The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic Is Realby Ian Wilson
The Shroud of Turin remains one of the enduring mysteries of our age. No convincing explanation has yet been given for the "negative" image of a crucified man transferred to a length of cloth and preserved in Turin for the last four centuries. Although radiocarbon dating of the fabric in 1988 indicated it to be medieval, synchronous with the Shroud's first recorded appearance in the 1350s, there is still no satisfactory explanation for the image itself. Was it painted? If so, by whom? How could the artist have understood perspective before this technique was "discovered" in the Renaissance? How could he have painted an image in negative with no means to see and check it?
With so many questions about the Shroud as inexplicably unresolved as ever; with the radiocarbon dating findings only deepening the riddle, not solving it; and with the Shroud about to be shown again, in 1998 and 2000; an overview and an up-to-date consideration of the evidence is overdue. Here, Ian Wilson returns to the subject of his international bestseller, The Shroud of Turin, to reveal such startling findings as the discovery of human blood and DNA on the Shroud; the uncovering of historical evidence that something very like the Shroud existed at the time Jesus lived; the discovery of a "bioplastic coating" of living microorganisms which, if it had been carbondated in 1988, would have indicated that the Shroud was some one thousand years older than it was thought to be; and the new analysis of the photographic-negative-like image on the Shroud.
Wilson's landmark book on this subject, The Shroud of Turin, was published in 1978. In the intervening twenty years, in addition to the radiocarbon dating, much additional research has been done on the Shroud, and the dating process itself scrutinized. Ian Wilson's pursuit of every discipline related to the Shroud, including art history, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, photography, and archaeology, has equipped him to give the most authoritative answer yet to the question: Did the Shroud wrap the body of Christ? His enthralling text, with its objective but persuasive answers, tells us as much as it is currently possible to know. It also makes it possible for us to believe.
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Chapter I: How can we be sure we are looking at a genuine human body?
Over the six centuries that the Shroud has been historically known and shown to the European public, observers have always been able to discern with the unaided eye the same ghost-like imprint of a bearded man with crossed hands that I viewed in 1973. As the sceptical Bishop d'Arcis remarked in 1389 (not necessarily from his own first-hand observation), it comprises 'the two-fold image of one man, that is to say, the back and the front ... thus impressed together with the wounds he bore'. Fake or genuine, the long-standing understanding of this imprint has been that the body it represents was laid on one half of the cloth, with the other half the
But as is now well known, the Shroud's truly spectacular feature is revealed when its light values are reversed, light to dark, dark to light, by any camera using black-and-white film. The first man to discover this effect was the Italian councillor and keen amateur photographer Secondo Pia [pl. 4b], who was appointed to take the first ever official photograph of the Shroud during the eight-day exposition of 1898. At around 9.30 p.m. on the evening of 28 May, Pia set up his cumbersome box-like camera before the Shroud as it hung above the cathedral altar, made two long exposures using large glass photographic plates, then hurried back to his dark-room to develop these.
As he would subsequently relate, his first thoughts were of relief when he saw pin-sharp negatives of the cathedral altar's ornamentation, which he knew would appear at the edges of his composition, emerge under the developer. But then to his astonishment, as he studied the long oblong that had to be the Shroud itself, there slowly appeared on this not the traces of the ghostly figure that he expected, but instead an unmistakably photographic likeness.
What Bishop d'Arcis had called the 'two-fold image of one man' had undergone a dramatic qualitative change. Now, natural light and dark shading gave the impression of relief and depth. Instead of the man seeming to have a rather grotesque and deformed appearance, he could be seen to be well proportioned and of an impressive physique, the apparent bloodstains from his injuries, because red registers dark in black-and-white photography, showing up in a flat white on his naked body. Most striking of all was his face, quite astonishingly dignified and lifelike against the black background.
As Pia himself immediately recognised, the clear implication was that the Shroud itself was, in effect, a photographic negative that had been waiting dormant, like a pre-programmed time capsule, for the moment that photography's invention would release its hidden true 'positive'. It seemed to him that he had been privileged to become the first man to look upon Jesus's earthly likeness since the days of the apostles.
With the gradual spreading of the news of this discovery, accompanied by the image's publication in newspapers and journals around the world, so there surfaced every form of doubt that anything of this kind could possibly be genuine. In particular, doubts focused on Pia's technically amateur status as a photographer and on his integrity. In an age less conversant with photography than our own, some ignorantly claimed that his photographic plate had simply been 'over-exposed'; others that it had been made by 'transparency'. Particularly wounding for Pia, and a classic instance of our metaphorical 'blood', were malicious insinuations that he had deliberately faked his photograph and that it was all just a hoax.
