Debunking The Shroud: Made by Human Hands

(Editor's Note: I am very pleased to make this collection of articles and letters available on this website and wish to thank the following organizations and individuals for granting permission to reprint their materials: the Biblical Archaeology Society and Bridget Young, its Executive Director, Gary Vikan, Walter C. McCrone, Prof. Daniel Scavone, Prof. Karlheinz Dietz, John Markwardt, Mario Latendresse, Rev. Albert Dreisbach, Mark Guscin, Joseph Marino, Emanuela Marinelli, Gino Zaninotto, Dr. Stephen Mattingly and Dr. Alan Whanger). I would also like to thank Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez for sending me the issue of BAR with the Shroud article last November and encouraging me to act on it.

Click on the links below to go directly to the section of your choice or scroll down the page in the usual manner.

Table of Contents:

Debunking The Shroud: Made by Human Hands
by Gary Vikan - Original Article reprinted from Biblical Archaeology Review

The Shroud Painting Explained by Walter C. McCrone - Sidebar to Original Article

Letters to the Editor - Reader responses published by Biblical Archaeology Review

Deconstructing the "Debunking" of the Shroud by Daniel Scavone and an international group of researchers - Previously unpublished responses to the article

Comments on the Radiocarbon Dating of the Turin Shroud by Dr. Stephen Mattingly - Previously unpublished response to the article

"A Letter to Hershel Shanks, Editor of BAR" by Dr. Alan Whanger - Previously unpublished response to the article

Debunking The Shroud

Made by Human Hands


Gary Vikan

Reprinted from Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1998
Volume 24 Number 26 - Copyright 1998 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

Visit the Biblical Archaeology Society Website for more information about their organization.

When the Shroud of Turin went on display this spring for the first time in 20 years, it made the cover of Time magazine with the blurb "Is this Jesus?" In BAR, we summarized the controversy that has enshrouded this relic, venerated for centuries as the burial cloth of Jesus ("Remains to Be Seen," Strata, Julyl August 1998, p 13).

Following Time's lead, we reported that although radiocarbon tests have dated the shroud to 1260-1390 A. D., no one has been able to account for the shadowy image of a naked 6-foot-tall man that appears on the shroud. With bloodstains on the back, wrists, feet, side and head the image appears to be that of a crucified man. The details - the direction of the flow of blood from the wounds, the placement of the nails through the wrists rather than the palms - displays a knowledge of crucifixion that seems too accurate to have been that of a medieval artist.

But two of BAR's savvy readers have objected to our assessment. The following articles suggest there is no reason to doubt that the image, as well as the cloth, was produced in the Middle Ages.- Ed (BAR)

Nothing puzzles and intrigues the sindonologist - the student of the Shroud of Turin - more than the supposed mystery of how the image on the shroud was made. "It doesn't look like any known work of art," they say. The implication is that its creation was somehow miraculous, perhaps caused by a sudden burst of cosmic energy as the cloth came into contact with the dead body of Jesus. But in fact, it is simply historical ignorance of what the shroud really is (or at least, what it pur-ports to be) that leads these people to wrongheaded notions. The Shroud of Turin is not, by definition, a work of art but instead belongs to the long and revered tradition of sacred objects that are at once relics and icons.

Such objects first appeared during the sixth century, in the Holy Land; in Greek they are called acheiropoietai (singular, acheiropoietos), which means "not made by human hands." They are called this because they are (apparently) contact impressions of holy bodies. They have become relics through physical contact with the sacred, and they are icons because of the resultant image; but in neither case is there (by definition, at least) any intervention by an artist.

Among the earliest acheiropoietai is the Column of the Flagellation, in Jerusalem. This relic (the column) appears for the first time in fifth-century historical sources, which describe its location in the Church of Holy Sion; but it is only in the sixth century that pilgrims began to see the image of Jesus' hands and chest impressed into its stone surface, left there, presumably, as Jesus was bound in place for the flagellation.

The most characteristic form of acheiropoietos, however, is the holy cloth. According to legend, St. Veronica stepped forward to wipe the sweat from Jesus' brow as he stumbled toward Calvary, and her towel already transformed into a relic through that holy contact miraculously retained the image of Jesus' face. Known as Veronica's Veil, the relic became one of the most famous acheiropoietai of the Middle Ages.* Another such cloth image (also generated by perspiration) was produced on the night of the betrayal, as Jesus prayed intently at Gethsemane. And then there is the Shroud of Turin, seemingly produced by blood, blood plasma and sweat absorbed from Jesus' dead body at the time of entombment (see box, p. 29).

Several reputed examples of each of these holy-iconcloths have surfaced over the centuries. At least three dozen cloths have been identified as Veronica's Veil, the Holy Shroud, and the like. In 12th-century Constantinople alone, there were two iconic burial shrouds and one Gethsemane towel, each of which was eventually destroyed. What sets the Shroud of Turin apart is not what it is, but rather how it, almost alone among its object type, has survived more or less intact to modern times.

But the more important point is this: The Shroud of Turin is not and never was a "work of art" in the conventional sense of that term. And in fact, were it in any way to look like a work of art-something made by human hands-this would imme-diately disqualify it from being what it is supposed to be: an acheiropoietos.

This is the catch-22 that sindonologists fail to appreciate: For the shroud to be the shroud, it more or less has to look the way it looks. Furthermore, the shroud is in no way unique in appearance among its object type. The single salient quality that these sacred objects share is that very quality that is so striking about the shroud-namely, a faint and elusive image seemingly pro-duced by bodily secretions.

How is it, finally, that we know for certain that the Shroud of Turin is a fake? Without prejudicing the possibility that one or more among history's several dozen acheiropoietai may be genuine, we can be positive that this one cannot, since, according to its carbon 14 dating, it could not possibly have come into contact with the historical Jesus. Yet it would be incorrect to view the Shroud of Turin as just another icon, because it was very clearly, very self-consciously doctored in order to become what millions, until recently, have taken it to be: an image not made by human hands. And these, unlike icons, can only be one of a kind.

The Shroud of Turin was created to deceive. It was manufactured at a time, in western Europe especially, when relics meant pilgrimage and pilgrimage meant money. The competition for both, among rival cities and towns, was intense. And stealing and forgery were both part of the business.

It was also a time when the material remains of Jesus' Passion were very much in vogue, when St. Louis would build Ste. Chapelle solely to enshrine the Crown of Thorns (which had recently been stolen from Constantinopole).

A contemporary model will help us understand this culture in which the blood and gore of Jesus' death carried intense spiritual power. Although Emperor Constantine outlawed crucifixion in 315 AD, the practice as a form of piety-was never com-pletely abandoned. To this day, some members of a lay confraternity of Spanish American Catholics in northern New Mexico, called the Penitentes, are said to practice various forms of extreme body mortification during Holy Week, including self-crucifixion. Thus, the Penitentes understand the physical reality of crucifixion as few before them have. The Penitentes are also known for their artwork; most characteristic are their carved wooden crucifixes, painted blue, which incorporate their firsthand knowledge of crucifixion-specifically, the knowledge that the body eventually turns blue from suffocation.

The carbon 14 dating of the shroud to 1260-1390 A.D. brings us into the world of the Penitentes' patron saint, Francis of Assisi (who died in 1226), to his stigmata (the miraculous wounds on his hands, feet and side) and, especially, to the lay brotherhoods that his piety and his cult of self-mortification engendered. These Christians appreciated and understood Jesus' wounds in a very physical way.

