The Shroud of Turin

A medieval Greek word meaning “made without hand”. I suppose that would be all objects of nature. In the art world it would be all “found art” that didn’t include manmade objects. But this Greek word was primarily used in the world of iconology. It was used for Christian relics with images. The most famous being the “Shroud of Turin”.

What I have found recently is that many scholars are now calling it the “Man in the Shroud”. This is the result of trying to describe what it “is”, instead of what it might be. It is the most tested relic in the world, but it is easier to say what it isn’t, rather than what it is.

Compiling the most conservative descriptions I’ve found…

1. The shroud is made of flax linen, in a herringbone weave, measuring approx 14.5 ft by 3.7 ft.

2. There is a frontal image of a man on the left side of the rectangle, with the head near the center, then a dorsal image of the same man on the right side of the rectangle. The suggestion is that the shroud was laid flat, the man was placed on the right half with the feet near the right edge. Then the rest of the shroud was drawn over the body, with the left side pulled to match the right edge. Essentially the shroud was folded in half, with the body inside, and the head near the fold.

3. The image is only on one side of the linen material, and is only barely on the surface, less than a quarter of a hair’s thickness. It doesn’t penetrate through, it doesn’t have directional brush stokes, it doesn’t appear to be pigment or dye.

4. There are many areas of blood stains, which do penetrate through the linen. The blood stains are constant with wounds created by the result of being crucified.

5. In addition there are blood stains on the head and face, and from “scurging” of the body.

6. Finally, there are blood stains on the feet, wrists, and the left side of the chest.

There is agreement that the shroud has been positively known from at least 1354. During a public viewing in 1898 it was finally photographed by Secondo Pia.

It wasn’t until then that the original image was discovered to be a negative. When the photographic negative was developed it showed that the man’s image was a positive with many details now being visible.

The fine details in a normal photograph were still unresolved because of the fibers of the flax linen.

During the 1500s there was a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was stored. It was folded several times and just the edges of the folded material were burned. It was fortunate that one of the image was damaged, but several holes were charred and burned through. Local nuns sewed patches on the holes, and sewed a linen backing cloth, completely covering the backside of the shroud.

In 1988 there was an agreement with the owner of the shroud that carbon 14 testing may be done on some samples that didn’t disturb the image. Unfortunately, carbon 14 testing requires the sample to be completely destroyed in the test. The sample was taken from an 8 centimeter strip of the edge of the shroud. Samples were given off to three different labs around the world. All of them came to the same conclusion. The flax was harvested in the range between 1290 – 1350. The shroud was made in medieval times. The findings were combined and published by an independent scientific organization.

Later, scholars discovered that sometime in the 1600s, some of the edges of the shroud were patched with 1600s linen material with a “French invisible weave”. The 8 centimeter strip sample was part of that weave. So, the sample had original linen material and 16th century linen material mixed in the carbon 14 results. This meant that the average of the two resulted in the dates provided in the report. The same organization gave a second report that they could not very the dates of the contaminated samples. It was back to square one, nothing proved, nothing disproved.

In 2002, a restoration was made on the shroud. The patches were removed, the charred material was cut away and stored, and a new backing cloth was sewn in place of the old. This was done in secret without consulting dozens of shroud scholars. Some have said that important data is now lost forever.

Some say the the removed material could have been used for a new carbon 14 test, but now it’s been removed and can’t be validated. Other material has been micro-vacuumed from the shroud with consulting experts. ‘Sticky tape’ has been pressed on the exposed backside with some force to collect dust and pollen samples. Wrinkles may have been “steamed” in order for the shroud to lay flat, with lead weights attach to stretch the material.

Lots of opinions written by many people, but what has been done, is done. And nothing has been proven.

The shroud exists, the image exists. The age is unknown, the method making the image is unknown.

In the late 1300s it was declared a forgery. An artist made the image, intending it to represent Jesus in his burial cloth, showing signs of the crucified body.

Hundreds of facts and details have since made that very hard to believe. The idea that the image was made by the body being reincarnated is also very difficult to believe.

It wasn’t until 1988 that the ownership went to the Catholic Church.

It is still the most researched relic in the world.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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