The Shroud of Turin: an unexplained artifact

The Shroud of Turin, also known as the Holy Shroud is one of the most controversial relics in the history of Christianity: a linen sheet 4.41 meters long and 1.13 wide, woven with a herringbone pattern, on which the double negative image of the corpse of a man who died after suffering a series of atrocious tortures culminating in the crucifixion. The image imprinted on the cloth is surrounded by two black stripes and some missing flaps due to the fire which he was the victim of in 1532 in Chambery.

Its long and tormented has given rise to a series of unsolved questions to date:

  • Is it really the sheet that wrapped Christ's body in the tomb?
  • Is this an ingenious historical forgery by an eccentric artist of the Middle Ages?
  • Is the genius of Leonardo da Vinci behind your creation?

According to the characteristics of its imprint, according to the most ancient tradition it would be the sheet mentioned in the Gospels which served to wrap the deceased body of Jesus Christ in the tomb. However, despite the numerous scientific findings offered by scientific analyzes, there is no definitive proof of its provenance

The Shroud of Turin-Jesus_reconstruction_test


The first reliable evidence on the Shroud dates back to the 14th century, when the knight Geoffry de Charmy laid the sheet in the church he built in 1353 in his fiefdom in Lirey, France. During the first half of the sixteenth century, Marguerite de Charmy removed the linen from the Church of Lirey due to the worsening of the Hundred Years War, and took it with her on her travels across Europe.
Later, through a series of legal acts, Marguerite transferred the ownership of the Shroud to the Dukes of Savoy, at whose court she had found a welcome. The sheet was placed in the Saint Chapelle du Saint Suaire and Pope Julius II granted the Savoy the recognition of their own liturgical feast.
On 4 December 1532 a fire devastated the Sainte Chapelle, causing serious damage to the sheet which was summarily repaired in 1534 by the Poor Clares of the city. It was Emanuele Filiberto who definitively transferred the Shroud to Turin in 1578, where it remained there in the following centuries, becoming the subject of numerous public and private exhibitions. The numerous paintings in Turin and in many countries of the Duchy bear witness to this. In its last location, the Shroud was again involved in a dramatic fire that broke out on the night between Friday 11 and Saturday 12 April 1997 from which it came out unscathed.

Scientific Analysis

The first study commission was formed in 1966 and in 1978 a team of American researchers from the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) carried out some in-depth examinations at the end of one of the public expositions. In 1988 came the controversial result of the first radiocarbon dating that placed linen between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, dampening the enthusiasm of those who wanted the Shroud to be the authentic sheet of Jesus.

The Shroud of Turin-Full_length_negatives_of_the_Holy_shroud

Shortly after, however, a group of lay researchers invited to reconsider the dating results, as the fire of 1532 could have altered the atomic and molecular structure of linen, thus distorting the result.
In 1998, Avinoam Danin, an Israeli botanist, claimed to have identified 28 different flower species on the Shroud during that year's exposition. According to his studies, the only place where they are present all together would be a small area between Jerusalem and Jericho.
Another pollen scholar, Marzia Boi, researcher at the University of the Balearic Islands, clearly highlights the fact that the pollens testify that the sheet kept in Turin had a very specific characteristic: it was a funerary sheet, used according to rituals present in the Middle East area for over two millennia.

According to a study published in 2015 by some researchers of the University of Padua in collaboration with the universities of Pavia and Perugia, analyzing samples of genomic DNA isolated from organic residues of the shroud from dust aspirated in 1978, there would be traces of at least 19 plant species from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, China and the Americas as well as people from Africa, India, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. The results of the study would pave the way for two possible scenarios:

  • a Medieval European origin of the Shroud according to which the people who came into contact with it in Western Europe from 1300 onwards leaving traces of their DNA come from multiple geographical areas and have different ethnic backgrounds.
  • a Middle Eastern origin on the basis of which the Shroud over the course of 2000 years has been moved throughout the Mediterranean area, coming into contact with a wide range of genetically and ethnically diverse people, over a much longer period of time.

The true mystery of the Shroud

The reason why the Shroud continues to be intensely studied and controversial, however, mainly concerns the way in which the human figure was "imprinted" on the canvas.

The Shroud of Turin-a computerised reconstruction

Various methods have been proposed for the formation of the image: the study on the Shroud lasted 5 years and published in 2011 by ENEA, the scientists tried to understand it and to identify those physical and chemical processes capable of generating a color similar to that of the Shroud.
The research, signed by the researchers Di Lazzaro, Murra, Santoni, Nichelatti and Baldacchini has reached a sensational conclusion: the Shroud cannot be a medieval fake as the double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen sheet of the Shroud of Turin, has numerous physical and chemical characteristics so peculiar that it is now impossible to obtain an identical color in all its facets in the laboratory.
This inability to replicate and therefore falsify the Shroud image prevents us from formulating a reliable hypothesis on the mechanism of footprint formation.
In fact, to date science is not yet able to explain how the body image on the Shroud was formed. The scientists started from the complete examination carried out in 1978 by the team of scientists of the STURP in which it emerges that the body image imprinted on the linen is not painted, nor printed, nor obtained by heating.
Scientists used state-of-the-art equipment for the time by carrying out numerous measurements of infrared, visible and ultraviolet spectroscopy, X-ray fluorescence, thermography and pyrolysis, spectrometry ... but no traces of pigments or drawings were found.

To understand what could have generated the image, the ENEA researchers carried out a series of experiments with the laser that offered absolutely amazing results. The dating carried out with carbon 14 had placed the origin of the cloth in the Middle Ages (1260 - 1390) but this measurement seemed to have suffered both from material calculation errors and from contamination problems in addition, the realization of this image has chemical characteristics and physics practically impossible to replicate today, and even more so in the Middle Ages or in more remote times.

Experiments have shown that an extremely short ultraviolet light pulse (few billionths of a second) in a very limited range of energy values and power density it is able to color with the same chromaticity of the Shroud image the linen fabric in a very superficial way, in practice only the outermost layers of the single linen thread.
The procedure to find the right laser parameters to color linen fabrics in a similar way to the Shroud has required about two years of attempts. The researchers, in fact, have discovered with surprise that it is enough a small variation of the laser parameters to no longer obtain the coloring.

The Shroud of Turin-resurrection-of-jesus-christ

Of course, such a result opens up numerous questions: what could have generated a flash of light capable of imprinting a footprint on the linen sheet? If the Shroud were really the shroud of Jesus Christ, what could have happened to his body? Could it be the "sign" of Jesus' resurrection?
A flash of light that manages to color a linen cloth in a similar way to the shroud can easily lead back to the perspective of a miracle and resurrection or a paranormal event. Can the shroud be considered an OOPArt or is it proof that in ancient times our ancestors were in possession of incredibly advanced technologies? And assuming this is true, who would have given these technologies to humans?

Whether we're looking at the burial box of St. James, a fragment of the True Cross, the Shroud of Turin, or some bones supposedly belonging to John the Baptist, there is always excitement and distrust, faith and doubt.

-Jay Parini

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