Pope Francis endorses the fake Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin, which is revered by many Catholics as the real cloth that covered Jesus’s body after his crucifixion, is of course a fake. First, have a look at it again. You can see the image of Jesus in both fore and aft views, his hands covering his genitals.



The first record of the shroud is in 1355, and it’s been revered ever since (though not officially endorsed by the Catholic Church) as a miracle, like the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe that supposedly appeared on a cloak in Mexico in 1531 (I’ve seen it). The Shroud reposes in the Cathedral of Turin, and is occasionally exhibited to the faithful. (This will happen again next year.)

The image has degenerated substantially over the centuries. We know this because there are a fair number of paintings from centuries ago showing what it looked like. The degradation is due to its repeated unfurling and exhibition, which would crack and flake the paint, in addition to the fact (revealed in the article I’ll cite in a second) that in past times it was customary for supplicants to hurl their rosaries at the shroud and then recover them.

But we know the Shroud is a fake for several reasons. Carbon dating of the linen cloth (in three separate labs) has placed its manufacture between 1260 and 1390, which (if you know dating) is the time at which the flax plants furnishing the cloth would have been harvested, no longer absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Further, an Italian scientist managed to reproduce the Shroud by using materials that would have been available during the Middle Ages.

The other reasons for fakery (not fraudulence, as it apparently wasn’t designed to deceive people) are given in a very nice article by the historian Charles Freeman that just appeared in History Today, “The origins of the shroud of Turin.” (It’s free online.) I recommend that you read it, as it’s a fascinating summary of what we know about the shroud.

The other reasons for fakery are these:

  • The shroud is covered with gesso (calcium carbonate; ground-up chalk), which was used as a ground for painting. If it was the miraculous imprint of Jesus on a burial shroud, there would be no reason for the gesso.
  • As Freeman notes, the nature of the cloth itself bespeaks a medieval origin:

“Circumstantial evidence also comes from the nature of the weave. Linen has been woven from 6,000 bc and herringbone weave has been known in Sweden from as early as the second millennium bc. However, three-in-one weave, in which the weft threads go under one thread of the warp and then over the next three, is very rare, with few examples earlier than the silk damasks of the third century ad. No three-in-one herringbone linen weave has ever been discovered from an ancient site, let alone one that has been preserved in such excellent condition as the Shroud. The only surviving example of a three-in-one herringbone twill in linen other than the Shroud is to be found in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It consists of two fragments of a block-printed stole or maniple. The print has been dated to the 14th century, confirming that this pattern of weave was known then.”

Freeman adds that there are cotton fibers mixed haphazardly in with the linen, probably the result of cotton in the air that was being spun or woven nearby and landed on the shroud as it was being produced. But cotton and flax weren’t processed in the same sites until medieval times, giving further evidence for a late production of the Shroud.

  • As Freeman notes, the position of the fore-and-after figures of Jesus don’t correspond:

“What can we say about the painting on the Shroud? The images are crude and limited in tone. They show none of the expertise of the great painters of the 14th century, who, even on linen, were capable of mixing a variety of pigments into rich colours. The join of the head and the shoulders on the frontal image is particularly inept. Although the artist did try to reproduce images that might have touched a crucified body and left a mark, the two images are not even simultaneous representations of the same body. This can be seen from the arms as they are shown in the early depictions. If you lie on the ground and place your elbows in the same position as those on the back image of the Shroud, you can quickly see that it is impossible to hold the position of the crossed arms in the front. There is a difference of seven centimetres between the lengths of the two bodies. Then again the heads do not meet, suggesting that this was not a cloth that was ever folded over an actual head. A cloth laid on a body would pick up its contours, but there is no sign of this. Again, the hair of the body would have fallen back if the figure had been lying down but the blood is as if it is trickling down the hair of a standing figure. In short, it appears to be a painting made by an artist whose only concession to his subject is to imagine that this is a negative impression of the body (as shown by the wound on the chest being on the left of the image in contrast to the conventional right, as seen in the Holkham crucifixion scene) that had been transferred to the cloth.”

  • Finally, the image changed over the year. In 1355 to at least 1559, Jesus was naked, with his hands covering his genitals. But in 1578, as Freeman notes, reproductions show it with a loincloth over Jesus’s groin and butt. Clearly there were some prudes, possibly the Bishop of Milan, who were distressed at the exposure of the Saviour’s bum.  The loincloth later disappeared, though there’s still a white patch on the Shroud showing where it was.

Here’s part of an engraving by Tempestra in 1613, clearly showing the shroud with the loincloth on Jesus (click to enlarge):


I highly recommend Freeman’s piece, which is loaded with history, science, and scholarship, but written for a popular audience. It does go easy on religion, saying clearly that the Catholic Church never recognized the Shroud as authentic, but considers it an “object of veneration”: a religious piece that is simply supposed to inspire people to muse about Christ’s Passion.

But it’s not as simple as that, for several Popes, and the Church itself, have never explicitly admitted it’s a fake—a mere painting rather than some divine imprint of Jesus. Rather, as is its wont, the Church stays mum, refusing to take a strong stand on its authenticity. They clearly want to have their cake and eat it too, saying it’s an “object of veneration” so they won’t look stupid because science has debunked its authenticity, but nevertheless still hinting that, somehow, it might be a real relic of Jesus.

