What Is the Shroud of Turin? Facts & History Everyone Should Know

The Shroud still exists, and we would argue for a divine reason. And by its very existence, proves that the cloth has been “protected” after being hidden in a wall in Edessa for over 400 years and then surviving through crusades, wars, numerous fires, and even Hitler.
Myra Adams and Russ Breault
What Is the Shroud of Turin? Facts & History Everyone Should Know

Above Photo: The face of the Shroud man as it appears to the naked eye and as a photographic negative ( positive.) Shroud Photographs ©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc

The Shroud of Turin is a rectangular linen cloth comprised of flax measuring 14.6 feet long and 3.5 feet wide. It bears a faint yellowed image of a bearded, crucified man with bloodstains that match the wounds suffered by Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in all four gospel narratives. Since 1578 the Shroud has resided in Turin, Italy, thus the name, the Shroud of Turin. The holy relic is housed in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Millions of Christians from all denominations believe that the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth used to wrap Jesus after his death on the cross, and found by his disciples in the empty tomb after his resurrection.

The Shroud’s most distinctive characteristic triggers the most frequently asked and still unanswered overarching question: What “caused” a front to back linear mirror image of an adult male to be formed on a linen burial cloth? The fact that science has yet to produce a definitive answer explains why the Shroud of Turin is the most studied, analyzed, revered, and controversial artifact in the world. Connecting Christ to his purported burial Shroud is a process addressed by the following questions and answers:

What does the Bible say about what happened to Christ’s body immediately after his death on the cross?
Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus (John 19:38).

How was the body of Jesus prepared to be entombed?
The question of whether Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Christ in “strips of linen” or “linen cloths” is an important point of contention for those who contest the Shroud’s authenticity. Depending on the Bible translation, the words “strips of cloth”- “cloths” – “cloth” are all used, contributing to the controversy. Many researchers think that strips were used to bind the chin, the wrists, and the feet. Moreover, Joseph of Arimathea would have needed strips of cloth to bind Christ’s body to the 14-foot burial shroud because Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds” (John 19:39).

Scripture says: Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs” (John 19:40).

full black and white photo of the shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin as it appears on a photographic negative (positive). Front and back views with side by side vertical orientation. Shroud Photographs ©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc.

When and Where Was the Shroud of Turin Found?

All four gospels state that Joseph owned the cloth used to wrap Jesus before he was entombed. However, only the Gospel of John mentions the apostles finding the burial cloth(s) in the tomb after Christ’s resurrection on that Sunday morning in Jerusalem. The following passage begins the mystery about the Shroud of Turin:

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself” (John 20:6-7).

It is reasonable to assume that the twice mentioned “linen cloths” (along with the words “strips” or “wrappings” in some translations) describe what is now called the Shroud of Turin. But what then is the “handkerchief that had been around His head.”? The “handkerchief” or “napkin” (in some translations) is thought to be what is named the “Sudarium of Oviedo.”

Sudarium of Ovied

Sudarium of Oviedo: The “handkerchief” or “napkin” thought to have covered the face of Jesus. Shroud Photographs ©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc.

What Is the Sudarium of Oviedo and How Is it Connected to the Shroud?

The Sudarium is another revered, yet controversial cloth residing in the Cathedral of Oviedo, Spain. Similar to the Shroud, evidence suggests the Sudarium —a smaller piece of linen measuring 34 by 21 inches —touched Jesus after his death. According to the aforementioned Gospel of John, this cloth was “around his head.” Speculation is that out of respect for the dead, the cloth was placed on the face of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion before he was wrapped in his burial Shroud.

The key difference between the Sudarium and the Shroud is that the former does not display a man’s image. Nonetheless, the “handkerchief” is stained with blood, and other human secretions of suffering that recent scientific studies have determined are a perfect forensic match to the face wounds found on the Man of the Shroud. The Sudarium is often called the “companion” to the Shroud and thought by scientists to authenticate the Shroud because of the bloodstains on both cloths test as the rare Type AB.

Timeline of the Shroud’s Mysterious and Scientific Properties

Scientific and technological breakthroughs —starting in the 19th century with the advent of photography and into the 20th century — led to startling discoveries revealing that the Shroud possessed unexplained properties. We can also surmise that as technology advances, more “unexplainable” properties will be discovered, and the Shroud will continue to baffle scientists well into the future.

1898: The Shroud was photographed for the first time by an Italian named Secondo Pia. His pictures led to a startling discovery: The cloth’s faint yellowed image of a man, as seen with the naked eye, is actually a negative image that, when developed, turns into a detailed black and white positive. Pia’s unexplainable discovery startled him, along with Church authorities and the scientific community. It also stimulated worldwide interest in the Shroud. The modern era of Shroud science had begun.

1931: Thirty-three years, later given the advancement of photography, Guisseppe Enrie was commissioned by the Church to photograph the Shroud for a second time. Enrie confirmed Pia’s finding that the Shroud is a negative image that develops as a positive. (Pia, still alive, was vindicated after his photos had been questioned by Church authorities.) Copies of Enrie’s photos were circulated throughout the world. His prints prompted more scientific inquiry and increased general interest in the mysterious cloth with the unforgettable face of a deceased, crucified man.

