Is the Shroud of Turin the Burial Cloth of Christ?

I first read about the Shroud of Turin when I picked up a book about it in the library. I was deep in my anti-religion period at that time, struggling to find arguments against the existence of God.

I read most of the atheist literature, both of that time and of earlier decades. I wanted to be convinced. But the things I read just weren’t all that convincing. Since I’m neither a scholar nor an intellectual, I usually employ a vacuum cleaner approach to learning about a subject that interests me.

I read everything I can get my hands on, then track down the original sources that the first books referenced and read them. It’s a process that can go on for a while. I plumbed through atheist thinking all the way to its bottom in my search to prove there was no god and found nothing but the authors themselves.

I’m not a scholar or an intellectual, but I’m also not flat-footed stupid. The arguments by the old atheists are like the arguments of the new atheists. They don’t hold up if you think about them. Most of them are self-refuting. In fact, based on the books by the so-called “new atheists” that I’ve read, I don’t see their thinking as thinking. It’s just a rehash of what has been said before, topped off with insult and rudeness.

I did not want to believe in god back in those days. I was so cynical about god and so disappointed in him and his people that I would have preferred it if I had been able to not believe in him in some absolute and rock solid way. I wanted to cast god and what I saw as his failure out with the orange peels and old paycheck stubs in my trashcan. He seemed as spent and meaningless to me as they were.

However, reading atheist thought was not a convincing exercise. If my understanding of god made me cynical about him, my exposure to the thoughts of those who denied him actually made his existence sound almost unavoidably possible.

One thing that sharpened my understanding was my propensity to go back and forth. I would read the arguments against, then read the documents these arguments were critiquing.

I invariably found that those arguments against that I had read were based on partial quotes taken out of context and given meaning they did not mean, or facts that were likewise taken out of context and given meaning they did not mean. Atheist arguments fell apart when I traced them back to their original sources.

I had never heard of the Shroud of Turin when I plucked that book off the library shelves. i didn’t expect to be impressed by the book. But, well, my vacuum cleaner mind sweeps up everything, including the trivial. I took it home, and since it was a short book, read it before bed that night.

The book was written by one of the members of a group of scientists who had examined the Shroud in the 1970s’ STURP investigation. It didn’t claim the Shroud was the burial cloth of Christ. It simply described the experiments. The thing about the book that impressed me the most is that I didn’t see any hint that its author was lying. I didn’t know what to make of the Shroud itself. But I felt that if the author of this book was telling the truth — and I thought he was — then the Shroud was a lot more than a fake miracle made with pigeon’s blood and a shadow box.

I returned the book to the library and thought no more about Shroud until I heard that carbon dating experiments indicated that it was a fake from the Middle Ages. I had experienced my conversion to Christ between when I read the book and when these results were announced. But that wasn’t why the carbon dating results perplexed me. I believed almost immediately that the results were inaccurate.

I felt this way because I still believed that the author of that original book I had read was telling the truth about his experiments on the Shroud. I just didn’t see how the artifact described in that book could be a Medieval forgery. Forgeries of that era were crude compared to the Shroud on so many levels. In fact, the Shroud would have been a poor forgery by the standards of that day, with its faint negative image. From what I’d read, you can’t even really see the thing until you see it as a negative from a camera. And the anatomical details, including those of the damage done to the man in the Shroud’s body went way beyond what a Medieval forger would need or even have the knowledge to fake.

Add to that the simple fact that no one could figure out how to re-create the Shroud using the tools of any century, much less tools from the technologically weak past of 800 years ago, and I simply did not believe that the carbon dating results were accurate. I didn’t think they were forged or deliberately falsified. I didn’t think the protocols used in doing the dating had been bad. But I still didn’t think things added up.

All this led me, for the first time, to stop and think, Is this cloth really the winding sheet of Christ? Is the face on that cloth the face of the Lord Jesus as He lay in the tomb?

The thing that brought me to this question was that I thought I could see the logic behind obscuring the truth about a genuine Shroud from a Divine viewpoint. I think proof of this simple type would obviate faith for a lot of people. It could also lead many of us to fall into superstitions about the Shroud instead of a dynamic faith in Christ.

These thoughts went through my mind and then I stopped speculating and went on with my life. I didn’t need the Shroud to prove anything to me. The conversion experince I’d had was enough proof for my lifetime.

When I first read that Pope Benedict XVI had granted a televised viewing of the Shroud on Holy Saturday March 30, I thought it was nice. Then, the Pope resigned and everything he had done or said seemed outlined in high-lighter for me. I read a lot about him, and during the reading I learned that Pope Benedict had come just about as close as he could to saying that he believed the Shroud was genuine without actually using those precise words. I also kept seeing comments about “new evidence.”

Ok, I thought. New evidence. What is it? I’m still trying to get sufficient information to answer that question. I need more information than a scientist would, simply because it takes more information for me to understand what I’m reading,.

All I know for sure is that Pope Benedict seemed to be leaning heavily toward a belief that the Shroud is genuine and that Pope Francis, while more circumspect, did not gainsay him. 

I don’t think it matters whether you believe that the Shroud is the burial cloth or not. The only danger would be if  you fell off the horse and started regarding it as an idol and a superstition. Faith in Jesus does not need the Shroud; not if you’ve encountered Him personally.

On the other hand, it is tantalizing. I look at the photos of the man in the Shroud, at his torn body and the obvious torture he suffered, and then I contrast that with the serene expression on his face. I can look at that face for quite a while and, despite it’s swollen eye and battered condition, I never see anything but peace.

Who are you? I wonder.

So far at least, there is no answer.


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  • dacian

    “no one could figure out how to re-create the Shroud using the tools of any century”? An article twenty years ago or so in Popular Photography describes a process.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I’m unfamiliar with this particular article, but those like it that I have seen don’t hold up for one reason or the other.

    • Thomas Larsen

      Could you provide a citation?

    • bippy1234567

      Dacian, there were many natural processes claimed but all have been tried and all have failed. The fact is 21st century science cant replicate this image because of the many unique aspects it possesses.

  • Sus

    A couple of years ago I was making the kids fried bologna (don’t judge!). The last piece had fry marks that looked just like Jesus. I put it aside and made another one because it felt weird to eat Jesus on bologna and I wanted to show my husband. Later that day I walked in the kitchen and caught the dog on the counter eating the Jesus bologna! I didn’t think there was anything spiritual there but I was still horrified.

    I don’t know what to think about the Shroud. I don’t understand how the image came to be on the cloth to begin with. Especially since he was only wrapped in it a couple of days. Was it a supernatural event? It does seem reasonable that people wrapped Jesus in a cloth after this death. They did that with everyone.

    If I’m ever anywhere near Turin, I want to go see it. Whatever it is, I think it’s fascinating.

    • Rick

      I love fried bologna!

  • Nancy

    I believe this is authentic but even were it not the burial shroud of Jesus, my faith in the risen Jesus as my Lord and Saviour is unwavering. ” Blessed are those who do not see, yet still believe”.

  • Dave

    I believe strongly that it is authentic. There are many reasons to believe that it is authentic. I just read in the last few days that three different scientific tests dated it to a range between 1 and 100 AD. The section of the shroud that was removed for carbon testing was likely repaired at some point, so not a good sample.

  • pagansister

    Wonder if anyone will be able to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was/is the image on the cloth—–makes for a great mystery. :-)

  • Mark Shea

    My answer to all the people who casually dismiss it as a fake: Make another one.

  • pagansister

    Mark, with modern technology, IMO it wouldn’t be impossible.

    • Theodore Seeber

      It would, however, be extremely hard. I think I’d start by raiding 1st century archeology digs for a similar burial cloth. Getting the dried blood to reconstitute for the airbrush would be equally hard, as would then narrowing the focus of the airbrush to produce the painting.

      The easy part would be hitting the nearly finished product with a massive 1TW dose of UV light.

  • Manny

    “Add to that the simple fact that no one could figure out how to re-create the Shroud using the tools of any century”

    That is a sticking point, however I remain skeptical. Where is it documented in the New Testament or even Church Fathers that such a relic existed? Where was it stored in those early centuries? People with knowledge of such a relic kept it quiet? Seems impossible. There are lots of things we de facto don’t quite understand how they came about. What’s the claim, that Jesus’s body exuded some special energy that would cause a negative image? Jesus wore lots of clothing. Then lots of these relics should be around. Jesus had a human body; why would he exude some special energy? Also, I’m no expert, but the hair and facial hair style doesn’t look like first century middle eastern to me.

    • Laura

      Manny, the argument is that ***at the Resurrection*** Jesus’ body may have “exuded some special energy”. During his (ordinary) earthly life, the Church firmly teaches that His body had no “extraordinary” features– his body was a human body like our bodies. But after the Resurrection, he was able to do things (bodily) that no human can do– like appear and disappear at will, enter locked rooms, conceal or reveal his identity, etc. Something massive happened, and it’s not silly to think that such an event might have effects on the physical items around it.

      I don’t know whether the shroud is truly the burial cloth of Christ. But as our hostess says, if it’s a fake, it’s the oddest fake possible, and totally unlike any other fake (medieval or modern).

  • Sean Keohane

    There never could be a definite proof in this world that the Shroud in Turin was the burial cloth of Jesus, nor will the Church ever say categorically that it is, although statements from Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, and its general treatment by popes and the Church over time, suggest it is believed that it is likely a genuine relic. And yes, I agree with you, Rebecca, that that is God’s intention; not to force belief on any of us, just to leave important clues to help us on the way.
    The word “fake” doesn’t seem appropriate in any case, as, if it was created by an artist, it would have been as a devotional object. Much of the “anti-Shroud” rhetoric is based simply on “anti-Catholicism,” assuming that Catholics are dupes and the Church is run by liars who feed themselves off of fakes and flummery. But if the Shroud of Turin isn’t the actual burial cloth of Christ, it’s “puttin’ on one hell of an act,” to quote the late Peter Falk in an unrelated context.
    It is at least an incredible devotional for the Passion; when I saw it in Turin 3 years ago, I wasn’t close enough to make out the individual wounds from the two Roman flagella, but did seek out and saw the blood left from the Crown of Thorns, the piercings in the feet and wrists, the post-mortem wound in the side, the thick, long bloodstain above the figure’s pelvis on the rear which was for centuries taken to be a chain, but that we would now believe to be a stain from the blood that pooled there…. And when one sees all that, and reflects honestly, knowing that in spite of claims every year or so (always around Easter or Christmas) that someone has “reproduced” it, that, in fact, no one ever has reproduced it in all its features, one has to say, “then what else could it be?” And if it can’t be anything else, then what does that mean? What are the consequences of that fact for how I look at the world and live my life?
    So it exists, I think, for people such as myself, those of us of sometimes weak faith and insufficient will, and flickering brainpower, to have a little support from God when all that weakness gets the better of us. Whenever I am in a too self-involved or miserably sinful state, it will occur to me, “but you saw the Shroud of Turin!” Which doesn’t mean I worship an old rag or that by seeing that yellowed linen I believe I have seen Jesus in person. It means only that (a) Jesus suffered terribly for us and must therefore love us very much; (b) he knew that some of us would need our faith bolstered by some evidence we could see (and theoretically!) touch, and so left such evidence as a powerful, mute statement in the physical world; and (c) I was fortunate enough to be able to hear about it, learn a little about it, and even see it… so I’d better pull myself together and get back to the real work of life.
    I once read many, many books on the Shroud, sure that it was not genuine, and equally certain that with the proper research one could discover who made it and how. But though some of those books were better than others, and some were books by skeptics and others by advocates, I came to believe that the Shroud was indeed genuine. The results of the carbon date testing of 1988 were as confusing for me as they were for you, because it makes even less sense for that cloth to exist if it is not the Shroud of Jesus than if it is.
    For those interested, definitely go to and at least have a look at the clips posted there from this weekend’s broadcast ostentation. Watch the full 90 minute version if you can, or at least the first 45 minutes or so, which will take you to about the end of Pope Francis’s own video statement. (After that, it becomes a little too much like “Concert for the Shroud,” rather than a liturgical celebration.) The rest of that website, maintained by Barrie Schworz, has great, great information on the Shroud, too.
    Also, the best books to start with, or to pick up now if one hasn’t before, are likely those by Ian Wilson. Many things about the Shroud posted on websites, and even in comboxes or simply floating about in our heads, things we are sure we know, are actually inaccurate, but Mr. Wilson’s books are in my opinion very honest about what is known and what might be a theory. And it is his proposed work about the “missing history” of the Shroud which form the basis of a lot of the talk about it today, whether to be passed on uncritically or unthinkingly dismissed. His latest book on the subject came out in 2010, his earliest over 4 decades ago. Work by John Jackson and videos produced over the years by David Rolfe would also be recommended as excellent starting points.
    This is an interesting time for the Church and the world and the Shroud will no doubt have its intended effect on it.

  • Jo Ann

    I watched a PBS special on the Shroud many years ago and was convinced that the preponderance of the evidence was in the favor of the shroud existing during the time of Christ with the only negative being the carbon dating, which I just knew had to be wrong. Then I saw another televised special interviewing a retired couple who had decided to investigate the problem themselves (so, of course, with no credentials they were terribly belittled). They were able to convince one of the carbon dating scientists to look at what they found. Despite his animosity, he and another of his co-workers, were convinced. It seems the couple discovered that the sample taken was an expert reweaving of the material on the edge that had been damaged. They were able to verify that it was cotton woven into the existing linen and then dyed to match. The evidence of the dye was obvious to the scientists who knew that there was no paint or dye on the rest of the shroud. It also accounted for the differences in the carbon dating as the reweaving went from mostly linen with a little cotton, to mostly cotton with a little linen. HOWEVER, the scientists were dismayed to realize that they would NEVER be able to get an accurate carbon dating today because the shroud, since the original experiments had been placed in a container to preserve it and the preservative has now contaminated the shroud. I laughed. God does not want us to have absolute proof — we must still take it on faith. But, as St. Bernadette once said about seeing the beautiful lady at Lourdes (and I’m paraphrasing) those who believe need no proof and those who do not believe can never have proof enough.
    Being a very visual person, I love seeing the face revealed by the shroud. It gives me an image to “see” Jesus with and I am grateful to God for it!

    • Sean Keohane

      Dear Jo Ann, though that PBS special is unfamiliar to me, the story you re-count is that of Joe Marino and the late Sue Benford, who argued in a paper that there had been “material intrusion” in the samples taken from the Shroud for carbon dating in 1988, mainly that the samples were taken from a strip on the Shroud which was actually a newer piece of cloth “invisibly” woven onto the original fabric to repair some medieval damage. The gentleman who had come around to their way of thinking and became an advocate for the “invisible reweaving” proposal was not one of the scientists involved in the carbon 14 dating, but Los Alamos chemist Ray Rogers, who had been part of the American research team given access to the Shroud by Church authorities in 1978. He had completely accepted the carbon 14 results and, when he heard of the “invisible reweaving” theory, thought Marino and Benford were wacky and set out to prove their idea was actually ridiculous, with no merit. However, when he tested sample threads he had from the same area on the Shroud whence the carbon 14 dating materials had come, he was startled to find that Benford and Marino’s suggestion was correct: he reportedly found material intrusion of cotton, for instance.
      This theory does seem like a good explanation for why the carbon 14 testing would give a medieval date when other analyses of the Shroud might indicate otherwise. However, though it has strong proponents, like Barrie Schwortz of (a good friend of the late Dr Rogers), it is at this point one proposed theory among several, and none of them has yet been proven to be correct, no matter what headlines may burst forth once or twice a year. That does not mean that one of these theories is not correct, and, for instance, the idea proposed by Benford & Marino, as later championed by Rogers, is very attractive. On the other hand, neither author Ian Wilson nor textile expert Mechtild Fleury-Lemberg of Switzerland, both of whom have seen the Shroud up close, accept that there is any reweaving in the area in question. Fleury-Lemberg has possibly pored over the actual Shroud more than anyone now living, as she was its main conservator for a “restoration” removing non-original materials about a decade ago. So, as is usual with the Shroud, one does not yet “know” with certainty, one can only say, I “think,” or I “believe,” which, as I heard that Ray Rogers had remarked, were not scientific terms!
      One day, however, all shall be revealed.

  • cminor

    If you’d like a comprehensive followup on some of the Shroud research that’s been done and its results (as well as the author’s own thoughts as a forensic scientist on the Crucifixion,) I recommend Frederick Zugibe’s The Crucifixion of Jesus: a Forensic Inquiry. Though the book reads a bit like a series of lab reports, it is an excellent medical analysis of the Scripture accounts and goes into some depth on the Shroud (the author is a sindonologist and STURP member.) Reading can be challenging in spots for non-scientists, but generally understandable. I made it my Lenten reading this year, having worked my way through once before.

  • Souheil Bayoud

    No scientist in the world will ever be able to explain how the image on the Shroud started as a negative.The Shroud is actually the visual gospel of the sufferings,death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth.It is a stumbling rock like His owner for those who read but do not understand,and who see but do not perceive same as in the days of His sufferings.Read the book the coin of the temple by souheil bayoud and you will see…

  • tabletto

    Archeologist Shimon Gibson with his colleagues found the tomb discovery in Jerusalem 2009. The discovery exposed remains of the man who had suffered leprosy and died tuberculosis. The researches records that deceased have lived in 1-50 A.D. (in the time of Jesus) and the tomb was obviously the family tomb of upper class or priest family.

    Gibson said that the man had been buried according to manners of the Jews at that time. The manner was that the body wrapped to linen clothes, and the head wrapped with separate face linen. Gibson said that if the person wasn’t actually dead and woke up, he could shake and blow off the face linen and shout for help.

    Professor Shimon Gibson said that the shroud of Turin doesn’t fit together for burial practices in first century Palestine. Gibson said that the shroud of Turin is a single sheet made with a twill weave. According to Gibson the twill weave was known only from the medieval period.


    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I’ve read this, but I don’t find it compelling at all. It’s not evidence of anything except one grave. That doesn’t create a universal practice. In fact, even if it was a universal practice, that still wouldn’t prove anything, since the entombment of Jesus was so hurried.