The Shroud of Turin: Its History and Authenticity



The Shroud of Turin in Torino (Turin) ItalyThe Shroud of Turin is one of the, if not the, most debated relics in all of history. Anyone who thinks the debate on the Shroud is closed should see the countless books, articles, and organizations advocating both sides of the issue -- and it's not all pseudo-science, either. The Shroud's amazing image still has yet to be explained, and in spite of the carbon dating's seeming disproving of the idea that the Shroud was from Jesus' time, a number of scientists and historians are beginning to consider the carbon dating dysfunctional and inaccurate.

As a matter of fact, there is an abundance of evidence that the Shroud of Turin dates back to the first century A.D., as well as that the carbon dating is not trustworthy on the Shroud's year of production. As this is the essay's focus, other factors, such as the authenticity of the blood on the Shroud, the anatomy of the man, and some -- but not all -- hypotheses on the creation of the image, are beyond the scope and will not be discussed. Much of the research that contributed to this project is based on research I did for ROGATE, a New Jersey Gifted & Talented program, last year.

What is the Shroud of Turin?

The Shroud of Turin is the cloth which Jesus was allegedly wrapped in after being crucified, when he was put in the tomb (Mt 27:59f; Mk 15:46; Lk 23:53; 24:12; Jn 20:5-8). It bears an image of a crucified man on it, front and back, as well as very accurate bloodstains; presumably from the wounds. If actually from Jesus' time, this image would have been made while Jesus was being resurrected. What else is significant is that the image, when the Shroud is photographed, becomes much more clear, appearing to be 3-dimensional. This image is argued by many to be a strong indication of the Shroud actually wrapping Jesus in the tomb.

The Gospels and the Shroud

A common objection to the Shroud even bearing the possibility of once being wrapped around Jesus is that John's Gospel states that Jesus was wrapped in two cloths -- one which was put aside already, in Greek called soudarion, while Jesus was wrapped in othonia, found at the scene too. However, such is not the case. Judging by Jewish burial customs at the time, Jesus probably was wrapped, head only, in the soudarion, meaning a smaller cloth like a napkin, while being carried to the tomb, and after being placed in the tomb, the soudarion was put aside as the othonia was put on. However, another problem is that othonia usually refers to bandages or strips, not a single shroud. This problem is resolved by means of alternative translation: othonia can mean cloths as well, and is translated as such by some moderate and conservative scholars, therefore not excluding a shroud at all.

The objection that the Gospels do not record the image itself is fallacious. This is an argument from silence -- to be blunt and straightforward, just because the Gospels don't mention it doesn't mean it isn't there.

The History of the Shroud: 16th to 13th Centuries

Prior to being given to the Church, the Shroud was kept by the House of Savoy from 1453 to 1983. Throughout this period, the Shroud was given many exhibitions, many for marriages in the House. The Shroud went through occasional repair and renovation, once when new lining was sewn on in 1868; as well as the repairs made after the Shroud was burnt in 1532, which are responsible for the four triangles visible on the Shroud -- the repair patches. The 
Shroud's first photograph was taken under the House of Savoy, the first time that the more obvious negative image of the Shroud was seen.

The Shroud was given to the House of Savoy by Margret de Charny, who took it from Lirey canons with her second husband to protect it for a time. Both the small town the Shroud resided in and the affiliation between Margret and the canons offer evidence of the Shroud being in existence much earlier than when Margret gave it to the House. Margret was the daughter of Geoffrey II de Charney, who played a major role in the expositions of the Shroud in 1389 with the canons of Lirey. Bishop Pierre d'Arcis attests, in his memorandum, that the Shroud was painted 34 years prior to 1389. In addition, a pilgrim badge from 1355 with the Shroud folded out completely -- so both the front and back depictions of the crucified man-- has been found, further suggesting that the Shroud is at least as old as 1355.

In the 1200's, evidence for the Shroud is scant but present. Confirmation of a shroud with Jesus' image on it, alleged to be a relic of him, is found in Robert de Clari, a crusader's, journal. De Clari participated in the Fourth Crusade, where Constantinople was sacked, but recorded this shroud's presence while travelling the city peacefully. He also notes nobody knew what happened to the Constantinople shroud after Constantinople was sacked.