This is the world of the holy shroud; these are the people for whom it would have held special meaning; and these, certainly, are the people for whom it was made. Just as the Penitentes understand the significance of blue-ness, these medieval Christians would have understood that the nails must have gone through Jesus' wrists in order to hold the body to the cross (although in medieval art these wounds are invariably in the palms). And their cult images would match this phys-ical understanding of crucifixion, even to the point of adding human blood, much as the Penitentes add human hair and bone to their cult images. All of which is to say that the indication of nail holes in the wrists and what some claim is the presence of blood on the linen need not add up to a miracle.

Knowing both this and the shroud's car-bon 14 dating of 1260 to 1390 A.D., it is worth returning, finally, to the place and time of the shroud's first appearance in his-torical documents. It is the year 1357, and the shroud is being exhibited publicly to pilgrims. It belongs to a French nobleman, Geofrey de Charnay, and is being displayed in his private chapel in Lirey, a village near Troyes, in northeastern France. The Bishop of Troyes, Henri of Poitiers, is upset because he believes the shroud is a fake; in fact, he has been told this by a man who claims to have painted it. Thirty years pass. It is now 1389, and Henri's successor, Pierre d'Archis, writes a long letter of protest about the shroud to Pope Clement VII. He recalls his predecessor's accusation and then goes on to state his own con-viction "that the Shroud is a product of human handicraft ... a cloth cunningly painted by a man." He pleads with the Pope to end its public display. The Pope's written reply is cautious but clear; the shroud may still be displayed, but only on the con-dition that a priest be in attendance to announce to all present, in a loud and intelligible voice, without any trickery, that the aforesaid form or representation [the shroud] is not the true burial cloth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only a kind of painting or picture made as a form or representation of the burial cloth.

This was the true verdict-the correct verdict-from the Pope, issued less than four decades after the shroud was painted. And isn't it ironic that it has taken 600 years to get essentially the same answer-but this time from the offices of an international team of scientists?

Gary Vikan is the Director of the Prestigious Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Shroud Painting Explained

(Sidebar to Vikan Article)


Walter C. McCrone

Reprinted from Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1998
Volume 24 Number 26 - Copyright 1998 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

I beg to differ with the recent statement in BAR (and in Time magazine) that "no one has been able to account for the image" on the Shroud of Turin.

Nearly 20 years ago the Catholic Church invited me to determine chemically what the image is on the Shroud of Turin.

I obtained 32 samples from the shroud: 18 from areas where there are images both of a body and of bloodstains) and 14 from non-image areas (some from clear areas that served as controls, others from scorch and water stains caused by a fire in 1532). The samples were taken with squares of sticky tape, each of which exceeded a square inch in area and held more than 1,000 linen fibers and any materials attached to the shroud. They were excellent samples. I used standard forensic tests to check for blood. I found none. There is no blood on the shroud.

To determine what substances are present in the shroud images, I conducted tests based on polarized light microscopy. I identified the substance of the body-and-blood images as the paint pigment red ochre, in a collagen tempera medium. The blood image areas consist of another pigment, ver-milion, in addition to red ochre and tempera. These paints were in common use during the Middle Ages.

The paint on the shroud was dilute (0.01 percent in a 0.01 percent gelatin solution). I made up such a paint and an artist friend, Walter Sanford, painted an excellent shroud-like image (see photo at right and my book Judgement Day for the Shroud [Chicago: Mccrone Research Institute, 1996]. pp.145.149). Known as grisaille, the style of the painting, with its very faint, monochromatic image, was also common in the 14th century.

Based on the complete absence of any reference to the shroud before 1356, Bishop Henri of Poitiers's statement that he knew' the artist, the 14th-century painting style and my test results, I concluded in two papers published in 1980 that the shroud was painted in 1355 ('to give the paint a year to dry"). A third paper in 1981 confirmed these results with X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray determination of the elements present (iron, mercury and sulfur) in the two paints. Eight years after my published results, the carbon-dating results were reported as 1325 ▒ 65 year - thus confirming my date of 1355.

An expert in microanalysis and painting authentication, Walter C. McCrone is director emeritus of the McCrone Reaearch Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Letters To The Editor

Reprinted from Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1999
Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

BAR Debunked

Well, now that you have successfully debunked the Shroud of Turin, it becomes necessary to debunk you. Please cancel my subscription ASAP.

Reverend Thomas J. Calpin
Darby, Pennsylvania

The Chinks in Their Armor

One of the outstanding attributes of BAR is the airing of both sides of controversies. I am an archaeological chemist and a professor emeritus who has carried out research related to the shroud, and I would like to make several points.

(1) The carbon 14 test: I accept the test date of 1325 A.D. +/- 65 years as having about a 95 percent probability of being correct. However, 5 percent uncertainty for an object having the potential importance of the shroud is intolerably large. More testing must be done. In any chemical analysis, if the sampling is faulty, then the results are highly questionable. Such is the case for the shroud because careful procedures for sampling and testing were ignored in favor of sampling the shroud from its most contaminated area, where it had been handled frequently and where threads from a side panel were woven into the sample. Add to this the possibility that previous attempts at conserving the shroud may have included the application of organic materials. Linen fibrils are hollow, and if organic material diffused slowly into the fibres over a long period of time, a thorough cleaning just before C-14 testing would not remove the interior contamination. However, a large amount of contamination would be necessary to skew the date from about 30 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

(2) According to "The Shroud Painting Explained," by Walter McCrone, (November/December 1998), "There is no blood on the shroud." Professor Alan Adler, a chemist highly skilled in this area of testing, states that the stains on the shroud were from blood. Do you believe a highly skilled microscopist (McCrone) or a highly skilled chemist (Adler)? McCrone found the presence of mercury (from the pigment vermilion) by X-ray fluorescence. XRF happens to be my specialty, and I wrote to McCrone years ago pointing out a misinterpretation of the mercury lines. There is far less mercury present than McCrone believes. Mercury is probably present due to artists touching their paintings with the shroud.

(3) McCrone believes that the image of the body is primarily iron oxide in a collagen tempera medium. Adler and others have shown that at least 90 percent of the iron present on the shroud is bonded to cellulose and is not present as colored iron oxide. Further, Adler has explained the coloration of the body image as due to dehydrative oxidation of cellulose. If even very low concentrations of iron are present in water that is used to ret linen (soaking to decompose the nonfibrous materials), linen will react chemically with this iron, and the iron will be bound to the cellulose. Other scientists and I have found that iron catalyzes the dehydrative oxidation of cellulose, producing a coloration similar to that found on the shroud. Certain highly colored threads, and in particular one outstanding dark thread, run vertically in the shroud and are colored much darker than surrounding threads. The obvious explanation is that these threads probably contain relatively high concentrations of iron (this could be tested may) compared with their neighbors, and iron caused these threads to darken more when the image was formed. Certainly these dark threads were not painted by an artist. Also the body image penetrates only a minute distance into the linen. It seems impossible that a painter could reproduce this, particularly because the image is fuzzy and vague and can only be recognized from a distance of several feet.

(4) One of McCrone's shroud paintings was tested by a chemist in my presence, and several tests proved this painting to be unlike the Shroud of Turin, thus debunking the debunker.

(5) Swiss and Israeli scientists have found pollen particles on the shroud from plants found only in the region of Israel. It is most unlikely that these particles could have been transferred by wind from Israel to France or Spain, where the shroud was 'made" according to Gary Vikan ('Debunking the Shroud: Made by Human Hands, November/ December 1998).