We can see that in a recent news article by Inés San Martin on the Catholic Crux website describing how Pope Francis will venerate the Shroud when it’s exhibited in Turin between April 24 and June 24 of next year. (The Pope will visit on June 21.)

All three recent popes have been careful not to pronounce definitively on the authenticity of the shroud, generally referring to it as an “icon” that inspires genuine faith regardless of its historical origins.

“The pope comes as a pilgrim of faith and of love,” said Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, papal custodian of the Shroud, during a Vatican news conference Wednesday to announce the pope’s trip next June.

“Like his predecessors did, Pope Francis confirms the devotion to the shroud that millions of pilgrims recognize as a sign of the mystery of the passion and death of the Lord,” Nosiglia said.

Is that a weasel statement or what? The last paragraph simply vindicates the many people who not only see this as a “sign of the mystery of the passion and death of the Lord,” but see it as a relic of the passion and death of the Lord.

In view of the multifarious evidence, the Church really should say that it was a medieval painting that could not have been Jesus’s burial shroud. But they won’t do that; it would turn off the supplicants who think it’s real.  Indeed, even the Crux article casts doubt on the dating methods:

A radiocarbon dating test performed in 1988 over small samples of the icon by three laboratories, at the universities of Oxford and Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, concurred that the samples they tested dated from the Middle Ages, between 1260 and 1390.

Other scientists, however, believe those results could be off by centuries, pointing to the possibility of bacterial contamination of the cloth. They note, for instance, that burial shrouds for Egyptian pharaohs sometimes test to centuries later than their known age for precisely that reason.

Hogwash! As we’ve seen, the debunking of the shroud rests on far more than just carbon dating, and the pieces from the Shroud were cleaned and dated in three separate labs, all giving roughly consonant dates. And if it’s bacteria, how come all that bacterial carbon got into the shroud in the Middle Ages, and none since then?

It hasn’t helped that the Popes keep visiting the damn thing, keeping alive the belief that it’s genuine. As Crux notes:

Despite the controversies, Pope Benedict XVI visited the shroud during its last public exhibition in 2010, and St. John Paul II did so three times: in 1998, in 1980, and in 1978, months before the conclave that elected him pope.

During the first days of his pontificate, Francis referred to the disfigured face depicted in the Holy Shroud as “all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest …”

Now why would the Popes keep making pilgrimages to something that’s just a painting?

Catholics must have their miracles, even in the face of counterevidence. Just once I’d like to hear the Church declare unequivocally that the Shroud is simply a painting from the 14th century or so. And I’d also like to hear them say that Adam and Eve weren’t the historical ancestors of all humanity. (Genetic studies have disproven a two-person ancestry.) But it will be a cold day in July (in Chicago) when that happens!


  1. Nicholas
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink


    • GBJames
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink


    • Diane G.
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink


      • Diane G.
        Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

        & resub

  2. Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Now why would the Popes keep making pilgrimages to something that’s just a painting?

    Follow the Monet.


    • BillyJoe
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


      Actually, this reminded me instantly of Kate Bush’s song “Get Out of My House” from her bizarre but most creative and underappreciated album “The Dreaming”.

      “Won’t letcha in for love nor money (pronounced “Monet”)”

  3. Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The middle eastern monotheistic religions are in large part a conglomeration of idols and practices adapted to the conquering religion’s rap. This isn’t exactly an example, since it was created to be a Xian relic, but if an idol is popular and supports the narrative, no Pope is going to undermine it. Just like we saw with the Lourdes example last week, facts be darned! It’s not about “facts” it’s a feeling!

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Imo, a major reason the Catholic Church won’t admit the shroud is a fake is the amount of revenue it generates. It has always been an expert at finding ways to get people to support them financially, especially at the height of their power in medieval Europe. The invention of Purgatory is a classic example. It became standard for people to leave a third of their estate to the Church (after a lifetime of tithing) for a priest to pray you through purgatory a bit more quickly.

    Pilgrimage made a fortune for the Church as people travelled to see relics. There were even standard souvenirs you could pin to your hat to show you’d been to a particular shrine. A palm frond for Jerusalem, a scallop shell for Santiago de Compostela. Those two and Rome were the big three, garnering more points with God. There was even an industry where people paid others to travel for them.

    There’s so much for Catholics to be disillusioned about when it comes to their Church, what’s one more lie?

    • Mark R.
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Yup, it’s all about the money and the business of the church. Just like paying to get into cathedrals. Scam Land.

      • Scott Woody
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 2:47 am | Permalink

        Yep, no barkers, no prizes (however worthless in reality) means no carnival. It’s not any6 more complicated than that.

    • Linda K
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      For the shroud to even be considered anything at all, one must first accept that a fictional character is capable of creating a body image on fabric.
      Once that mindset occurs, who’s to say what’s real or fake?

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        I think the pineapple on top of Jesus’s head is a dead giveaway.

        • Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          That’s no pineapple….


          • Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

            Looks like The Holy Hand Grenade.

            • microraptor
              Posted November 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              It’s a coconut.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Giant acorn?

            • Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

              No clue. Just thought, “That’s no pineapple…” was a cool thing to write….


              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted November 29, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                I think Merilee got it right. 🙂

              • Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

                I don’t believe it’s a pineapple. I’m an anananasist.

                /@ / 29 Palms

              • merilee
                Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

                If you don’t like pineapples are you an

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                Oh dear.

              • Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

                You should send that to that NPR puzzle guy as a long string of the letters, “an.” Probably in the form of, “I, Ant, am an anananasist.”


              • Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Permalink


              • Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

                When you make it to Vegas, that won’t do you any good. What you’re looking for there would be:


                Probably worth at least $50, depending on the machine.


              • Posted December 2, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink


        • Jim Jones
          Posted November 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          Who ever wrapped a body that way? It doesn’t even match the gospel description.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Heather wrote:

      Imo, a major reason the Catholic Church won’t admit the shroud is a fake is the amount of revenue it generates.

      Almost certainly.

      But I suspect another big reason the Church plays around with weasel words and vague phrases which can be interpreted either way is its attitude towards their Little People, the simple dull folks who need to believe and are happy with phony miracles. They can’t handle the truth; they don’t want the truth. So let’s jolly them along and not disabuse the poor things. Keep them happy. Keep them in the Church.

      Remember, when it comes to having faith there’s really no wrong way to come to having faith. And from the point of view of the Catholic Church, it’s not just about the money. It’s also about power.

      And it’s probably also about the feeling that they’re helping bring souls to Christ. If playing cagey about a faith-strengthening miracle will help some gullible person to continue to be credulous about REAL miracles, then so be it.

      • Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Then there’s just the extreme case of doubling down. It’s would take some MAJOR popish cajones to admit the thing was a painting. Probably a good move *after* you retire.

  5. Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Prescient! I posted on this same research on my blog article recently: The Shroud of Turin – How Old? Fun with Physics. My Selfish Gene . Most common crab was that the researchers snipped a medieval repair patch on purpose.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it was a good article – I tw**ted it, and it got a few RTs.

  6. Kevin
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The shroud is another reminder of how grown members of our species can wish for things they so desperately want to be true without doubt.

    That is the cheap side of myth: it takes no risk on the part of the believer to want it to be true.

  7. Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Must have taken some time to put together! I feel I must contribute because of Prof. CC’s concern that the more frivolous posts [unfairly] elicit the most comments…

    I’m particularly interested in this:- “However, three-in-one weave, in which the weft threads go under one thread of the warp and then over the next three, is very rare, with few examples earlier than the silk damasks of the third century ad. No three-in-one herringbone linen weave has ever been discovered from an ancient site, let alone one that has been preserved in such excellent condition as the Shroud. The only surviving example of a three-in-one herringbone twill in linen other than the Shroud is to be found in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It consists of two fragments of a block-printed stole or maniple. ***The print has been dated to the 14th century, confirming that this pattern of weave was known then***”

    This last statement [***] I think is a bit [unintentionally] misleading. Are there any textile experts/historians in the house?

    Herringbone twill style patterns [not necessarily woven in cloth you understand] are a staple of Celtic pre-historic [& pre-“Jesus”] design. I would be amazed if herringbone twill WASN’T discovered & implemented in woven form [cloth, baskets, roofs & walls in woven reed] long before Mary “had it off” with the milkman.

    Perhaps 3-in-1 is difficult to implement in a semi-mechanical fashion & thus this pattern really didn’t exist in a cloth form? [I don’t really believe this last given the astonishing abilities of pre-Christian carpet weavers, chain mail etc…]

    Any experts out there?

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Michael Fisher. The herringbone twill is very common and comparatively simply to weave. The three-in-one herringbone is technically much more difficult on a traditional loom but easier on a medieval treadle loom because the feet can work the rods which change the pattern. I am not an expert myself but one or two people who actually reproduce these things( three in one herringbones in silks are still used for church vestments) tell me that this is almost certainly the product of a treadle loom. We only have the one LINEN example other than the Shroud.

  8. Posted November 29, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    This calls for some Beast Jesus restoration work.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I always thought the shroud was peculiar – if you were a dead guy, would your image really preserved that way on it? Not to mention, the Jesus looks suspiciously like how mediaeval artists drew people.

    Oh Pope Frank!

    • Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention, the Jesus looks suspiciously like how mediaeval artists drew people.

      Including worng body proportions. If Jesus really was as disfigured as the (stylized) man in the Shroud, it would have been his always-mentioned defining characteristics in the Gospels. There would have been lots of explanations about how, though he scared the shit out of everybody, especially children, when they first saw him, he somehow managed to overcome their instinctive revulsion and pity.


    • darrelle
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      “I always thought the shroud was peculiar – if you were a dead guy, would your image really preserved that way on it?”

      Only if you were magically beamed up to heaven like the real Jesus. You see, there is a burst of god-particle radiation right at the moment the corpse is reified into its heavenly magic-matter form in preparation for the transport part of the cycle. That flash of radiation is what caused the image.

      You know, similar to those images of people left on surviving structures by a nuclear blast.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 29, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Funny you mentioned the nuclear blast as I was thinking that when I was typing that post.

      • Bill the Cat
        Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        Actually, that was the result of not having alcohol & salt before being transported. (A towel would have helped as well.)

        • Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          Unfortunately for Jesus, in this case, it was the towel that got Left Behind. Probably explains why the frood hasn’t been nearly so hoopy since he was here…poor guy doesn’t know where his towel is….


          • Posted December 2, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            What’s even more amazing is that Jesus managed to exceed escape velocity without incinerating the whole damn cloth. Would’ve been nice if he left some Bible verses about how to generate this kind of force without the heat waste…

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Yes, exactly like how Jesus was depicted in medieval Europe — not like a man from the middle east at all. Not to mention the peculiarly elongated features that were common in paintings of the medieval period.

