Turin Shroud: the latest evidence will challenge the sceptics

By Fr Dwight Longnecker on the CATHOLIC HERALD 

An exact copy of the Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus Christ, is displayed at the chapel of the Cahtholic Armenian patriarch’s residence in an east Beirut neighbourhood (JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

Sceptics may dismiss the Turin Shroud, but there is good evidence the relic is authentic

A verse in the epistle to the Hebrews asserts that faith is “the substance of things hoped for – the evidence of things not seen.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an event forever hoped for, but it is also an event unseen.

Believers in the Shroud of Turin, however, insist that the Shroud is the substance of this hope and the evidence of this unseen event. It is, they believe, the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. It has been venerated as such for centuries, and since the 17th century, when it came to Turin, has been the cathedral’s best-known treasures. Popes have come to gaze on the Shroud; Benedict XVI said when he visited in 2010 that “we see, as in a mirror, our suffering in the suffering of Christ”.

Sceptics pooh-pooh the whole story. They refer to the 1987 Carbon-14 dating and say, “It’s medieval. Science has spoken. That settles it.” But the believers bounce back, and year by year, as modern technology advances, more and more evidence accumulates which causes anyone who reads the research to be sceptical of the sceptics. The most recent claim – that the blood on the Shroud is from a torture victim – has re-opened the debate.

The delicious irony is that it is our sceptical, scientific society that has empowered all the new evidence. The Shroud’s relationship with modern technology began in 1898 when Secondo Pia took the first photographs of the Shroud. When he developed the negative he noticed that it showed a positive image of a human face. He concluded that the image itself was therefore, in effect, a photographic negative. The question immediately arises, “If the Shroud is a medieval forgery how did they do that?”

Professor Nicholas Allen of South Africa proposed that the materials and knowledge to produce a “photograph” existed in the Middle Ages. He then proceeded to produce a Shroud-like image on a piece of linen using his theoretical process. However, the imaging expert Barrie Schwortz, not himself a Christian, has challenged Allen’s work, which he says only accounts for some of the Shroud’s properties.

Like a tennis ball, the hypotheses are whacked back and forth. One scientist proposes a new idea of how the mysterious Shroud could have been produced only to have another researcher argue that it was impossible.

In 1987 the Shroud was subjected to carbon-14 dating technology which dated it to the 13th century. Predictably, the result has been criticised for a range of reasons. The most recent critique argues that the samples used for the 1987 test were taken from an edge of the Shroud that was not simply patched in the middle ages, but patched with a difficult-to-detect interweaving. The Carbon-14 tests (it is argued) were therefore compromised.

A different sort of dating test was conducted by Giulio Fanti of Padua University in 2013. This technology uses infra-red light and spectroscopy to measure the radiation intensity through wavelengths, and from these measurements a date can be calculated. Fanti’s method dated fibres from the Shroud to 300 BC–400 AD. Of course, there are critics who argue that Fanti’s methods are unreliable.

There is now a mountain of evidence about the Shroud, but too many dismiss the possibility of the Shroud’s authenticity based on the Carbon-14 dating alone.

However, a good detective does not rely on one piece of evidence. Instead he gathers and weighs all the facts. Here are the pieces of evidence which I find compelling.

1) The image. It is not a stain, nor is it painted on the Shroud. It is not burned on in a conventional heat application method. Instead it is seared on to the cloth with a technology that has yet to be explained. Not only can scientists and historians not reproduce the image using medieval technologies, they can’t reproduce it with modern technology.

Italian scientist Paolo DiLazzaro tried for five years to replicate the image and concluded that it was produced by ultraviolet light, but the ultraviolet light necessary to reproduce the image “exceeds the maximum power released by all ultraviolet light sources available today.” The time for such a burst “would be shorter than one forty-billionth of a second, and the intensity of the ultra violet light would have to be around several billion watts.”

2) The 3D capabilities of the image. The image of the man on the Shroud can be read by 3D imaging technology. Paintings fail this test.

