Tue 23rd Sep 2014 | Last updated: Tue 23rd Sep 2014 at 06:36am

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

The Shroud of Turin – why I believe

The Church has always maintained a neutral stance on its authenticity but the faithful are free to believe

By on Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Holy Shroud, a 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, is shown at the Cathedral of Turin Photo: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni,

The Holy Shroud, a 14 foot-long linen revered by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, is shown at the Cathedral of Turin Photo: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni,

There was an interesting feature on the Holy Shroud in the Telegraph last Saturday. Written by former Herald editor, Peter Stanford, it was an interview with one Thomas de Wesselow, an agnostic and former Cambridge art historian, who has thrown up a promising academic career at King’s College to research a book about the Shroud. Just published, it is called “The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection”. I would love to recommend it to readers but won’t do so for reasons I shall explain below.

Before I go any further, let me reassure readers that the Church has always maintained a neutral stance as to the Shroud’s authenticity, though she does commend it as an article of devotion. I am not even sure Stanford is correct when he says that the Church “accepts the result” of the (notorious) 1988 carbon-dating of the Shroud, which decided it was a medieval forgery. I don’t think the Church – as opposed to an individual cleric, happy to chat to the press – has made a statement as to its fraudulence or otherwise; she leaves it to scholars and scientists to fight it out but does not forbid the faithful from coming to their own conclusions.

Having joined the million-plus pilgrims to Turin in 2010 to see the Holy Shroud displayed in Turin cathedral in one of its rare public showings, readers of this blog will know what side I come down on, quite apart from sensible criticism from other scientists about the flaws in the carbon-dating of 1988. I am not a scientist – indeed I never got beyond “general science” at school, of which I recall only the Latin meaning of “QED” – but I have been interested enough in this mysterious piece of cloth with its enigmatic figure of a tortured man, to have read some of the extraordinary scientific findings associated with it: that it is actually 3-dimensional; that the figure shows the systematic markings of 40 lashes of the dreaded Roman flagrum; that the herringbone pattern of the linen cloth went out of fashion by AD 150; that the image is like a photographic negative, centuries before cameras were invented; that the nail wounds are in the wrists (the only way a body can be suspended on a cross) rather than the palms depicted on medieval paintings; that there is evidence of pollen from Palestine in the linen fibres; that the thorns on the crown are from a near Eastern shrub and so on. Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

In the interview de Wesselow does mention the pollen discovery and the significant warp and weave of the cloth. Indeed, having given the Shroud his undivided attention for the last eight years, I am sure he knows a lot more about it than I do. Being an agnostic, he has come to his own conclusions as to what the Resurrection means – and inevitably they diverge rather widely from Christian scripture and tradition. They are too eccentric to reproduce here; suffice to say they do not involve the bodily Resurrection of Christ that we Christians have always believed.

Mind you, I write “we Christians” over-confidently. I can accept that de Wesselow, though correct as I see it about the provenance and image of the Shroud itself, might pick, choose and invent his own fanciful theological theories. But I admit I was startled to read that Peter Stanford, a former editor of this august newspaper, harbours his own doubts. He writes, “The exact nature of the Resurrection troubles me as it does many Christians. Was it physical, against all the laws of nature but as the Church claims, or was it ‘symbolic’, as the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, famously suggested in 1984?”

Good grief, man. Don’t you yet realise that the whole point of God is that he is not bound by “the laws of nature”? And that although symbols perform a useful function for the human imagination they are not the real thing? (When the writer Mary McCarthy once described the Blessed Sacrament as just a “symbol”, a finer American writer, Flannery O’Conner, who was listening, responded, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.”) Finally, who, outside woolly liberals, would ever give the time of day to the heretical and unedifying ramblings of the former Bishop of Durham on this subject?

  • Patrick Mulvey

    If similar proofs were made for another secular object (let’s say Caesar’s sword) similar to the Shroud of Turin, then the scientific community would declare than there is a very high probability that it what it purports to be.  However, since the Shroud relates to Our Lord and the orthodox faith of millions, some people will never believe it to be the burial cloth even if the carbon dating was first century AD.  I am a believer for many reasons in its authenticity but one personal.  In my home I have a little shrine with a icon reproduction of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, which is a pre-iconoclastic period (6th century) probably a gift from the Emperor Justinian, side by side with an artistic representation of a lifelike Jesus drawn from the Shroud of Turin.  A little while ago, my three year old son asked me why I had two different pictures of the same man.   Matthew 18:13, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”            

  • paulpriest

    It’s real…I’ve gone past belief in its veracity; the evidence is practically irrefutable.
    The more one researches; The more one finds that every other avenue of speculation or hypothesis is disproved.
    The Carbon-14 dating has to be invalid as the historically verified much older sudarion bloodstains match with the shroud; and those who performed the experiments are certain there was later cotton repair contaminants in the samples.
    The image itself – not pigment or chemical burning – the age-shrinkage, stretching and folding of the cloth, the way the cloth was made on a specific loom in a certain pattern , the pollen, the physiological corroboration with what we now know was involved in a crucifixion [http://onthesideoftheangels.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/reality-of-crucifixion-not-for.html ]  ; the bio-chemical analysis which flags the man was dead and how the death was due to crucifixion – there’s even microscopic evidence of a Pilate lepton coin on one of the eyes…

    …and the simple fact that the image defies emulation by the scientific community today – they know how to do it – but haven’t the technology – so how did it happen?

