Having recently finished an article on the Eucharistic Miracles proven by science, I was curious to learn more about the scientific evidence regarding the Shroud of Turin, believed since ancient times to be the actual linens used in Jesus’ burial (John 19:39-40).
I must tell you, my research affected me profoundly, and I don’t think I’ll be able to look at a crucifix casually ever again. I hope you’ll read what I’ve discovered prayerfully and meditatively, and allow yourself, too, to be deeply moved.
Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent on scientific examination of the Shroud of Turin in an attempt to explain its enigmatic markings. While many people claim it is a forgery, none of these skeptics seems to be able to explain how it was done. And the overwhelming majority of the evidence falls in favor of it being the authentic burial cloth of a crucified man who happened to experience the same tortures Jesus endured, as described in the Gospels.
Facing the Facts
Let’s acknowledge right from the beginning “the elephant in the room”—the 1988 Carbon 14 test that dated the Shroud to around 1300 AD. This dating seemed to end the question of authenticity, but the accuracy of the testing has come into question for numerous scientific reasons, and today many scientists consider it flawed.
Further undermining the accuracy of the C14 dating is the overwhelming body of evidence strongly pointing to the Shroud’s authenticity.
Here are just a few examples:
- No pigment, no chemicals, no brush strokes, no clumping of fibers or threads, no cracking of the image along fold lines are present, so the image is not created by any paint, stain, dye, or chemical treatment. There’s simply no method known to medieval man or even to modern man to create an image with the amazing properties the Shroud has.
- The discoloration that forms the image appears only on the very top one or two fibers of thread, not even the whole thread (as thread is made of many tiny fibers twisted together), and only penetrates 0.2 microns into the 15-20 micron-diameter fibers—yet it discolors 360 degrees around those fibers.
- This phenomenon could only be caused by a rearrangement of electron bonding in the outer layer of the fibers, caused by a very brief but high-energy burst of radiation without the corresponding heat that would have disintegrated the fabric.
- The image itself is barely visible, but when first photographed in 1898, the negative showed a very detailed image of a crucified man, with wounds corresponding to those of Christ. Thus the image is, in fact, a negative image of the man it wrapped. An instantaneous burst of light radiation emanated from the man and created a negative on the cloth.
- The image has 3D information encoded in it. Using 3D technology, scientists created a detailed 3D statue of the man it wrapped. Paintings cannot create 3D images.
- The Shroud hasn’t traveled out of Europe since the 1300s, and yet half of the pollen found on the Shroud is from the Near East (Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria). Most significantly, the largest quantity of pollen present is from three plants that only exist together in the area around Jerusalem.
- Fragments of limestone unique to Jerusalem were on the cloth near the image’s nose, knee, and heel.
- DNA has been identified on the Shroud from people touching it, including ethnic families found in Europe, Turkey, India, and the Near East. But the DNA in the largest quantity is the Druze ethnicity, very rare in Europe but very common throughout the areas of Jerusalem, Palestine, and Jordan.
- The Sudarium of Orviedo, which can be traced definitively to at least the fifth century, is said to be the head covering of Jesus, mentioned in John 20:7. There are twenty points of correlation between the Sudarium and the Shroud, including 124 exact matches to wounds, the same blood type, and the same shapes of stains. Forensic scientists agree that there’s no question they covered the same body.
- The blood on the Shroud is identical to the blood found on the Sudarium, as well as in all the Eucharistic miracles that have been tested by science. In every case, it is from a male with AB blood type, which is considered rare. In addition, the blood shows high levels of creatinine and ferritin, evidence of severe, multiple traumas. The blood from the Shroud, the Sudarium, and the Eucharist all come from a tortured man.
- The Sudarium and the Shroud both show post-mortem blood separated into red blood and clear serum, which is mentioned in John 19:34, when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side.
- Finally, the Shroud shows details of the tortures that the man endured, some of which differ from medieval iconography but are anatomically or historically accurate. For instance, the nails appear in the wrists, not in the hands as depicted in most Christian art. Hand bones cannot support a person’s weight. The thumbs are invisible, due to automatic contraction from the nailing of tendons in the wrists. The victim is covered with many hundreds of wounds, consistent with Roman flagrums of multiple strips of leather, tipped with heavy or sharp objects.
The scientific evidence points to the impossibility that the Shroud is a medieval forgery. This was enough to convince me. But it’s the anatomical evidence preserved on the Shroud that moved me deeply. Rather than listing what the details show, I’d like to provide you with a brief meditation of what the Shroud tells us about the hours before Jesus was laid in the tomb.