  10. Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I can attest to the fact, as I’m sure some other readers in this site can, that part of my indoctrination as a child included claims that The Shroud of Turin is authentic evidence of Jesus, along with claims that the shroud is not reproducible by any means known to man. Unsurprisingly, the attributes that contain these qualities are never spelled out but there’s some implication of mysterious qualities not possible in the physical realm, something analogous to an ectoplasmic imprint or something.

    • Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Once again, “Ectoplasmic Imprint” would make for an awesome garage band name….


      • Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        There is a NY band called Ectoplasmic on bandcamp.

        /@ / 29 Palms

  11. Walt Jones
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Another amazing coincidence is that the “faulty” testing produced a date contemporaneous with its first recorded appearance. (I suppose the “patch” argument would refute this easily – with easily obtainable evidence.)

  12. merilee
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink


  13. Robert Seidel
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Noted something: The Italian scientist reproducing the cloth did this by actually placing one over an volunteer. However, Freeman says it can’t have been done this way, so the Italian’s attempt to cast doubt on its authenticity is less than airtight.

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:30 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think it was a straight forward painting. No evidence that it was anything else (and a pretty crude one in an age of great art). These paintings were very vulnerable as,unless they were posted onto a wooden backing( and some of the best ( very few) examples we have were preserved this way), they cracked very easily, just leaving a faded impression. This seems to be the case with the Shroud.
      When people ask me how could I reproduce the images on the Shroud, I tell them it is a simple matter of painting on the surface of a gesso-ed linen, let it dry , crumple it around over several hundred years so that the pigments fall off and you will have it with just faded images where the paint once was!

  14. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    See, the pope could just do the right thing and say it a historically important artifact from the middle ages. That is, an image made centuries ago, but still worth venerating like one would cherish other religious imagery of historical importance. It would be a statement welcomed by many within the church, and from outside of the church. Almost everyone would nod their heads and say ‘this is a good pope. He is moving the church into the 20th century.’ (See what I did there?). Those who insist it is the divine image of Christ would not change their minds anyway.
    But noooooo. He has bear down. He has to fear change. Why? Because he is himself a relic from a bygone age.

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, this would be the sensible approach. If I am right this is the only surviving example of the grave cloths used in the Quem Queritis ceremonies and so in there at the birth of medieval drama. Another good reason for seeing the Shroud of continuing importance. Veneration as an image of suffering is fine by me- but I agree absolutely that the pope should take a lead on this to stop the pseudo-science, much of which, believe it or not, comes from ‘academic’ institutions both in Italy and the US. See Jerry on the earthquake scenario put out by the polytechnic of Turin!

  15. SA Gould
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Joe NIckell wrote a great book on the subject: Inquest on The Shroud of Turin, in 1987.

  16. Posted November 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t see this mentioned in the post or in the comments:

    The first clear mention of the Shroud occurs in 1390 with a letter from Bishop Pierre d’Arcis to Antipope Clement VII. There may be some mentions of it earlier that century.

    Lo and behold, the radiocarbon dating, as mentioned, puts it between 1260 and 1390.

    The correspondence of these two data I think is definitive.

    I always thought the main culprit in propagating the view of authenticity was Gary Habermas.

    • Gerorge Martin
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      It was apparently known somewhat earlier. Freeman in his article writes: No one has found any significant evidence of the Shroud’s existence before 1355, when it appeared in a chapel at Lirey, in the diocese of Troyes, supposedly advertised there as the burial shroud of Christ.

      He further writes The bishop of Troyes, Henry of Poitiers, whose responsibility it was to monitor such claims in his diocese, investigated the shrine and reported that, not only were the images painted on the cloth, but that he had actually tracked down the painter. After this clerical onslaught, the Shroud was hidden away for more than 30 years. Yet the Church accepted that it was not a deliberate forgery and in January 1390 the (anti-)pope Clement VII allowed its renewed exposure in Lirey.

      Jerry only covered some of the highlights in Freeman’s article.


  17. TnkAgn
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Catholic Christendom has been peddling holy/hokey artifacts for 1800 years, while converting the Euro-heathen. Splinters from the “True Cross,” bones, hanks-of-hair and toenails of countless saints, regional and local. It still sells, and Francis, for all his seeming secular sensibility, is still a peddler of such flapdoodle.

  18. Mr. Bond
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Both images of the Shroud show Jesus’ genitals covered.

    Apparently the artist who created it didn’t want to speculate as to the size of the “Son of God”s manhood.

    I mean, if you’re God Almighty Himself, and you’re creating your son, how big do you go?

    • Gerorge Martin
      Posted November 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Freeman covers this. The figure has his hands crosed over his genitals. Freeman writes: Perhaps more interesting in placing the Shroud are the burial scenes of Christ in which his hands are crossed over his genitals. There is evidence from burials, for instance of the Lombards in northern Italy, that this was a custom for Christian burials (although, in any case, it makes sense for a body fitted into a coffin to have its arms placed in this way). Yet it is also found in the Byzantine world, in the epitaphioi.

      On the reverse side image, the buttocks are bare. However the church got prudish. According to Freeman Council of Trent in 1563 and had signed the decree banning lascivia in religious art. Thus a loincloth was painted over the buttocks. The loincloth has mostly disappeared now.