    The Resurrection happened – and we have to deal with it.

    Indeed it is a QED

  • Guest

    I have read recently the suggestion that Jesus’s hands were “toenailed,” i.e. the nails were driven diagonally, starting in the palms and out the wrist, perhaps therefore consistent with the shroud showing the back of the hands with a wrist wound, and paintings showing a wound in the palm.  It seems to me that a nail driving palm to wrist would hold better and be harder for the victim to pull out.

  • shieldsheafson

    Although the Shroud is iconic and certainly an object for devotion, I have always thought it unlikely to be Our Lord’s shroud: The image is like a photographic negative. If the shroud had been in contact with a real corpse (3-dimensional), upon laying out flat, the image (2-dimensional) would be distorted. Patently, it is not.

    I wonder if, by heating a metal statue to a sufficient temperature, a cloth held near enough to the hot metal might cause an image to be scorched on to the surface and with suitable chemical treatment be fixed?

    Any ideas?

    However, you son’s question has unnerved me and sowed a seed of doubt.

  • daclamat

    Isn’t the Eucharist enough?’ There’s no need for these conjuring trickc.  Grow up.

  • JabbaPapa

    If the shroud had been in contact with a real corpse (3-dimensional), upon laying out flat, the image (2-dimensional) would be distorted. Patently, it is not.

    Patently, distorted is exactly what it is.

    Interestingly, a typical thread about the Shroud that is dominated by deniers will see people claiming simultaneously that it’s “not distorted” ; but also that it was created with paint (or some other pigments) and draping cloth over a body.

    No matter the sheer lack of intercompatibility of these two suggestions.

    And it seems that you are typical in this respect…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Johnson/100002117620278 Adrian Johnson

    The good offices of the late Gen. Vernon Walters –a polymath of endless intellectual curiosity–got some down-time on NASA image technology for sindonologists. They discovered that the Turin shroud’s 3-D effect could be re-imaged digitally –eliminating distortion– in a way impossible, and indeed unimaginable until the 20th century.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Johnson/100002117620278 Adrian Johnson

    It would be logistically impossible to hold such a large, sagging piece of cloth over a large and irregular heated metal sculpture in such a precise way that the resulting image shows 1)  depth gradient on the surface of the fibres 2) on only one side of the cloth 3) without scorching any part of the image area of the cloth 4) with the only “chemical residue” on the cloth  the pollen of plants from the Jerusalem area.

  • Parasum

    1. X can be both a symbol, and the reality symbolised. One need look no further than the Incarnation

    2. “When the writer Mary McCarthy once described the Blessed Sacrament as
    just a “symbol”, a finer American writer, Flannery O’Conn[o]r, who was
    listening, responded, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.”)”

    ## Did McCarthy say “just a symbol”, or just a “symbol” ? There is a great difference in meaning.

    There is a problem here. The word “symbol” (which used to mean “creed” – “symbolical books” contain professions of faith) has acquired a reductive sense: to say “X is a symbol of Y” is understood by O’Connor as “X stands for Y, & is thus a sign of Y – and is nothing more”. This reductive understanding of symbols would have been unintelligible to Dante. In his poem, Virgil is a symbol, of human insight – but he is also Virgil the poet, the historical individual (with some post-Classical changes).

    To say that a lion is a symbol of Christ, does not deny that the lion is a lion. To call it “only a symbol” of Him, does. The Ascension is described in symbols – the cloud, for example. This does not mean that the Ascension is not a fact, but rather that something outside human experience cannot be adequately conveyed in language drawn from human experience. St. Luke could rely on his readers to  understand the OT background to his presentation of the event – modern Christians, being largely ignorant of the Bible, don’t pick up the clues.

    As for God’s not being bound by the laws of nature, that, even if agreed to be true, is open to different interpretations.   

    “Finally, who, outside woolly liberals, would ever give the time of
    day to the heretical and unedifying ramblings of the former Bishop of
    Durham on this subject?”

