The Shroud of Turin Through History

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Long History The Shroud of Turin is is believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, revealing the face of Christ as it was impressed in a strip of linen. The first documented reference of the shroud dates to 1357, when the linen was displayed in a church in Lirey, France. Believers contend that the shroud is the "cloth with an image on it," reported by the early Christian historian Eusebius to have been given to the Christian King Abgar V of Edessa in 30 A.D.  According to this account, the cloth, known as the Mandylion of Edessa, was taken to Constantinople in 944. It  disappeared in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. 

First Showing This image, incised on copper, dating back to 1578, represents a public showing of the Holy Shroud in Turin in 1578. First recorded as being in the possession of Geoffrey de Charny, a French soldier who died at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, the shroud changed hands until it was acquired in 1453 by the royal Italian House of Savoy. It was then relocated to Chambery, France, where it was damaged by a fire in 1532. In 1578 it was moved to Turin in northern Italy, where it was frequently paraded through the streets.

First Photo In 1898, a lawyer named Secondo Pia took the first known photograph of the shroud, shown here.

The Face Secondo Pia's negative of the first image of the Shroud of Turin reveals what many see as the outline of the face and body of a crucified man. Scientific interest in the 14-foot-long linen cloth followed.

First Television Appearance In 1973, the shroud was shown for the first time on television, with an introduction by Pope Paul VI. Also in 1973, the shroud was secretly examined by a commission of experts, who took cloth and surface dust samples. The results of the investigation, published three years later, pointed to the presence of pollen from plants unique to Israel and Turkey. This suggested the linen had been exposed to the air in these countries.

First Examinations In 1978, the shroud underwent a five-day examination. The linen was submitted to photographic floodlighting, low-power X-rays and narrow-band ultraviolet light. Dozens of pieces of sticky tape were pressed onto its surface and removed. A side edge was unstitched and an apparatus inserted between the shroud and its backing cloth to examine the underside. The bottom edge was also unstitched and examined.

More Scrutiny Barrie Schwortz, the photographer for the 1978 investigations, told Discovery News, "We used X-rays, ultra-violet and spectral imaging and photographed every inch of it in the most minute detail, but we still couldn't come up with the answer to the single question we had come to ask: 'How was the image formed?'" 

"The Shroud of Turin is Medieval" In 1988, a sample of the shroud was removed for radiocarbon testing. Three laboratories carried out the tests. In 1989, the results, published in the journal Nature, held that the radiocarbon tests show "the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval." One of the researchers, Edward Hall, told journalists, "Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it."

The Fire In 1997, a fire broke out in Turin's Guarini Chapel, which housed the shroud. Fireman Mario Trematore used a sledgehammer to break open the shroud’s case, and it was taken temporarily to Cardinal Saldarini's residence. The linen was completely unaffected by the fire.

The Shroud, Enhanced A computer-enhanced image of the face on the Shroud. In 2002, textile experts, headed by Mechtild Fleury-Lemberg of Switzerland, performed a dramatic and radical restoration of the shroud with the full permission of the Vatican. They removed 30 patches sewn into the cloth by nuns in 1534 to repair burn holes. They removed the backing cloth that was sewn onto the back of the shroud in 1534 and photographed the hidden back side of the cloth.

New Face? Photos of the back side of the shroud allowed new investigations. Indeed, in 2004, Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo of the University of Padua in Italy, reported finding a faint second face on the backside of the linen. They published their findings in the Journal of Optics A: Pure and Applied Optics.

Thread Thread extracted from the shroud by G. Riggi di Numana. The thread was taken from an area near where the 1988 radiocarbon test was performed. In 2005, researchers M. Sue Benford and Joseph Marino suggested that the shroud had been expertly rewoven in the precise location from which the carbon-14 sample was taken. In a peer-reviewed paper, chemist Raymond Rogers supported the finding, saying, "As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the Shroud of Turin in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the shroud...The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud."

Reconstructing the Body A computer reconstruction of the body's outline is shown at left. To the right is a 3-D reconstruction. Various computer simulations have tried to reconstruct  the body impressed on the shroud, but nobody has been able to explain how the image was formed.

Now in High-Tech In 2008 the shroud was photographed and filmed for the first time in high definition, producing a huge 12.8 billion-pixel image. Technicians from HAL9000, a company specializing in art photography, stitched together 1,600 shots, each the size of a credit card, to create a huge photo which is almost 1,300 times stronger than a picture taken with a 10 million pixel camera. "It is like looking at the shroud through a microscope," Mauro Gavinelli, technical supervisor at HALL9000, told Discovery News. "You can see the threads, the fibers that make these threads, the damage that the shroud has suffered over the years."

The Church and the Shroud Pope John Paul II prays before the Shroud of Turin, in Turin's cathedral Sunday, May 24, 1998. The shroud has been on display only five times in the past century. It is one of the most venerated objects in the Roman Catholic Church. When it last went on display in 2000, more than three million people saw it. Many more are expected to see it when it next goes on show in 2025. The Catholic Church has remained agnostic on the authenticity of the shroud, and has made no official pronouncements. When John Paul II visited the relic in 1998, he says, "As it is not a matter of faith, the Church has no specific competence to pronounce itself on these questions. It entrusts the task of research to scientists, to arrive at appropriate answers for questions related to this cloth."