(6) Some correct three-dimensional information is present in the shroud image. When artists tried to make sketches containing three-dimensional information, only grossly distorted 3-D images resulted when tested with special instrumentation. An artist in the 14th century could not even conceive that a painting could incorporate 3-D information, let alone be able to produce such a painting.

7) McCrone claims there is a complete absence of any mention of the shroud before 1356. The Mandylion, a relic showing the face of Jesus Christ on a cloth, was famous for centuries and was displayed many times to the public. Many believe that the Mandylion, which disappeared when Constantinople was sacked in 1204, is indeed the shroud (this is the hypothesis of the British historian Ian Wilson). if so, then the shroud was mentioned frequently throughout history.

(8) Vikan writes, "The shroud is in no way unique in appearance among its object type." Other art historians vehemently disagree with Vikan. It is my understanding that the others feel the concept and style of the shroud are unique. If Vikan does not agree with this, he should produce photographs of the other shrouds or objects that he talks about.

(9) Of the 14th-century bishops' letters to the Pope claiming the shroud was a fake, Vikan says, 'The competition for [relics and pilgrimages] ... was intense. And stealing and forgery were both part of the business." Perhaps false reports that a competitor's relic was a fake was also "part of the business."

(10) There are icons predating 1300 A.D. and coins made before 1000 A.D. that have the same details as the facial image of the shroud; these could have influenced a later painter. But if the shroud were copied from some previous representation of Christ, why is it unique in showing nail holes through the wrists and a totally naked figure of Christ, both front and back? In fairness to both sides of this controversy, I believe that BAR should have an article written by some of the "pro- shroud" experts, and I think that it would be great if BAR would fund a project by McCrone to reproduce the image of the Shroud of Turin (the face only would be sufficient, plus some bloodstains). Then let others, such as Professor Adler, test the McCrone shroud and publish the results. Finally, I hope that BAR will lend its weight toward convincing the Vatican that the shroud must be tested further. Incidentally, in 1978 some scientists who studied the shroud thought they would make short work of it and prove it was a fake. They failed.

Giles F. Carter
Clemson, South Carolina

Walter McCrone responds to this and the following letters at the end of this section.

The Case is Far from Closed

While I am not a scientist, I must take issue with the articles "Debunking the Shroud" by Gary Vikan and "The Shroud Painting Explained," by Walter McCrone. According to Vikan, the shroud 'has to look the way it looks" in order to fool people into accepting it as genuine. This is not evidence that it is not genuine. If the shroud were real, it would also look genuine. Similarly, the fact that there were many other fakes is not evidence that the shroud is a fake. While there may be many fake Van Goghs out there, it does not prove that the real ones are fakes.

On the shroud we find many previously unknown details of the scourging and crucifixion, not just the evidence, mentioned in the article, that nails went through the wrist. For example, the "full cap" rather than "crown" nature of the thorns, the almost entire body coverage of the scourges (those of a known Roman scourge, the flagrum taxillatum) and the width of the side wound (on the shroud the wound is 1.6 inches, which matches the maximum width of known ancient Roman lances). There are other details on the shroud that are hard to imagine as the work of a forger: a bruised left kneecap, broken nasal cartilage, a large contusion around the right eye socket and cheekbone, and multidirectional blood flow consistent with the changing position of the body during the agony of crucifixion. There are also indications of clotted blood and fresh bleeding on the shroud, just as you might expect if some time had elapsed between the beating and the crucifixion.

How can Walter McCrone be so sure, based on 32 sticky tape samples, that "there is no blood on the shroud," especially since others have found blood? Specifically John Heller and Alan Adler, who found iron, characteristic porphyrin fluorescence, +hemochromogen tests, +cyanmethemoglobin tests, +bile pigments +protein (specifically albumin), correct forensic appearance, indicative reflection and micro spectrophotometric transmission spectra when examining the shroud (A Chemical Investigation of the Shroud of Turin," Canadian Society of Forensic Science journal 14:3 [1981], pp. 81-103). All indicate the presence of blood.

An excellent rebuttal of McCrone's analysis of the shroud can be found in The Sbroud of Turin and the C-14 Dating Fiasco; A Scientific Detective Story, by Thomas W. Case (Cincinnati: White Horse Press, 1996).

Richard B. Trombley
Saline, Michigan

Unanswered Questions

Thanks for the scholarly pieces by Gary Vikan and Walter McCrone debunking the Shroud of Turin. It is good to see BAR weigh in on the subject, not surprisingly on the negative side. However, I don't think either of the articles is going to be the final word on the subject.

Vikan's article suffers from excessive faith in carbon 14 testing and his inattention to all the mysteries of the shroud, including the pollen spores on it and the three-dimensional characteristics of the image. The presence on the shroud of massive amounts of pollen spores found only in the Middle East is a strong argument against Vikan's theory, since the shroud, during the portion of its history we're sure of, has never traveled to the Middle East. And the greater part of Vikan's article-his discussion of the creation of medieval "relics'-begs the question. Such a discussion has nothing to do with the history of the shroud- unless one starts with the presupposition that Vikan's theory is correct!

As for McCrone, his data aren't new, and his results have been strongly attacked ever since he first published them. True, McCrone can claim-with some justification-that his critics are hardly disinterested observers. But there is also reason to question Mr. McCrone's own objectivity and disinterestedness in view of some of his public statements on the matter. Walter Sanford's artwork is interesting and looks remarkably similar to reproductions of the Shroud of Turin. But is it three-dimensional? If not (as I suspect), how does Mr. McCrone account for that characteristic in the image on the shroud?

Bill Love
Hinsdale, Ilinois

The Biblical Evidence

Have the shroud investigators looked at the Scriptures? John 20:6-7 tells us that when Peter went into Jesus' tomb he found that the cloth about Jesus' head was not lying with the linen clothes but was wrapped up in a place by itself. Therefore Jesus' burial cloth was at least two pieces, not one like the shroud. In all the articles and TV programs I've seen on the shroud, I've never heard these verses quoted.

Richard H. Feeck
Winter Haven, Florida

Scientists Take Note

The shroud is Jesus' gift to those who need scientific evidence. It's too bad that these people opt for the pseudoscience that supports their beliefs rather than going where the real evidence points!

Benjamin A. Wiech
North Tonawanda, New York

The Testimony of a Crusader

Gary Vikan mentions that the Shroud of Turin has been dated to 1260-1390 A.D. and that in 12th-century Constantinople there were two ironic burial shrouds. While working on my doctoral dissertation, I came upon a description of one such shroud, by Robert de Clari, a knight from Picardy and a participant in the Fourth Crusade. Upon his return to Picardy, in about 1205, he composed, in French, a chronicle that contains the following passage, given here in translation: "There was a Church which was called of My Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, where there was the shroud (syndoines) in which Our Lord had been wrapped, which every Friday, raised itself upright so that one could see the form (figure) of Our Lord on it, and no one either Greek or French, ever knew what became of this shroud (syndoines) when the city was taken [by the Crusaders]" (Robert de Clari, La Conquete de Constantinople, ed. Ph. Lauer [Paris, 19241, P. 90, 11.42-50). The word syndoines (with a final s denoting subject case) is a quite normal development of Latin sindonem from Greek sindon, "shroud." The reason that this passage of Robert's chronicle did not catch the attention of students of the shroud is this: An English translation (by E.H. McNeal, New York, 1936) does not translate syndoines and gives 'features" for figure, which suggested that Robert meant the image of the face of Jesus [which would have made the object one of a number of Veronica's Veils-Ed.].

In the 15th century, figure could not mean anything but 'outline" or 'form.' (French figure acquired the meaning "features" or "face" only in the 18th century.) Another English translation (by E.N. Stone, Seattle, 1939), much less known but more nearly correct, offers 'shroud" for syndoines and 'form" for figure. Indeed, Robert could not possibly have been talking about the True Image of St. Veronica, but about the wrapping of a body, i.e., a shroud. I have published a more detailed account of Robert's statement in Shroud Spectrum International (March 1982).

Peter F. Dembowski
Department of Romance Languages
University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

The Dismal Science

Gary Vikan argues that the Shroud of Turin could easily have been forged in the Middle Ages, as the knowledge of crucifixion that is portrayed on that object was available from the ritual practices of groups like the Penitentes. He is certainly right in his belief that the shroud was forged, but he need not resort to such obscure groups to explain this arcane knowledge. Though crucifixion was outlawed in the late Roman Empire, it continued widely in other societies of which medieval Europeans had intimate knowledge, most notably in the Muslim world. The most famous instance is perhaps that of the great Sufi mystic al-Hallaj, who was crucified in Baghdad in 922, but crucifixion continued to be used for criminals and political prisoners. Thus details of crucifixion were easily available to any European who had traveled to the Islamic world during the Crusades.

Philip Jenkins
Professor of History and Religious Studies
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

Bad Dates

Your recent articles about the Shroud of Turin do not do justice to the controversy. Gary Vikan claims that 'the shroud is in no way unique in appearance among its object type." If that were true, then Vikan could have given us one or two examples. One of the first noticed oddities of the shroud is that it resembles a photographic negative, although it was produced before the development of photography. So the presumed forger would have lacked both means and motive to produce such a cloth. Perhaps Vikan can begin his demonstration by showing us some other medieval negatives.

The photographic nature of the shroud is so clear that two prominent shroud debunkers, Picknett and Prince, explain the shroud as secret, primitive photography by Leonardo Da Vinci. Alas, DaVinci was born a hundred years too late to account for the shroud. Too late, unless, of course, Da Vinci also dabbled in secret, primitive time travel. A visit to a library or bookstore will reveal at least half a dozen other oddities of the Shroud, a number of which cannot be explained by the forgery theory.

However, Vikan does not seem to wish to prove his case by exhibiting to us other objects that are inexplicable in the same ways as the shroud. Instead, he simply relies on the radiocarbon dating of the shroud. For whatever reason, he seems to be unaware that several Mesoamerican and Egyptian artifacts have been wrongly dated by radiocarbon dating. The story of their bad dating is told in The Blood and the Shroud by Ian Wilson. Some objects, linens among them, accumulate a microscopic layer of living bacteria. This layer of bacteria is very easy to miss and resists cleaning methods commonly used before radiocarbon dating.

David Zaiteff
Seattle, Washington

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

Those of us who have kept abreast of the Turin Shroud research over the last 30 years can only shake our heads in pity as Walter McCrone trots out his tired old iron-oxide-and-gelatin-paint horse once again, ignoring the basic scientific fact that the fibrils that make up the image area on the cloth show no trace of any pigment material whatsoever. All of the other chemists and physicists who have examined these fibrils under powerful microscopes, plus infrared and ultraviolet rays, agree that the image fibrils are darkened due to severe oxidative dehydration, i.e., they were shriveled by heat, just as a quick, light scorching (or acid burning) of the linen would have produced. The explanations of McCrone (and well-intentioned but ill-informed commentators like Gary Vikan) are even less believable than the possible authenticity of the shroud. Come on, Walter, put that old horse out to pasture!

Ronald L. Byrnes
Berkeley, California

Negative Proof

I can hardly believe that an intelligent man like Walter McCrone could have given as an example a painting by his artist friend Walter Sanford-a painting in the positive! Did you all forget that the Shroud is in the negative? Photography wasn't even invented until the 19th century, so how could the Penitentes have painted a full portrait in the negative? Come on, you men---start thinking.

God left a photograph of himself taken at his resurrection. Jesus said, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

I dare you to print this letter.

P.S. I love your magazine!

T.C. Christman
Royal Oak, Michigan

Walter C. McCrone Responds

Any objective chemist would be convinced by my detailed articles1 and book, Judgement Day for the Turin Shroud,2 in which I argue that the shroud is a beautiful medieval painting. I am expert in using microscopical methods to identify the pigments, media and supports for each paint used in a painting. I have examined several hundred paintings, by artists from Giotto to Pollock, submitted to me by dealers, auction houses and collectors in order to authenticate them.

When I began my study of the 32 sticky tapes taken from body-image, blood-image, scorched and clean areas of the shroud, I looked for body fluids, especially blood. However, I immediately saw thousands of tiny red ochre particles in the image areas. The more I looked at these tapes, the more I became convinced that the image was paint. Subsequently, I found a second red pigment with the red ochre, but only in blood-image areas. I tested for blood by several recognized forensic tests (benzidine, luminol, Teichman, phenolphtbalein and sulfuric acid plus ultraviolet fluorescence). I might add that I am a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and have worked on, and testified in court on, forensic cases.

I and an artist friend of mine have prepared shroudlike images on linen using diluted blood as a paint and examined sticky tapes from those images. There were no particles of blood, much less red particles. Dried blood is brown and present on my dilute blood-painted shroud tapes as a continuous brown gel-like smear. My colleagues at McCrone Associates used X-ray fluorescence and X-ray and electron diffraction on the samples, which confirmed my research in every respect.

I object 100 percent to all pro-shroud claims.

*Carbon dating-three world-class laboratories in the United States, England and Switzerland analyzed clean shroud samples and three other known-date cloths with agreement on all four cloths, and they did a good job of cleaning the samples. Only a few pro-shroud individuals disagree with their conclusion: 1325 +/- 65 years.

*Blood tests-I stand by my claim that there is no blood on the shroud. Anyone claiming there is guilty of wishful thinking and speaking from their belief in a first-century shroud.

*Mercury---the presence of mercuric sulfide as the pigment vermilion (in a form invented by alchemists in about 700 A.D. is proved microchemically, by X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence. All of the seven blood-image tapes showed thousands of vermilion pigment particles dispersed on the linen fibers.

*Iron oxide (red ochre) as image- -neither Adler nor anyone else has shown that 90 percent of the iron is bonded to cellulose and is not present as colored iron oxide. This ludicrous statement is an out-and-out misrepresentation of the facts. Anyone making such a statement is either not a microscopist or is incompetent or lying. The explanation of the shroud image as due to debydrative oxidation of the cellulose is balderdash-absolutely impossible; 99 percent of the iron on the shroud is readily visible to a microscopist x micron-sized red particles of high refractive index bound to the linen with a dried gelatin paint medium.

*Pollen-Max Frei has been shown to have misled all of us with his report of 54 different species of pollen, all from the Near East, on the shroud.3 There were very few pollen grains an his tapes (I examined them very carefully).

*Three-dimensional images-I taught a noted Chicago portrait artist, Walter Sanford, to paint "shrouds" with convincing 3-D and negative images.

*History of the shroud-there is no credible evidence for the shroud before 1356, and the bishop at the time said he knew the artist who painted it. I can't go on. Some people believe so strongly in a real Christ's shroud that they 'see' anything that would be there if real. From my experience as a painting authenticator, the shroud is authentic-a beautiful and inspired authentic painting.

1See for example, Walter C. McCrone, 'The Shroud of Turin: Blood or Artist's Pigments?' Accounts of Chemical Research 5:23 (1990), pp. 77-83.
2McCrone, Judgement Day for the Turin Shroud (Chicago: McCrone Research Institute, 1996).
3McCrone, Judgement Day, pp. 291-308.

