Channel 4’s dreary not-so-new evidence about the Turin Shroud

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By Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

The Turin Shroud
The face on the Turin Shroud: a contemporary icon

Channel 4 last night (30 December 2009) showed a documentary claiming to present “new evidence” that the Turin Shroud is not a medieval fake. They wheeled out members of the 1970s STURP team, the 2005 paper published in Thermochimica Acta claiming that the radiocarbon dates were contaminated by cotton of sixteenth-century date and ended up presenting nothing that’s not already known.

It was in the documentary’s omissions that the greatest faults lay. The voice-over stated that the image is not painted, giving the impression that nobody could explain the colouring other than that it’s a “degradation of the cellulose” in the linen fibres. That’s not quite correct. What is seen on the shroud is a chemical darkening of a starch and polysaccharide coating on some of the fibres: it’s not the fibres themselves, but something applied to them after manufacture. In other words, pigment. And if that’s not paint, I really don’t know what is. One of the members of the STURP team, Walter McCrone, concluded during the study that the image was painted using red ochre and vermillion pigments. The programme didn’t mention him or his conclusions!

The documentary also stated that the blood stains seen on the shroud must be real blood, as they contain degradation products from haemoglobin. Even if this be accepted – and there is still the problem that these stains are red, not brown like real dried blood – it does not mean that the blood derives from a corpse wrapped in the shroud. Given that the image was introduced as a coating on the fibres, it is equally likely that the “blood” was introduced in the same way. Why couldn’t a medieval forger have painted on blood using, say, cow’s blood, which would have been readily available (even though McCrone thought it to be vermillion)?

The scientists at the radiocarbon laboratories noted contamination of the samples with cotton, while McCrone had already drawn attention to the mixture of cotton and linen. This means that they were able to deal with it. They recognised the cotton and removed it, dating the linen fibres, which is what they were asked to do. The preparation of samples for dating involves rigorous cleaning to remove potential contaminants, such as these stray cotton fibres. There is no reason to suspect that the three laboratories undertaking the dating did not do their basic cleaning, especially as they had spotted the contaminants.

The programme brought up the old claim that the image on the shroud somehow encodes three-dimensional data and, using the same computer program used to create a three-dimensional image of the face on the shroud, showed that it does not work with photographs. How dishonest! We’re not dealing with a photograph on the shroud but with a painted image. The comparison should have been with a painting. Talk about prejudged conclusions! Besides, if we’re dealing with an image produced by draping a cloth over a corpse, it ought to be far more three-dimensional than we see: where are the sides of the body that the cloth would have touched? The fact that they aren’t there is good evidence that the image is painted.

A first-century CE burial in Jerusalem containing scraps of a burial shroud
A first-century CE burial in Jerusalem containing scraps of a burial shroud

A further significant omission was the discovery of a genuinely first-century Jewish burial cloth in Jerusalem, announced in November 2009. It consists of a patchwork of cloths with a separate piece for the head, all made in a plain two-way weave, quite unlike the Turin Shroud. Going back to the Gospels – our only sources of information about the burial of Jesus – we find that they mention not a single cloth but “strips of linen” (Luke XXIV.12 and John XX.5, both using the Greek word ὀθόνια, meaning ‘small pieces or strips of linen’). Supporters of the authenticity of the Turin Shroud are careful not to quote these passages, which show that the evangelists did not think of the body of Jesus as ever having been wrapped in a single linen cloth.

Finally, there was no mention of the contemporary Bishop of Lirey’s enquiries into the origins of the shroud when it was fist exhibited c 1357. He identified the artist responsible for its creation and there the matter ought to have rested. The technique of tempera painting onto cloth is fourteenth century, the first record of the shroud is fourteenth century and the radiocarbon dates show that it was manufactured in the fourteenth century. There really isn’t any room for doubt!


  1. I am a dedicated catholic, I feel impelled to give my testimony because one needs to witness to the truth where and when necessary. In 1981 I was very privileged to have had a vision of our lord Jesus Christ in a historic church that was dedicated to St.Peter and St.Paul, I saw our Lords face, so sad.And the crown of thorns on his head so clear was this vision i could see the string of thorns encircled many times and the thorns so clear as if one would be pricked by them, I was totally awestruck and as you can imagine this vision took me from being a christian with many question marks to a fervent believer, after the vision i went to my mothers home when i went in to her living room i told my mother of my wonderful vision and was overwhelmed to discover that my mother had a copy of the shroud of Turin on her wall.I immediately said to my mother, this is Jesus Christ, this is who i saw actually as he is. It is him. The holy shroud image is that of Jesus Christ, I can’t prove it but i would lay my life on this because it is true. I have since 1981 had many other experiences which have also confirmed to me the authenticity of the holy shroud and that it is of our Lord Jesus Christ. One day it will be recognised as true and venerated as the wonderful relic that it is, and i look forward to that day. Yours in Christ … Fred


  2. Fred Ablitt, in my oppinion ,there is no doubt that the shroud of turin is the same shroud that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus as in the gospel of Mark chapter 15 verses 42…46. Pope Benedict xv1 recently in Turin stated himself that the holy shroud of turin is like a photograph,positive and negative, he also said it is a burial cloth which enshrouded the corpse of a crusified man, and corresponds to what the gospels tell us about Jesus. I personaly believe that there is a whole stack of evidence to back up the holy shroud of turins true authentisity , but the real problem is that one still needs to look at the whole situation with the eyes of faith ,through an open mind,which is where most non believers stumble because they then have to accept that the God they dont believe in might actualy exist, which totaly contradicts there views, and puts there non beliefe to the test. In my view the real problem is that when true authentisity is being debated with those who dont believe in the existance of God, they inevitably wont take into consideration anything that might oppose there views, so in reality there is a stalemate, they then base there whole analysis on desisions they have made according to there own human ability to judge which is prone to error, using no more than tests to detemine age, carbon dating which has been proven unreliable, in the tests that have been carried out on the holy shroud of turin, so i ask those scientists lets look at this with an open mind, with a full compleate and unbiased analysis of all the evidence without exeption, then a true and fare conclusion can start to take place, if only for the sake of common sence…YOURS IN CHRIST…FRED…


    1. For me, the existence or otherwise of the god of the bible is irrelevant to testing the claims that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. The real question is whether or not the claims for a miraculous origin for the image on the cloth stack up, which the evidence currently available suggests they do not. Both sides in the debate are guilty of ignoring (and even suppressing) evidence that does not fit their view of the shroud. To state that “carbon dating… has been proven unreliable” is just plain wrong: radiocarbon is reliable, especially when several samples are subjected to analysis. With the Shroud of Turin, the number of samples is unprecedented and to see such congruence between results from different laboratories is a very strong validation of the method, whatever one happens to think of those results.


  3. I am not attacking science, indeed so many of the greatest scientists were catholic themselves, and many of the greatest discoveries from there findings, but carbon dating has been proven unreliable as i said, because there are so many sircumstances that can effect the final outcome of the dating proses,such as,water damage,fire damage,the handling of it through contamination,etc,etc and make the findings so varied, they cannot be relied on, on there own ability to determine authentisity which is what so many people have done to base there total analysis,and i must totaly disagree with you on the miraculouse origin not stacking up,nobody has been able to explain away,the photographic element,the laying of the hair on the holy shroud would surjest he was in the upright position,pointing to that the image posibly occured at the moment of reserection,clearly we can discount it being a painting as some believe if only because there is no paint pigment and the image is only on the top layer, with no penetration beyond that top layer as there would be if it were applyed by human hand,etc,etc,etc,it is not a case of who is right or wrong, but what the real truth is,all i was asking was for a fair, unbiased, and ballanced investigation of the holy shroud, taking into account all the evidence and allowing that there are things that they clearly cannot explain, so as to determin its true origin …Yours in christ…fred.


  4. It’s completely wrong to suggest that there were an ‘unprecedented’ number of samples of the Shroud that were tested – there were just three, all tested by the AMS technique and so effectively clones of each other. The original recommendation was that there be seven laboratories, some of which were to use the traditional method, but political wranglings at the time led to the change. The three samples were also effectively one sample – the pieces were cut from one piece that came from the top left corner of the Shroud, one that has been proven historically to have been subjected to a lot of handling over the centuries – hardly the best radio-carbon dating candidate. As for the presence of pigment on the linen’s surface – one has to ask why this isn’t visible. McCrone’s discovery of pigment seems to be as a result of particles of paint falling on to the Shroud from paintings, in that the particles popped up all over the surface, not just on image areas. Even those who believe this cloth to be a forgery don’t tend to accept the painting theory anymore, and indeed the closest anyone has got to replicating it is through a kind of primitive photographic technique such as that of Nicholas Allen.

    The first century burial shroud find is fascinating but proves nothing about the Turin Shroud. We know that Lazarus was also buried like this. But as Jesus died a violent death he would have been wrapped in a ‘Sovev’ – a burial sheet designed to preserve spilled blood by wrapping round the entire body. Jewish law still prescribes this. Finally the truth about radio-carbon dating is that it is MOSTLY very reliable, but on a few occasions it is demonstrably wrong.


