A new study suggests that one of Christianity’s most prized but mysterious relics – the Turin Shroud – is not a medieval forgery and could be the burial robe of Christ.
Italian scientists conducted a series of experiments that they said showed that the marks on the shroud – purportedly left by the imprint of Christ’s body – could not have been faked with technology that was available in medieval times.
Skeptics have long claimed that the 14ft-long cloth is a forgery. Radiocarbon testing conducted by laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona in 1988 appeared to back up the theory, suggesting that it dated from between 1260 and 1390. But those tests were in turn disputed on the basis that they were contaminated by fibres from cloth that was used to repair the relic when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages.
The new study is the latest intriguing piece of a puzzle that has baffled scientists for centuries and spawned an industry of research, books and documentaries.
“The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining is impossible to obtain in a laboratory,” concluded experts from Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development.
The scientists set out to “identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the shroud”. They concluded that the shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could be produced only with the aid of ultraviolet lasers producing extremely brief pulses of light.
They said the image of the bearded man must therefore have been created by “some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)”.
Although they stopped short of offering a non-scientific explanation for the phenomenon, their findings will be embraced by those who believe that the marks on the shroud were miraculously created at the moment of Christ’s Resurrection.
“We are not at the conclusion. We are composing pieces of a fascinating and complex scientific puzzle,” the team reported.
Prof Paolo Di Lazzaro, who led the research, said: “When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things such as miracles and resurrection. But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes.
“We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals.”
The research backs up the outcome of tests between 1978 and 1981 carried out by a group of American scientists who called themselves the Shroud of Turin Research Project.
They conducted 120 hours of X-rays and ultraviolet light tests and concluded that the marks were not made by paints, pigments or dyes and that the image was not “the product of an artist”, but that at the same time it could not be explained by modern science.
One of Christianity’s greatest objects of veneration, the shroud shows the imprint of a man whose body appears to have nail wounds to his wrists and feet, pinpricks from thorns around his forehead and a spear wound to his chest. Each year it attracts millions of pilgrims to Turin cathedral, where it is kept in a climate-controlled case.
The Vatican has never said whether it believes the shroud to be authentic or not, although the Pope said the image “reminds us always” of Christ’s suffering.
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BY NICK SQUIRES, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH