The Shroud of Turin Enigma

By Lambert Dolphin

This spring huge crowds clamored to Turin, Italy to see a rare public exhibition of the most controversial church relic known in Christendom, the Shroud of Turin. The purported burial cloth of Jesus Christ is a piece of fine bleached linen cloth (1) 3 feet 7 inches wide by 14 feet 3 inches long (which happens to exactly 2 by 8 cubits, the ancient measurement in Israel). It bears the detailed front and back images of a man who has been crucified in a manner apparently identical to that of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the Scriptures. In 1532, a fire broke out in the the church where the Shroud was kept in a silver reliquary. The heat of the fire caused one side of the reliquary to melt and molten silver fell upon one of the corners of the folded Shroud charring it somewhat. The repair work was entrusted to local Poor Clare nuns who carefully removed the burned portion of the Shroud and sewed new pieces of linen in their place. The result is series of symmetrically spaced diamond-shaped patches along the entire length of the cloth. Some of the scorch marks are still plainly visible.(The Shroud was also rescued from a fire in the chapel in 1997--this time suffering no damage).

In 1898 an amateur photographer, Seconda Pia, took the first photographs of the Shroud causing a wave of new excitement because many of the features on the shroud were much clearer in the photographic negative than in the positive prints (see below). Later holographic imaging would suggest the images on the cloth were actually three dimensional in nature.


The Shroud has been in Turin, Italy since 1578. It is brought out for public viewing about once a generation. The previous exhibition in 1978 (lasting five weeks), drew 3.5 million pilgrims. In the same year a team of reputable international scientists, STURP, (2) began intensively studying the Shroud (spending eventually over $5M). Their main objective was to determine the properties of the image and how it originated. Over 1000 special tests were conducted and over 32,000 photographs were taken. These studies, along with various others, combine to make the Shroud of Turin the most intensively studied single object in history. The tests showed that the Shroud images are not any kind of artistic production but are the result of physical/chemical changes in the linen fibers themselves. Attempts by artists and photographers to replicate the images on the cloth have all fallen far short of imitating anything at all resembling the original. Pollen found on the cloth included European pollens but also tantalizing pollens characteristic of plants found only in Turkey and the Middle East. The absence of olive tree pollens was, however, notable. The colored stains on the Shroud were thought by some to be paint pigments, but others believed them to be blood, DNA and "bioplastics." After much pressure from STURP, church officials and Pope John Paul II allowed carbon dating of three separate small pieces of the cloth by different laboratories. The results--announced in a famous conference Oct. 13, 1988--were that the cloth dated between 1260 and 1390 AD with 95% confidence levels, and between 1000 and 1500 with 99% confidence levels.

Shroud researchers around the world then split into two camps: Those scientists who took the radio-carbon dates as the final word on the date, began to look for other sources for the shroud. Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince (3) built their case on the assumption that the church commissioned Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to paint the Shroud. Their work was not well-received by the traditionalists in the BSTS and they were expelled from membership in that group. Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas (4) took a more mystical and even occultic track. They claim that the certain priests in Jerusalem formed a secret society--the Knights Templar. Their alleged temple secrets (certain abandoned rites that can be still be found in Freemasonry) were discovered in 1307 resulting in the arrest of Templars and the violent martyrdom of their leader, Grand Master Jacques de Molay. Knight and Lomas believe de Molay was crucified but did not immediately die and that the image on the Shroud of Turin is his. The theses of Knight and Lomas involve several clear denials of the authority of the Bible and orthodox Christian traditions concerning the apostles and the historic faith. (One can find many books about the Knights Templar these days, books that take one off the beaten path. Most all need to be read with caution of discernment because they frequently lead into occultic matters which Christians should always avoid).

Ian Wilson, who has been involved in Shroud research for more than three decades, (5) builds a strong case for possible sources of error in the radio-carbon dating. He defends the historicity of the Shroud step by step prior to the time when it first went on public display in 1357. Wilson reviews all the available evidence and clearly shows that the case is not at all conclusive for a date of origin of the Shroud in the 14th or 15th Century. As a committed Christian, Wilson not only believes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was an actual historic event, he suggests that the images on the Shroud can only be explained as some kind of "radiation flash" that occurred when the body of Jesus was transformed and raised from the dead on Easter morning. Some Bible scholars are willing to argue from the Bible alone that the Shroud is not typical of First-Century Israel (7), but Wilson does not overlook this criticism either. Wilson and others (6) call attention to the fact that the Shroud has always inspired faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and that it is not usually revered for its own sake.

The fact the competent and careful scientists, some believers, some not, present a range of differing analyses and conclusions tells us that the enigma of the Shroud is by no means solved in our time. (8) Furthermore the Vatican has decided to not permit any further research on the Shroud itself, for the present time at least. Meantime at least one science-fiction writer (9) has not overlooked the mysteries of the Shroud for an entertaining story of the end of the age we live in and the appearance of a final counterfeit messiah on the stage of history. The Shroud of Turin remains a remarkable object eliciting interest and speculation now more than ever.

Regardless of the true origin of the Shroud of Turin, the Apostle Paul argues eloquently that the resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to the faith and the hope of all those who know and follow the Man from Galilee, "...if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as [all those who are] in Adam all die, so also [all those who are] in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:12-21)


1. Common denim jeans use this same pattern, "three-to-one herringbone twill."

2. The Shroud of Turin Research Project, Other active research groups for the Shroud of Turin include: BSTS, The British Shroud of Turin Society, CIELT, Centre International d'Etudes sur le Linceul de Turin (France), CIST, the Centro Internazionale di Sindonologia (Turin, Italy), CSST, the Council for the Study of the Shroud of Turin.

3.Turin Shroud: In Whose Image? The Truth Behind the Centuries-Long conspiracy of Silence
, Harper Collins, New York 1994.

4. The Second Messiah
, Element Books, Boston, 1998, and The Hiram Key, Element Books, 1996. See The Templars and the Shroud of Turin,

5. The Blood and The Shroud, 1998 The Free Press, New York. The Turin Shroud, Penguin, 1979. See also, The RadioCarbon Dating Hoax, from The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth Century by Brother Bruno Bonnet-Eymard.

6. For example, The Shroud of Turin devotional page by Caear Gili. (link gone).

7. J. Hampton Keathley III:, suggests the Shroud of Turin may not be the burial shroud of Jesus based on known burial customs and what the Biblical sources say.

8. The STURP book list contains several hundred references, including a number of books still in print and easy to obtain! See

9. Building on the idea that the Shroud might hold the actual DNA of our Lord, James BeauSeigner has written a fascinating Christian science-fiction series, The Christ Clone Trilogy, 1997. Selective House Publishers, POB 10095, Gaithersburg, MD 20898.

July 7, 1998
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