3) The evidence of crucifixion. The wounds of the crucified man are all consistent not only with Roman crucifixion, but the details of Jesus’ particular crucifixion – the scourging, the crown of thorns, no broken bones, and the wound in the side. In addition, medieval paintings show the nails in the palm of Christ’s hands, the Shroud shows the nail wounds in his wrists which is anatomically correct. The flesh of the palms would not have supported the weight of the man’s body.

4) Geography. Pollen from the Shroud is not only from the Jerusalem area, but from Turkey and the other places the Shroud is supposed to have resided. Dust from the area of the image by the knees and feet is from the area around Jerusalem.

5) The evidence of Jewish burial customs. The Shroud details are perfectly consistent with first-century Jewish burial customs. There are even microscopic traces of the flowers that would have been used in the burial-flowers that grew locally and were known to be used for burial. In addition, traces of the spices used for Jewish burial have been discovered.

6) The blood and the image. The bloodstains on the Shroud are real human blood, not paint. The flow of the blood accurately reflects crucifixion and subsequent burial. The image was seared on the linen after the bloodstains. The fact that the bloodstains retain their reddish colour is evidence that the blood came from a person under extreme duress. The most recent finding again suggests that the crucified man was tortured.

7) The type of cloth. The cloth is consistent with fabrics from first-century Israel, but not with medieval Europe. A forger would have had to not only forge the image, but would have had to have detailed knowledge of linen weaves of the first century and then not only reproduce it, but age it convincingly.

We are not obliged to believe in the Shroud; it is undeniably mysterious. Having said that, it is also mysterious how dismissive most sceptics are. They cry out for scientific evidence, but when evidence is produced few really examine it closely. They simply shrug and say, “Well, we just don’t know. Nothing has been proven. All we have is an old cloth for which there is no explanation as yet.”

One of the principles of creative scepticism is that the obvious answer is usually the right one. The obvious answer, to my mind, is that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

I believe the Shroud is authentic, but if sceptics come up with a convincing answer to the questions the Shroud presents I am open-minded. My faith is rooted in the Resurrection, not the Shroud itself. The fact that the Shroud remains a mystery is a reminder of that other verse from the New Testament that “we walk by faith and not by sight.”

This article first appeared in the August 4 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here

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41 Responses to Turin Shroud: the latest evidence will challenge the sceptics

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Turin, circa 1298 A.D.
    “Ciao, Giuseppe!”
    “Sì, Luigi?”
    “I gotta mia splendida idea!”
    “Che, Luigi?”
    We gonna maka fortissimo forgeryssimo of a Jesus ona larga clotha that no one a gonna see until la fotografia is invented about a 600 years from a now!”
    (© JH)
    “I believe the Shroud is authentic”, says Fr Longnecker. Unlike he, I remain a Stiffnecker. I will not believe unless I see Jesus’ eyes miraculously opened on the Shroud. Until then, I belong to the Toad School of Reliquary Physics. I’m happy to venerate this object as a sacramental, whatever its lost-in-the-mists-of time provenance may be. My Anglican wife and I first saw a facsimile on display at St Paul’s Basilica in Toronto on 17 March 2000 (maybe 18 March). I remember Pope John Paul II (as he then was) being quoted in the visitor brochure saying that he didn’t know if the Turin one was *the real McCoy*, but he thought it could be.


  2. Crow says:

    An example of the sceptic was Emile Zola, who visited Lourdes for the purpose of writing an expose on the incredulity of the faithful, only to be faced with two miracles. He wrote “Lourdes”, and did not mention one of the miracles. He put the second cure in his novel but depicted the woman as relapsing on her way home, implying that it was hysteria or susceptibility. He knew that there had been no relapse, contrary to his portrayal of her, as he had been in communication with her. When questioned on his honesty by the President of the Medical Bureau of Lourdes, M Boissarie, Zola said that he was an artist and could do what he liked – Shades of Dan Brown – except with talent!
    He said to Dr Boissarie; “Were I to see all the sick at Lourdes cured, I would not believe in a miracle.”
    (See Belief and Unbelief:Emile Zola at Lourdes, George Sim Johnston, December 1, 1989.)

    So, who is the objective one – Father Longnecker and JH, who are curious about the evidence, reverent in regard to the shroud itself, but distinguish it from something to be worshipped and yet willing to accept the evidence if it is proved a fake, or the sceptics?


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    What a kind comment from Crow.


  4. Roger says:

    This is one of the numerous reasons why I simply stopped reading and commenting on these blogs.

    St Emmerich knew whether an object had been blessed or not. In some cases she confirmed relics. St Pio read consciences and bilocuted,

    The Shroud had a history prior to being photographed. But of course that negative image is a sign of contradiction is it not? Argued over, denied, derided – all very familiar really.

    My Faith takes me to the sight of Our Lord scourged, crowned with thorns , crucified, his side pierced by a lance.
    Now Pilates question was what is Truth? Before Him was Truth in all His majesty and glory the scourged and crowned Saviour. The Image on the Shroud is also immediately prior to the Resurrection.

    That negative image presents the Truth of the God Man (not the masonic man god) to so called modern scientific Man.
    And Why My Lord? Because of SIN!! and the price paid for SIN. The perpetual Holy Sacrifice Of The Mass this price for SIN continues to be made through the priest celebrant.

    The Holy Family because they are the model for all Christians. Jesus , Mary and Joseph.
    I contrast this with an Atheist generation that has legalised the mass murder of babies, the destruction of families and marriage. Legalises bestiality all in the name of Man and so called Truth.

    Placed before this Generation of its Human Rights WE HAVE THE IMAGE OF THE CRUCIFIED and the Price of Man’s SIN.
    What is TRUTH?


  5. johnhenrycn says:

    “This is one of the numerous reasons why I simply stopped reading and commenting on these blogs.”

    I’d be thrilled to believe it’s me you’re referring to, Roger – almost as much as I am thrilled to think that a certain Dublin paralegal left here because of me – but your meaning is hardly ever clear.


  6. Crow says:

    ??? I’m totally lost…..(but I love the idea of waiting 600 years for the forgery to take effect!)


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    “I’m totally lost…”
    No worries, Crow, if you’re not as fluent as I and JabbaPapa (my underling) in Italian.


  8. The best evidence for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin can be found on this website: http://www.shroud.com/ which is Edited by Barrie Schwoltz, a Jewish man who was the official photographer for the team of scientists who examined the Shroud in 1078 just prior to the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.


  9. Typo in my comment :The date for the team of scientists examining the Shroud should be “1978.”


  10. johnhenrycn says:

    Another typo: Barrie Schwortz. Don’t ask me how I knew.


  11. My apologies to Barrie. My husband and I met him a few years ago when he gave a presentation to our tour group in Turin where the Shroud was being displayed. I was very impressed with his knowledge and dedication to compiling and presenting the evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    Only a silly person looking at Wikipedia would ever have known of your mistake.


  13. Here is a video of Barrie:

    The Shroud and the Jew:


  14. johnhenrycn says:

    That Barrie Schwortz video is much better than this one which Grampa always made me shut off when he came home on the bus from the nuclear plant. He thought the girls’ skirts were too short. Neither of us clued in to the homosexual sotto voce whispers:


  15. johnhenrycn says:

    Awww. Well this is why I should never leave comments.


  16. kathleen says:

    There is such a mountain of scientific evidence pointing to the Shroud of Turin having been the very same linen cloth that covered the Sacred Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Tomb* that I am always amazed to find people of Faith doubting its authenticity. True, we must always remain open-minded to material, physical matter giving proof of the Invisible and Divine – Faith is, after all, always a choice, never an obligation – but when even the Carbon 14 dating negative results have a perfectly valid explanation, there is absolutely NOTHING that points to the relic of the Shroud as being a forgery.

    Many view the Holy Shroud of Turin as God’s gift for our Secular, incredulous age. Something like a little push in the right direction.

