A fresh look at the Shroud of Turin
THE SHROUD STORY
by Brendan Whiting
(Harbour Publishing, 2006, 404pp, $52.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The Shroud of Turin is one of the most famous religious relics in the world, as many believe it to be the cloth in which the body of Jesus Christ was buried after his brutal death. He had been savagely whipped, beaten, tortured and finally nailed to a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem, nearly 2,000 years ago.
The Shroud first became an object of public veneration in the 14th century, after it mysteriously appeared in a village church in France, and not unexpectedly was denounced by the local bishop as a forgery.
However, more careful examination of the linen cloth showed that the image of a man who had been tortured to death was not painted, although the way in which the image was formed was not clear, and is still the subject of wide speculation.
It was generally believed to have been stolen from a church in the Middle East, perhaps during the crusaders' sacking of Constantinople, or from another church or monastery in that region.
The Shroud became widely venerated from the 16th century when it was placed in a special chapel in the cathedral of Turin, in northern Italy.
The Catholic Church has steadfastly declined to make an authoritative pronouncement on its authenticity, but has approved pilgrimages to the Turin Cathedral and at the same time encouraged detailed non-destructive scientific examination of the cloth.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this was the extraordinary negative image produced by the first professional photographs of the Shroud taken in 1898. These photos, which have been replicated many times since, show that the shadowy image on the shroud appears in the negative as the dead body of a life- size man of serene appearance, whose body shows exactly the same wounds described in the New Testament accounts of Jesus' death.
Very close examination of the cloth has shown that it contains blood stains, as well as pollen from a variety of plants, some of which are native to the region around Jerusalem.
The credibility of the Shroud suffered what appeared to be a fatal blow when carbon dating tests in 1988 indicated it was made in the 14th century.
However, as the author of this informative book shows, the carbon dating tests have been criticised on substantial grounds, particularly that the cloth had been contaminated by exposure to air, extreme heat (which burned parts of the Shroud) and by microbial contamination, including both bacteria and fungi which live in the material.
It has also been suggested that the carbon dating was compromised by 'invisible mending' which involved the use of cotton as well as linen fibres to repair the Shroud at different times over the past seven hundred years.
Although clearly a believer in its authenticity, Brendan Whiting has carefully documented the present state of the controversy in a way which leaves readers to make up their own minds about the Shroud. Believers will be confirmed in their views; sceptics are unlikely to be persuaded.
What emerges from this is that the study of the Shroud will undoubtedly continue to be the subject of intense interest by scientists and the subject of devotion by many believers from different Christian traditions.