      • Mr. Bond
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, George.

        The loincloth may have disappeared, but the Son of Gods ‘jewels’ are still covered!!

  19. Posted November 29, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I saw a reproduction of the shroud at an exhibition of fakes at the British Museum in 1990. For a while I thought the church had actually loaned it out, admitting it was fake, until I checked up on it.

    A few other reasons include:
    – if you lie down, put your hands over your groin, then relax, gravity will pull them apart. A dead person won’t pose in that position.
    – the length of the arms is significantly different

  20. Posted November 29, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Remember the Christians who assert that any naysayers during the time of Jesus would’ve told the true story and shut down Christianity? Here, they’re given a chance to be consistent. Our earliest mention of the Shroud is from a priest or bishop *who says that the Shroud is a fake and that they know who the artist was.*

  21. docbill1351
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    The Pope has to endorse the Shroud.

    The pope may not be an IDIOT but he plays one on TV.

  22. Bryson
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Despite the 1988 radiocarbon test there is other evidence, physical and circumstantial, that the Shroud originates in the middle east in the first century AD. Check out Helmut Feltmann’s book, http://www.amazon.com/Resurrected-Revived-Pauline-Christianity-Question-ebook/dp/B006V2B63G
    Ian Wilson’s “The Blood and the Shroud” goes into the evidence very thoroughly.

    • Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      This was the most common con response to my blogpost about the Shroud.(cf #5) The party line is that the resesrchers who wrote up the 1988 piece either inadvertantly or purposefully snipped a middle-aged repair patch that was used for radiocarbon dating. The paper clearly addresses where the snippet was excised, how large it was, and that it was not near any patches or charred areas. Vatican reps and textile experts were present to oversee the process. The project is a model of experimentation. A common protocol was used and none of the labs knew what samples they had or if they had a piece of the Shroud. I made a feeble effort to contact the research lead to comment on the patch question but he apparently is no longer at Arizona.

      • Charles Freeman
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        The Shroud was carefully examined for a patch by Mechthild Flury=Lemburg, the textile expert who was put in charge of the restoration of the Shroud in 2002 and she found nothing. Years before, in 1978, photographs of the weave had also shown that the bandings of the linen continued uninterrupted through the sample area.

        The reweave theory was put forward by a former monk with a degree in theology, Joe Marino, who had never examined the Shroud. He seems to have a cult following on this but his latest move is to argue that there should not be another radio-carbon dating as the Shroud is not suitable. Whether radio-carbon specialists would agree with him,I do not know- but I doubt it! (I am not sure who he thinks will listen to him in the circles that might decide such things.)

        But we do have solid evidence that the earliest documentation of the Shroud and the iconography suggest the first half of the fourteenth century so it is a case where the radio-carbon dating has independent backing. There is absolutely no reason to discard it.

        The last desperate attempt to challenge it is the earthquake theory (earthquake (see relevant gospel) released neutrons that catapulted the carbon readings from first century to fourteenth). If this theory held true every artefact tested from an earthquake zone would also be miles out with its date. I did say’ desperate’ – and Jerry has had his own go at this.

        • Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Charles. Good info. I hadn’t heard of the earthquake theory. But there’s no end to religionists trying to rewrite the laws of physics into something more fluid. If uniformatarianism in geology and physics is true then they’re up a tree. But if decay rates change then they can rewrite anything you want.

          • Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            But if decay rates change then they can rewrite anything you want.

            Not quite.

            Inconstant “constants” are of great interest to physicists and astronomers, and much effort has gone into detecting how constant the constants really are.

            As it turns out, a single constant, α, the fine-structure constant, is a composite that provides a superlative proxy for the others and that can be measured multiple ways over vast distances in space and time — such as with spectroscopic analysis of astronomical objects and the proportional products of ancient radioisotope decay. And all experiments to date have resulted in any variation being within the margin of error. At most, it varies by up to a fraction of a percent with some fifteen or so zeros per year, and no reason yet to think that it actually does.

            Of course, one can always pull out any type of conspiracy theory you like, and just keep inventing excuses as needed to magic away any inconveniences. Jesus is the ultimate trickster and has no problem planting fake fossils, creating the universe with light already in transit, or even altering your memories as needed. Yeah, sure — and he’s the monster under the bed, too.


  23. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 11:31 pm | Permalink


    what Charles Freeman was saying,and you have suppressed in your summary, is NOT so much that the shroud was a fake, but that it was a prop for a Medieval liturgy called Quem Querites, which was performed in Churches at Easter time. Apparently there were hundreds of such shrouds,at the Turin one survived.

    In the context of its time it had a function. People knew it was a prop and revered it as a symbol, not as the original.

    Freeman’s article is important because it puts the shroud in its proper historical context, rather than arguing once again the useless diatribe over whether it was a fake or not.

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 1:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks for bringing this up, Aldo. Yes, it is a crucial part of my article.
      The idea of ‘it is authentic or it is a fake’ is one of those myths put around by the Shroudies. My take is that, probably as the grave cloth in a Quem Queritis ceremony, the Shroud was in itself venerated in the ceremony, which concluded with the grave cloth being placed on the altar. Some of these objects then became associated with miracles and so acquired an extra aura. Quite independently someone, probably Jeanne de Vergy, wife of Geoffrey de Charny, in c.1355, crossed the barrier between an object of veneration and an authentic relic (none of which are known to have survived from the time of Christ) and proclaimed that it was the original. The Church stepped on it very quickly but allowed continued veneration on condition that it was proclaimed before each exposition that it was NOT the real thing. An example to follow today??
      The fascinating part, perhaps, is why anybody believes today that it is authentic when there is not a single piece of evidence ( although tons of pseudo-history and pseudo-science) that dates it to before AD 33.

      • Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        The fascinating part, perhaps, is why anybody believes today that it is authentic when there is not a single piece of evidence ( although tons of pseudo-history and pseudo-science) that dates it to before AD 33.

        Oh, that’s easy. The Shroud is a fantastic money-maker. Why deny the little people their delusions when those delusions are so profitable for all involved?

        And thanks for the article! It’s been obvious to me that it’s a Mediaeval creation since I first read the descriptions of its original vividness…what, some magic preservation technique kept it in its original state for a millennium and an half, only for it to rapidly deteriorate as soon as it was discovered?

        But I knew nothing of the Quem Queritis ceremonies until I read your article. I’m no expert in the field, obviously, but your arguments are quite compelling, and I hope enough other scholars try to poke enough holes in them for us to get a good idea of how right you are.


    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Does the Pope admit it was always known to be a fake? – No. Might I suggest you take your argument to Francis rather than Jerry.

      • Charles Freeman
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        We really do need to work on this view of the Shroud as a fake. All the medieval observer would have had were the gospel accounts that talk of linen wrappings and(John’s gospel) a separate face cloth. There is nothing about images. Byzantine depictions of the burial of Christ show just this. In western art they tended to show Christ laid out on a single sheet, again no images. No one ever suggested images on the burial shroud. So no forger would have had a go at creating something that would never have taken anyone in ( well . . . )That is why I looked for alternative explanations for the painting of a double body on a large shroud and the Quem Queritis ceremony where they held up a large cloth in front of the congregation on Easter morning to show that Christ had once been in the tomb but was now risen, was the best fit. We know that some of these were single cloths and some had images painted on them. The so-called Lirey Pilgrim Badge appears to show exactly this exposition ( two clergy ,an extended Shroud, empty tomb below).
        It was only later that,for reasons that are now lost, people claimed(AGAINST the Church’s view) that this was the real thing.
        What is interesting is why people today claim that there is evidence that it is the real thing, when,if asked, they cannot produce that evidence. There are lots of other ‘authentic’ relics to choose from if that is your thing, so why the Shroud?

    • Posted November 30, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      I didn’t suppress anything, and that’s an unfair accusation for which you’ll apologize before you post further. I could summarize only part of his nice article. Further, it is, as I said, part of an active controversy among believers about whether this is a real icon or not, and the Church simply won’t settle the issue in public, though it’s settled. That’s the live controversy and I had no time for go into more detail except say that the piece wasn’t a deliberate hoax.

      Now please apologize for your insulting accusation of suppression.

      • Aldo Matteucci
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink


        I’ll humbly apologize for the term “suppression.” On my knees, and pass the asperigllum and the wet noodles.

        It seems to me, nevertheless, that not mentioning the main point of the article (as confirmed above by the author), was, slightly, ever so slightly, inadvertently certainly, misleading the reader.

        Charles Freeman’s merit is to have taken the discussion out of the fake/original dichotomy and shown a way to climb Mount Improbable.

        • Posted November 30, 2014 at 6:54 am | Permalink

          Yes, you’re on to me. I certainly misled the readers. Jebus, do you see that I LINKED to the article and told readers to read it and not just my take?

          Note to readers: why are apologies always notapologies. The way to apologize is to do so unreservedly, not to say, “Well, I still had a point.

          • Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            No doubt sinful human nature! After I treated one of my middle school teachers badly my father (after treating me rather badly!) told me that I had to apologize to her. The next day I went to school and told her that ‘my dad said that I have to apologize to you’. She laughed at my non-apology and we got along fine.

          • GBJames
            Posted November 30, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            I think the reason notapologies exist is that offenses are often not intended to be simple gratuitous insults. The offender generally has some point of view they are trying to express at the time and are not in the moment totally aware of how the comment will be received. So, when “called out”, there is a natural desire to explain the intent.

            IMO, it is an entirely understandable (although sometimes frustrating) human response.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

              I was going to write something about intent as well but I didn’t know if I would unintentionally (ha! see!) be misunderstood.

              I’ve seen this happen online more than in meat world, most likely because intent is more easy to read (body language and such) and clarifications can take place more quickly. Of course, I have witnessed many dustups because of misunderstood intent but I think of those people as needing to do some work.

  24. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 30, 2014 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Obviously it’s medieval, but it’s not a painting: if it were the pigment would have seeped deep into the fabric, whereas in fact the image is only a discoloration of the topmost surface. I’m surprised that people think it looks medieval in terms of art style; in its proportions and perspective it’s nothing like any 13th- or 14th-century Western European painting of the human form I’ve ever seen, but infinitely more realistic. Third, the image is a negative, which was beyond the conceptual grasp of people at the time, let alone their technical ability to recreate by painting. Seems to me the most likely explanation is that it’s an early form of photography (Lynn Picknett has proposed that Leonardo created it, but he obviously lived too late to account for its earliest appearances). This would also account for the difference in height of the front and back views, if the distance between the cloth and the projection of the model (whatever that was) had shifted slightly between creating the front and back views. The loin cloth in some engravings is easily explained as censorship by the person doing the engraving, not a record of something having changed on the shroud.

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Jonathan. The way they painted medieval linen was to seal the cloth with a gesso so that the pigments did not seep through. This left them able to paint different images on both sides- for instance if they wanted to make a flag or banner. They would seal just the top of the surface so that the flag could flutter etc. The gesso was made of rabbit skin glue (usually) mixed with calcium sulphate or calcium carbonate. In 1978 they discovered that the image on the Shroud was indeed on the outer fibrils only,as would be expected for a painted linen, and there were what the researchers described as large quantities of carbon carbonate distributed across the surface. So this is good evidence that it was originally a medieval painted cloth.

      What we see now is not, of course, paint (although there is some dispute over whether there are remaining pigments) but what was left when the pigments came off. We have a good example in the Zittau Veil (1472) at Zittau, Saxony, where the pigments came off when it was steamed leaving an image of two figures (women in this case) very similar to the ghostlike figures of the Shroud.

      This was a crude painting but details of the iconography, notably the -all-over scourging, were not known before 1300. The blood flows on the head and arms are also typical of this period. This fits nicely with the earliest documentation and the radio-carbon date.

      The Shroud was supposed to represent the marks left by Christ when he lay on it in the tomb. As the wound on the side was in medieval iconography shown on the right of the body, the artist, such as he was, placed it on the left, thus creating a sort of negative impression. He probably copied a template- see the Besancon Shroud that also has a lying figure of Christ with the wound on the left side. These ‘shrouds’ were among many hundreds of which we have documented evidence as virtually every church followed the Quem Queritis ceremony for which they were probably designed. They had a very short self-life as they pigments being only on the outside fibrils were very vulnerable when the cloth was folded.

      The Shroud’s paint survived very well- it was still described as painted in 1703 and from depictions of the expositions of the nineteenth century it seems that it was then the the pigments finally disintegrated (perhaps it was left in the damp?) to the faded,but haunting images we are left with today.
      SERIOUS (as opposed to pseudo-serious) research of the Shroud has hardly begun. We need to create a data base of all the early depictions so that art historians can put together the painted surface as it was originally. Quite a number of features on the Shroud such as the original Crown of Thorns (another indication of fourteenth century iconography) are now lost but we have enough depictions and descriptions of it in situ to make a guess at what it looked like. I will leave that to the art historians.

    • Charles Freeman
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      P.S. The loin cloth In my lecture on this, I show that while depictions of the Shroud up to 1559 show it without the loincloth, all depictions between 1578 and into the nineteenth century show it on. The two key figures appear to be Carlo Borromeo and Francesco Lamberti, bishop of Nice, both of whom were associated with the decree on religious nudity of 1563 (Lamberti was one of the signatories). Both are shown holding the Shroud in depictions of 1578 and 1579. So it is likely they ordered the cover-up which is shown from then on. (Michelangelo’s Last Judgment also had the nudity covered up.)
      Relics were treated roughly, saints were cut up and body parts distributed, thorns were out of the Crown of Thorns, the Cross was in splinters, so adding a loin cloth to a relic would not have been sacrilegious in any way. So far as I am concerned it is just an interesting side- story that livens up the lectures, but the lighter patch on the Shroud where the loincloth once was does suggested that like the rest of the Shroud there was paint here, applied at a different time from the oriignal, now fallen off with the rest. But not a major issue either way.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Charles, thanks for both posts — I hadn’t known about the insulating properties of the gesso, so that’s really fascinating. Assuming it’s a painting then, two major hurdles remain in my view. First the representation of the body, which is startlingly lifelike and not remotely like the iconography of 13th-century north Italian painting. If it were used for a Quem Quiritis ceremony, then presumably the assumption is that everyone at the time would have understood it to be a manufactured object created as a focus for veneration, like a Byzantine icon, with no attempt to claim it as the actual shroud of Jesus. But in that case, surely the representation would have been similar to the established stylistic range that we see in altarpieces or frescoes of the day? (e.g. see Cimabue’s famous crucifix at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimabue#mediaviewer/File:Cimabue_-_Crucifix_-_WGA04931.jpg). Even Giotto, the most well-known painter of this period and considered groundbreaking in realism compared to his contemporaries (e.g. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giotto#mediaviewer/File:Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-36-_-_Lamentation_%28The_Mourning_of_Christ%29_adj.jpg), is still not remotely close to the level of realism of the shroud image. In fact no Western artist we know about today was capable of approaching it before Donatello (albeit in sculpture), about a century after Giotto. So the art-historical problem I think is a major one assuming the image originates in the late 13th century.

        The second remaining problem seems to me to be the negative tonality of the image, i.e. the tonal values are reversed from what you would expect, which is what’s most suggestive that it’s a photographically produced object. The Zittau Veil images you mention could provide a useful comparison here. Do they also exhibit this strong negative tonality?

        • Charles Freeman
          Posted November 30, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          Thanks, Jonathan. I stress to everyone that the research has often been looking at the wrong things and needs refocussing.

          I linked the Shroud in to the fourteenth century by comparing various entombments and crucifixion scenes. About 1290-1300, new features appear in this iconography.

