A negative rendering of the shroud. ()

The Shroud of Turin is a centuries-old linen cloth with the image of an apparently crucified man. Many people believe it to be the cloth that covered Jesus of Nazareth when he was placed in his tomb; others contend it is a medieval hoax, or something else altogether. Its true origin remains uncertain.

The shroud is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Observations and analysis
3 External links


Early reports

Reports of Jesus's burial shroud have been circulating since the early Middle Ages, but none have been substantiated, nor can any of the objects be identified as the modern Shroud of Turin.

According to Eusebius of Caesarea, King Abgarus of Edessa wrote to Jesus in 30 AD, asking him to come cure him of an illness. Instead, the apostle Thaddaeus is said to have come, bearing a cloth with the image of Jesus (the "Image of Edessa", or Mandylion), at which time the king was miraculously healed. After the king's death, the cloth might have been hidden in the city walls for protection as early as the reign of Manu VI, Abgar´s second son, who is thought to have reverted to paganism.

The cloth is said to have surfaced in 525, during a flood of the Daisan, a tributary stream of the Euphrates, flooding the city of Edessa. This flood is mentioned in the writings of Procopius of Caesarea. In the course of the reconstruction work at Edessa, a cloth is discovered which had been hidden above one of the gates of the town. It shows the face of a man. Evagrius Scholasticus mentioned in his Ecclesiastical History the image of Edessa as "created by God, and not produced by the hands of man". He dates this discovery at 544. The Persian King Chosrau I Anuschirwan (the large one) besieges the Roman Edessa. Other documents from the 6th century - it is said - are in the Vatican Library and the University of Leiden, Netherlands. These documents quote a man called Smera in Constantinople in 950: "King Abgar received a cloth on which one can see not only a face but the whole body" (Faciei figuram sed totius corporis figuram cernere potis). The Mandylion disappeared again after the Persians conquered Edessa in 609 and the Arabs in 639. In 944 - for the liberation of Muslim prisoners - it was taken from Edessa to Constantinople under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Romanus I, remaining there until the Crusaders sacked the city in 1204 and carried its treasures to western Europe.

14th century

The first documented appearance of the cloth now stored in Turin was in 1357, when the widow of French knight Geoffroy de Charny had it displayed in a church in Lirey. Both coats of arms are to be seen in a pilgrim medallion (Museum Cluny, Paris) which shows accurately the Shroud of Turin.

During these years, the Shroud was publicly exposed, even if not continuously, given that the bishop of Troyes prohibited this cult. But after 32 years the cult started again. Its property was contested by the King Charles VI of France, who vainly ordered his sheriffs to obtain it and bring it to Troyes. In end of 1389, the bishop of Troyes asked for silence on the matter, in order to calm down the faithfuls' excitement. But in the following month, antipope Clement VII prescribed indulgences for those who celebrated the Shroud, and the cult continued.

15th century

In 1418, Humbert of Villersexel, Count de la Roche, Lord of Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs, who had married the grand-daughter of Geoffroy de Charny, moved the Shroud to his castle at Montfort, officially to protect it from criminal bands.

It was later moved again, to Saint-Hippolyte-sur-Doubs. After the death of Humbert, a judicial battle was fought by Lirey canons, who wanted the widow to return the cloth, but the parlement of Dole first, and the Court of Besançon later, left it to the widow. She travelled with the Shroud, for several expositions (like in Liege and in Geneva).

In 1453 the widow sold it (for a castle in Varambon) to Ludwig Duke of Savoy, who stored it in the castle of Chambery (capital town of the Duchy), in a new-built Sainte-Chapelle, which pope Paul II soon after elevated to the dignity of collegiate church. In 1464, the duke had to recognize an annual rent to the Lirey canons, and on their side these formally recognized his property on the cloth.

In 1471 the Shroud was moved to Vercelli, and in the following years it was in Turin, Ivrea, Susa, Chambery, Avigliano, Rivoli, and Pinerolo. In 1483 the cloth was described by two sacrists of the Sainte-Chapelle as "enveloped in a red silk drape, and kept in a case covered with crimson velours, decorated with silver-gilt nails, and locked with a golden key".

16th century to present

In 1532, a fire broke out in the chapel. The folded shroud was damaged by a drop of molten silver from the reliquary it was stored in, and by water used to douse the fire. It was rewoven and patched by the Poor Clare Nuns.

The shroud was moved in 1578 to Turin, where it remains today. It remained the property of the House of Savoy until it was bequeathed to the Holy See in 1983.

In 1988, a sliver was cut from the shroud for analysis.

In 1997, the shroud was again threatened by fire, perhaps due to arson. Fireman Mario Trematore smashed its display case and saved it from harm.

The shroud was restored in 2002, repairing the fire damage of 1532. Thirty patches were removed.

Observations and analysis

The study of the Shroud is called Sindonology (from Greek sindón, the word used for the Shroud and also for a cloth worn by someone in the Gospel of Mark).

General observations

The shroud is a rectangle measuring 4.4 m by 1.1 m. The material is woven in a herringbone twill, composed of flax fibrils entwisted with cotton fibrils.

It bears a double image of a man, a front and back view that meet at the top of the head in the middle of the cloth. What appear to be bloodstains are found on the cloth, indicating that the man was wounded:

  • on his wrists, apparently by piercing
  • on his side
  • around his forehead
  • on his back, apparently from whipping

The physical stature of the man is quite large -- both for the time it is purported to be from and for the Middle Ages, the time of its supposed fabrication.

The age of the Shroud

In 1988 the Shroud was independently examined by Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Through radiocarbon dating, they all agreed that the cloth dated from the 14th century.

However, some argue that the results may have been distorted by such factors as the fire of 1532, bacteria provably rescuing the cloth from decay, or even neutrons released at the time of the Resurrection.

Is it blood?

Reports are contradictory. Chemist Walter McCrone identified the substance as vermilion paint; others have specifically identified it as type AB blood. There is no doubt to give to be able to differentiate color from blood! Only fibrils lifted from the shroud on sticky tape were tested for blood.

Formation of the image

Only a Walter McCrone claimed to have identified red ochre paint in the image. All others say there is no pigment there whatsoever, just a discoloration on the fibrils' surface (and no deeper).

Other indications

Avinoam Danin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem claimed to have identified pollen grains originating around Jerusalem. Danin also compared the Shroud with the Sudarium of Oviedo, determining from the pattern of bloodstains that they both covered the same head.

The piercing of the wrists, rather than the palms, unusually accurate for a medieval depiction of the crucifixion. Even the casting of a timber beam is to be recognized by the back.

The weaving pattern and size of the cloth are consistent with 1st century Syrian design.

Even more remarkable features are said to be noticeable when the image is digitally processed (although such claims are highly criticized):

  • Coins placed on both eyes, the right one identified as a type of Roman copper coins produced in 29 and 30 AD in Jerusalem.
  • In 1997, André Marion and Anne-Laure Courage claimed to be able to make out Greek and Latin letters near the face:
    • on the right side: ΨΣ KIA ("Ψ" supposedly with mistake from "OΨ" opsi = face; "ΣKIA" = shadow)
    • on the left side: INSCE (supposedly from INSCENDAT, he may have climbed) and NAZARENUS
    • down: HΣOU (Jesou, of Jesus).

External links