The Turin Shroud unravelled: It IS the image of Christ, says Cambridge historian

Millions believe it is conclusive proof that Jesus Christ not only lived, but also rose from the dead. Yet just as many believe the Turin Shroud – the linen sheet in which Christ was buried after his crucifixion – is simply a hoax.

The controversy was thought to have been put to rest in 1988 when carbon dating tests on the yellowing fabric showed it dated from the 14th Century.

But this was put in doubt by claims the tested section of fabric was part of a repair carried out then. Pollen tests also found traces of plants common in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

Now a Cambridge art historian says he believes the Turin Shroud is the genuine cloth Christ was wrapped in after he died on Good Friday… while also controversially claiming that the Resurrection did not happen at all.

Thomas de Wesselow insists Christ’s followers did not see him in the flesh on Easter Sunday, but just his image on his burial shroud. In his book The Sign, De Wesselow says that 2,000 years ago people were not used to seeing images… and when they did they saw no difference between them and what they saw in everyday life.

De Wesselow, a postdoctoral research associate at King’s College, Cambridge, said: “It’s difficult for people to get their heads round, but before the 18th Century, images were rare, especially in ancient Judea, where there was a ban on engraving images. People thought images were potentially alive. They thought they were containers for spiritual presences. Looking at the shroud, it’s an image that would have been perceived by people at that time in exactly that way. They saw the image on the cloth as the living double of Jesus. Back then images had a distinct ­psychological presence, they were seen as part of a separate plane of existence, as having a life of their own.”

Since 1983 the Turin Shroud has been owned by the Vatican but is housed in Turin Cathedral. The Vatican has never said categorically whether it real or a fake.

But in 2010, Pope Benedict did say that it “reminded us always” of Christ’s suffering. However, he later appeared to indicate his belief that the Shroud is genuine, saying it once “wrapped the remains of a crucified man in full correspondence with what the Gospels tell us of Jesus.”

The 14ft strip of cloth does appear to show the faint image of a naked man, with his hands folded across his groin with injuries consistent with a bloody crucifixion. Its appearance in the West dates back to the 1350s when a French knight called Geoffrey de Charny put it on display in his church in Troyes.

De Wesselow, 40, of Winchester, started studying the history of the Shroud eight years ago. “Despite being a sceptic, I was interested in the subject as my expertise is 14th Century art,” he said.

“But the more I looked at the evidence the more I realised the shroud did not tie in with art from that period. There is nothing in medieval art like this. I know what medieval art looks like and how it is made and it does not match anything from this period. I don’t believe in miracles, but rationally the only way of understanding the Shroud is as a cultural object and to regard it as a 1st Century burial cloth. The evidence of the image itself – blood, everything – points to this being a real burial cloth from 1st Century Palestine.”

Many scientists contend that carbon dating – including work carried out by experts at Oxford University – may be inaccurate because they were carried out on a section of the cloth that was repaired during the Middle Ages. Pollen grains have also been found on the cloth which come from plants which flower in March and April in Israel, and are mainly found in the Jerusalem area.

“Lots of mistakes have been made with carbon dating,” says de Wesselow. “And there have been a lot of documented errors, particularly in the 1980s. A trial of carbon dating ­lab across Britain found that only 20% of them produced satisfactory results. Scientists have not been able to do new tests since the carbon-dating was carried out because the Vatican has not made the Shroud available. We need to know if the corner of the cloth that was tested was maybe a mend dating from the Middle Ages or whether it had been possibly contaminated. All these possibilities are out there, but at the moment all we have are some test results that don’t really make sense at the moment.”

De Wesselow added: “Trying to figure out what happened at Easter is like investigating a 2,000-year-old crime. I think that belief in the ­Resurrection is sufficiently explained by the discovery of the Shroud. I don’t think it’s a miracle, I think it’s an entirely natural image that can be explained rationally.”
The Shroud of Turin


  1. Linda says:

    Is it possible to convert the image on the shroud into binary code? Not sure how that would be done, but ultimately, the wording would be revelatory.

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