Shroud still wrapped in divine mystery
In conjunction with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection comes the annual controversy over whether physical evidence exists for a miraculous event that still impacts the world and the foundation of our faith.
That “evidence” is the Shroud of Turin – a mysterious rectangular linen cloth measuring 14.6 feet long and 3.5 feet wide. The cloth bears a faint, continuous, front-to-back yellowed image of a bearded, crucified man with bloodstains matching the wounds suffered by Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in all four Gospels.
Since 1578, this holy relic has resided in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy (except from 1939 to 1946, when the Shroud was secretly moved after Italian authorities feared Hitler would seize the cloth in the belief he would gain supernatural power to win World War II).
The Shroud has earned the distinction as the world’s most revered and studied artifact due to numerous unexplained properties that still baffle 21stcentury scientists. Here is a brief overview of the Shroud’s mysteries:
How was the image formed?
There are several theories. Some scientists propose that radiation rose from within the body, resulting in a burst of light that scorched the cloth with a detailed, anatomically correct male image. Moreover, in 1978, distinguished scientists participating in the only comprehensive study ever authorized — the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) — concluded: “No pigments, paints, dyes or stains have been found,” and “The Shroud is not the product of an artist.”
Miraculously, the image does not penetrate the cloth; rather, it sits on top . But the male human Type AB blood does penetrate the cloth’s fibers. Thus, with no image under the blood, Shroud researchers say, “Blood first, image second.”
What explains the photographic abnormality?
In 1898, Italian photographer Secondo Pia obtained permission to apply the “new” technology of photography to the Shroud. In his darkroom, Pia discovered the Shroud’s first “modern” unexplained mystery — when seen with the naked eye, the cloth is a “negative” image, but develops as a “positive” photographic negative.
Why is the Shroud image encoded with 3D “distance” information?
Amazingly, the Shroud and the image is 2D but reads like a 3D “relief map.” It was discovered in the 1970s. Quoting from STURP’s final report summary: “Computer image enhancement and analysis by a device known as a VP-8 image analyzer show that the image has unique, three-dimensional information encoded in it.”
How is the Shroud image uniform in depth across both frontal and dorsal images?
Remarkably, the man’s image is only two microfibers deep — the thickness of about 1 percent of a single thread — and uniform in intensity throughout the cloth with no deviation — a feat impossible to accomplish with human hands! Think of the image as resting on the hair of your forearm.
There are many more mysteries and controversies concerning substances found on the cloth such as pollen, dust, and traces of plants and flowers.
However, the most famous controversy concerns the 1988 radiocarbon (C-14) tests dating the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390, thus denigrating the cloth as a “medieval forgery.” Immediately, scientists questioned and criticized the test protocols.
In 2017, the radiocarbon test raw data was released after 29 years. Subsequently, a research study completed in 2019 concluded that the medieval dates — famously reported in 1988 with great fanfare and “95 percent confidence” — were suspect and unreliable.
Ultimately, questions remain: is the Shroud physical proof of Christ’s resurrection? Is the Shroud a “living cloth” with hidden properties waiting to be revealed through new technologies?
Meanwhile, the Shroud’s existence prompts us to ask the same question Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”
MYRA ADAMS is founder and executive director of SignFromGod.org, an interdenominational ministry that evangelizes and educates about the Shroud of Turin. Myra is a Jewish convert to Christianity and later Catholicism. She is a Shroud expert, Bible study teacher at Assumption Catholic Church, media producer, and a conservative political/ religious writer at RealClearPolitics, Townhall.com, and National Review