    * The holy Face-cloth of Oviedo that covered Our Saviour’s Holy Face from the Cross to the Tomb, where it was then removed (i.e. before the Resurrection took place) was “discovered” well before the Shroud of Turin. It took a totally different route into Europe, and yet it matches the Shroud in every way, especially in its identical bloodstains and unusual blood group.


  17. JabbaPapa says:

    when even the Carbon 14 dating negative results have a perfectly valid explanation

    In point of fact, they don’t — there is a direct discrepancy between two dating results, which does not constitute pretty much by definition anything “perfectly valid”.


  18. Crow says:

    How moving was that TED Talk by Barrie Shwortz! Thank you.


  19. John says:

    An image of a man with long hair and Nordic features purporting to be a middle eastern man who considered it a disgrace for men to have long hair that got carbon dated to the Middle Ages. There will always be skeptics no matter how many of those quaint
    tidbits are accumulate.


  20. JabbaPapa says:

    who considered it a disgrace for men to have long hair

    riiiiiiight …


  21. kathleen says:

    there is a direct discrepancy between two dating results

    Of course there is, Jabba!

    The author reports that: “the samples used for the 1987 test were taken from an edge of the Shroud that was not simply patched in the middle ages, but patched with a difficult-to-detect interweaving.”
    Therefore depending on how many of these interwoven threads from the Shroud were taken (the repair-work being made in the Middle Ages) and were included in the three, not two, samples then sent to three prestigious universities for the Carbon 14 dating process, the final results of the test would alter slightly. There were clearly enough of these newer repair threads within each of the three samples for the erroneous official result of the dating of the Shroud. Whereas they differed slightly, the dates were all given as being from around the Middle Ages.

    What needs to be done now that this mistake of taking samples from the repaired edge of the Shroud has been admitted, is to arrange another test, making sure this time that the samples taken are all from the untampered parts of the Shroud. The guardians of the Shroud are not too happy with this idea though, for it would mean destroying parts of this very precious relic!


  22. toadspittle says:

    On asking myself why I’m somewhat sceptical of The Shroud, I realise it’s because I’ve learned at least one lesson over the years: Things that seem too good to be true – usually are


  23. toadspittle says:

    Another shroud thought:
    If we’d been alive in the 13th Century and were presented with The Shroud OF Christ , would our first reaction be, “It’s a bit shabby – got a little hole in one corner – better get it invisibly mended?” I doubt it. It’s not as if anyone was planning to re-use it, surely?
    We might as well say, “It’s got some nasty stains as well – better get it washed and scrubbed “?

    It’s as if we were given a piece of The true Cross. Would our 13th Century thought be, ” It’s nice, but a bit rough and scratched – Better get it sanded down, waxed and polished?”

    ….Or is this just more Toad silliness? Probably.


  24. Roger says:

    I welcome your scepticism Toad because I think you are an interest type of the 20th century. The complete lack of Faith is a sign of this Apostacy. Also that Catholics should be in ignorance of the most basic and fundamental truths of their belief.

    To start with what is call today science. This is sponsored with the funding setting the agenda and money direction of research and discover.
    As you should know there is a global monopoly on the markets (New Scientist a while ago had an interesting article its about 150 Global groups) The research and funding of so called science is controlled by these groups and their agendas.

    Now we know through the public revelation that Graces and Blessings and relics have always been instrumental in the Life of the Faith and the Church. The practice from the early church was embedding first class relics (especially of the early martyrs) in the altars. Relics are and have always been essential in the spread of graces and blessings. This is in the deposit of the Faith.

    The tradition of the Shroud was to treat this is a first class relic of Christ. Show me were science can measure consciences or blessings or graces. Can science distinguish between the blessed water and ordinary water? Can science recognise the sacraments effects on mans soul?

    Our Lord said of His return Shall I find Faith?


  25. The Raven says:

    Hello Toad

    I’m afraid that you’re busily applying 21st century sensibilities to an earlier age: preserving an object in its original condition is something that we’ve come to do from the late 20th Century onwards; earlier generations were only too happy to tart up shabby relics (vide the scrubbing of the Elgin Marbles to make them whiter, removing all the historically exciting traces of paint in the process).

