10 Reasons Why the Shroud of Turin Is So Difficult to Dismiss

The Shroud of Turin, purported by some to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ, has been the subject of great debate among scholars for many years. In fact, the more that the Shroud has been studied, the greater the number of questions asked about it.  The Catholic Church, meanwhile, has neither formally defended nor denied the authenticity of the Shroud.

In 1978, a group of scientists called the "Shroud of Turin Research Project" (STURP) was assembled to study various aspects of the cloth. In the end, STURP came up with no conclusive explanation for how the image on the Shroud was produced. That raised the hopes of Shroud faithful. However, in 1988, a radiocarbon dating test concluded that the Shroud was from the Middle Ages, between 1260 and 1390, making it impossible for the cloth to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ. That seemed to end the debate.

However, later research has raised doubts on the accuracy of the result of the 1988 radiocarbon dating test, and today, debate on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is as lively as ever. Here are ten of the most compelling reasons why the Shroud of Turin is so difficult to dismiss as the work of a medieval artist:

10 Several Man of Sorrows Images Seem to Portray the Shroud

images of the Man of Sorrows

This item, along with the next two, is said to serve as evidence that the result from the radiocarbon dating test conducted in 1988 seem to be improbable. The Man of Sorrows is an iconic devotional image that shows Christ usually naked above the waist and with the wounds suffered from his crucifixion. Many of these images became popular in Constantinople at the time that some believe the Shroud disappeared for 160 years after it was lost during the Crusades. Strikingly, many of the images contain distinctive features of the image on the Shroud of Turin such as the crossed arms and the hidden thumbs. Furthermore, several of the images portray Christ as rising out from a box, which some historians believe are commemorations of how the Shroud of Turin used to be displayed to the public -- raised from some sort of box -- before it was lost. In fact, folds that appear on the Shroud are consistent with folds that would appear on a piece of cloth displayed from a box-like device. If all this is true, then the Shroud must be from before 1260 - 1390 AD, raising doubts on the 1988 radiocarbon dating test result.

9 The de Clari Memoir Seems to Describe the Shroud

Robert de Clari's memoir

Robert de Clari was a knight from Picardy who participated in the Fourth Crusade and wrote a chronicle of its events. Sometime between 1203 and 1204, he reported that a significant piece of cloth was in the church of Blachernae in Constantinople. The following is what de Clari wrote, translated to English from Old French:

Where there was the Shroud in which our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday raised itself upright so one could see the figure of our Lord on it.

De Clari's description is significant in that it also adds evidence to the possibility that the Shroud used to be folded then displayed as some images of the Man of Sorrows seem to show. If it is truly the Shroud of Turin that de Clari was describing, then the Shroud is definitely from before 1260 - 1390 AD.

8 The Pray Codex Seems to Portray the Shroud

Entombment of Christ from the Pray Codex

The Pray Codex is a collection of medieval manuscripts discovered in 1770 and which can be reliably dated to 1196. One of the five illustrations in the Codex is the Entombment of Christ, which some scholars say bears remarkable similarities with the Shroud of Turin. These include the crossed arms and the hidden thumbs of Jesus, the herringbone pattern identical to the weave pattern of the Shroud, and the four tiny circles forming an "L" pattern that also appears on the Shroud. If the image in the Codex is a portrayal of the Shroud of Turin, then, because the Codex is dated to 1196, the results from the radiocarbon dating tests of 1998 are certainly incorrect.

7 The Shroud's Photographic Negative Is Clearer

naked eye (top) and photographic negative (bottom) images of the Shroud

In 1898, an amateur photographer, Secondo Pia, took a picture of the Shroud and realized that the negative image of the Shroud was much clearer than the image viewed by the naked eye. This phenomenon was later confirmed in 1931 when another photographer, Giuseppe Enrie, was authorized to take a second series of photographs. This characteristic of the Shroud is truly mysterious as even a medieval artist could not have possibly understood the concept of a photographic negative since the first attempt at photography was performed in 1800.

6 Blood Has Been Identified on the Shroud

blood-like stains on the Shroud

Researchers John Heller and Allan Adler tested the dark red stains found on the Shroud and identified the presence of hemoglobin, as well as poryphyrin, bilirubin, albumin, and protein. Later, forensic pathologist Pier Luigi Baima Bollone, working independently, concurred with the findings of Heller and Adler and even identified the blood as being of the AB blood group. In fact, STURP sent flecks from the Shroud to the State University of New York, which has a laboratory that specializes in the study of ancient blood. There, Dr. Andrew Merriwether concluded that the flecks were almost certainly blood, but because its DNA was badly fragmented, no conclusive statements could be made on the blood being from a male or a female and on the race of the blood's source.

5 Blood on the Shroud Matches Blood on the Sudarium

matching blood marks on both cloths

Bringing up the Sudarium of Oviedo in a discussion about the Shroud of Turin might be considered an obfuscation of the topic, but the way that the cloths support each other's cases is too compelling to ignore. The Sudarium of Oviedo is a bloodstained piece of fabric, which some claim to be the cloth wrapped around Christ's head after he died. The Sudarium merits mention in a discussion about the Shroud of Turin because of several features common to both cloths. One is the presence on both cloths of blood shed while alive and blood shed after death. Another is that both cloths show blood marks caused by wounds consistent with a crown of thorns. In fact, blood from both cloths has been identified as being of blood type AB. Lastly, and perhaps most compelling, is that several blood patterns on both cloths correspond to each other. The matching features on both cloths are even more important in the case of the Shroud of Turin because the first recorded mention of the Sudarium was in 570 by Antoninus of Piacenza. Thus, if the cloths were used to wrap the same corpse, the results of the radio carbon dating tests of 1998 would again be put into question.

4 The Image on the Shroud Cannot Be Fully Explained

STURP scholars examining the Shroud

There are many characteristics of the Shroud that experts have not been able to agree on. One of these features is the absence of any pigment on the Shroud, which makes how the image came to be imprinted on it a mystery. Various hypotheses have been brought forward, including the use of tempera paint, which supposedly produces images with transparent features. However, other researchers have found them to be unlikely since X-ray fluorescence examination and infrared thermography have confirmed the absence of any pigment on the Shroud. Furthermore, the image on the Shroud is entirely superficial, the coloration limited to the outermost carbohydrate layer, which would be almost impossible to create with any sort of pigment. In fact, because of the lack of a logical explanation for how the image was made, some scholars have posited that it might be of supernatural origin.

3 The Image on the Shroud Has 3D Qualities

3D images of the Shroud produced using the photo relief technique

In 1976, Eric Jumper, John Jackson, and Pete Schumacher studied a photograph of the Shroud with a VP8 Image Analyzer, a gadget developed for NASA to allow them to create 3D images of the moon. These researchers found that unlike all other photographs they had analyzed, the image on the Shroud had the characteristic of being decoded into a 3-dimensional image when the darker parts of the image were considered closest to the Shroud and the lighter parts, farthest. In fact, 3D technology was used to recreate the following face of the man depicted on the Shroud:

2 The Crucifixion Wounds Are Historically Accurate

the nail wound on the image's wrist

The Shroud clearly shows blood stains that would have been caused by wounds suffered in a Roman crucifixion, more specifically, Jesus's crucifixion. These include wounds resulting from a crown of thorns, from scourging, from being pierced on the side with a Roman lance, and most importantly, from nailing on a cross. But a skeptic could reasonably ask, "Couldn't a medieval artist duplicate such wounds?" Well, while medieval artists always portrayed Jesus's nail wounds to appear on the palms of his hands and on the top of his feet, the Shroud bears an image of a man with a nail wound on his wrist and on his heels. These are consistent with modern information about actual Roman crucifixions -- a discovery made only in 1968 with the archeological find of the only existing remains of a crucifixion victim. The nails on the body were driven through the wrists and the heels, rather than through the palms and the feet, making the Shroud's image historically accurate, but inexplicably so if it had been created by a medieval artist.

1 The Image Cannot Be Reproduced Using Medieval Methods

the face on the Shroud of Turin (left) and a reproduction by Italian scientists using medieval means (right)

Skeptics often point out that one of the claims made about the Shroud of Turin is untrue: that it cannot be reproduced using means available to a medieval forger. In fact, several reproductions of the Shroud using medieval means have been made. However, what most skeptics fail to take into consideration is that there is yet to be a reproduction of the Shroud that contains all of the important features of the original. These include some of the features already mentioned: its negative image, its presence only on the outermost layer of the cloth without the use of pigments, and its 3D qualities. And if someone, using only medieval means, ever gets to make one reproduction containing all these qualities , it's still difficult to imagine how a medieval artist could've thought up and incorporated all of the intricate details into the Shroud.

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