Deconstructing the "Debunking" of the Shroud


Daniel Scavone, Professor of History, University of Southern Indiana, USA
Karlheinz Dietz, Professor of History, University of WŘrzburg, Germany
John Markwardt, Historian, USA
Mario Latendresse, Physics, University of Montreal, Canada
Albert Dreisbach, Historian, USA
Mark Guscin, Classics Instructor, Spain
Joseph Marino, Librarian, The Ohio State University
Emanuela Marinelli, Classicist, Rome, Italy
Gino Zaninotto, Classicist, Rome, Italy

Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

In this (previously unpublished) response to Gary Vikan's article (B.A.R. Nov.-Dec. 1998), the authors do not attempt to prove that the Turin Shroud (TS) is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus Christ or to insist that its image was miraculously formed. Rather, since the TS is obviously an object as important to its active opposition as to its defenders, it is therefore important to point out why the arguments of Gary Vikan, a noted scholar, fall short of refuting it. Surprisingly, Vikan repeated several old fallacies about the TS that have already and often been addressed and dismissed by scholarship, both in the U.S. and abroad. Surprising, too, are the mistakes of fact that are inconsistent with his own high level of scholarship, such as placing the story of Veronica's veil in the 4th-century Acts of Peter. This text does not mention Veronica and is dated to the 2nd c. It is of the highest importance that readers recognize that supporters of the TS are among the most sceptical inquirers into its history and science. Nobody wants to hold positions that are easily disproved, and the way to avoid this is to do the research.

The Shroud Claimed as a Medieval Work of Art
To support his claim that the TS is a man-made icon, Vikan asserted that the TS is "in no way unique in appearance" and that "three dozen" similar cloths competed with it during the Middle Ages. These, he said, still share its striking faint and elusive image, seemingly produced by bodily secretions. It is a bold claim and seems to put an end to argument. But this claim is provably baseless. Vikan did not produce one example because, in fact, there is none. The claim of forty-two "medieval shrouds" was first announced in 1902 by Franšois de Mely, who even named the towns whose inventories "mentioned" them. Most of Mely's "shrouds" were listed by a common formula, de sudario, meaning merely "a piece of the sudarium/shroud" known and often cited in Constantinople between 944 and 1204. Vikan has simply repeated Mely's error. All Mely's other "claimants" that can be seen today are artists' grotesque copies of the TS; none of them presents the realistic and faint image seen on the TS today. Don Luigi Fossati has produced photographs of 52 early painted copies of the TS (Fossati 1984).

The Penitentes
Vikan's claim that modern-day Penitentes who practice self-crucifixion and therefore understand the physical realities of crucifixion is, in fact, disproved by his own illustration of a blue-body crucifix. Those nails in the palms (without supportive ropes) tell us, rather, that they do not understand how to crucify. Sixty years ago, the experiments of Dr. Pierre Barbet who affixed human cadavers to crosses proved that nails through the palms would not support the weight of the victim. Seeking the skilled artist of the figure on the TS, Vikan identified certain pious, loving disciples of St. Francis of Assisi (died 1226). We are asked to believe that though devoted to Francis, they nevertheless put the nail wounds in their image's wrists, ignoring their beloved Francis' own stigmata, which manifested itself in his palms. If Vikan is right elsewhere that "the TS was created to deceive" (nothing on the TS indicates intentionality), it was these devout friars who were the deceivers. Those examples of medieval and modern penitentes are non-sequiturs that do not support Vikan's case.

And, finally, nothing in Vikan's article explains why two head-to-head and totally naked images of Jesus--on a cloth--would appeal to the mindset of the Middle Ages. Rather, Jesus' nakedness would have been repugnant to Medieval Christians, and in fact, Mely now refuted, there is and never was anything else like it in all Gothic--or ancient--art.

The D'Arcis Memorandum
Past Sindonoclasts (Shroud opponents), and now Gary Vikan, think they are revealing a historical coup against the TS when they cite this document. If the d'Arcis Memorandum (the Memo) is to be used as evidence, it should be assessed as all historical documents are: in detail and in its historical context. At least eight other documents clarify and even tend to impugn the Memo.

Doc. A. The Memorandum of Bishop Pierre D'Arcis of Troyes Addressed to Anti-Pope Clement VII in Avignon (1389)
D'Arcis states: "About" 1355 the church at Lirey procured a cloth on which, in a subtle manner, was depicted a twofold image which was falsely declared to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus. This was done to procure money from the multitudes attracted to the church. At that time Bishop Henri de Poitiers of Troyes held an inquest at which an unnamed artist stated it had been manually depicted. This resulted in Henri ordering its removal from the church.

The reader should note that this document alone, of those relating to the Lirey Shroud, cites this inquest. D'Arcis, who has never seen the Lirey cloth, goes on (paraphrased): Now I hear it has been replaced in the church to raise money. Its owner, Geoffroy II de Charny, claims it had been removed to safety by order of Henri because of the (Hundred Years) war then raging. Now it is spread about that I want the cloth myself. Geoffroy II has obtained from your Holiness a Brief (Doc. C) confirming permission to display the cloth, while I, as I hear, am ordered to perpetual silence.

The Other Documents

Doc. B. Bishop Henri's only letter addressed to Geoffroy I de Charny, original owner of the TS--dated 28 May 1356--mentions no inquest. In it Henri praises Geoffroy's piety and "... as we have been informed by legal documents, we praise, ratify, and approve a divine cult of this sort." The TS is not mentioned, and Henri has not gone to Lirey, but has "been informed." This letter denies the claims of d'Arcis. D'Arcis, a lawyer, who elsewhere carefully cites documents, cites no dated official documents in his Memorandum, saying only that the inquest had been held "about" 1355.

Doc C. Anti-Pope Clement VII's Brief to Geoffroy II, dated 28 July 1389 (about five months before the Memorandum of Bishop d'Arcis). Clement acknowledges the Charnys' religious motives for showing the cloth and agrees that it had been removed from the church and brought to safety because of war and pestilence. He permits the showing of the cloth publicly, but calling it a "figure or representation," and on Bishop d'Arcis, Clement imposes "perpetual silence." The Brief mentions no inquest, artist, or scandal.

Doc. D. Letter from King of France Charles VI to the Bailly of Troyes, dated 4 August 1389. "The Bishop of Troyes has stated before our Curia that the church in Lirey is displaying a certain handmade and artificially depicted cloth as if it were the true Sudarium Christi." The king commands the Bailly "to get the cloth and bring it to me so that I might relocate it in another church in Troyes."

An observant attorney might ask why, just months before the drafting of his Memo, d'Arcis, a canon lawyer, did not cite the damning evidence of Henri's inquest or the name of the artist? Had he done so, it would surely have been recited in the King's letter. Instead, the King mentions only d'Arcis' charge, not Henri's charge, that the image on the cloth was handmade. Fr. Herbert Thurston, first English translator of the Memorandum and a sindonoclast himself, noted this, adding that d'Arcis feared that the King would be able to verify its truth (Thurston, p. 26).

Doc. E. Report of the Bailly of Troyes, dated 15 August 1389, says, in essence: We went to the church at Lirey but the Dean would not hand it over to us, and we did not proceed further in the matter.

Doc. F. Letter from the First Sergeant of the King to the Bailly of Troyes, dated 5 September 1389: The writer says he officially announced to the Dean and to Geoffroy II that the cloth was verbally made the property of the King. Nothing, in the end, came of this.

Doc. G. Clement's letter to Bishop d'Arcis, dated 6 January 1390: Written after the Memo but not referring to it, as was customary, this letter says that the cloth was replaced in the church with Clement's permission, despite the Bishop's prohibition, and any opposing action would be visited with excommunication.

Doc. H. Papal Bull of Clement VII, dated 6 January 1390, admits he has changed his mind. First he repeats the words of his letter to Geoffroy II of 28 July 1389. He again orders d'Arcis to perpetual silence. Then follow the modifications: To remove every chance of error or idolatry in the display of the cloth, we ordain that whenever said figure or representation is displayed, one should announce loud and clear that it is not the true Sudarium of the Lord, but a picture or copy only.

Doc. I. Papal Bull also dated 1 June 1390. Six months later Clement again changed his mind. He again supports the Lirey shroud, making no mention of idolatry. Here is the gist: Since we have heard that crowds go to Lirey out of devotion to the cloth, we, desiring to encourage this pilgrimage, enlarge the indulgence for the faithful who visit said church annually at Christmas, etc. And we strictly prohibit anyone, of whatever rank, from appropriating or usurping the offerings of the faithful.

In summary, not one of these primary documents from 1356 to 1390, aside from the Memorandum, refers to an inquest or artist in 1355. Rather, Henri's letter praised Geoffroy I (Doc. B). Anti-Pope Clement VII in the end granted more indulgences than ever to visitors to Lirey (Doc. I). The documents also force us to conclude that neither Henri nor d'Arcis nor Clement ever saw the cloth in Lirey.

Most damning to those who would base their case against the TS on the Memorandum of Bishop d'Arcis are the following facts. First, all extant copies of the Memo are unsigned, undated drafts with words marked for deletion with the Latin "vacat" in the margin. All other documents discussed here are duly dated. No properly sealed copy of the Memo has ever been discovered in Avignon or Vatican archives. No document of Clement refers to it, suggesting it was never received. Most significantly, the heading of the copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris (Champagne 154, fol. 137) describes it as a letter d'Arcis "intends to write."

Clement's Bull (Doc. I) warns against anyone usurping gifts to the Lirey church. In his Memo, Bishop d'Arcis had shrugged off the notion that he coveted the cloth for his own gain, and he alludes often to greed. These money concerns were not for nothing. The construction of Troyes Cathedral (ca. 1200-1400) had suffered from the effects of The Hundred Years War and the plague, both events of d'Arcis' time. Then around Christmas 1389, precisely when the Memo was drafted (!), the nave of the unfinished Cathedral collapsed, and in 1390 a large rose window fell out. The shoddy work that led to these mishaps may be blamed on d'Arcis himself and caused him guilt, since "symptoms of structural distress had already been observed in the 1380s" (Murray, p. 54).

Is this sufficient evidence to cast a shroud of doubt on d'Arcis' words? Let us hope the d'Arcis Memorandum will be seen for what it really was, a claim by a good but needy bishop under pressure to remedy his own poor judgment in the procuring of building materials for his cathedral, one who was ready to scheme to acquire a relic to attract pilgrims' donations and then was found out and warned against pursuing that plan.

The Pray Codex and Other Relevant Documents
Several documents not mentioned by Vikan must be discussed briefly, as they speak to the question of the TS's antiquity. First is the Hungarian Pray manuscript, dated by its editor to 1192-1195, a time when a full-length shroud image was well documented in Constantinople (as it was until 1204). One of its naively-drawn illustrations shows Jesus lying on the sepulchral slab, which the artist has depicted with a sort of herring-bone weave and with the 4-hole "burn" pattern identical to that on the TS. This pattern also appears on the Lierre copy dated 1516, i.e., before the fire of 1532 which caused all the other fire damage. It is a visual feature so unique and precise as not to be refuted. Also, Jesus' hands are folded and the thumbs are absent, as on the TS today. It is clear that the artist who produced the illustrations of the shroud in the Pray codex had seen the TS. If this is, as it seems, proof of the existence of the TS in 1192, then it cannot be true that the Lirey/Turin Shroud was recently painted in Lirey ca.1355, as Bishop d'Arcis claimed in his draft Memo.

A sindon (New Testament word for "burial wrap") fitting the description of the TS was seen by crusader Robert de Clari in Constantinople in 1203, just before it was lost sight of. When this image-on-cloth arrived in Constantinople (15 August 944), it had immediately been remarked as extremely faint with bloodstains on its face and side ("Narration on the Edessa Image" and "Sermon of Gregory Referendarius"). These and other primary sources reported that it had come from Edessa, where a cloth-borne image of Jesus' face "made with special paints" was known in the 4th c. In the 6th c. Acts of Thaddaeus it was cited as a strange and miraculous (acheiropoietos) image on a sindon. These are documents a historian may not dismiss out of hand as he inquires into how and why the very idea of this unique twin image of a crucified man on a cloth should ever have been conceived.

It cannot be proved beyond doubt that the TS is the burial wrapping of the body of Jesus, but the arguments so often repeated by sindonoclasts (the most common being that of the alleged numerous Medieval shrouds and the d'Arcis Memorandum) have not proved otherwise. As this cloth continues to be studied into the Millennium, it is important that we, the jury who sit in its judgment, keep an open mind.

Dr. Walter McCrone: "I used standard forensic tests to check for blood. I found none. There is no blood on the shroud." With regard to Dr. Walter McCrone's sidebar, it must be noted that Dr. Victor Tryon, also of the University of Texas-San Antonio, whose expertise is DNA research, has found that the substance called red paint by McCrone contains human DNA, i.e., it is blood. Others have insisted with equal certainty that the shroud image is a Medieval "proto-photo" or a rubbing or a real Medieval crucified body. If the research of those who wish to debunk the TS is accepted, its conclusion must be that the TS is a painting and a photo and a rubbing and a human body transfer.

Works Consulted

Fossati, Don Luigi. La Santa Sindone: Nuova Luce su Antichi Documenti. Rome, 1961, pp. 213-9. Source for the Latin version the d'Arcis Memorandum.

Fossati, Don Luigi. "Copies of the Shroud," Shroud Spectrum, nos. 12 and 13, September and December, 1984.

des-Guerrois de Jesus, M. N., ed. La SainctetÚ Chrestienne. Troyes, 1637. Source for d'Arcis as a lawyer.

de Mely, Franšois. Le St-Suaire de Turin: est-il authentique? Paris, 1902.

Murray, Stephen. Building Troyes Cathedral . Indianapolis, 1987. Lists d'Arcis' financial problems.

de Riant, Paul Edward Didier. Exuviae Sacrae Constantinopolitanae (Religious Spoils of Constantinople), 2 vols. Paris, 1878. Source for medieval pieces de sudario.

Scavone, Daniel. The Shroud of Turin: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, 1989. General study of the TS.

Thurston, Herbert. "The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History." The Month, vol. 101, no. 1, 1903, pp. 17-29 and 162-178. English translation of the d'Arcis Memorandum.

Comments on the Radiocarbon Dating of the Turin Shroud


Dr. Stephen Mattingly
Professor of Microbiology
University of Texas-San Antonio Health Science Center
Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

Editor's Note: Dr. Mattingly is not a "Shroudie." He speaks only from the expertise of his discipline.

