shroud – how is not exactly clear.

After that, it was probably obtained by the Cathars and their descendants around 1200 A.D.  We know from French crusader Robert de Clari, that a shroud of some sort that depicted Christ was present in the Constantinople area and that the shroud eventually ended up in Languedoc.

How Geoffrey de Charny gained possession of the Shroud of Turin is not clear either.  He remained unusually quiet about the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the treasure.  Some feel he may have actually stolen the shroud from the Cathars, possibly during a period of war.

The Photos

The Shroud of TurinIn 1898, the first photos of the Shroud of Turin were taken, the results of which sent shock waves around the world.  To the naked eye, the image of the man was only faintly visible and appeared somewhat translucent.  When the photos that Secundo Pia took were being developed, photographers realized that the image on the linen was actually a negative image – an image that became strikingly clear when developed on film.  These startling results were verified a second time, 33 years later, when Giuseppe Enria was permitted to take additional pictures of the holy cloth.

The photographs indicated an exceptionally accurate 3D image of the man.  The depth of the image is so accurate that scientists have been able to faithfully reproduce a complete three-dimensional model of the man from the two-dimensional photographs.  From these 3D models, further facts about the man were exposed.  For instance, it was determined that the man’s head was slightly inclined (as if laying on a pillow) and that the legs were slightly raised at the knees, a fact that is not at all clear from the flat, two-dimensional image.

From these images, we can ascertain several facts that suggest the shroud may indeed be the burial cloth of Jesus.  The image shows a naked man covering his groin area with his hands.  We know from Roman law that criminals were always whipped and executed in the nude.

One item that initially caused confusion was the revelation that the image of the man showed wounds in his wrists, not the hands as was traditionally believed and portrayed in various paintings of the crucifixion.  But, tests conducted on corpses during the 1950’s indicated that hanging via nails in the hands was not possible as the structure of the hand is not sufficient to support the weight of a man.  Additionally, archeological digs have uncovered other crucified victims who bore wounds in their wrists, not their hands.

The beard and hair style, although consistent with biblical descriptions, was not common in the Roman Empire during that era.  But, it was common attire in the Palestine area.

Physical Evidence

The shroud is 14 1/2 foot by 3 1/2 foot.  From the impression of the body on the shroud, we can deduce that the man was from 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet in height, a measurement that takes into consideration the inevitable stretching and shrinkage of the shroud’s material.

The image of the shroud seems to indicate that the man has something over his eyes.  Coins, which the biblical account relates, cannot be ruled out since the image is difficult to ascertain.  One researcher claims that the image is discernible and that the coins depict Pontius Pilate Lepton, a ruler whose image was placed on coins during the era.  Other researchers have found no such evidence.

Careful study of the shroud has shown remnants of flowers, plants, and pollen grains laid around the man.  Some of the plants are present in the head area of the man and one particular type seems to indicate a crown or headdress of some sort.  There have been 28 different plants identified all of which originate from the Israel area making the origin of the shroud definitely the Holy Land.  Of the sample plants observed, 25 of 28 matched pollen samples also found on the cloth.

Plants found include crown chrysanthemum, Rock Rose (pollen found too), Bean Caper Plants, fragments of rope, and a reed that looks like a stick.  The Gundelia tournefortii plant found near the man’s shoulders suggested that this was the plant used as the ‘crown of thorns’.  Scientists have further determined that some of the plants must have originated from the Jerusalem or Jericho area and fascinatingly, that they were most likely picked during the Spring (27 of the 28 bloom during March and April).

Another interesting piece of physical evidence comes from blood samples taken from the cloth.  They indicate that the blood type of the man was type AB.  DNA analysis of the cloth is deemed nearly impossible since there have been several hundred people who have touched the cloth (it was common to let people touch the cloth during its early years) and hence any possibility of DNA analysis has long since been corrupted.

Is is a painting?

The Shroud of TurinSome have theorized that the cloth was simply a painting made on a linen material.  Experts generally discard this notion for several reasons.  First of all, the accuracy of the image is most certainly impossible to duplicate, especially in its ‘negative’ state.  Many of tried but none have been able to duplicate the uncannily clear image.

Furthermore, the cloth material itself repels water which means it is not capable of retaining paint for any period of time. In fact, the image on the cloth covers the surface area only and in its negative portrayal, appears as if it was created from the ‘inside’ by some sort of radioactive source or burst of energy permeating outwards from the man whose image is left behind.  Scientists have been unable to exactly determine how this could have taken place.

Paint particles have been found on the cloth but this is probably not that unusual since the cloth has been copied and reproduced many times over the years.  After the reproduction, it was common for painters to lay their image over the top of the cloth to check for accuracy, a process which undoubtedly left paint particles behind.

Detractors Voice Concerns

In 1988, carbon-14 tests were allowed by the Church using a small swatch of cloth.  These results indicated that the cloth was not as old as previously thought, but rather that the cloth originated during Medieval days (around 1260 A.D.) and from a European area. After these tests the Vatican announced that the cloth was not authentic.  These tests were later refuted when additional facts were factored in – primarily that the cloth has been involved in several fires which invalidate the results of carbon-14 testing.  Furthermore, the tests involved only a small sample of cloth.  Later testing using pollen grains and plant particles, involved the use of the entire cloth and indicated that the cloth was most likely created around 2-3 B.C.

Another factor invalidating the carbon-14 tests is the shrouds relationship to the Sudarium of Oviedo.  The Sudarium of Oviedo is a similar, but smaller piece of cloth that bears a facial image of a man similar to the image on the Shroud of Turin.  Both clothes show traces of the same type AB blood in similar patterns and also contain the same pollens.  This close relationship further validates the ancient age of the cloth since the Sudarium of Oviedo’s location has been documented since the first century.

Forensic Evidence

Bucklin, deputy coroner of Los Angeles and a member of The Shroud of Turin Research Team, has voiced his professional opinion on the cause of death.  Based on enhanced imagery, Bucklin is able to produce a disturbing image of the horrific injury inflicted on the man.  He states that the image indicates a Caucasian man around 5 foot 11 inches who weighing about 178 pounds.  There are blood flows around the top and back of the head typical of puncture wounds from the ‘crown of thorns’ as depicted in the Bible.  Additional wounds on the man’s face indicate he may have been beaten and that he probably has a black eye.  The nose is abraded indicating a fall and shows possible separation from the bone.  There is definite wound on the left wrist (the right hand is covered by the left) and there appears to have been a spike of some sort driven through both of the man’s feet.  The back and front of the man show lesions which indicate the man was beaten from both sides by two men (the angle of which indicates one of the men was significantly taller than the other).  There is rough swelling on both shoulders indicative of the man bearing a heavy weight on his shoulders shortly before the time of this death.  On the man’s right side is a puncture wound, probably made by a narrow blade that was thrust in an upward direction after death (due to the separation of blood cells and a clear serum that drained from the wound and puddled near the small of the man’s back).  There is an abrasion on one knee.

Still, nay Sayers continue bickering over the authenticity of the shroud.  Currently, the Catholic Church does not allow any further testing or analysis of the shroud unless the research is intended to focus exclusively on the preservation and conservation of the cloth…

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