UPDATED: Another Easter for the Turin “Shroud”

March 28, 2013

Claims that new tests show the “shroud” of Turin is not medieval after all, but dates from the first century, have been published in the media by Italian researchers. As is typical of a religious rather than scientific agenda, their news was shrewdly released just in time for Easter. That alone casts doubt on the claims, but there is more.

The previous samples that were radiocarbon dated in 1988 were taken directly from the shroud in a documented manner by a textile expert for the British Museum and transferred in a “blind” fashion to no fewer than three laboratories—all selected for their expertise and impartiality. The tests also utilized swatches of ancient cloths of known dates as controls. In contrast, the new samples—only tiny fibers—allegedly came from the “shroud” in 1988 and were allegedly obtained from pro-shroud researcher Giovanni Riggi di Numana who died in 2008. If the samples cannot be legally certified as unquestionably authentic, they are inadmissible as evidence.

The scientific objectivity, if any, of either the new claimants or their protocol was not mentioned in media reports. In the past, such pre-Easter claims—published first in the media instead of scientific journals—have been made by pro-shroud religious zealots, and they have often later proved to be scientifically doubtful, to say the least.

As to the new tests themselves, they involve three different procedures—each with its own problems—which are then averaged together to produce the result. In contrast stands the accuracy of the 1988 accelerator mass spectrometry method of radiocarbon testing which yielded a date range of circa 1260–1390 C.E. Shroud advocates have been creative in trying to undermine those devastating tests, suggesting that the scientists tested a medieval patch (they did not), or that the carbon ratio was altered by a burst of miraculous energy from Christ’s resurrection (pseudoscientific nonsense), or any of several other “theories.”

In fact, the accuracy of the 1988 tests was confirmed by three laboratories who obtained dates in such close agreement as to be like three arrows hitting a bullseye. Moreover, the date obtained was fully consistent with the shroud’s lack of provenance (historical record) before the mid-fourteenth century. Further corroborative evidence comes from a bishop’s report of 1389 to Pope Clement VII stating that the shroud was being used as part of a faith-healing scam and that it had been “cunningly painted” by an artist who had confessed.

Still other evidence of medieval artistry comes from iconography—the image on the cloth bearing striking similarities to French gothic art of the period. And that an artist was indeed responsible is clear from sophisticated forensic tests by world-famous microanalyst Walter McCrone. He discovered that on the image—but not background areas—were significant amounts of red ocher pigment and that the suspiciously still-red and “picturelike” stains of “blood” consisted of red ocher and vermilion tempera paint.

It is unfortunate that we must yet again recall the words of Canon Ulysse Chevalier, the Catholic historian who brought to light the documentary evidence of the Shroud’s medieval origin. He lamented, “The history of the shroud constitutes a protracted violation of the two virtues so often commended by our holy books: justice and truth.”


The Archbishop of Turin—quoted in an article in the Vatican Insider—has stated that, because there is no certainty as to the authenticity of the purported shroud fibers that were used for the experiments, the custodians of the shroud "cannot recognize any serious value to the results of those alleged experiments."