Enshrouded in Mystery

I don't know whether readers have been to Turin to make pilgrimage to the Holy Shroud. The subject of the Shroud is again in the headlines this week, following an announcement from Italian scientists that there is little chance that the Shroud is a medieval forgery and highly likely that it is the authentic burial cloth of Christ.

According to The Telegraph...

'The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times.

The scientists used extremely brief pulses of ultraviolet light to replicate the kind of marks found on the burial cloth. They concluded that the iconic image of the bearded man must therefore have been created by "some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)."

Although they stopped short of offering a non-scientific explanation for the phenomenon, their findings will be embraced by those who believe that the marks on the shroud were miraculously created at the moment of Christ's Resurrection.

"We are not at the conclusion, we are composing pieces of a fascinating and complex scientific puzzle," the team wrote in their report. Prof Paolo Di Lazzaro, the head of the team, said: "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection." "But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals." 

One would have thought that, as well as heartening the Faithful, or at least those of the Faithful who have visited the Shrine at the Cathedral in Turin, the words of the Italian scientists would be a welcome contribution to the debate on the Shroud, especially in the quarters of those noble empiricists who welcome any evidence in their in-tray as to the possible existence of God.  This is because, as we know, atheists are open-minded sceptics, generous but sober blank canvasses, if you like, on which discourse on God's existence can be impressed. Above all, they are are delighted when science opens a door into what could be the Heavenly realms. