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Don't forget that in the XIII century there were (at least) forty burial shrouds of Jesus circulating in Eastern and Western Europe. Each of them was of course the real thing. A few of those cloths are still visible today in France (Carcassonne, Cahors, Cadouin); others have been lost or destroyed during the French revolution.

By Antonio Lombatti
Deputazione di Storia Patria
Parma, Italia
January 2011

In the last 20 years I have seen many documentaries on the Shroud of Turin. Each of them promised to finally solve the "mystery" of the most controversial Christian relic of all times. I have to say that "Remaking the Shroud," recently aired by NatGeo TV, is the best one I've ever watched so far. It doesn't want us to be convinced that this medieval relic is the real burial cloth of Jesus. It doesn't want to convey the message that this artifact is miraculous or mysterious. It simply tries to distinguish if the Shroud of Turin has to be considered an icon made to evoke and inspire the faithful or a hoax forged to fool the gullible and help medieval monasteries to make lots of money.

This is the best Shroud film ever produced probably because most of the people who have been involved in it are professional scholars and not "shroudologists": the medievalist Richard Kaeuper (University of Rochester), who speaks on the first owner of the Turin Shroud -- the French knight Geoffroy de Charny; -- the archaeologist Shimon Gibson (Texas A&M University), who refers on Second Temple burial cloths and rites, the art historian William Dale (University of Western Ontario), who deals with byzantine icons; and the chemist Luigi Garlaschelli (University of Pavia), the first scientist to remake a full-size shroud.

The documentary is divided into three main parts. In the general introduction, we are told what the Shroud is: a linen bearing a double image of a (presumed) man who should show the marks of Jesus' crucifixion. However, there are many inaccuracies and the image is anatomically incorrect. When the relics first appeared in France around 1355, the bishop ordered an inquiry and found out that such burial cloth with a double imprint did not find any confirmation in the Gospels. Moreover, the Pope who had to face the first controversy on the public display of the Shroud wrote in the bull that he be granted permission to show it, but it had to be said with a clear and loud voice that it was a mere representation of the burial cloth of Jesus and not the real one. Finally, even the owners - the French family de Charny - when asked for permission to place the relic in their church have always referred to the Shroud as a representation.


The image is anatomically incorrect: when a scalp bleeds, it doesn't flow in rivulets, the blood mats on the scalp or in the hair. Instead, on the Shroud we can see neat artistic rivulets seeming to be levitated on the outside of the locks.




It's not true that the image of the hands crossed on the pelvis with missing thumbs -- which is typical of medieval art -- shows that the man of the Shroud was nailed in the wrists. We can only see one exit wound and it is in the hand


The right arm is much longer than the left, the head is too small in proportion to the body image. The "bloodstained" right footprint is anatomically impossible to obtain. If you lie on your back and place the right foot completely flat, you must bend the knee at a considerable angle, thus raising the calf of the leg a significant distance away from the underlying cloth. Moreover, if you think of a body lying on a linen sheet, you would expect the back image -- with all the body weight and pressure -- to be darker and more deformed than the front image. Even more absurd are the locks of hairs at the sides of the face. The hair is on the level with the cheekbones. As the body is lying on its back, these locks of hair, if they had been freed, would by their natural weight have fallen back. Finally there is a curious space between the hair and either side of the face. Last but not least, the front image measures 205 centimeters and the back 198.

It's because of this evidence, that Garlaschelli tried to remake a full-size shroud. Garlaschelli reproduced the shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages. He placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A bas-relief was used for the face. The linen was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed the pigment from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. The pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries. Garlaschelli then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.


His replica is amazing, and even the shroudologist Mark Guscin has to admit it. As for those who claim that under the microscope the image cannot be identical to the Turin Shroud, one must consider that even two coins minted in the very same mint aren't identical under the microscope. The goal achieved by Garlaschelli was to show that such a relic could easily be produced in the Middle Ages.

But shroudologists are hard to convince, and they speak of the Shroud as the "snapshot of the resurrection," thus avoiding any scientific explanation for the image formation. Richard Kaeuper is right when he says that the first historical document on this relic dates from the middle of the XIV century. Many Shroud experts agree on that, even if they quote meaningless legends and apocryphal texts to support the presumed existence of the Shroud in the first millennium. When the Pontifical Academy of Sciences chose the three university labs to perform the carbon dating, leaving aside all the church and diocese amateurs who dealt with the Shroud for years -- it confirmed its medieval origin. Thus, historical and scientific data do match.

Then Shimon Gibson is interviewed on the Akeldama shroud fragments found in Jerusalem in 1999. A very curious aspect of the whole controversy is why Shroud fans have never mentioned the Second Temple burial cloth remains that were found. The answer is quite simple because they completely contradict the Shroud as a first century Jewish artifact: fabric, patteakeldama shamirrn, twist of the fibers and a four meter long cloth have nothing to share with the archaeological findings. Gibson refers to his amazing discovery of the first Jerusalem shroud ever found: it is made of wool (not linen), it has a simple 1:1 twill weave with 'S' spinning twist (3:1 complex herringbone twill weave with 'Z' spun). Moreover, despite the fact that the Akeldama shroud remained in the dirt and bacterial contamination for 2,000 years, it was carbon dated to 50 AD. So, archaeological evidence from controlled excavations of Second Temple Jewish tombs clearly prove that the Turin Shroud is not an artifact from that period.

In the last segment of the documentary, William Dale illustrates how Byzantines were those who created and used icons after the controversy among iconophiles and iconoclasts was settled. The Shroud is a "not made by human hands” image which tells the whole story of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. People who were not able to read or understand the Gospels had an image to look at. It was the ideal icon for illiterate believers. In Dale's opinion, the Shroud was created just to evoke and inspire the faithful. However, bishop Pierre d'Arcis in 1389 wrote that the dean of the collegiate church of Lirey had the Shroud displayed with the deliberate intent of deceipt and cash offerings from the pilgrims (fraude premeditata). The bishop even stated that some people were paid to fake healings so that the faithful in the church could believe that miracles were happening thanks to the relic (ut subtili ingenio aurum extorqueretur ab eis, inibi confingebatur miracula mendaciter certis hominibus ad hoc precio conductis, qui se sanari fingebant in ostensione dicti sudarii, quod domini sudarium ab omnibus credebatur.) So, on this, I don't agree with Dale.

Don't forget that in the XIII century there were (at least) forty burial shrouds of Jesus circulating in Eastern and Western Europe. Each of them was of course the real thing. A few of those cloths are still visible today in France (Carcassonne, Cahors, Cadouin); others have been lost or destroyed during the French revolution.

In the end, the documentary produced by the Nat Geo TV is the best one aired so far on this topic, and I encourage you to watch it since it debunks some of the popular quackery that has been said and written on the Turin Shroud which is easily accessible on the web and in the bookstores.

Selected bibliography

U. Chevalier, Étude critique sur l'origine du St. Suaire de Lirey-Chambery-Turin. (Paris: Picard, 1900)

G. Ciccone, La Sindone svelata e i quaranta sudari. (Donnino: Livorno, 2006)

S. Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2010)

L. Garlaschelli, "Life-size Reproduction of the Shroud of Turin and its Image," Journal of Imaging Science and Technology 54(4), 2010

R. Kaeuper and E. Kennedy, A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry. (Philadelphia: Unv. of Pennsylvania Press, 2005)

A. Lombatti, Sfida alla Sindone. (Pontremoli: Centro Editore, 2000)

J. Nickell, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1999)

G. Rinaldi, "Lo scienziato immaginario," Scienza & Paranormale 43(3), 2003

W. McCrone, "Scientific Detection of Fakery in Art," SPIE Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engi 3315(1), 2006 where you can find articles on many Shroud issues, mostly in Italian

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