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What is the Shroud of Turin?

What is the Shroud?

The Shroud of Turin is a long linen cloth made of flax and measures 14 feet long and 3.5 feet wide.

It bears the faint image of a bearded, crucified man with bloodstains that match the wounds of crucifixion suffered by Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in all four gospel narratives.

It has been in Turin, Italy since 1578, over 400 years.  It was in France for another 200 years beginning in 1356.

The Shroud has been preserved and revered for centuries as the actual burial shroud that wrapped Jesus as recorded in the bible.

It was owned from 1450 to 1982 by the royal Savoy family until the former King of Italy, Humberto II passed away and willed it to the current living Pope.

The Shroud has been displayed during numerous public exhibitions over the past 650 years.  While in Italy and France, the Catholic Church has acted as custodian of the cloth though it was officially owned by the Savoys.


The History

The history prior to its arrival in France is not continuous and therefore critics have alleged it is the work of a medieval artist.

However, a key document called the Hungarian Pray Manuscript is dated from 1192 confirms the Shroud was in Constantinople and was stolen by Crusaders during the 4th Crusade.  This key document bridges the gap between 1204 and 1356 when the Shroud’s whereabouts were in question and connects it to other references dating back to the 4th century.

This finding is monumental as it supports a historical trail to at least to the year 525 when the “Image Not Made by Hands” was discovered in Edessa (southern Turkey) and became the genesis for all Byzantine icon images of Christ that followed, characterized by long hair, full beard, large eyes, and a long nose. It was also known as the “True Likeness”. Many scholars believe the Shroud and the Edessa Image are one and the same.

Two coins were minted in 692 under the reign of Emperor Justinian II. They were the first coins ever minted with an image of Christ and appear to be based on the Shroud image as indicated by 180 matching points of congruence between the Shroud image and the coin image.

In 944 the cloth was taken from Edessa to Constantinople.  The sermon delivered by Gregory the archdeacon of the Hagia Sophia clearly describes a full body image on the linen.

In the 11th century, Greek chronicler John of Skylitzes painted a picture of the same event as part of an illustrated manuscript.  It clearly shows the General of the Army presenting a long linen cloth with an image on it to Emperor Romanus I.

Following the 4th Crusade when troops from Venice and France looted and burned the city, a letter of protest was written to Pope Innocent III. The letter documents this horrific event and what was stolen including, “Most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after his death and before his resurrection”. These and other historical clues provide a history stretching nearly 1500 years.

There is also the Legend of King Abgar that may stretch its history all the way back to the First Century.  It is a story of how a cloth with an image of Jesus on it was sent to Edessa from Israel around the time of Christ.  Jude Thaddeus, one of the Apostles, was said to have taken it to him after Abgar’s request for Jesus himself to come.  Abgar was dying of leprosy and upon beholding the mysterious image was healed, became a fervent believer in Christ and commanded all pagan idols to be burned.

The Science

1898: The Shroud was photographed for the first time. These first pictures led to the discovery that the image on the cloth is actually a negative. The image becomes positive in a photographic negative. This discovery startled the scientific community and stimulated worldwide interest. 

1931: Guisseppe Enrie photographed the Shroud again with more advanced film technology confirming that the Shroud is indeed a negative image. Copies of Enrie’s photos were circulated throughout the world prompting more scientific inquiry and interest. 

1950: Dr. Pierre Barbet, a prominent French Surgeon, published A Doctor at Calvary documenting 15 years of medical research on the Shroud image. He described the physiology and pathology of the man on the Shroud as “anatomically perfect”. 

1973: Max Frei, a noted Swiss criminologist, was given permission to take dust samples from the Shroud that contained much pollen. He discovered 22 pollen species from plants that are unique to areas around Constantinople and Edessa, and 7 pollen species from plants common only in Israel. The pollen trail appears to corroborate the historical trail. 

1975: Air Force scientists John Jackson and Eric Jumper, using a VP-8 Image Analyzer designed for the space program, discovered the Shroud image contained encoded 3-D data not found in ordinary reflected light photographs. This discovery indicated that the cloth must have wrapped a real human figure at the time the image was formed. 

1978: The Shroud was on public exhibit for the first time since 1933 and was displayed for six weeks. At the close of the exhibition, 33 scientists comprising the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) analyzed the Shroud for five continuous days (120 hours) working in shifts around the clock. 

1980: National Geographic magazine published a landmark article on the Shroud further propelling the cloth into the science limelight calling it “One of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times”. 

1980: This same year, microscopist Walter McCrone who was not part of the Shroud Project was given several fibers to analyze. After finding iron oxide particles and a single particle of vermilion paint, he broke ranks with the Shroud scientists who had agreed to make all findings public the following year. McCrone proposed that the Shroud was a painting of red ochre paint created from iron oxide particles suspended in a thin binder solution. However, McCrone’s findings in no way agreed with any of the highly sophisticated tests conducted by the other scientists. His claims have all been dismissed. It turns out the iron oxide is a natural result of soaking the flax for days (retting) where iron ions from the water attach to the fibers and oxidize over time.  The particles are randomly distributed over the entire cloth.

1981: After three years analyzing the data The Shroud of Turn Research Project (STURP) made their findings public at an international conference in New London, CT. All the scientists agreed upon the following statement: “We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and give a positive test for serum albumin.” 