Evidence suggests that this shroud was taken to Western Europe after Constantinople was sacked. Ian Wilson proposes that it was held by the Templars for 150 years, 1204-1355. He suggests this based on a 1280 Templar painting vividly resembling the facial portion of the Shroud, as well as the Templars' obsession with relics relating to the tomb and resurrection of Jesus, including an allegation they worshipped an image of Jesus' face in some form. He also suggests that Geoffery II's father, Geoffery I, might have received the Shroud from a Templar leader who was burned at the stake during his life. While the link is based on highly circumstantial evidence, it offers a good explanation for the appearance of the Shroud, the disappearance of Constantinople's Shroud, and the painting by, and allegations against, the Templars.

Interlude: The "Leonardo da Vinci" Hypothesis and d'Arcis on the Forgers

Before it is argued that the Shroud of Turin dates earlier than 1204 AD, it is important to put to rest two arguments against the Shroud: that Leonardo da Vinci made it and that Bishop d'Arcis' letter proves the Shroud was painted.

A minority of historians have taken on the position that the Shroud was created by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. They argue that he acquired a shroud, and utilized a camera obscura, an early form of the camera, to project his face on to the Shroud, and used a corpse or body mold for the body, made to look like an anatomically correct crucified man.

There is some amount of truth to this: the Shroud's image is photographic in character, in that it bears more similarities to a photograph than a painting. However, this is no reason to think that Leonardo forged the Shroud. First of all, he was born in 1452, well after the Shroud appeared in Western Europe -- almost a century after the pilgrim badge was made depicting it. Even the carbon dating presents a date too early for Leonardo to have created the Shroud, the latest possible date being 1390.

Some skeptics have countered that he would have used an older cloth, and that the image is his product, not the entire cloth. But the same pilgrim badge disproves this as well -- clearly visible on the Shroud is the depiction of the crucified man, in the same position as the modern-day Shroud! Not only that, but if Leonardo (re)discovered photography, why didn't he take any photographs besides the Shroud? There is not one other photograph from the time, either printed as a negative, or as a positive. Furthermore, the photograph would not be discovered again until the 19th century, and Leonardo da Vinci himself would not be able to see the clearer negative Shroud image.

In addition, the science of the body on the Shroud also suggests that Leonardo could not have made the Shroud. How, if he needed to hold the body 10-12 feet from the cloth, could he have flawlessly mimicked the blood flow of a newly-crucified man? And how, if he used a corpse, would it be able to keep the rigor mortis long enough for it to bear the appearance of a man lying flat, without decaying from exposure to sunlight nonstop in a reasonably warm room for multiple days (if not weeks), all while Leonardo did this in private? If he used a cast or mold for the body, this makes the blood even harder to account for -- it would mean he literally splashed blood on the cloth as he saw fit, not with any of the natural flow obvious to the Shroud. All in all, Leonardo da Vinci could not have played a role in creating a fake Shroud.

Now, while Bishop Pierre d'Arcis' memorandum does offer evidence of the Shroud dating at least as far back as 1355, he also states that Bishop Henri investigated the Shroud and found it a forgery; specifically, a painting. The evidence completely refutes a painted Shroud, but whether or not it was forged is still debated. Fortunately for the pro-Shroud side of the debate, his claims on Henri are simply false as well -- Henri never made the allegation that the Shroud was a fraud, but even if he did, there is reason to believe he had monetary and political motives behind it. D'Arcis has nothing on the Shroud.

Could the Shroud be the Image of Edessa?

Since it is indeed possible that the Shroud is as old as 1204, now the possibility of an even older Shroud must be examined by means of a different relic -- the Image of Edessa.

The Image of Edessa is a now-lost relic of Jesus' face, which initially resided in the eastern Christian city of Edessa. Found in the 6th Century near a city gate, it was a precious, important relic to the people of Edessa, and had a significant story behind it for them. In 944, the Image of Edessa was taken to Constantinople, where it was kept until the sack. Many historians have linked this cloth with the shroud mentioned by Robert de Clari, which in turn has been linked to the Shroud of Turin.

One problem with the idea of the Image of Edessa and the Shroud being the same is that the Image of Edessa only depicts Jesus' face. However, there are some testimonies suggesting that the Image of Edessa is really depicting Jesus' whole body, but is folded to only show the face! For instance, after arriving in Constantinople, a sermon by the archdeacon Gregory states that the Image of Edessa also shows Jesus' bloodstains and his pierced side, with blood and water dripping out! Twice in history the Image of Edessa was described as "doubled in four", which means folded. The Shroud, if folded as this indicates, shows only Jesus' face, meaning this description is further evidence the Shroud and the Image of Edessa are one and the same.

If the Shroud were the same relic as the Image of Edessa, it could be traced back all the way to the time of Christ. In Edessa, there was a popular story that a king of Edessa, Abgar V, contacted Jesus with hopes of Jesus' healing him. Jesus says he needs to finish his business on earth but will send a disciple of his to convert Edessa later. After the ascension, St. Thomas sends one of the outer disciples, Addai, to go to Edessa as promised. He converts the city and heals Abgar, and the city is so safe for Christians the Image is brought in. This story is largely folklore, but some parts ring true. Edessa did have a king with Christian sympathies -- Abgar VIII, and there was a Christian Addai who may have done significant evangelization there. Since Christianity was legal in Edessa before any other city at the time, it is not surprising that the Christians may have kept their relics there.

One might wonder why, if Christianity was accepted so early on in Edessa and the cloth was brought in then, why the Image was found near a broken gate after a flood. Historians agree that it was kept above the gate -- which was then damaged by the flood -- but why? The answer is, to protect the relic. While Christianity was allowed, there were times of persecution and attack, and in addition, floods were common. It was probably put there not only to be hidden from Pagans but to keep it dry.

So, it is indeed possible that the Shroud of Turin is from the time of Christ. However, one more issue must be addressed to even acknowledge the possibility of the Shroud dating from before the middle 12th century: the carbon dating.

The Shroud of Turin on display in Torino (Turin) ItalyThe Shroud's Carbon Dating

The Shroud's carbon dating was meant to end the debate on its authenticity once and for all. Whether from the first, second, or fourteenth centuries, the carbon dating would either prove the Shroud to be an elaborate forgery or to have once wrapped Jesus. Instead, a whole new round of controversy was sparked when the carbon dating labs averaged the date of the Shroud as 1260-1390 A.D.

In order to understand the carbon dating of the Shroud and why it may be flawed, carbon dating itself must be understood. Carbon dating is, in the simplest sense, a way of checking the age of something that was once alive. It relies on the fact that as things live, they absorb various forms of carbon, one of which is the radioactive Carbon-14. After something dies, the amount of Carbon-14 in it decreases slowly due to decay. Carbon dating allows the amount of Carbon-14 remaining to be tested. A larger amount means that the object is newer, and a smaller amount means it is older. Sometimes, carbon dating can be contaminated, such as when it is done to burnt objects, objects which were exposed to radiation, and objects containing multiple different materials from different times.

As it turns out, multiple flaws could have been or were present in the Shroud of Turin's carbon dating. One example is contamination. The Shroud had been in many places over the years, touched by dozens of hands, and wet on multiple occasions. It is probable that the Shroud gained a large amount of bacteria and cells over time, quite possibly interfering with the carbon dating. This hypothesis has not been confirmed; however, there are multiple cases when bacteria has altered the results of carbon dating on other relics, so why not the Shroud?

In addition, the strongest objection to the carbon dating is that there was a repair seam in the area tested. Raymond Rogers, who participated in the carbon dating and was one of its strongest advocates, found a repair seam, made of dyed cotton, in a part of the Shroud cut off for research, which happened to be in the same area as the area being carbon dated. This is incredible evidence against the carbon dating and actually completely undermines its scientific authority, because it shows that something in the patch threw off the date!


To summarize, the Shroud's carbon dating was flawed in at least one way, which destroys its scientific and historical authority. While the carbon dating theory has been broken down, it is important to keep in mind that this doesn't mean the Shroud isn't from the time established. However, the historical evidence examined above is sufficient reason to believe that the Shroud dates well before 1260. All in all, the history of the Shroud provides strong evidence for its authenticity as a relic of Jesus, and the carbon dating does not infringe on this evidence.

Gio Di Russo


Wilson, Ian. The Turin Shroud. London: V. Gollancz, 1978. Print.

Wilson, Ian. The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic Is Real. New York: Free, 1998. Print.

"Da Vinci Invention of the Shroud of Turin." Leonardo Da Vinci Biography. 26 Feb. 2008. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. 

"Leonardo da Vinci." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2011. Web. 14 Mar. 2011. <>.

Adams, Stephen. "Turin Shroud 'Could Be Genuine as Carbon-Dating Was Flawed.'" 10 Apr. 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <>.

Manseau, Peter. "A New Look at an Old Cloth: In Advance of Its First Showing in a Decade, the Shroud of Turin Is Ready for Its Close-Up ... and a Fresh round of Controversy." Search-DC May 2009. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

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