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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.
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 oxide—the pigment McCrone claims to have been used to paint the Shroud—and 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
|Note to the Reader|
|Introduction: Cloth of Passion. The 'bloody' controversy that still rages over whether the Shroud is fake or genuine||1|
|Pt. 1||'Cunning Painting' - or Genuine Photograph? The Shroud reassessed as an image|
|1||How can we be sure we are looking at a genuine human body?||17|
|2||And is it a genuinely crucified human body?||30|
|3||And is it what we would expect of a genuine first-century crucified body?||41|
|4||And is it what we would expect of a genuine first-century crucified body's burial?||54|
|Pt. 2||Cunning Painting - or Genuine Gravecloth? The Shroud reassessed as a physical object|
|5||What can the Shroud's fabric tell us?||63|
|6||What of the Shroud's so-called 'body image'?||74|
|7||What of the Shroud's wound marks: are they actual blood?||85|
|8||What of the Shroud's surface debris?||94|
|Pt. 3||Tracking the Shroud Back through History|
|9||Can we be sure that the Shroud dates back even to the 1350s?||111|
|10||Could the Shroud date back to 1204?||124|
|11||Could the Shroud date back to the sixth century?||141|
|12||Could the Shroud even date back to the time of Jesus?||161|
|Pt. 4||Carbon Dating, Right or Wrong?|
|13||'Odds of one in a thousand trillion'?||179|
|14||If the carbon dating is right, could the Shroud be the work of a mediaeval artist?||195|
|15||Could the Shroud be of someone specially crucified in the Middle Ages?||205|
|16||Could the Shroud be the work of a mediaeval photographer?||210|
|17||If the carbon dating is wrong, how could that happen?||219|
|18||Conclusion: the blood and the Shroud: examining your own heart on the matter||232|
|Notes and References||245|
|Chronology of the Turin Shroud||263|
Cloth of Passion: The 'bloody' controversy that still rages over whether the Shroud is fake or genuine
By any measure the Turin Shroud is a Cloth of Passion. Literally and metaphorically. If it is genuinely the cloth which wrapped Jesus's dead body, then it is spattered with some of the very blood that once flowed through his veins. And even if it is a mediaeval forgery of this same, its first known owner's fate was to die the bloodiest of deaths on the battlefield of Poitiers.
As for metaphorical 'blood', very few of those of modern times who have become drawn into the Shroud mystery have escaped some form of serious wounding, almost in the manner of Tutankhamun's infamous 'curse'. Of this there can be little more recent or poignant example than Turin's archbishop, Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, whom Pope John Paul II appointed the Shroud's 'Custodian' in September 1990, shortly after the cloth's traditional repository, the seventeenth-century Royal Chapel linking Turin's Royal Palace and cathedral, had to be closed because lumps of stone were falling from its dome.
Saldarini is a most genial, conscientious and capable individual who quickly recognised that the Royal Chapel, with its Guarino Guarini dome and soaring, wedding-cake-tiered altar that has been the Shroud's home for the last three centuries, could not be allowed to fall into ruin. Accordingly, in concert with the Italian State government (who technically own all the former 'royal' properties), he initiated major structural repairs. To give the Shroud optimum protection while these were in progress, he arranged for its transfer, still rolled up inside its traditional silvey been moved, its normally gleaming glass already near-unrecognisable from the debris raining down from above. As he quickly realised, if the chapel's three-hundred-year-old dome were to crash down it would be bound to consume the display case and its precious contents in an avalanche of fiery rubble. Without hesitation (although, as a good Catholic, not without a silent prayer), he raised his fireman's sledge-hammer and swung it with all his might against the near two-inch-thick specially toughened glass. It went a milky colour, but didn't even begin to shatter. As some of his fellow firemen crowded supportively around, again and again he swung at it, at last creating a hole big enough to reach into and pull through the Shroud's bulky, four-and-a-half-foot-long silvered casket. Moments later, as TV cameramen on the scene zoomed in on a visibly tearful Cardinal Saldarini, the casket was rushed through the cathedral nave to safety.
Three days later, having made his own residence the Shroud's temporary place of refuge, Cardinal Saldarini assembled there a small gathering of specially invited specialists and officials. On his instructions these solemnly opened up the Shroud casket and unrolled the cloth onto a long table to find, to their very considerable relief, that it had survived unscathed. But as Saldarini was acutely aware, there were a host of indications that the fire had been deliberately lit. Also, almost the entire High Altar environs where the Shroud would have been exhibited was now a blackened rain, with repairs likely to last into the next century. So what was to become of the scheduled expositions? Should they simply be cancelled until further notice?
Meanwhile I was another indivi dual to have felt more than a little bloodied by this same turn of events. In April 1997 I was at my newly adopted home in Australia, just days from the scheduled completion of this book. The very moment that I heard the news I knew that some serious revision of my manuscript would be needed (ironically, only the day before, in rewriting the first draft of chapter 9, I had spoken of the Shroud's location in the new bullet-proof display case as one of the few definite facts!). But this aside, the news just represented one more trauma on top of the many to which I had become almost inured in the course of my now forty-year association -- some might deservedly call it obsession with the Turin Shroud.
As a very agnostic London schoolboy I had first come across it in a popular magazine article published in 1955. What immediately shook me to the quick, challenging all my previously smug scepticism towards matters religious, was the so obviously lifelike 'photograph' of a crucified body that can be seen on the negative whenever the Shroud is photographed in black and white. So profoundly did this affect me that, albeit ten years later, I began the spare-time historical and other researches that gradually persuaded me, not without continuing self-questioning, that the Shroud must indeed be the cloth which had wrapped Jesus's body in the tomb two thousand years ago. A cloth somehow (and this was the aspect of it which really gripped me) imprinted with his very 'photograph' in death.
In November 1973, while I was living in Bristol, England, a call came through from the United States alerting me that for the first time in forty years the Shroud was to be brought out for public gaze from its then normal rep ository in the Royal Chapel. It was to be shown on Italian television, and there was also to be an unprecedented opportunity for journalists and interested individuals such as myself to view the cloth at first hand.
It was one of those moments in life that you either seize immediately, or regret ever after. By lunch-time on 22 November I found myself, with some thirty others, being given a brief preliminary introduction by Turin's then archbishop, Cardinal Michele Pellegrino. The group was escorted up a grand marble staircase of Turin's Royal Palace and into a huge, frescoed hall, the Hall of the Swiss. At the far end of this the Shroud hung upright in a simple oak frame, its fourteen-foot length brilliantly illuminated by high-powered television lights.
Then came the second shock. It did not look at all as I had expected. Everything that I knew of the Shroud up to this point -- and I thought I knew quite a lot -- had been based on black-and-white photographs that, whether they are in positive or negative, make it look a lot darker than it really is. To see the original's faintness and subtlety was really quite breath-taking. Framed by the burns and patches from the other fire in which the Shroud came perilously close to destruction -- a similarly ruinous chapel blaze while it was being kept at Chambery in 1532 -- there was the familiar 'body image' that to me was the Shroud's central mystery. If you stood back you could make it out readily enough: a bearded face, a pronounced chest, crossed hands, legs side by side, together with, as one looked up at the back-of-the-body image, a long rope of hair, taut shoulders and buttocks, and soles of the feet.
But the image colour was the subtles t yellow sepia, and as you moved in closer to anything like touching distance (and I saw to my astonishment that the cloth was unprotected by any glass), it seemed virtually to disappear like mist. Because of the lack of outline and the minimum contrast to the ivory-coloured background, it became wellnigh impossible to 'see' whatever detail you were trying to look at without stepping some distance back again. To me, as a practising life-painter and an enthusiast of art history, it seemed absolutely impossible that any artist-faker could have created an image of this kind, certainly not one of centuries ago. The succeeding day and a half during which I was allowed some eight hours of further direct examination served to reaffirm my conviction, despite all the obvious rational objections, that this cloth simply had to be genuine.
The next five years passed in something of a whirl, with world interest in the cloth growing sufficiently that in October 1978, following a six-week public exhibition of the Shroud (the first since 1933), an assemblage of some thirty American scientists, the so-called STURP team, were allowed five days in which to subject the cloth and its image to a battery of high-powered scientific tests. These included visual, photographic and spectroscopic examinations and the taking of over thirty sticky-tape samples representative of 'body image', 'blood-image' and non-image areas. In the wake of these, the STURP team's conclusion, like my own, was that the Shroud is no painting.
While their sticky tapes revealed the presence of all sorts of microscopic debris littering the Shroud's surface, including some particles that might be paint, their interpretation was that whatever had created the image proper was not paint or any other artificial substance. Instead it was some physical force that had in effect 'flashed' itself onto the cloth in a very precisely controlled manner according to the cloth's distance from the theoretical body at any one point. As for the 'bloodstains', they found these indeed to be genuine human blood.
By the end of 1978 the expositions and the STURP testing had given the Shroud a higher public awareness and acceptance than it had ever enjoyed before, and I for my part had been invited by the American publishers Doubleday to write a book on the subject which was published that year. In it I had set out my hypothesis of where the Shroud might have been in its history prior to its emergence in the 1350s in the tiny French village of Lirey, all the way back to the first century AD.
As I was the first to acknowledge, mine was a mere hypothesis, more than a little weak in places and thereby needing further supporting evidence, for which the ideal was one test which the American STURP team had not carried out in 1978 -- radiocarbon dating, the method of determining an archaeological artefact's age by calculating the extent to which it has lost its very mildly radioactive carbon-14 content, this being known measurably to 'decay' year by year after an organism's death. This particular test had not been included iff STURP's programme mainly because at that time it would have needed a pocket-sized sample of the Shroud's linen, rather more than those responsible for the Shroud were prepared to sacrifice.
However, in May 1977 American nuclear physicist Professor Harry Gove of Rochester University, together with some like-minded colleagues, successfully tested a new accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) technique of carbon dating, one requiring a sample something of the order of a thousand times smaller than that which had been needed before. And although this method was too new and undeveloped to be used in 1978, it represented the obvious one for the future.
In the event, it took innumerable wranglings before, in October 1987, Turin's Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero, Archbishop Pellegrino's successor (and Cardinal Saldarini's immediate predecessor), approved a list of three radiocarbon laboratories which were to be allowed sufficient sample from the Shroud for them to be able to carry out this test. These were the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Oxford, the Swiss Federal InStitute of Technology's radiocarbon-dating facility at Zurich, and the University of Arizona's facility at Tucson, all of these having successfully developed the new Gove AMS method. After some preliminary discussions in the January of 1988 at London's British Museum, representatives of each of these laboratories travelled to Turin in April where, in the early hours of the morning of the 21st, they were escorted into the cathedral.
Shown into the bench-lined sacristy, they found that the Shroud had been laid out before them on a large table, having been brought down during the night from its normal location in the Royal Chapel. As they waited, Turin microanalyst Professor Giovanni Riggi, the man deputed to take their samples, together with his colleague Professor Gonella, first lengthily and noisily conferred concerning the best location on the Shroud from which these should be removed. When this was resolved, Riggi very dextrously and ceremoniousl y cut an 8-cm-x-1-cm sliver from the left-hand corner at the foot end of the Shroud's frontal image. He then cut this in half and divided one of the halves into three for apportionment between the laboratories, retaining the other half. Each sample was then carefully weighed before being taken to a side room where Dr Michael Tite (later to become Professor), of the British Museum, the project's chosen scientific co-ordinator, packed it into a special coded stainless-steel canister sealed with the Cardinal's own seal. During this same operation Tite also provided each laboratory with a set of similarly coded canisters containing pre-selected samples of cloth of both mediaeval and first-century date intended as 'controls'.
As the laboratory representatives returned home with their canisters, the Turin authorities released the news of their mission to the world and during the succeeding months, first the Arizona laboratory personnel, then Zurich's, then Oxford's ran their particular samples through their equipment. Despite the fact that they had all been sworn not to disclose their findings until these could be collectively released, all sorts of rumours began circulating, almost all of them suggesting that the Shroud had been found to date to the Middle Ages.
During the second week of October 1988 press personnel of the English-speaking world were notified that the results would be announced on Thursday, 13 October in the British Museum's Press Room, with a near-synchronous press conference to be held in Turin that same day.
Accordingly, early that Thursday afternoon I joined this gathering in a dingy, poorly lit and overcrowded basement room of the British Museum. At one end of the room had bee n set a low platform which three men mounted, reminding me of some of the past Shroud expositions when three bishops on a platform would hold up the Shroud for veneration.
But in this year of 1988 these men were no bishops. They were the already mentioned Dr Michael Tite, with the Oxford radiocarbon-dating laboratory's Professor Edward Hall and Hall's chief technician, Dr Robert Hedges. Nor did they have any Shroud to display. Instead their only 'prop' was a blackboard behind them on which someone had rather crudely scrawled: '1260-1390!'.