The technique of carbon dating the Shroud of Turin by accelerator-mass- spectrometry is scientifically valid in its application (1). However, to have confidence in the results, a complete chemical analysis of the linen should have been performed before and after cleaning the samples. Because of the absence of a chemical analysis before and after cleaning, there is no information concerning the relative effectiveness of the various cleaning treatments. Furthermore, the absence of a chemical analysis violates the most basic principle of analytical biochemistry - know the chemical composition of the material being studied (dated). In that linen is primarily cellulose, which is a high molecular weight polymer composed of glucose, analysis for glucose before and after cleaning would have provided critical information about the relative contamination of the Shroud linen. Several milligrams would have been sufficient to provide this information. Unfortunately this was not done. The editors of Nature failed to provide a critical review of the manuscript and permitted publication without a precise chemical analysis. No one could argue with a carbon dating of a linen that was 90% or greater glucose by weight. Such an analysis proving the chemical homogeneity of the linen would satisfy the biochemist and would have prevented the renewed attack on carbon dating as a valid investigative tool.

What might constitute contamination on the Shroud of Turin? The authors of the manuscript indicate the likely presence of lipids and candlewax, therefore petroleum ether was used to solubilize these possible contaminants resulting in their removal. However, no evidence was provided concerning their removal. Other techniques employed the use of a detergent, various concentrations of sodium hydroxide and hydrocloric acid, a bleaching agent, ethanol, and high temperatures. While these techniques might remove some lipid contaminants and acid or alkali-soluble material, they are insufficient to remove microorganisms. Removal of microorganisms would require the use of specific enzymes to digest bacterial and fungal cell walls, DNA, RNA, protein and various extracellular and storage polymers. Again, only chemical analysis would verify their removal. Why should microorganisms be considered as contaminants? Microorganisms are the most common life forms on the planet and to assume that they would not be present at appreciable levels on a centuries old linen flies in the face of common experience. Consider the expenses and care employed by NASA, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and other institutions in providing microbial-free surfaces and environments. They are obviously aware that microorganism have colonized every exposed surface on the earth. How might they grow on a surface like the Shroud of Turin?

Let us only consider the non-image area of the Shroud that was carbon dated. There is a large diverse group of bacteria, referred to as autotrophs, which obtain their carbon (as carbon dioxide) and nitrogen (from ammonia or nitrogen gas) from the air. They would obtain required trace elements from the fabric, but only use the linen as a surface on which they would colonize and grow. Moisture in the air would serve as a periodic source of water. They would grow slowly over a period of time until their accumulation and death could serve as carbon and nitrogen sources for bacteria known as heterotrophs. Heterotrophs are unable to solely fix carbon and nitrogen from the air. They must have preformed carbon, not gaseous carbon dioxide. However, virtually every living life form (including man) always fixes a small amount of carbon dioxide as organic carbon. Once these organisms began to accumulate they could serve as nutrients for other heterotrophic bacteria as well as fungi, which are also heterotrophs. Thus. a microbial biofilm would accumulate over a period of time on the surface of the Shroud linen. Continuous carbon dioxide fixation as organic carbon would occur at varying rates in the microbial biofilm over time. Thus, in carbon dating the Shroud of Turin with its microbial biofilm, the results would include both the carbon in the linen as well as the carbon in the microbial biofilm. Since the microbial biofilm would still be incorporating modern carbon dioxide into cellular carbon, the resulting carbon date would appear to be more recent then the carbon represented only by the linen. The problem is simply one of contamination. How much of the Shroud linen that was carbon dated is actually linen? The authors of the manuscipt (1) cannot provide this information and thus the results must be regarded as only preliminary. A more scientifically valid carbon dating of the Shroud linen could be accomplished by using enzymes known as cellulases, which would release glucose only from the linen cellulose. The released glucose could then be purified away from contaminants by high pressure liquid chromatographic techniques and the purified glucose dated by accelerator-mass-spectrometry. Until scientifically stringent protocols are followed, the carbon date of the Shroud of Turin must remain uncertain.

Finally, even C14 does not prove the TS to be a painting or the intentionality of its alleged painter.

Dr. Walter McCrone: "I used standard forensic tests to check for blood. I found none. There is no blood on the shroud." With regard to Dr. Walter McCrone's sidebar, it must be noted that Dr. Victor Tryon, colleague of Dr. Mattingly, whose expertise is DNA research, has found that the substance called red paint by McCrone contains human DNA, i.e., it is blood. McCrone's chief claim to notoriety, his discovery that Yale University's "Vinland Map" is a late forgery, has now been refuted; and another of his discoveries, relating to a Rembrandt painting, has been seriously challenged. In all three of these controversies, McCrone has maintained that he alone in confrontation with teams of scientists is right. Other sindonoclasts have insisted with equal certainty that the shroud image is a Medieval "proto-photo," or a rubbing, or a real Medieval crucified body. If sindonoclast research is accepted, its conclusion must be: "The TS is a painting and a photo and a rubbing and a human body transfer."

"A Letter to Hershel Shanks, Editor of BAR"

Dr. Alan Whanger
Previously unpublished response to the article
Copyright 1998 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission

30 November 1998

Mr. Hershel Shanks

This letter is intended for the Queries and Comments Department of BAR

Dear Mr. Shanks:

As a long-term reader of BAR and an internationally known researcher on the Shroud of Turin for nearly twenty years, I wish to comment on two articles in the November-December 1998 issue; namely, "Debunking the Shroud," by Gary Vikan, and "The Shroud Painting Explained," by Walter McCrone. Both of these individuals are chronic antagonists to the Shroud, and I have known them through correspondence since the early 1980s. I have heard Walter McCrone speak on a number of occasions, have read his frequent attacks on the Shroud, and have spent nearly six hours with him in 1988 microscopically examining material taken directly from the Shroud on sticky tapes in 1978 by Max Frei, a Swiss botanist and criminalist.

Both of these "savvy" authors cite essentially the same erroneous materials; namely, that the Shroud was never described prior to 1356 A. D., that it is an artistic production of some sort, and that the medieval radiocarbon dating result of 1988 validly reflected the actual time of origin of the Shroud.

It is almost bizarre that Vikan, who is listed as a specialist in Byzantine art, seems to be oblivious to the fact that the Shroud is plainly described as one of the royal treasures in Constantinople in the year 1201. Far more importantly, the face image on the Shroud is highly accurately depicted in literally hundreds of Byzantine icons, coins, and carvings, beginning about the year 532 A. D. Most depictions of Jesus from that time on are more or less accurately based on the face image on the Shroud. In 30 A.D., the Shroud was folded in eight thicknesses and mounted in a frame so that only the face showed, and sent to King Abgar V in Edessa, the capital of Osrhoene. Our research has shown that this image had an immediate and profound effect on artistic depictions of divinities in the Middle East. These depictions, the first example of which is a statue of Zeus Kyrios found at Dura-Europos and self-dated to 31 A. D., were based on the Shroud face image and demonstrate the onset of artistic frontality.

Strangely, Vikan states that the Shroud is in no way unique in appearance. I have communicated with a number of archaeologists and Egyptologists, and there is no other shroud known that has discernible body images on it. Of course, the Shroud has inspired many copies and imitations, but none of them, including the rather clever one illustrated in McCrone’s article, have the detail of the Shroud images. Image comparison and analysis is one of my specialties, but few people, even those much less-experienced, looking at a side-by-side comparison of the Shroud and a copy, would ever be confused as to which is which. Highly skilled artists who have examined the Shroud images find that they show no known artistic style and they contain many elements of perspective and physiological details unknown in the Middle Ages.