1950: A Doctor at Calvary” was published by Dr. Pierre Barbet, a prominent French surgeon. His book documented 15 years of medical research on the Shroud image, often in gruesome detail. Dr. Barbet described the physiology and pathology of the crucified man on the Shroud as “anatomically perfect.”

1973: Max Frei, a noted Swiss criminologist, was given permission to take dust samples from the Shroud that contained numerous pollen spores. He discovered 22 pollen species from plants unique to areas around Constantinople and Edessa, (where the Shroud was thought to have traveled after leaving Jerusalem) as well as seven pollen species from plants common only in Israel. The pollen trail appears to corroborate the historic trail.

1975: Air Force scientists John Jackson and Eric Jumper, using a VP-8 Image Analyzer designed for the space program, discovered the Shroud image contained encoded 3-D data not found in ordinary reflected light photographs. Their discovery indicated that the cloth contained “distance information” and must have wrapped a real human figure at the time the image was formed. (In 2010 the History Channel first aired what was to become a popular, long-running documentary, “Real Face of Jesus?” The film interfaced the Shroud’s 3-D data, first found in 1975, with 21st-century computer graphics to construct the “real” face of the man depicted on the Shroud.)

1978: The Shroud was on public exhibit for six weeks for the first time since 1933. At the close of the exhibition, nearly 30 scientists (headed by John Jackson and Eric Jumper) comprised the Shroud of Turin Research Project known as STURP. The scientists, representing numerous areas of expertise, analyzed the Shroud for five continuous days using state-of-the-art technology at the time.

STURP Team looking at shroud

John Jackson, Prof. Luigi Gonella and Eric Jumper prepare to begin the examination of the Shroud of Turin in 1978. Shroud Photographs ©1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc

1980: National Geographic magazine published a landmark article on the Shroud. Utilizing STURP photography, National Geographic propelled the cloth into the science and mainstream limelight after calling the Shroud, “One of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times.”

1981: After three years of analyzing the scientific data collected in 1978, the STURP scientists’ publicly shared their findings at an international conference in New London, CT. All the scientists agreed to the concluding statement: “Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery.” The final paragraph of STURP’s written report read:

We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The bloodstains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery, and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.”

1988: STURP’s conclusions led to an interest in the date of the cloth, and the Vatican authorized testing. A small corner of the Shroud was cut and radiocarbon dated (C-14) by three laboratories in Oxford, Zurich, and Arizona. The labs determined a date range from between 1260 to 1390. This earth-shattering news contradicted STURP’s conclusions that supported the Shroud’s possible authenticity.

Additionally, the C-14 test results shocked the global Shroud scientific community who, in general, from day one, was highly suspicious of the medieval date due to the test’s questionable protocols. It is these extremely controversial 1260 to 1390 dates that birthed the phrase; the “Shroud is medieval hoax,” which negatively impacted and denigrated the Shroud for decades. (Keep reading for important 2005 and 2019 updates about the raw data used in the 1988 test.)

1988 reveal of carbon dating of shroud

Press conference British Museum, on Oct. 13, 1988 announcing the 1260 -1390 Shroud dating, shocking the world and the Shroud scientific community. Photo is public domain.

1997: Avinoam Danin was a prominent Israeli Botanist and professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He confirmed the presence of flower images on the Shroud verifying 28 different pollen species and plant images — many that grow only around Jerusalem. Danin famously wrote, “March-April is the time of year when the whole assemblage of some 10 of the plants identified on the Shroud is in bloom.” Danin’s book, “Botany of the Shroud,” was published in 2010.

2004: Textile expert Mechthild Flury-Lemberg revealed that the stitching of a seam on the Shroud that runs the entire length, known as the “side-strip,” is typical of Jewish burial shrouds found in the ancient fortress of Masada in southern Israel. She verifies the Shroud as a style of textile used in First Century Israel.

2005: Raymond Rogers was Director of Chemical Research for STURP. He was a renowned American thermal chemist who, for over three decades, worked at the prestigious Los Alamos National Laboratory. Rogers obtained thread samples from the same outer corner of the Shroud that in 1988 was C-14 tested — along with thread samples from the interior of the Shroud. After conducting additional micro-chemical and spectroscopic tests, he proved that the samples were not the same.

The key to Roger’s finding was that the area cut for C-14 dating appears to be from a medieval reweave instead of the original Shroud. Rogers study concluded: “The radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud.”

Rogers’s results, published in a peer-reviewed journal, confirmed the concerns of the Shroud’s scientific community, and in 2004 he answered the most frequently asked questions about his study. Rogers’ breakthrough study provided the answers as to why the 1988 C-14 test results were so suspect. It turned out that the C-14 test labs violated the original sampling protocol established in 1985. Three different samples were to be cut; instead, only one sample was used. Ignoring caution from archaeologists, the test administrators cut the test sample from the most handled area of the cloth — the outside corner edge. That area is exactly where, for centuries, the Shroud had been held and handled by royalty and Church authorities for public celebrations and exhibitions. Therefore, the Shroud cloth sample tested was cut from the area with the most potential for contamination, damage, and, as Rogers believes, may have been repaired.

2011: European researchers with the Italian ENEA (National Agency for New Technologies) replicated the depth and coloration of the Shroud image using a 40 nanosecond burst from a UV excimer laser. This test is the first time any aspect of the image has been reproduced using light. An ENEA News report dated Dec.21, 2011, was headlined: “Scientists Suggest Turin Shroud Authentic.” The opening paragraph read:

A team of researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA), Italy, has found that the Shroud of Turin is not a fake and the body image was formed by a sort of electromagnetic source of energy.”

2013:  Researchers with Padua University in Italy obtained a dozen samples from other linens of a known age ranging from the current era to 3000 BC. They were able to develop a predictable rate of chemical and mechanical decay. By comparing fibers from the Shroud, they determine an estimated date range of 280 BC to 220 AD that includes the First Century. The test results are widely reported throughout the world in the secular media.

2014: The linen decay research continues to be peer-reviewed and a leading member of the Padua University research team,  Professor Giulio Fanti publishes a book, “Turin Shroud: First Century A.D.” According to the book’s press release, “The new dating methods are published in prestigious international journals, and no one has yet pointed out methodological errors.”

2015: A respected Shroud researcher and author Mark Antonacci writes a breakthrough book: “Test the Shroud: At the Atomic and Molecular Levels.” Antonacci proposes that a new series of sophisticated, minimally-invasive tests be performed on the Shroud at the atomic and molecular levels. His hypothesis is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and although it involves a miraculous event consistent with the resurrection, its occurrence can be scientifically tested. Antonacci asserts that these proposed tests could prove whether the Shroud was irradiated with particle radiation; whether the source was the length, width, and depth of the crucified corpse in the cloth; when this event happened; where it occurred; the age of the Shroud and its blood; and the identity of the victim. Antonacci brings his testing request to the Vatican.

2018: The results of “blood flow tests” make headlines around the world: “New Forensic Tests Suggest Shroud of Turin is Fake.” The tests, using blood on mannequins and volunteers, determine that the blood flows, as seen on the Shroud, differed from their tests. These led to the conclusion that the Shroud is fake. The tests are highly criticized by numerous, distinguished members of the Shroud’s scientific and scholarly community. The conclusions also contradict STURP’s findings and that of several forensic pathologists. The wide mainstream news coverage of the test results is out of proportion to the methodology and validity of the study. The coverage also does not detail the known bias of the group who conducted the study.

2019: The 1988 radiocarbon test (C-14) concluding that the Shroud dated between 1260 -1390 is subjected to new scrutiny. The controversial results of the C-14 tests published in the prestigious scientific journal “Nature” in 1989, did not publish all the data because it was not provided by the British Museum. And, for 30 years, Shroud scientists had accused the museum of hiding the raw data.

In 2017 French researcher, Tristan Casabianca filed a legal action against the British Museum, which oversaw the C-14 testing labs in 1988. The museum complied and finally releases all the raw data. Casabianca’s research team ran new tests and conclude in their 2019 report that there were numerous dates that fell outside the range published in “Nature.” They prove that the Shroud cloth sample is not homogenous, and the 1988 results, famously reported with “95% confidence” are suspect. Casabianca’s team supports the widely-held belief that something went awry with the C-14 tests, which for the ensuing decades discouraged Shroud research and disparaged the Shroud as a medieval fake. Casabianca and his team are advocating that the Vatican authorize a variety of new 21st-century testing methods not available in 1988 or 1978 during STURP’s testing.

Science Cannot Explain the Shroud’s Mysterious Characteristics and Properties

The Shroud is fascinating to scientists, the religious community, and the general public because of the numerous mysteries contained on, in, or NOT on, in, the cloth. All the cloth’s unexplained mysteries point to two overarching questions:

– Is the Shroud the authentic burial cloth that wrapped Jesus? 

– Is the Shroud proof of Christ’s resurrection? 

Four decades ago, for the first and only time, King Umberto II (then owner of the Shroud) authorized comprehensive testing providing STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) with hands-on access to the cloth. Today, STURP’s 1978 findings still stand as the primary scientific source cataloging the Shroud’s unique properties.

Below is a partial list found by STURP’s team of over 30 distinguished scientists:

  • No substances manually applied to the cloth.
  • No artistic substances such as paint, ink, dye, pigments, or stain were used to constitute the image.
  • No collagen binder as would be used with paint.
  • No fibers cemented to each other as with paint.
  • No capillary action — meaning no liquids were applied to form the image.
  • No substances found between threads, as with a dust rubbing.
  • Bloodstains on cloth test positive for heme, bile, serum albumin, and other human blood components. The blood is male type AB.

The blood marks seen on the shroud are consistent with a contact transfer to the cloth of blood clot exudates that would have resulted from major wounds inflicted on a man who died in the position of crucifixion.” Dr. Al Adler—Blood chemist STURP Team

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