          1) The Crown of Thorns remains on Christ’s head even in the tomb, cf also the Man of Sorrows depictions. A description of 1517 and many depictions of expositions show it was there in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.The depictions show roughly the same pattern of thorns.

          2) The blood is exaggerated as a major feature. See the Roettgen Pieta of c. 1325,for instance. This blood is shown around the head, usually in droplets. The Shroud echoes the crucifixion scenes in the Holkham Bible (c.1330) in the way the blood is squiggled. The blood is shown along the arms,cf the Roettgen Pieta and the blood flows of Christ’s arms on the crucifixion scenes of the Holkham Bible.

          3) The scourge marks are all over the body. The Shroud images Jerry has posted above show them well. Earliest known examples are c. 1300. The art historian James Marrow (Princeton) suggests that this inspired by Isaiah 1.6 that was believed to be a premonition of Christ’s scourging.

          The question of realism is often brought up and certainly needs further discussion but what is meant by it in this context? The head of Christ is conventional iconography ( first known in Rome c. AD300, with its beard but of Christ as if he were upright. The two bodies do not match each other. People have pointed out various discrepancies from the normal human body, all of which point to an artist not bothering too much about such details. It is realistic in the wounds but these are very similar to other wounds of the period. The lying out with crossed hands in the tomb is conventional too.
          My photography teacher always reminds me that a photo is not the real thing as the camera imposes its own interpretation. I am not sure what a negative photograph of a body that is itself painted as if Christ’s body had been in contact with the cloth (and so a negative image) can really tell us. As usual with Shroud studies the Shroud is never compared with other objects. I only have the photograph of the Zittau Veil from a book- I wonder what an original negative of that photo of a faded image on a cloth would be like. It might not be that different from the Shroud negatives but it would be an experiment still to be made.

          So much still to research but thanks for asking some of the questions to which the answers are not yet as clear as we would like.The most important thing is to research the Shroud within a medieval- I would say first half of the fourteenth century, context.

          • Posted December 1, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

            People have pointed out various discrepancies from the normal human body, all of which point to an artist not bothering too much about such details.

            This is a very important point. If the Shroud is an accurate depiction of Jesus, the proportioning of his limbs would have made him an horrific and / or pitiful freak to all who saw him — or, at best, noteworthy on that account. There’s no way that something that noticeable would have gone unnoticed.

            Never mind that the Gospels are simply an Euhemerization of a biography for the Jesus of Zechariah 6; if one takes the party line of Christianity that the Gospels are true history, the figure on the Shroud is not the figure of the Gospels.


          • Jonathan Dore
            Posted December 1, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            Again, many thanks Charles for your painstaking and super-informative replies; much appreciated. I’ll only add that on the question of realism, I think the key is whether the artist seems to have an understanding of anatomy, of the structure of skeleton and muscle underneath the skin. That’s what so utterly lacking in the Cimabue and even Giotto examples I link to above, or a contemporary sculpture like the famous Bologna statue of Boniface VIII from 1305 (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Manno_bandini_da_siena,_bonifacio_VIII,_rame_battuto_e_bronzo_fuso_su_anima_in_legno,_inv._1668,_01.JPG), compared with the step change introduced by Donatello (see the St John from 1409 – 11, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatello#mediaviewer/File:Sangiovannievangelista.jpg) and the ne plus ultra of realism, Michelangelo’s David from 1503 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_%28Michelangelo%29#mediaviewer/File:David_von_Michelangelo.jpg). Looking at the shroud image, I think you do get a sense of someone understanding the anatomy beneath the skin, which is why it’s so intriguingly unlike the art of its time.

            • Charles Freeman
              Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

              It IS interesting -I do hope we can widen out the debate but generally there is little evidence that these grave cloths of which several hundred mentions are to be found in church records were done by well-known painters. It is hard to know how far the photographs of the Shroud have influenced our interpretations of it as a work of art.
              Lots still to sort out but I don’t think there is anything particularly mysterious about the negative photographs of the faded images on what was once a painted cloth. They are bound to look a bit mysterious as any negative photograph does.
              It is a pity that painted linens disintegrated so easily with the result that we have virtually none left to compare the shroud with.

    • Les
      Posted November 30, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      “The shroud is covered with gesso (calcium carbonate; ground-up chalk)” so perhaps the
      chalk binds the paint. 700 years of it flaking off and it looks like this.
      (This is a guess)

  25. Elizabeth Oakley
    Posted December 11, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    There is one thing that really should be done. That is to ditch all religious relics. No doubt it won’t happen because people want to attribute all sorts of significance to them. At school we were once visited by a lovely lady, a local nun. She brought with her a human relic. It was the finger in fluid in a glass phial of someone of religious importance. Naturally we can’t remember who now. But really, all these religious relics should go. Why? Because surely religious is about spiritual matters. Therefore material objects have little significance. I would not get too carried away with the symbolic significance of objects either. No. Forget it. All these things should be allowed to pass away as they would in the normal passage of time. This is how things are destined to be. We are all, however good, however wonderful, however spiritual, destined to be forgotten eventually. Forgetting is also important, because naturally things move on to the next generations. So there is no need to take any interest in religious relics, including the Turin Shroud. Whether it is a fake or not is neither here nor there. It should be disposed of anyway, so as not to cause any sort of false distraction or veneration of the wrong sort of objects. Goodness me. Why is religion so peculiar?

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