Perhaps one of the most famous religious relics in the world is the Shroud of Turin. Measuring at thirteen-and-a-half feet long by four-and-a-half feet wide, the shroud depicts the image of a bearded man, said to be Jesus Christ. According to the legends, it was used to wrap the body of Christ after crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea. The first appearance of the shroud in documented history came in 1357, in the little village of Lirey, France. It was then taken to Chambéry in 1457, where it was there in 1532 that the shroud was almost destroyed in a ferocious fire. The event left charred marks on the corner of the folds in the fabric, and in 1578 it was taken to Turin where it has since remained. The Catholic Church is thoroughly convinced that the shroud possesses a genuine physical record of Christ’s body, and the cloth is rarely shown to the public.
Although, organized religion has not always been so accepting. Documents written by the Bishop of Troyes and Pope Clement VII from 1389 have been uncovered which note that the Bishop asked the Pontiff to publicly declare that the shroud was merely a painting. He stated that the image had actually been painted by an artist, but the priests in Lirey had started tricking the public into believing it was Christ’s authentic death shroud. The Pope bowed to the Bishop’s wishes and declared that the shroud could keep being shown to the public, but each time it was, the local priest was forced to announce to the public that the relic only depicted a painted copy of Christ’s real shroud.
Over the course of time such practices dwindled away, and the authenticity of the shroud was assumed. The earliest days of the age of science seemed to confirm this belief. During 1898, photographic experts revealed the image was a negative picture, and when seen in reverse tones, the outline showed a much more detailed view of the body. In subsequent years, Dr. Paul Vignon constructed a theory that such a phenomenon was caused by ammonia emanating from Christ’s dead body after his death. Vignon strongly believed the resulting image was beyond the ability of any forger and must have been authentic.
However, modern appraisals have not shared these beliefs. In 1979, Dr. Walter McCrone conducted a chain of advanced scientific tests on samples of the shroud. By using microchemical and microscopic forensic techniques, McCrone and his colleagues discovered particles of red ochre and vermilion pigment mixed with a tempera medium. The results of the tests determined that there was no blood found on the cloth. Tempera was a substance used often by medieval painters. Recent theories suggest that the original yellow paint actually turned brown over the centuries.
The more well-known and recent tests involved radiocarbon dating of the shroud. In the year 1988, laboratories in Switzerland, America, and England performed examinations on sections of the cloth. All three countries concluded that the material was produced between 1260 AD and 1390, thereby fitting in with the historical recorded period of the picture’s creation. However, there are also common sense evidence contradicting the shroud’s authenticity. First, the Greek New Testament claims that Christ at the time of his crucifixion was actually wrapped in strips of linen, not wool. Second, there is no idea to the whereabouts of the shroud before the fourteenth century. Finally, the depicted image of the shroud has obviously faded and eroded over the last few centuries. Although, when it was first viewed, witnesses described that the picture was bright and animated.
Despite the concerns surrounding the shroud, investigators continuously search for proof of its authenticity. A more recent and prominent theory suggests that the samples taken for carbon dating were contaminated by fungi and bacteria that had grown within the cloth over centuries. The majority of the scientific community is convinced that by combining and confirming the evidence that the Turin Shroud is just a medieval painting with assumed mystical beliefs. Even though, it can be surely claimed that the shroud is the world’s greatest unexplained enigma.