The Suffering and Burial of Jesus According to the Shroud
Before being taken to die, Jesus was stripped and flogged, the flagrums tipped with blunt and sharp objects, bruising his flesh and then tearing it into shreds. Every inch of his body was battered and covered in wounds. Then his beaten and battered head was covered with a helmet of thorns. The soldiers did not want to handle those sharp thorns long, so a quick twist of some branches, and it was placed on his head and embedded deeply into his scalp by beating him over the head with rods (Mark 15:17-19).
Placing his clothing back on him after the flogging, they forced him to carry the entire 150-pound Cross himself. Standing as erect as he could under the weight of the Cross and the loss of blood, he struggled forward. The heavy wood dug into his shoulder, rubbing the fabric of his tunic deeply into the wounds from the flogging and banging against the thorny crown, sending stabs of pain into his head. Once, tripping and falling on his face with the Cross on top of him, his chest struck the ground hard and his arm twisted, entangled in the cross, wrenching it severely out of its socket. The Cross crushed the back of his neck and shoulders, shocking and partially paralyzing them so that his head now sagged to the right and his right side was useless. Heartless soldiers pulled him up by his dislocated arm and forced him to carry the Cross now on his left shoulder. Bent over now with pain and weakness, his right arm swinging helplessly by his side, he staggered on.
A Broken Heart
Finally on Golgotha, Jesus’s clothes were ripped off him, tearing open the wounds that had begun to cling to the fabric. Throwing him down on the Cross, the soldiers nailed his helpless right arm, already stretched and distorted from the damage to the nerves and ligaments of severe dislocation. Jerking his other arm violently, they pulled it tightly against the beam and nailed it in place, again severing nerves and sending excruciating shock waves through his bloodied body. With arms in place, they turned their attention to the feet.
Grabbing his right foot, they twisted it violently, dislocating the ankle to make his foot lie flat sideways against the wood, then nailed through the ankle bone. Then they placed the left foot on top and sent another nail through both feet into the wood of the Cross.
Raising the Cross with ropes, they slid it into the premade hole in the ground and it landed with a jolt, stretching the holes in Jesus’s wrists and sending waves of agonizing pain through his tormented body.
Jesus’s head, now completely covered with blood, sagged to the right. The agony of the severed nerves, the dislocation, the nails, and the thorns were magnified by his excruciating struggle for each breath. After several hours of gasping for air, he had a massive heart attack—Jesus died of a broken heart.
Between Death and Resurrection
The spear that pierced Jesus’ heart proved he was already dead, and by the time they took him down from the Cross, rigor mortis had begun to set in. His head slumped onto his chest and his knees were bent. Great effort was needed to break the rigor of his arms to fold them over his body and straighten his head. Pulling out the nails began a new flow of whatever blood remained in the veins, puddling as it dribbled down his elbows and onto the cloth they had laid him on. Removing the crown, those who were burying Jesus covered his head with a cloth, which absorbed much of blood on his battered face, but since they could not touch post-mortem blood, they had to leave on his body whatever had flowed out after he died.
When they reached the tomb, Jesus’s body was placed on a bed of perfumed spices, the head cloth removed, and the shroud folded over him and loosely wrapped with a thin strip of linen. This gentle but hurried burial was needed because the Sabbath was upon them. They left his stiff, dead corpse, wrapped in pure linen, and rolled the stone over the entrance.
We are the Easter People
As we know, this was not the end of the story. Jesus is risen! After the agony of his passion and death, in his risen state, all his wounds were healed but those on his hands, feet, and heart, so that his disciples would recognize him and believe (John 20:20).
The Shroud of Turin is evidence of Jesus’ resurrection to a doubting world (John 20:6-9). People of faith do not need relics in order to believe. But the Lord, in his mercy, knows that sometimes we could use a little help. The Shroud of Turin, like the Eucharistic miracles, is a reminder of God’s infinite love for each one of us.
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Jeannette Williams is the part-time communications coordinator of St. Jude Church and Shrine in Chalfont, Pennsylvania and a freelance writer and blogger. The mother of six, she homeschooled the first five through high school in the classical tradition, while the youngest now attends a new classical high school, Martin Saints, in Oreland, Pennsylvania. Jeannette’s greatest passion, besides her family, is to study the Catholic Faith and share it with others. When she’s not writing, Jeannette enjoys studying Spanish and Japanese, gardening, and spending time with her husband and children.
Thumbnail image, Holy Face of Jesus from Shroud of Turin (1909), sourced from Wikimedia Commons
Closeup of Jesus’ face sourced from shroudofturin.com
Image of entire Shroud sourced from shroudenigma.com
3D model image sourced from aleteia.org