And this was my third, and this time most unpleasant, shock, nothing less than a real body blow. For as Dr Tite explained, these numbers represented radiocarbon dating's calculation, to a ninety-five per cent degree of probability, of the upper and lower dates of when the Shroud's flax had been harvested. Representing an average of the laboratories' findings, which had proved in excellent agreement with each other, they indicated that the Shroud's raw flax had most likely been made into linen on or about the year AD 1325, give or take sixty-five years either way.
This statement rendered worthless all my historical researches on the Shroud, on which I had then been working for more than twenty years. It also negated much of the medical and other evidence which had equally impressed me. The Shroud simply could not possibly be any true shroud of the historical Jesus. For as those on the platform collectively insisted, the odds against this were now 'astronomical'. The radiocarbon dates matched unerringly closely to the time in the 1350s when the Shroud had made its European debut in the suspiciously tiny French village of Lirey. They seemingly confirmed a memor andum that the French Bishop Pierre d'Arcis had written to his Pope in the year 1389 advising him that according to his (d'Arcis's) predecessor of the 1350s, Bishop Henri of Poitiers, the Shroud had been '...cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.'
The radiocarbon dating had therefore confirmed Bishop Henri's insights, all the more believable given the Middle Ages' notorious credulity towards religious relics. As this was expressed by the characteristically forceful Professor Hall: 'There was a multi-million-pound business in making forgeries during the fourteenth century. Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it.'
Thus it was that on the morning of 14 October 1988 most of the world woke up to newspaper headlines -- by no means always front-page news that the Shroud had been 'proven' to be a mediaeval fake. At his Turin press conference Cardinal Ballestrero, true to his earlier expressed insistence that the Church has nothing to fear from the truth, declared that he accepted the laboratories' findings even though, as he carefully added, 'the problems about the origin of the image and its preservation still remain to a large extent unresolved'. England's Daily Telegraph newspaper duly translated this into the headline 'Turin shroud is a forgery, says Catholic Church'. On the same day Independent newspaper journalists Michael Sheridan and Phil Reeves cheerfully linked the Shroud to other products of 'mediaeval tricksters' such as 'a feather from the Archangel Gabriel...the last breath of St Joseph, several heads of St John the Baptist', rather a s if the Shroud were in the same mould as these and that its fraudulence should all along have been obvious to everyone.
Scientifically the coup de grâce came on 16 February 1989 with the scientific journal Nature's publication of the radiocarbon-dating laboratories' formal technical report. Authored by no less than twenty-one of the scientists who had played some part in obtaining the final result, this claimed 'conclusive evidence that the linen of the shroud of Turin is mediaeval'. As the Oxford laboratory's Professor Edward Hall repeatedly stressed in accompanying interviews and talks, no one of any scientific worth could any longer believe in the possibility of the Shroud being genuine. If they did, they might just as well join the Flat Earthers.
Thus it seemed that anyone who had previously upheld any serious case for the Shroud's credibility, among whom I numbered myself, had been dealt a fatal stab to the heart. And sadly, the quality of argument on the part of those who refused to accept that they were 'dead' quickly degenerated into the unworthy. For some Shroud supporters in continental Europe, for instance, the chief defence offered was that it was the radiocarbon dating, not the Shroud, that must be the fraud.
As foremost spokesperson for this particular viewpoint there surfaced the French priest Brother Bruno Bonnet-Eymard, of the very right-wing Catholic group the 'Catholic Counter-Reformation in the Twentieth Century'. As he noted, although the main proceedings of the taking of samples had been videotaped, this was not the case with the putting of the samples into their coded canisters. During this the British Museum's Dr Michael Tite had been accompanied in the side room only by the elderly Cardinal. Bonnet-Eymard therefore outrightly accused Dr Tite of having 'switched' the control samples so that the pieces which the laboratories thought to be the Shroud were in actuality control samples of mediaeval date, while the pieces that they thought to be control samples of first-century date were in fact the genuine Shroud.
Although there was not the slightest serious evidence to support such allegations, even distinguished European Shroud scholars such as the Jesuit Professor Werner Bulst and others became persuaded to follow some variant or other of this party line. Exacerbating this, similar claims were made by the sensationalist German writers Holger Kersten and Elmar Gruber, and with the ingenious extra twist that Dr Tite had allegedly performed his sleight of hand as a result of a clandestine 'deal' with the Vatican. As this duo explained in their book The Jesus Conspiracy, certain high officials at the Vatican did not want the Shroud to be found genuine, for the reason that they knew that it and its bloodstains proved that Jesus did not die on the cross. This meant that the 'Resurrection' was not the miracle that Christians believe it to be, which was why the Vatican was so keen to conspire with Dr Tite, because if ever the news got out it would put all the world's clergymen Out of business overnight.
But if this was the best that those who still believed the Shroud to be first century could come up with, oddly, little greater light came even from those who fully accepted the radiocarbon dating's findings. All these needed to account for was how someone of the fourteenth century could have 'faked the Shroud up' as Professor Hall would desc ribe it. In other words how someone of an artistically relatively backward period managed to Create on the Shroud an image that so convincingly looks to be a positive photograph when it is viewed in negative, despite the fact that no one of the Middle Ages could have seen it in this manner.
And there has been no shortage of theorists in this regard. The Chicago microanalyst Dr Walter McCrone, for instance, had been vigorously maintaining from the early 1980s that a mediaeval artist created the Shroud by simply painting its image onto the cloth using iron-oxide pigments in a gelatin binding medium. According to him, this artist's so successful production of the negative was just a lucky chance deriving from his deliberately painting in reverse of positive tones. In the light of the radiocarbon-dating result McCrone triumphantly declared his argument one hundred per cent vindicated.
Likewise Kentucky teacher, stage magician and die-hard sceptic Joe Nickell has argued for a mediaeval hoaxer having created much this same effect with the aid of a bas-relief of a body laid Out in the manner of the man of the Shroud, thereupon splashing on the bloodstains for effect. University of Tennessee forensic pathologist Emily Craig and textile specialist Professor Randall Bresee have put forward the idea that a mediaeval forger first must have carefully painted the Shroud's image on a sheet of paper, then transferred this to the linen of the Shroud proper using a burnishing technique, the Shroud's image thereby being something between a brass rubbing and a xerox photocopy.
British physician Dr Michael Straiton has explained the so convincing bloodstains by suggesting that the Shroud is simply that of a dead C rusader crucified by the Saracens in mockery of Jesus's crucifixion, although he has some difficulty explaining the negative. Popular writers Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas have gone one further, actually naming the Crusader as Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, according to them crucified by the Inquisition as a sardonic torture prior to his being burned at the stake in 1314.
South African art professor Nicholas Allen has quite recently argued for the Shroud being a genuine photograph, the world's first, created by a mediaeval artificer using a natural lens and photographic salts known and understood in the Middle Ages. His theory readily accounts for the negative but he has trouble accounting for the bloodstains.
Closely related to Allen's theory has been that of London journalist Lynn Picknett and partner Clive Prince that the Shroud was created, again photographically, by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. According to this duo Leonardo, undoubtedly well known for his pioneering anatomical dissections, used a specially crucified body, but his own face, for a fake that had been ordered by Pope Innocent VIII.
Yet ingenious as so many of these ideas are, the plain fact is that they are extremely varied and from not one of them has come sufficient of a groundswell of support to suggest that it truly convincingly might hold the key to how the Shroud was forged -- if indeed it was forged.
For however heretical and unscientific it might sound even mildly to suggest that the radiocarbon dating might have been wrong in the case of the Shroud, what cannot be stressed strongly enough is that all that it has produced, and ever can produce, is an instrument reading t hat seems to indicate a serious finding, but in itself can explain nothing.
By way of analogy we might cite the case of a jumbo-jet pilot who midway during a routine flight across the Atlantic suddenly finds that his fuel gauges -- scientific instruments upon which he can normally rely -- are telling him that his plane is out of fuel. What should he do? Should he blindly accept what his instruments are telling him, and proceed immediately to ditch his plane and its passengers into the ocean? Or should he make a few other checks first?
In effect, this is precisely the situation that has pertained since 1988 with regard to the Shroud and its carbon dating. In which context, just as our airline pilot would need, as a matter of basics, to have trusted those who assured him they had loaded his fuel, so let me rule out straight away any challenge to the integrity of Dr Michael Tite and the radiocarbon-dating scientists of the kind that has been indulged in by Bonnet-Eymard, Kersten and Gruber, and others.
For during both the preliminaries to and the immediate aftermath of the Shroud radiocarbon dating I struck up a moderate acquaintance with the British Museum's Dr Tite, the Oxford laboratory's Professor Hall and the Arizona laboratory's Professor Damon, from which experience I can say with some confidence that any scenario suggesting that one or more of these men may have 'rigged' the radiocarbon dating -- let alone conspired with the Vatican -- may be judged as absurd and far-fetched as it is unworthy. Professor Damon's chief technician at Arizona, Professor Douglas Donahue, is a devout Catholic who reportedly paled visibly on becoming the first man to learn the Shroud's dating to the Middle Ages as this was printed out on the Arizona laboratory's computer. He had fully expected the dating to indicate the Shroud's genuineness, but equally, fully accepted the validity of the result when it came. Damon himself is a practising Quaker. As for the bespectacled and very 'English' Dr Tite, the idea of him entering any kind of conspiracy with Roman Catholic cardinals is risible in the extreme. Besides all of which the radiocarbon laboratory scientists photographed the samples they brought back with them from Turin, in each case recognising immediately (despite the coding of the canisters), which specimen was the Shroud, because of its distinctive weave. Any sample switch would have been very easily spotted had there been one, which there was not. The 'skulduggery' scenario may therefore be dismissed out of hand.
Instead what we need to confront is that three reputable international radiocarbon-dating laboratories, using the very best of modern technology, radiocarbon dated the Shroud to some time around the early part of the fourteenth century, a date uncomfortably close to the time when a mediaeval French bishop said it had been forged, and equally uncomfortably far from the lifetime of Jesus. If the Shroud really is of the fourteenth century then we need to try to understand very clearly how on earth it was created, mendaciously or otherwise, by someone of that time. Conversely, if it really is of the time of Jesus, we need to try to understand equally clearly how three state-of-the-art radiocarbon-dating laboratories could have got their datings so seriously wrong.
Now while this is a task that might preferably have waited another generation, and the application of technologies yet to be born , what has made it of sudden urgency is the very same plan we heard announced by Cardinal Saldarini at the beginning of this chapter, that the Shroud is to be publicly exhibited again in Turin April to June 1988, followed by another exposition in the year 2000. For despite the massive setbacks of the fire and the seemingly so damning carbon dating, the official word from Cardinal Saldarini, apparently with the full backing of Pope John Paul II, is that the expositions will still go ahead, virtually come what may. It is a determination that makes it yet more remarkable that the Church should ever have decided to hold the expositions at all, when this is in such apparent defiance of the Shroud having been so publicly declared a fraud.
For throughout all the centuries of the Shroud's known history, when it was owned not by the Church but by the Savoy family who became kings of Italy, it was the Church's official policy always to avoid giving any too overt endorsement of its genuineness, just as there was similar avoidance in the case of other relics, also of people exhibiting miraculous-seeming phenomena such as stigmata.
Yet less than two decades since the Shroud came into the Church's ownership, and less than a decade since radiocarbon dating declared the Shroud a fake, the Church has begun to behave as if it has the genuine article, against alt the odds, including a determined attempt to destroy that article (for all the latest findings suggest that the Chapel fire was indeed arson).
So why this sudden volte-face? Does the Church have some very good reason for believing that the radiocarbon dating was wrong and that the Shroud may be genuine after all?
Like our hypotheti cal jumbo-jet pilot, all we can do, faced with an instrument reading that says that the flax of the Shroud's linen did not 'die' until thirteen centuries after Jesus's lifetime, is to review the whole subject again. We must check anew every aspect, every assumption, every facet of the subject, including the radiocarbon dating, in order to determine just how much that may hitherto have been accepted as fact can or cannot any longer be trusted.
For this is not a time for trying to salvage any egos, mine or anyone else's, however deeply injured they might feel by so publicly being pronounced wrong. Today, in the cold light of the radiocarbon dating the alternatives posed by the Shroud are even starker than they ever have been. It has either to be the most astonishing, most mind-blowingly 'out-of-time' product to come down to us from the Middle Ages. Or, despite all the contradictions, it has to be the genuine article, equally mind-blowingly created by the body of Jesus himself. Huge passions underscore each of these positions. Yet somehow, in the interests of all future understanding of the subject, we need to resolve within which of these two alternatives lies the greater truth.
With these aims firmly in mind it will therefore be the task of this book to rescrutinise every genuinely worthy hypothesis, whether for or against authenticity, with equal dispassion. It is my pledge that I will treat those seriously sceptical of the Shroud's authenticity with the same respect as those supportive of it. And from this point of view no aspect of the Shroud presents any greater challenge than its seemingly 'photographic' image the subject's central mystery and raison d'être, without which I for one would never have become involved.
Accordingly it is with this so mysterious image, and with absolutely anything and everything that the eye may reasonably understand and interpret of it, that we will now begin.
Copyright © 1998 by Ian Wilson