The linen cloth that enclosed the body of Jesus after his crucifixion is considered the most valuable and yet most controversial relic of Christianity. While the Shroud of Turin is deeply revered by the faithful population, authenticity is a big concern for modern science and research.
The Shroud of Turin shows the front and back view of a wounded, naked man similar to a photographic negative. The delicate image is sepia-colored, some parts appearing grey. Clear traces of blood can be noticed too. The fabric is one of the most intensively studied and scientifically researched individual objects. There are no doubts that a man was once wrapped in the Shroud of Turin, whose image was mysteriously transferred onto the fabric.
The wounds can be traced back to a man who was once the victim of a crucifixion. His injuries resembled exactly those of Jesus. Comparing the Gospel of Jesus’ Passion and other historical knowledge of his crucifixion to the findings on the Shroud of Turin, the similarities are very striking.
Professor Gilbert Raes found linen fibers of a single cotton species, native to Syria during Jesus’ time, a time when cotton had not yet been cultivated in Europe. Obviously, the linen was processed on a Syrian loom, which was previously used to spin a cotton fabric most likely. Swiss criminologist Max Frei was able to identify the plant species whose pollen he had found on the Shroud. Many of them were pure desert plants, typical for the area around the Dead Sea. Some were found exclusively in the area of Jerusalem. The magnitude of the cloth corresponded to a valid unit of measurement during Jesus’ time in Palestine. The authenticity also spoke for the traces of certain herbs such as myrrh and aloe, as mentioned in the Gospel of John in connection with Jesus’ crucifixion. Numerous studies have provided a wealth of evidence proposing the authentic image to be that of a living human.
A sensation discovery was provided by pathologists. Viewing the picture very intensively, they could not see any signs of rigor mortis, and by observing the pattern of blood flow, it was obvious that the man was wrapped into the cloth while still alive. It was also noticed that the blood flowed abundantly at various points of the body. Particularly striking was the flow of blood from this man’s side wound, a trail of blood stretching all the way across the back. As the man, wrapped in the cloth, was lying on his back, the side wound must have started bleeding very intensively. This flow of blood could have not originated in the upright position on the cross. Only with circulation still intact was it possible for the blood to continue leaking out of the body. It was determined that 28 wounds were still bleeding when the body was removed off the cross, which leads us to believe that the crucified man could have not been dead under any circumstances.
If the Shroud is authentic, then Jesus must have still been alive when he was removed from the cross and wrapped in the cloth. In 1988 the Vatican ordered an age-determination of the Shroud of Turin through the radiocarbon method. Obviously, the articles of faith of the Catholic Church, including crucifixion and resurrection, were at stake. The test results apparently determined that the cloth originated during the 14th century, a true disappointment for many historians. During meticulous research, two German researchers were able to proof the manipulating of the radiocarbon test results. They also discovered that aloe and myrrh were in fact meaningless to Jewish burial rites. They weren’t even used for embalming, a custom that is most offensive to Jewish beliefs. On the contrary, both plants were used in ancient times to treat large surface skin wounds. It looks as if the cloth and the plants were combined to create a healing pack.
Through their experiment, Gruber and Kersten were able to demonstrate that spices mixed with sweat and body oil could produce an image on the body, which proved that the image could have only been created by a still living person. The distribution of wounds on the head did show that the crown of thorns was not an actual ring. It was rather a hood covering the whole head. About 90 small dumbbell-shaped wounds were noted on the shoulder and upper back. The distinctive nature of each injury was traced back to a specific Roman torture whip, known as the Flagrum. This whip consisted of three leather straps, each of them holding tiny lead dumbbells.
During another experiment Gruber and Kersten applied a mixture of aloe and myrrh to a test person, covering them with a linen cloth. The person’s body heat was raised, sweat was released. This process had created a non-washable, soft negative photograph similar to that on the Shroud of Turin.
Meanwhile, Dr. Garza-Valdes of the Health Science Center at the University of San Antonio discovered that the Shroud of Turin, like many other old artifacts, was covered with a coat of bio-plastic casing of partially surviving bacteria and fungi. This coating was mixed up with the linen during the radiocarbon testing, therefore easily manipulating the test results. Garza-Valdes also discovered many tiny wood residues, in his view a non-identifiable oak wood, perhaps tiny particles of the cross.
Despite all the research done by many historians, we will never know for sure whether the Shroud of Turin is the authentic cloth that Jesus was wrapped in during his last minutes of life on earth. Perhaps the power of the Church is once again taking us for a spin. Or did history maybe lead us onto the wrong path?