The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is believed by many to have been used to inter Jesus Christ. It is a cloth made of linen, is essentially rectangular (4.3 by 1.1 meter) and bears the front and back images of a human body. The linen cloth is a fine rare weave: a 3-1 herringbone. Its average thickness is less than a quarter of a millimeter, around 0.23 mm, and its total weight is about one kilogram.

It is named Shroud of Turin because it is kept in the city of Turin in the North of Italy, not very far from France. The Shroud is securely stored in the Cathedral of Turin, in a protective sealed case, fully unrolled on a flat surface. The case is filled with an inactive gas (i.e., argon) to reduce oxidation of the linen of the Shroud. The Shroud itself is not visible to visitors although an enlarge copy of the image of the face of the Shroud can be seen near the protective case.
The Turin Cathedral, and the Royal Chapel, located in the back of the Cathedral. The Chapel was damaged by fire in 1997 and it is still being restored. We can see the reconstruction of the dome of the chapel in progress. The Shroud of Turin is normally kept in the Chapel but has been moved in the Cathedral during its restoration.

The Shroud is shown only on rare occasions. The four last expositions were in 1998 (celebrating the 100 years anniversary of the first photography of the Shroud), 2000 (the new millennium), in the Spring of 2010, and from April 19 to June 24, 2015. The last 17 years is the most active period of expositions over the last three centuries. The next exposition has not been announced, but it could be in 2025.

The image on the Shroud is physically unique. It is formed by a very thin layer of colored linen fibrils from the threads of the Shroud. The photomicrographs that were taken in 1978, which are accessible from this web site on Shroud Scope, present close-ups of the colored fibrils (See photomicrograph on Shroud Scope). What process caused this color to appear on the fibrils is unknown. Although many have proposed that the color comes from some paint, no compelling demonstration of the presence of paint has ever been given. For example, it is unknown how paint could has been applied on only the top fibrils of the threads.

The image of the Shroud encoded the body 3D data. That is, the intensity of the color of the fibrils is proportional to the distance from the body to the Shroud. This observation was made at least a century ago by Yves Delage. This proportional relation can be observed more easily from a photographic negative of the Shroud. This observation was recognized in 1898 from the first photography done by Secondo Pia. The 1931 photography of Giuseppe Enrie confirmed this observation. The observation that some body-cloth distance appear to be encoded in the image was alluded more than two centuries ago in the second manuscript of MS 826 kept at the Bibliothèque municipale de Besançon when comparing the shroud of Besançon and the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud is also stained with what appears to be blood. The bloodstains correspond to the narative of the gospels but the expected wounds in the palms of the hands are actually near the wrists. Major bloodstains are also visible from the right-side of the torso and the feet.

In 1988, a radiocarbon dating of the cloth was done with a resulting date between 1260 and 1390, with a confidence factor of 95%. It was based on a small sample taken near a corner of the Shroud (See sample of radiocarbon dating on the Shroud ). Naturally, if this dating were correct, the Shroud would not be authentic. But the dating has been critized for various reasons. For example, the results of the three laboratories have a high dregree of variance. Another major critic was the selection of the location of the radiocarbon dating sample near an area that was heavily stained by centuries of manipulation.

The origin of the Shroud is unclear. Although we know that the Shroud emerges from Lirey, France, around 1355, its first owners were not very clear about its provenance. The son of Geoffroy de Charny, wrote that his father obtained it as a gift. The granddaughter Marguerite de Charny stated in court that his grandfather acquired the Shroud. A medaillon depicting the Shroud with its double image was found in the Seine River in 1855. It bears the coat of arms of Geoffroy de Charny and his second wife Jeanne de Vergy. Other historical documents show that Geoffroy de Charny, a knight and counselor to king Philip VI of France, had acquired the Shroud.

A document written around 1525, most probably by the dean of the Church of Lirey, states that Geoffroy de Charny obtained the Shroud from king Philip VI. This gift was related to the tentative by Geoffroy de Charny to regain the city of Calais. The document, though, likely dates the events of the gift incorrectly but probably not by more than a few years. Since Louis IX, the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris housed one of the most famous relics of Christ, among them the Crown of Thorns and a large piece of the cross. These relics came from Constantinople. Philip VI could have taken the Shroud from one of these relics but without realizing that an image was on the cloth.


I invite the reader to read a short paper written by the professional photographer Aldo Guerreschi at The Turin Shroud: from the photo to the three-dimensional. In this paper, Aldo presents a personal experience of examining the Turin Shroud after the 1997 fire. I think that this personal introduction to the Shroud will give you a sense of the exceptional image inscribed on it. I quote from this paper:
While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from it remains the same, with the Shroud itself that is not the case.

Moving around that table from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure were almost outside the sheet; it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique.

Let me tell you more.

I asked permission to photograph some details of the face. As I said previously, I thought I knew it well.. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20 - 30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw ... nothing in the viewfinder; "and yet" I said " I know it by heart." I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it. So it is a barely perceptible image, one which escapes you, which leaves you perplexed.

I am convinced that if people could see it from close up they would not only feel great emotion, but would also realize the real consistency of this image, which would dispel the many doubts surrounding the authenticity of this sheet which unquestionably enshrouded a corpse, and of this there is absolutely no doubt.