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Of Whole Cloth?

The Turin Shroud, also known as the Shroud of Turin, is a cloth made of linen which is imprinted with an image of a man who appears to have been crucified. The cloth, perceived as a relic by many, resides in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, hence its name. Pilgrims who come to visit the piece of fabric believe it to be the cloth which was placed on Jesus of Nazareth before his burial.

Startling Resemblance

On May 28, 1898, an amateur photographer named Secondo Pia was allowed to photograph the shroud during an exhibition at the Turin Cathedral. The image on the shroud as seen in the negative of the photo he took was striking in its resemblance to a human figure—much more so than in the natural sepia-colored photo. Pia claims that upon seeing the negative he was so startled he almost dropped and broke the photographic plate.

People of faith, historians, and writers have long debated the authenticity of the shroud. In 1958, Pope Pius XII gave his approval to use the image as part of the Shrove Tuesday Roman Catholic devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, celebrated every year. Many believe that the shroud is the cloth that was placed on Jesus as he lay in his tomb. They believe that the image of Jesus became imprinted on the fibers of the cloth at the time or close to the time of his resurrection. There are just as many skeptics who contend that the shroud is a mere medieval forgery. There is another school of thought that holds the image was produced through chicanery and chemical reaction.

Radiocarbon Dating

In 1988, three independent research teams performed radiocarbon dating on the shroud. All three teams produced results which suggest the shroud dates back only to the Middle Ages, some 1300 years after the death of Jesus. When these study results were published, there were calls condemning the findings as biased or filled with errors. The date of the shroud continues to be a subject of controversy, today.

An analysis of the 1988 research was undertaken in 2005 and it was found that the sample dated by the three teams had been obtained from a part of the shroud that was not from the original fabric. It seems that in the late Middle Ages, a fire damaged the shroud. The fire may have contributed carbon to the cloth of the shroud which may have skewed the levels of radiocarbon content as evidenced by the testing. As such, the scientists arrived at a calculation that may have been later than would be deemed accurate. Other scientists debate this new analysis.

Among those skeptical of this latest analysis is Joe Nickell who claims that study author Raymond Rogers obtained his results by, "starting with the desired conclusion and working backward to the evidence." The former editor of Nature, which published the original results of the earlier three studies, Philip Ball, has stated that Rogers, "has a history of respectable work," and that such allegations are, "unfair."


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