The Shroud of Turin is the subject of intense debate among scientists, priests and historians.
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The faithful claim that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, whose image miraculously appeared on the cloth during the Resurrection.
Skeptics claim that the image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin is either an artistic representation or the result of a natural process that is not yet fully understood.
Background on the Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is rectangular in shape and is 14.3 feet long by 3.7 feet wide. A detailed examination of the image on the Shroud reveals that the cloth was once in contact with an individual whose injuries were consistent with crucifixion in general, and with injuries described in the Bible that are known to be specific to Jesus.
The image on the Shroud bears many unusual characteristics. For example, the image of Jesus on the Shroud is entirely superficial. The image does not penetrate the cloth and a careful examination of the Shroud reveals that there are no inks, paints or dyes anywhere on the main body of the Shroud.
Even though the Bible describes Jesus as having been wrapped in a burial shroud following the crucifixion, the Shroud of Turin as it exists today did not appear in the historical record until sometime in the middle ages.
Skeptics argue that the current shroud is just one of many relics believed to have been the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Unlike the others, however, the Shroud of Turin is the only one that bears the image of His body.
History of the Shroud of Turin
Supporters of the Shroud contend that there are three major pieces of evidence that prove this Shroud is genuine. The first is the Image of Edessa. The Image of Edessa was an image of Jesus that appeared on a cloth in the Sixth Century AD.
St. John of Damascus referred to the Shroud more than once in his anti-iconoclastic book, On Holy Images. In 944, the Shroud was moved to Constantinople. It is referred to in a recently uncovered sermon by Archbishop Gregory Referendarius.
In 1203, the Crusader Knight Robert de Clari claimed to have seen the Shroud while in Constantinople. Sceptics argue that de Clari did not see the Shroud, confusing it with the handkerchief of St. Veronica, another cloth believed to bear the miraculous image of Jesus.
The Shroud passed through numerous hands during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. It arrived in its current home, in Turin, Italy in 1578, where it became the property of the House of Savoy. The Shroud was donated to the Holy See in 1983.
Analysis of the Shroud of Turin
In 1988, the Vatican agreed to allow six independent laboratories to perform radiocarbon dating tests on the Shroud. The process involved destroying small samples of the Shroud and measuring the number of carbon atoms present in each sample. The fewer the atoms, the older the sample.
Test results revealed that the Shroud was created some time between 1250 and 1390. Skeptics claim that while the testing procedure was properly executed, the samples taken from the Shroud were contaminated by the presence of 16th century cotton patches. They contend that this was the result of a process known as French Reweaving.
In 2002, the Shroud was restored and char marks from a fire in the 15th century were removed. It has been suggested that these burned patches of linen are highly resistant to contamination due to their already high carbon content.
Scientists are currently petitioning the Vatican for access to these pieces of the Shroud for proof of its unquestionable authenticity.