    The relic of the True Cross was chopped up quite a bit (mostly into small shavings of timber, which were then encased in gold and crystal – contrary to the usual cliche, if you assembled the relics of the Cross into one piece you’d probably end up with a respectably sized lollipop stick and little else).

    It doesn’t strike me as at all surprising that the medieval mind might look at a shabby piece of cloth and think “this is precious, it should be mended”, instead of the modern mind, which would say “this is precious, let’s preserve it in the wrecked state that it’s in”.


  26. toadspittle says:

    “It doesn’t strike me as at all surprising that the medieval mind might look at a shabby piece of cloth and think “this is precious, it should be mended”, instead of the modern mind, which would say “this is precious, let’s preserve it in the wrecked state that it’s in”.
    …rather than embellish it a bit, round the edges to keep the fans happy.
    Yes. I see.
    Splendidly put, Raven. And very possibly true in every single respect.
    (Matter of opinion, of course.)

    We are not Reformation, or Medieval, or Bronze Age, people . We are “Modern,” however much we might hate it. So, on with the carbon dating, part 2, or 98.
    And let the shavings of The True Cross fall where they may.

    Personally, I will be delighted if all the evidence points unequivically to the historical veracity of The Shroud. Very thought-provoking and stimulating, it will be. Even the perfidious Jews of today’s Hollywood might be convinced. (Unlikely, though.)

    “Can science distinguish between the blessed water and ordinary water?
    Can science recognise the sacraments effects on mans soul?”

    No, Roger. And neither can religion, in any coherent fashion. Can Muslims, Mormons, or Mennonites?
    Figuring out whether water is “sacred,” ot not – is not Science’s job. Nor should it be any sane person’s.
    Raven will agree, I am reasonably confident.
    Nor does “science” offer any opinion at all as to whether we actually have souls or not. Why should it? Not it’s job. What does science care? I think we probably don’t have “souls,” in the biblical sense. But I might well be wrong. We shall see.

    Science’s job is to try to figure stuff out – by trial and error.
    Ho, hum. ….Back to the old drawing board. Yet again.


  27. Regarding the patching of the shroud..my recollection of the purpose for the patching and re-weaving was that the shroud was folded and kept in a metal casket, but it was involved in a fire in the middle ages which damaged the shroud on the folds. There was also a more recent fire and in the late 20th century in which the casket containing the shroud was involved, but I am not sure what if any damage happened to the shroud at that time.
    The website, shroud.org , the official Shroud of Turin website has just about any information re the history and scientific testing on the shroud which is available…I am sure that most if not all questions re these topics could be answered by searching the site. You can also e-mail Barrie from the site with any additional questions.


  28. Make that http://www.shroud.com for the official Shroud of Turin website.


  29. johnhenrycn says:

    The Raven: “…preserving an object in its original condition is something that we’ve come to do from the late 20th Century onwards; earlier generations were only too happy to tart up shabby relics…”
    Even today, this is a problem for archaeologists and conservationists:

    “A few years ago the Smithsonian Institution in Washington was forced to cancel a show it had planned on ancient Chinese bells when it was discovered that the Chinese were planning on sending copies and not originals. Similarly, Cordaro saw a major exhibition touring Europe of Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907) mural paintings that he felt certain were reproductions – a suspicion [later] confirmed…The Chinese, like the Japanese and some other Asian nations, have a tradition of conserving by copying, or rebuilding.”

    Alexander Stille, The Future of the Past “The Culture of the Copy and the Disappearance of China’s Past”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002, p. 41.


  30. toadspittle says:

    “The Raven: “…preserving an object in its original condition is something that we’ve come to do from the late 20th Century onwards; earlier generations were only too happy to tart up shabby relics…”
    Heartening to be informed by Raven that we all agree it would have been far better if The Shabby Old Shroud Of Christ had originally been dry-cleaned, rather than just “tarted up.”
    …Would have got all those unsightly stains out.

    And, for another thing, it would have saved all this extraordinary – and apparently interminable – fuss.


  31. Roger says:

    For devotees of the Holy Face I recommend meditating and praying before this beautiful image.

    Its not the best image of the Holy Face that I have seen the flash from the camera obscures some of the known images which devotees of the Holy Face can point out but you can see the Crucified hanging on the Cross. The manger with Our Lady and St Joseph each side and the Great Angel of God with His Wings.

    There are numerous images within the Holy Face which can be seen including the Eternal Father.

    There is no sign of the umbilical cord on the Shroud Image but of course there wouldn’t be would there!


  32. johnhenrycn says:

    You’re almost as bad as I, Roger, when it come to linking things on the internet. Almost.
    Must rush. New book just delivered to my Post Office.

    I will let you know what it’s like.


  33. johnhenrycn says:

    Interesting that Knox is buried in an Anglican cemetery. St Andrew’s, in Mells.


  34. The Raven says:

    Not just a medieval or oriental vice this “tarting things up” malarkey:



  35. The Raven says:

    Well, JH, the burial of Catholics in cemeteries that have been commandeered by heretics has been going on since the sixteenth century (although Catholic burials had to take place by torchlight during the penal times).


  36. johnhenrycn says:

    Still, it would have been nice if the Catholic stonemason who engraved his headstone had spelled his middle name correctly. Arbuthnott.


  37. toadspittle says:

    If I recall rightly, Waugh based the Suave Jesuit, Father Rothschild in Vile Bodies, on “Ronnie.” Not sure, though. Anyway, here’s an amusing quote from Father R.

    “I know very few young people, but it seems to me that they are all possessed with an almost fatal hunger for permanence. I think all these divorces show that. “


  38. johnhenrycn says:

    “People aren’t content just to muddle along nowadays…” is how your quote is supposed to end, Toad. That last bit is necessary to show the full ironic sense the passage is meant to convey.

    The “Suave Jesuit”, Toad? Sorry, can’t help you. But Waugh was Knox’s literary executor, and Waugh would never have written anything to place his great friend in a bad light. Thus:
    “Every word you have written and spoken has been pure light to me.”
    Letter from Waugh to Knox, 18 November 1950.


  39. toadspittle says:

    Waugh wrote Vile Bodies before he converted, so might have had less compunction about taking a dig at Ronnie than later.
    But I don’t think he really guys Knox in the book, anyway.
    “….That last bit is necessary,”
    Not to me, it isn’t.
    Takes all sorts though, dunnit?


  40. Roger says:

    I give you a pearl and you turn to the swine (human works)
    Look at the Rose Window and Chartes. Look at the Bible. Look at the saints. Now re look at the Holy Face on the Shroud because this is the God-Man. Our Lady washed that Face. Our Lady placed (like a wedding veil) that shroud over that Face. Why are you so easily DISTRACTED.


  41. Roger says:

    I wanted to come back to this because although its little know the Holy Face was for at least 1500 years associated with Russia.
    The importance of what was known as the Mandylion and King Abgar and Edessa

    “..Author Ian Wilson has argued that the object venerated as the Mandylion from the 6th to the 13th centuries was in fact the Shroud of Turin, folded in four, and enclosed in an oblong frame so that only the face was visible. Wilson cites documents in the Vatican Library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, which seem to suggest the presence of another image at Edessa. A 10th-century codex, Codex Vossianus Latinus Q 69 found by Gino Zaninotto in the Vatican Library contains an 8th-century account saying that an imprint of Christ’s whole body was left on a canvas kept in a church in Edessa: it quotes a man called Smera in Constantinople: “King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body” (in Latin: [non tantum] faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere poteris)…”

    It is also I think very important to be made aware of what happened in 1988 in Russia. Remember the planning for this started pre 1980 and the Soviets getting involved at the latest 1983

    “..The 1000th Anniversary of the Christianization of Rus’ (1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus, Russian: 1000-летие крещения Руси) was an occasion marked by events held in the USSR from May – June 1988, to celebrate the introduction of Christianity to Russia by Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich in 988. Originally, the celebrations were planned for the church only. However, the anniversary became a statewide event…”


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