1988: The Shroud was carbon dated by three laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona. They indicated a date range from between 1260 to 1390 indicating the cloth to be only about 700 years old. This earth-shattering news seemed to contradict the conclusions of STURP that gave support to the Shroud’s possible authenticity. 


1997: Avinoam Danin, prominent Israeli Botanist and a professor at Hebrew University confirmed the presence of flower images on the Shroud. He verified 28 different pollen species and/or plant images.  Many are from plants that grow only around Jerusalem. 

2002: The Shroud was restored to remove charred debris from the fire of 1532 to aid in the cloth’s preservation.  All the burns and patches from the 1532 fire were removed. The Shroud was also attached to a new backing cloth. 

2005: Thermal Chemist, Ray Rogers, followed up on new spectroscopic data showing the material of the corner cut for carbon dating may be different from the rest of the Shroud.  He obtained thread samples from the C-14 corner and thread samples from the interior of the Shroud.  Additional micro-chemical and spectroscopic tests showed the samples were not the same.  Results published in a peer-reviewed journal confirmed initial concerns.  The sample cut for C-14 dating appears to be from a medieval reweave instead of the original shroud. 

“The radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud.” 

The carbon labs violated the original sampling protocol. Three different samples were to be cut; instead, only one sample was used.  Ignoring caution from archaeologists, they cut the sample from the most handled area of the cloth, the outside corner edge exactly where it had been grabbed and held by Church authorities for over 200 public exhibitions.  It was an area that had the most potential for contamination, damage, and repair. 

2011:  European researchers with the ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies) were able replicate the depth and coloration of the Shroud image using a 40-nanosecond burst from an UV excimer laser.  This is the first time any aspect of the image has been reproduced using light.  

2013:  Researchers with Padua University in Italy, using multiple samples from other linens of a known age ranging from the current era to 3000 BC, were able to develop a predictable rate of chemical and mechanical decay.  Comparing fibers from the Shroud, they determined an estimated date range of 280 BC to 220 AD. 

2017: The British museum finally released all the raw data of the 1988 carbon dating tests withheld for over 30 years. A research team reexamined all the data from over 85 separate tests performed in 1988. As published in Archaeometry, numerous dates fell outside the date range published in Nature in 1989. The Shroud sample is therefore not homogenous, and the carbon dating result, famously reported with “95% confidence,” was clearly contaminated and not representative of the entire cloth.

2022: Italian researchers using Wide Angle X-ray Scattering measured the natural aging in a dozen linen fibers spanning 5,000 years. The sample that best correlated with the Shroud was found in Masada, Israel circa 1st century.

Summary of Key Facts

Tests performed by STURP:

  • Particle analysis
  • Chemical analysis
  • Blood analysis
  • Photo microscopy
  • Spectroscopy
  • X-ray radiography
  • Infra-red thermography
  • X-ray fluorescence spectrometry
  • Photo scans from infrared to ultra-violet 


  • No inorganic pigments present.
  • No substances manually applied to cloth.
  • No artistic substances are on the cloth.
  • No collagen binder as would be used with paint.
  • Blood tests positive for heme, bile, serum albumin and other blood components. The blood is type AB with human male DNA (1995).
  • “The blood marks seen on the shroud are consistent with a contact transfer to the cloth of blood clot exudates that would have resulted from major wounds inflicted on a man who died in the position of crucifixion.”Dr. Al Adler 

Image Characteristics:

  • Purely superficial — penetrates only top 2 micro-fibers.  Does not penetrate the cloth.
  • No capillary action apparent
  • No cementing of fibers to each other
  • No substances between threads
  • No directionality to image
  • No outline to image
  • The image is a negative
  • Contains distance information similar to a topographical map.
  • No image under the blood indicating the blood was transferred to the cloth first, followed by the image of the man as a separate event.

 STURP Conclusion:

“There are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image, nor can any combination of physical, chemical, biological, or medical circumstances explain the image adequately.

Copyright STERA, Inc. Barrie M. Schwortz Collection

Burial Shroud of Jesus?

The Shroud of Turin conforms to what is known about First Century Jewish burial practices of using a single linen cloth in the event of violent death with significant loss of blood.   

Textile analysis indicates an ancient origin.  Threads were hand-spun.  The cloth is pieced together in narrow bands with each hank of yarn individually bleached.  All indicate an origin earlier than the Middle Ages. 

If the shroud wrapped a human corpse as medical forensics may indicate, and if it originated in Israel as botany may indicate, can it ever be proven to be Jesus?  Only by inference:

  • Blood around head from crown of thorns.
  • Abrasions and bruises on face.
  • Wound in the side.
  • Over 120 scourge (whip) marks.
  • Blood on the arms.
  • Nail wound in the wrists.
  • Nail wound in the feet.
  • Legs not broken.
  • Postmortem blood flow from side wound and across lower back (not pictured).
  • Legs are pulled up due to rigor mortis.
  • Blood is from actual wounds and shows evidence of gravity from a vertical position.
  • No stains of body decomposition. 

Fact or Fiction?  Science cannot render a verdict.  It remains the world’s greatest unsolved mystery. 

“It is either the most awesome and instructive relic of 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 either one or the other, there is no middle ground.”—Historian John Walsh

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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