The Turin’s Shroud – a Mystery hidden into a Riddle.
In Hong Kong we have one of the world’s great experts in the science of Sindonology, which is the study of the Shroud of Turin, known as Sindone in Italian. A Hong Kong resident since 1970, William Meacham, is an archeologist and a professor at HK University. He has many books published under his name and in particular there is one which is often cited by sindonologists: The Rape of the Shroud published in 2005.
In 1978 a special commission received permission from the Holy See to investigate scientifically this mysterious fabric, which had appeared apparently out of nowhere in Lirey, France, in the year 1353. This commission was called STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project). It started well but it soon descended into a factional war between bickering scientists and reluctant cardinals. Being these the basis, it is not surprising that the results, instead of clearing the waters, made them even murkier.
The book of Prof. Meacham is an highly scientific and well researched work, as he was one of the experts summoned to Italy and involved in the dating project of the Shroud but he was later sidelined by a group of people with a narrow view of what they were examining and, perhaps, lacking the necessary expertise.
They carried out a C14 radiocarbon test dating simultaneously in 3 laboratories: Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona. Their findings were announced in 1988: the age of the tested samples was varying from 1260 to 1390 A.D. It was thus a medieval fake, as many had long suspected. Perhaps, if we move a century forward, it was indeed a joke played by Leonardo Da Vinci, as it was suggested in a book published in Italy. Case closed, or is it?
John Walsh in a book on this subject published in 1963 had already observed that: “The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relict of Jesus Christ in existence…or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever, products of the human mind and hand on record. It is one or another; there is no middle ground.”
The validity of the C14 radiocarbon dating was put in doubt from the very beginning, and for a number of good reasons. We’ll limit ourselves to the most basic ones, noting only that it is hard for us to believe that reputable scientists could act so clumsily. The sample which had been analyzed in the three different labs was coming from the same narrow area of the Shroud, right on the edge of the fabric, a point were contamination was assured since the cloth, for centuries, had been exposed to the public holding it on by the borders by hundreds of greasy fingers and no prior study was made to ascertain the degree of its contamination.
A study by Leoncio Garza-Valdes, carried out in the early 1990s on fragments of the leftover fabric used for the same tests had shown that the degree of biogenetic varnish on the fabric accounted to more than half of the weight of the fragments! But that was not all, the consensus today is that what they really tested in 1988 was not actually a part of the Shroud but a medieval patch applied to cover a hole, and at least a part of the tested sample was made up of cotton fibers rather than linen.
Apart from the C14 dating the STURP findings were remarkable for other aspects, even if these were overshadowed by the claim of the medieval origin.
They found that where the negative image appeared there were no traces of pigments or colors, and it had been certainly not created it by heating or printing. The stains were indeed made of human blood which had left somehow a tridimensional imprint. The coloring which form the outline of the images is resting on a very superficial part of the linen fibers, narrower than 1/5th of a thousand part of a millimeter, and this could only have been achieved through an unknown process of oxidation. Since under the blood stains there is no image, then the conclusion was that first the blood had been deposited and later the image had appeared. The only way to replicate such image would be the use of a very powerful burst of light. The imprint is so vivid that a detailed forensic analysis of the deceased man is still possible.
The linen fabric is of a very high quality, brownish in color. The approx. size is 430 X 110 centimeters, and the construction is a 3/1 herringbone twill. It is carrying the negative image of an adult man, naked, about 175 – 180 cm tall, with a weight of approx. 75-81 kg and an estimated age of about 30 to 45 years. He had a beard, mustaches, hairs parted in the middle, and an unbound pigtail, which was a strong Jewish feature at the time of Jesus and absolutely unknown during the Middle age.
The body of this tortured man had remained in contact with the fabric from a minimum of a few hours, to a maximum of a couple of days. Sign of crucifixion tally almost exactly the description given in the Christian Gospels. The mark of flogging is consistent with the shape of metal pellets used at that time by the Roman army, the memory of which was lost, again, during the Middle Age. Even more impressive is the fact that the long nails went through the wrists, not through the palms, another unknown point after the fall of the Roman empire and certainly unknown to medieval and renaissance painters and sculptors, as it can be noticed from their extant works. It is even possible to identify the kind of spear used to penetrate his chest and where it struck: not right in front as we see in all the old paintings but from under the armpit sub alas in Latin, which was the correct spearing point in Roman times. The spear’s shape – as we know from archeological finds – is the right type issued to the Roman militia, a sort of military police, not the regular Army. It was a lancea, not the hasta, or pilum or hasta veliaris used by field infantry. Another remarkable finding by the 31 strong STURP team was the faint shadows of two Roman coins put on the eyes of the deceased.
An analysis of the pollens found on its surface seems to point to an Asiatic origin of this fabric, perhaps Lebanon or Syria, and if we accept the point that is 2000 years old then we may think that came back via Turkey and Constantinople, perhaps hidden inside the bag of an unknown Crusader.
This relict had remained a property of the Italian Royal house of Italy, the Savoy, until 1983 when it was finally bequeathed to the Vatican by the last king of Italy, Umberto II, in his testament. Curiously this donation had been challenged, because what did belong to the last king should have been taken over by the republican government of Italy in 1946 but this matter is still taking dust in the Italian Parliament, as more pressing matters concerning the economy are at hand and no MP sane of mind wants to delve into this complex matter.
A recent article on The Spectator on the Shroud: