The Shroud of Turin: Evidence for Everything
Five years ago I traveled to see an astounding artifact that I had hoped to see for a long time. I happened to be in Europe for a few weeks that summer and realized that the famous Shroud of Turin — reputed to be the burial cloth of Jesus — was on public display at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in the Italian city of Turin.
So, after taking the high-speed train from Rome, a decent restaurant and an overnight stay, a friend and I walked the few blocks from our hotel first thing in the morning to the cathedral. We hustled, crowd free down the pathways set up to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the world who would, like us, have a few minutes to stand in silence before the famous, mysterious linen winding sheet of Christ.
There before us was the large piece of linen — fourteen feet long and three and a half feet wide. The linen is soiled with bloodstains and scorch marks from a fire in the Middle Ages. It has patches covering the holes from the fire, and there most amazingly is the faint, ghostly image of the crucified man. The linen was wrapped lengthwise around his body. You can see with the naked eye the image of the face — calm and dignified in death. You can see the hands and feet and across his back the marks of torture.
After my visit I am more convinced than ever not only that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Christ, but that the mysterious image was produced by a blast of radiation from the resurrection. Those who wish to research the shroud can find scholarly and popular articles here and here. The most interesting thing about the shroud is that the more scientific research is done the more the claims to authenticity accumulate. Not only is the image on the shroud that of a crucified man, but a particular crucified man.
Who Was the Crucified Man?
He wore a crown of thorns. His legs were not broken. His face was punched. His side was pierced in a way consistent with a Roman spear. His back shows the marks of a severe flogging consistent with the flagellum used by the Romans. In other words, all the wounds on the shroud match those not just of any crucified man, but those unique to Jesus of Nazareth.
Fabric experts acknowledge that the particular linen cloth matches that used in the first century by wealthy individuals. (Jesus was poor but he was buried in the borrowed tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea) The chemical traces on the cloth match the herbs and spices that were known to be used for Jewish burials in Roman times. Pollen from the shroud matches that present in Jerusalem in the first century. New scientific dating techniques counter the 1988 carbon 14 dating which identified a medieval date and they date the shroud to the first century.
How Did the Image Come About?
Most mysterious thing about the Shroud of Turin is the image of the crucified man. In 1978 a team of American researchers were finally given access to the shroud. They ran a whole series of tests covering the range of scientific disciplines. Their analyses found no sign of artificial pigments and they concluded, “The Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.” What formed the image? The scientists were stumped and admitted that “no combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances” could adequately account for the image.
What formed the image? The best description is that it is an extremely delicate singe marking. Italian physicist Paolo Di Lazzaro concedes in an article for National Geographic that every scientific attempt to replicate the image in a lab has failed. “Its precise hue is highly unusual, and the color’s penetration into the fabric is extremely thin, less than 0.7 micrometers (0.000028 inches), one-thirtieth the diameter of an individual fiber in a single 200-fiber linen thread.”
Di Lazzaro and his colleagues at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) experimented for five years, using modern excimer lasers to train short bursts of ultraviolet light on raw linen, in an effort to simulate the image’s coloration.
They came tantalizingly close to replicating the image’s distinctive color on a few square centimeters of fabric. However, they were unable to match all the physical and chemical characteristics of the shroud image, and reproducing a whole human figure was far beyond them. De Lazzaro explained that the ultraviolet light necessary to reproduce the image of the crucified man “exceeds the maximum power released by all ultraviolet light sources available today.” The time for such a burst would be shorter than one forty-billionth of a second, and the intensity of the ultra violet light would have to be around several billion watts.”
The scientists shrug and say the only explanation lies beyond the realm of twenty-first century technoscience. In other words, the extraordinary burst of ultra violet light is not only beyond the ability and technology of a medieval forger: It is beyond the ability and technology of the best twenty-first century scientists.
Evidence for Everything
Atheists will often demand believers to present “evidence” for the existence of God. I suggest they study the Shroud of Turin. Here’s why: if God does not exist, then we must live in a closed system. In other words, there could be no such thing as a miracle. If there is no being greater than nature and outside this physical world then the rules of nature would have to be absolute.
If, however, just one miracle could be proven to have happened, then nature is not a closed system. Some force outside of nature would be seen to interrupt and step into the natural order. If that miracle was intelligible then there had to be an intelligent force outside the system that was greater than the system. The resurrection of Jesus Christ would be that one necessary miracle. It is, after all, the miracle of miracles.
It is only in our modern techno-scientific age that the mysterious qualities of the Shroud of Turin have been unlocked. Ever since the shroud was first photographed in 1898, the forensic, archaeological, documentary, cultural, chemical, physiological and physical evidence has accumulated. The Shroud of Turin is the most exhaustively investigated ancient artifact, and the more it is studied the more baffling it becomes … the only answer to the mystery is that it is indeed, the burial cloth of Christ, imprinted with his image by a blast of light at his resurrection. If there were ever any hard evidence for a miracle, this is it.
If it does prove a miracle, then we do not live in a closed system. There is One who is above and beyond this world. The one who invaded this world to defeat death and unlock the gates to the other world.
This article is an abridged version of an article first published at The Imaginative Conservative website.
Fr. Longenecker is a Catholic priest working in South Carolina. Read his blog, follow his podcasts and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.