McCrone has publicly stated that he stakes his professional reputation on the Shroud being a fake. This position scarcely encourages objective research. His conclusions are largely based on his examination of material obtained from the Shroud on Mylar sticky tapes by the STURP group in 1978. There are, indeed, linen fibers with paint pigments on them on these tapes, but it has apparently eluded McCrone that these are fibers which translocated to the Shroud from the some fifty-five medieval painted "true copies" which were laid by the artist directly on top of the Shroud as a "brandum." These pigmented fibers have nothing to do with the images on the Shroud other than their proximity to some of the body images, which one would expect considering their origin. In addition, our studies have shown that there are images over most of the Shroud, not just those of the body. McCrone states that he used standard forensic tests to check for blood, and he found none. The standard tests he used are not adequate for testing this material. Later extensive chemical and other tests by blood experts on the same material show conclusively that it is human blood from a severely traumatized individual. McCrone, and those who would believe him, choose to ignore a veritable mountain of scientific evidence and data published in peer-reviewed major journals. These are listed, and often printed out, on the excellent Internet website: .

In common with many who attempt to debunk the Shroud as a medieval painting or production, both Vikan and McCrone cite the sparse, contentious correspondence of some European clerics who denied the authenticity of the Shroud in the latter 14th century as the first documentation of the Shroud and proof that it was a painting. Part of the referred correspondence is of a draft letter only, and reflects the fact that there has always been controversy about the Shroud and its copies.

Both Vikan and McCrone cite the extensively publicized results of the 1988 radiocarbon test of a sample from the Shroud which reported that the linen dates from between 1260 and 1390. One of the carbon daters publicly stated, "We have shown the Shroud to be a fake. Anyone who disagrees with us ought to belong to the flat earth society." We (my wife and co-researcher, Mary and I) knew that this result of the radiocarbon dating was in gross error since we have been able by several means, including the images of many objects enshrouded with the body, to date the origin of the Shroud to the spring of 30 A.D. in Jerusalem. The big question is, of course, how they got such an anomalous date.

If most of the readers of BAR knew what was done and not done in the radiocarbon testing, they too would likely discount the results. In 1986, a group of about twenty experts in various aspects of carbon dating met in Turin for the sole purpose of setting up the protocol for the procedure, knowing that this would be the most complicated and controversial carbon dating ever done. Among the group’s recommendations were the taking of seven samples from seven different places, the use of seven laboratories and two techniques, the careful analysis of the samples to determine their characteristics and contents before the carbon dating itself, the use of careful controls, and the collating and tabulation of the test results before releasing the information to the public.

For reasons that remain very unclear but are suspicious to many of us, shortly before the taking of the sample in 1988, the protocol was completely discarded by the then scientific advisor to the then Cardinal, the Archbishop of Turin, who is custodian of the Shroud. The advisor allowed only one sample to be taken, he (instead of the recommended textile expert) determined where the sample would be removed, used only three of the laboratories and one of the test methods. Many objected to this violation of the protocol but were told basically to get lost if they didn’t like it. When we heard where the single specimen was taken from, we were appalled, as he chose the worst possible site on the Shroud, even though he had been advised to stay away from such areas. The specimen was taken from the lower edge of the Shroud on the side that has the seam running its full length (the anterior aspect), next to the missing corner. This is visibly the dirtiest area on the Shroud (having been handled by this corner on numerous occasions over the centuries), and it is also at the edge of burn marks and a water stain from 1532. The sample taken included the seam which was added at an unknown date probably to help reinforce the Shroud fabric. The seam and some extraneous fibers were trimmed from the specimen. Contrary to the common idea that three different specimens were tested, three pieces were cut from the one specimen, one piece being given to each of the three laboratories so that the single specimen was tested three times, and by a single technique (AMS).

Subsequent testing of a piece of the single specimen showed bacteria and fungi growing inside the linen fibers and a biogenic varnish on some of the threads, none of which would have been removed by the usual cleaning techniques. The specimen was also shown to be chemically radically different from the fibers in the rest of the Shroud. The effects of the fire of 1532 on the carbon 14 content of the fabric are not clear. The test results indicate that the three pieces tested by the radiocarbon dating laboratories were not homogeneous, even though they all came from the same snippet of fabric. We do not argue that the three laboratories did not precisely measure the carbon 14 in the samples they were given, but anyone with even a faint understanding of archaeology knows that a specimen contaminated with additional carbon 14 from any source will give an incorrect date younger than the actual date of the specimen. With only one specimen tested, especially with its known multiple problems of contamination, no valid statement about such a complex object as the Shroud can be made. Therefore, there is no measure of accuracy.

I also beg to differ from the statement in BAR and in Time magazine that "no one has been able to account for the image". Conclusions must be based on careful observation of the Shroud itself. The blood stains are a result of direct contact with blood or blood clots. McCrone notwithstanding, the chemistry of the chromophore making up the image is well-known. It is produced by dehydration and decarboxylation of the cellulose molecules and is extremely superficial on the threads. A number of procedures can produce this effect, but the only one that fits the findings on the Shroud is ionizing radiation. Our research has shown that the image is formed by two types of ionizing radiation, namely, corona or electrostatic discharge from the surface of all objects enfolded in the Shroud, and x-radiation from within the body, showing much of the underlying skeletal system. The real question or mystery is how to account for the radiation, not for the image. The situation of a body disappearing from within a folded shroud with the release of electrons and x-radiation bespeaks of a nuclear event of some type. Such a reaction would also release the neutrons from the atomic nuclei, and the impact of neutrons on carbon and nitrogen is what produces C14. Such an extraordinary event may well account for much of the erroneous radiocarbon dating result.

Our approach has been to document our findings as clearly as possible so that people can review them for themselves and make up their own minds. We are well aware that the images are subtle, faint, fragmentary, often in the negative, characteristic of radiation, and often imbedded in other faint images. Without high-quality photographs, enhancement, experience, and means of accurate comparison, the images are difficult to find and see. Much of the lay and professional media has long been hostile to the Shroud and has refused even to consider publishing positive material on the Shroud.

Because of this, my wife and I wrote a book entitled The Shroud of Turin: An Adventure of Discovery, with 65 illustrations, which was published in February, 1998, by Providence House Publishers. An advertisement for this book is on page 62 of the November-December issue of BAR.

Our work is reviewed by a wide variety of experts before we release it. An example of this is our work on identifying many flower images we found on the Shroud and their significant correlation with pollen grains that are found on sticky tape slides taken by Max Frei in 1973 and 1978. To check on our findings, I went to the world expert on the flora of the Middle East, Botany Professor Avinoam Danin of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Because of his vast knowledge and unusual perception abilities, he was able to discern the floral images almost immediately. Realizing that these images represent a unique botanical and archaeological finding, he began working with us in 1995 and has visited us in Durham, North Carolina, on four occasions to study our photographic, botanical, and other materials. The floral images indicate that the only place in the world that the Shroud could have originated is the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. The common blooming time of the flowers is March and April.

For any who might be interested in looking at the evidence for themselves, I recommend visiting the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin (CSST) website on the Internet, on which there are fifteen of our overlay comparisons as interactive Quicktime movies so that one can do the actual overlay process for oneself. This is most easily found as a link from: .

Many feel that the Shroud of Turin is a unique archaeological artifact which already is the most intensively studied single object in history, and should not be casually dismissed by its detractors. As the late Bernard Baruch said, "Every man has a right to be wrong in his opinions, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts." I look forward to your response, and hopefully to an ongoing dialog in BAR about this fascinating object.

Very sincerely yours,
Alan D. Whanger, M. D.
Professor Emeritus, Duke University Medical Center
Chairman, Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin

Top of Page Main Menu Scientific Papers