In the event it took thirty-three years for Pia's competence and honesty to be vindicated, though thankfully he survived to see this day. In May 1931 the Shroud's owner, King Victor-Emmanuel III of Savoy, agreed to fresh photography to accompany a twenty-one-day Shroud exposition being held in that year, the chosen photographer for this occasion being a professional, Commander Giuseppe Enrie. Allowed to work without the Shroud being covered by glass (a facility not accorded to Pia), and taking full advantage of the considerable technical advances in photography since 1898, Enrie photographed the Shroud full length, just as Pia had done, and additionally made a series of life-sized close-ups of the face, the back and shoulders, and a bloodstain to the lower forearm.
In doing so, not only did Enrie confirm Pia's 'photographic negative' effect, he also revealed it with markedly greater clarity and detail [pls 6-7a]. In Enrie's richly atmospheric old studio, still part of a Turin photographic business, I have personally held in my hands the original glass negative of his life-sized close-up of the Shroud face. Its detail and photographic realism are quite stunning [pl. 5a]. To try to interpret it as the product of some unknown mediaeval faker seems rather like trying to argue for the Taj Mahal being a mere geological accident. Nor is this a purely personal view. In 1967 the British photographic professional Leo Vala, inventor of several new photographic techniques and a complete agnostic, commented of this same negative: 'I've been involved in the invention of many complicated visual processes and I can tell you that no one could have faked that image. No one could do it today with all the technology we have. It's a perfect negative. It has a photographic quality that is extremely precise."
Following Enrie's black-and-white work, in June 1969 Giovanni Battista Judica-Cordiglia took the first ever colour photographs of the Shroud, both full-sized and of selected areas, along with yet more renditions in black and white. In November 1973 numerous further photographs were taken during the showing I attended, followed in 1978 with photography being freely allowed by members of the public during the six-week-long expositions held in that year. At the closure of these expositions it was the turn of the American STURP team, whose photographic work not only included more use of black-and-white film, but also complete X-radiographs, macrophotography of tiny details and colour photography of sufficiently high quality to make life-sized colour transparencies. Jewish-born Barrie Schwortz [pl. 5b], one of the most senior of the STURP photographers, has described how he initially hesitated to join the project on the grounds that he must surely be out of place in a team examining a cloth with such intense Christian associations. In the event he became so fascinated that he has continued his interest over nearly twenty years, even creating a special Internet site for Shroud photographs and information.
From all this photographic work, which today allows even children to check out for themselves the negativity effect on their home computers, what can be said with absolute confidence is that the Shroud's so lifelike photographic negative derives from no modern-day photographic trick. The hidden 'photograph', whatever its origin, is a fact of the Shroud that has to be faced by the Shroud's detractors just as fairly and squarely as its supporters must face the results from the radiocarbon dating. And exactly as in the case of the radiocarbon dating, no assumption should be allowed to pass unchallenged.
As has been pointed out by the British archaeologist Christopher Frayling, it is surely a circular argument to call the Shroud a photograph and thereby to conclude that it cannot be any kind of painted forgery. Yet while this is true, our only recourse for determining within which of these two alternatives lies the greater truth is to try to analyse this image element by element in order to come to at least some reasonable judgement on what exactly it is we are seeing. And given that Dr Walter McCrone contends it to be a painting, and 'cunning painting' was the term used by the sceptical Bishop d'Arcis as long ago as 1389, one of our first priorities has to be to decide whether it might be just that, or whether we really could be seeing a genuine human body.
In order to help us resolve this question there can be few better guides than professional painter and specialist in studies of the naked human figure Isabel Piczek [pl. lla]. A child prodigy in her native Iron-Curtain Hungary, Piczek held her first professional painting exhibition at the age of eleven and graduated from Budapest's Academy of Fine Arts at only thirteen. Peremptorily summoned to communist Moscow to complete her studies, within a day she fled her home without papers or belongings, crossing four borders, including the Austrian Alps in early winter. Reaching Rome she entered and as quickly won an open public competition to paint a large and very prestigious mural for the city's Pontifical Biblical Institute, horrifying the competition's pre-Vatican 11 clerical judges when they discovered that they had awarded the commission to a slightly built thirteen-and-a-half-year-old girl.
In the event, Piczek's highly accomplished completed work confirmed the wisdom of their choice. There followed forty-two more highly acclaimed murals in Italy before, in 1956, she emigrated to the United States to specialise in ever vaster murals, up to 3000 square feet in scale, for cathedrals and other major shrines around the states of California, Nevada and elsewhere. Today resident in Los Angeles, she continues with relentless energy to tackle similarly ambitious murals, along with largescale projects in mosaic, ceramic tile and stained glass. Versatile in painting in oils, tempera, acrylics, even pure iron oxidethe pigment McCrone claims to have been used to paint the Shroudand with a style neither too traditional nor too modern, Isabel Piczek may be said to know a thing or two about the craft of painting.
Copyright © 1998 by Ian Wilson
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