    As for the bishop of Durham:

    “We [= a report in The Grauniad] said of the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, “Most famously, he was reported as saying that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was a ‘conjuring trick with bones’. ” Strictly speaking that statement is true. He was indeed “reported” as saying that, but it was unhelpful of us to say so with no qualifying rider, or without simply inserting one word to make it, “He was – wrongly – reported as saying that the Resurrection … was a ‘conjuring trick with bones’. ”

    We could not say we did not know that. We did. The Bishop’s cuttings file in our library includes the report we carried of the broadcast in which the remarks that caused such a fuss were made. It is clear from that that the Bishop meant what he has always said he meant, that the Resurrection was “much more than a conjuring trick with bones”. Our own religious affairs correspondent at a later date wrote totally supporting this view.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/1999/sep/04/books.guardianreview10

    ## Not only are the words of Bishop Jenkins neither “heretical” nor “unedifying”, they are orthodox and edifying, because they are solid Christian theology. If people don’t quote or summarise ideas they reject, their readers and hearers will have no way to know what is being rejected. He deserves better
    than to be misrepresented in this way.

    Another correction: http://ntweblog.blogspot.co.uk/2005/07/conjuring-trick-with-bones.html

  • cephas2

    It seems that the more science progresses, the more proof there is for its authenticity. Same for the tilma of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Deo Gratias.

  • buckingham88

    What is the exact nature of the resurrection?When the original 1988 carbon dating came back with too much carbon 14 I thought there may be an answer,the resurrective act involved a flux of high energy neutrons that bumped up the amount of C14, left an image on the cloth and flattened the dating method.Since the scientific findings showed that the sample method was inadequate leading to an erroneous result this thought ‘experiment ‘was clearly wrong.Can God break His own laws?The short answer must be no.I sincerely hope this is so because some higher law must be involved in resurrection, and if it does not exist then it looks as though our faith and hope will be in vain.
    Having been brought up with a negative image of the Shroud on the mantlepiece,I have grown to doubt its authenticity and am very pleased that the Church has not defined it as authentic.My problem is that it fits the things that can be ‘fitted’,but does not do so in its subtleties.
    ‘And now He was in agony,and prayed still more earnestly;His sweat fell to the ground like thick drops of blood.’…’they blindfolded Him and struck Him on the face’…’Jesus he scourged..’they put round His head a crown of which they had woven out of thorns….beat Him over the head with a rod’.
    By this stage it would be reasonable to think that He was running low on salt due to sweat and blood loss,and his face was beaten to pulp and grossly swollen,His eyes slits.This would be made worse by the potential loss of clotting factors due to trauma and blood loss.He needed assistance to carry the wood of the cross.
    So what would you expect.By this time the bleeding would be hardly clotting and His face obscured by blood and serum.His face was wiped as He walked.
    You would expect no clear rivulets of clotted blood, and a visage totally disfigured and swollen.
    But the shroud shows a serene man with clear rivulets and closed eyes,almost as if He were not beaten.Everything else fits,the coins,the strokes the wound in the side the hands.
    So the problem for me is the dichotomy between the Gospel accounts and what you would expect to find on a shroud ,if it survived two thousand years.
    But for these eyewitness accounts the Church would not exist.The bedrock of the Catholic faith is the Gospel accounts .The shroud is an instrument of faith,but that is where it must stay.

  • daclamat

    Three days in the tomb, give or take an hour or two, putrefaction would have set in, and blue-bottles would have been having a field day, as any decent forensic pathologist will explain. Any shroud would bear irrefutable evidence. Jesus didn’t seem to be the sort of man going in for Houdini stuff. Do we have to believe that his Father stopped creation for a time, wound it back, and re-started it as though nothing had happened? Faith, not credulity.

  • SW

    in that case what about all those cases of saints whose bodies have been left incorrupt?

  • ForsythiaTheMariner

    As the icon of Christ Pantocrator from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai is allegedly from the 6th century, I don’t see any trouble with having Christ look somewhat differently in the Shroud of Turin (if is, indeed, our Lord’s burial shroud) and in a painting made 600 years later.

  • musore

    Why is it that polemicists like Francis Phillips (and others who make use of your space) love to use intemperate and derogatory language? “heretical and unedifying ramblings” is perhaps not as bad as some of the vitriolic language used  by your  subscribers who don’t  like other people’s standpoints but none of it is necessary, especially from the pens (or computers) of people who profess themselves to be Christian.

  • Scrivener

    To my mind, the reason why the image on the shroud is unlikely to be that of Christ is the size of the man depicted. He is about 6 feet tall whereas typical Jewish males in 1st Century Palestine were no taller than 5 feet 3 inches. Had Christ been 6 feet tall he would have been regarded as a physical giant at the time and surely the Gospels would have remarked upon it. And when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him his disciples had to point him out, something that would surely have been unnecessary had he been so tall.

  • John Klotz

    Those who
    claim the Resurrection was a miracle against the laws of nature have, perhaps,
    a limited view of the laws of nature. Atheist in chief Richard Dawkins writing
    in his epic screed against religion found the quantum theory of existence incomprehensible
    even though it works and was a factor in creation of the atom bomb.

     

    “Perhaps there are some
    genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach
    of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the
    unfathomable. But if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes
    anybody think that religion can?”

     

    Quantum
    phenomena operate at times independent of time and space. Nothing is defined
    until it is observed. That’s what confuses so many and why they find it inexplicable.
    Two quantum particles can become entangled. What happens to one happens to the
    other simultaneously.” Einstein called it “spooky,” I call it love.

     

    Some believe
    that human conscience is  quantum phenomenon.  Beneath the quantum level of existence is
    another level of existence that defines the quanta.  None dare call it God. But as it seeks to
    unravel the mysteries of the quantum, science is staring God in the face, it’s
    just that some scientists refuse to see it.

     

    The Resurrection?
    Under these circumstances is not a mystery, but a piece of cake.

     

    In October 2007,
    I wrote reflecting on the death of my adult son Michael. http://johnklotz.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html
     It used the scientific phrase “event
    horizon” as a metaphor for death: A black hole of such enormous gravity that
    even life can not escape its grasp. I also stated that those who love are
    joined in their psyches. At that time I was not aware of the concept of quantum
    entanglement except in a vague way.

     

    I now believe
    that love is a quantum entanglement of two or more consciousnesses. Our path to
    the  entanglement with God is
    entanglement with others, but the straightest path is entanglement with Jesus
    Christ.

     

    Dame Isabel
    Piscek has called the Shroud of Turin an event horizon of Christ’s
    Resurrection. I was unaware of that when I wrote in 2007. But as we used to
    sing in a hymn popular in the heady days of Vatican II:

     

    “We stand
    before your altar lord,

    To share a common
    meal.

    Love has
    brought us here today,

    For love
    makes symbol real.

     

    Amen and
    Happy Easter.

  • John Klotz

    [reformatted]
    Those who
    claim the Resurrection was a miracle against the laws of nature have, perhaps,
    a limited view of the laws of nature. Atheist in chief Richard Dawkins writing
    in his epic screed against religion found the quantum theory of existence incomprehensible
    even though it works and was a factor in creation of the atom bomb.

    “Perhaps there are some
    genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach
    of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the
    unfathomable. But if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes
    anybody think that religion can?”

    Quantum
    phenomena operate at times independent of time and space. Nothing is defined
    until it is observed. That’s what confuses so many and why they find it inexplicable.
    Two quantum particles can become entangled. What happens to one happens to the
    other simultaneously.” Einstein called it “spooky,” I call it love.

    Some believe
    that human conscience is  quantum phenomenon.  Beneath the quantum level of existence is
    another level of existence that defines the quanta.  None dare call it God. But as it seeks to
    unravel the mysteries of the quantum, science is staring God in the face, it’s
    just that some scientists refuse to see it.

    The Resurrection?
    Under these circumstances is not a mystery, but a piece of cake.

    In October 2007,
    I wrote reflecting on the death of my adult son Michael. http://johnklotz.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html
     It used the scientific phrase “event
    horizon” as a metaphor for death: A black hole of such enormous gravity that
    even life can not escape its grasp. I also stated that those who love are
    joined in their psyches. At that time I was not aware of the concept of quantum
    entanglement except in a vague way.

    I now believe
    that love is a quantum entanglement of two or more consciousnesses. Our path to
    the  entanglement with God is
    entanglement with others, but the straightest path is entanglement with Jesus
    Christ.

    Dame Isabel
    Piscek has called the Shroud of Turin an event horizon of Christ’s
    Resurrection. I was unaware of that when I wrote in 2007. But as we used to
    sing in a hymn popular in the heady days of Vatican II:

    “We stand
    before your altar lord,

    To share a common
    meal.

    Love has
    brought us here today,

    For love
    makes symbol real.

    Amen and
    Happy Easter.

    We used to
    sing in a hymn popular in the heady days of Vatican II:

     

    “We stand
    before your altar lord,

    To share a common
    meal.

    Love has
    brought us here today,

    For love
    makes symbol real.

     

    Amen and
    Happy Easter.

  • Telson7

    There are various opinions and researches of the shroud of Turin. Some people say that it is the genuine and some that it is the fake and the hoax. The fact is that the shroud of Turin doesn’t present Jesus of the Bible. If we can find even one evidence, which disprove the shroud of Turin theory, so the whole story shall be invalidated. We can find a large number of evidence from the Bible, which show that the shroud of Turin cannot be the shroud of the Lord Jesus.
    Source of the text; http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/shroudofturin.html

  • Steve

    At last: ‘love’ presents in a discussion re God.