    1. Actually, it’s not wrong. There were twelve samples, four at Arizona, three at Oxford and five at Zurich (Arizona (AA-3367): 591±30 bp, 690±35 bp, 606±41 bp and 701±33 bp; Oxford (Ox-2575): 795±65 bp, 730±45 bp and 745±55 bp; Zurich (ETH-2883): 733±61 bp, 722±56 bp, 635±57 bp, 639±45 bp and 679±51 bp). The consistency between the results of the tests within each laboratory and then the consistency of the sets of results from each of the three laboratories is astounding.
      Then there are the statements in Luke XXIV.12 and John XX.5, both of whom use the Greek word ὀθόνια, meaning ‘small pieces or strips of linen’. These are the only evidence for the body of Jesus being wrapped in a shroud and they describe not one piece but multiple pieces. The use of the sovev, according to Lynn Greenhalgh’s 2001 MA Thesis “We Do the Best We Can”: Jewish Burial Societies in Small Communities inNorth America, is as a “[s]heet p[l]aced in coffin and draped over body”. This is done after “the dressing of the body in takhrikhim, the burial shrouds, is completed”. It is not a replacement for the takhrikhim, the strips of cloth translated in the Gospels as ὀθόνια, but an outer covering. It seems that the idea of it being an alternative to seal in the blood for those who have died a violent death is something that has arisen in Christian apologetic sources dealing with the Shroud of Turin: I can find no references to this very specific use in sources dealing with Jewish funeral practice.


  5. As i have said carbon dating cannot be relyed upon in this instance, and as for the holy bible personally i believe, there is absolutely no conflict between the word of God,the holy bible and the true authentisity of the holy shroud of turin, both i truly believe to be the truth in union with one another, i fully accept of course that everyone has there own opinion, but i must say my desition of authentisity is backed up by facts that cannot be explained away some as previusly stated, and reinforced by my own personal experience which leaves me absolutely no dought to the holy shrouds true authentisity,of course as i have previously said i cannot prove my experience,but then again i dont need to because it happened,just to say i have absolutely no reason to lie or exagerate,i truly believe i am a perfectly rational human being, it was not an hallusination,vivid dream, or anything else other than what i have said it was.Your unbeliefe, is backed up by no more than an edjucated guess,backed up by carbon testing that has been proved very unreliable in this instant,and your theary that the image on the holy shroud is a painting, with nothing constructive to back up your theory I must say i am baffled as to where you are coming from, are you seeking to find the truth, or are you hoping to provide evidence to back up your non beliefe?…YOURS IN CHRIST FRED…


  6. Actually, it IS wrong. I’m not sure what you mean to prove by quoting the results, which don’t mean much without an explanation, but the actual Shroud samples there are the bracketed numbers (ie AA-367, Ox 25-75 and ETH 2883). Anyway, the point is that all three (only three) actual samples of the Turin Shroud were all snipped from the same piece of the cloth. Each lab had only one piece, even if they then cut these smaller for the tests. Three samples from the same area, proved to be one of the most handled. Doesn’t sound like good science to me.

    The sovev is referred to as being needed to contain spilled blood in the Shulchan Aruch – a 16th century text of the Jewish Code of Laws. This states that ‘one who fell’ eg. in battle should not be cleansed but wrapped in the all-enveloping sovev. This could be the same thing as the ‘sindon’ or ‘clean linen sheet’ which all the synoptic gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea as purchasing to wrap the body, which definitely sounds like the Shroud (Mt. 27:59; Mk. 15:46; Lk. 23:53). Even with the more modern use of the sovev being in the coffin, which you cite, reference is still made to the necessity of burying any blood with the deceased.

    I’m to an extent playing Devil’s Advocate here – I’m not a true Believer, but an agnostic. I just like to have an open mind, and find it frustrating that the Net is so polarized when it comes to any kind of science versus religion issue. And I don’t have patience with the nutty religious views either.


  7. I think Elizabeth is missing the point. Ultimately, there was only one piece of cloth tested, and it was subdivided among the laboratories. Keith’s point is that these pieces were tested separately, and all of the results matched closely — something you wouldn’t expect if C-14 testing was hit-or-miss.

    Elizabeth also makes much of “handling,” as if the labs tested “dirty samples.” A lot of preparation goes into getting samples ready for C-14 testing, to make sure that the samples are free from extraneous material adhering to the surface.

    It seems that most people who object to C-14 testing don’t grasp that the “C-14” is some of the atoms of carbon contained in the linen. This isn’t some stuff that is stuck to the fibers — it’s what the fibers are made of. There is a good article on Carbon-14 dating in Wikipedia; the concept isn’t difficult to understand.

    In Fred’s case, he just has too much emotional investment in the Shroud. He can’t see that Christianity doesn’t rest on its authenticity.


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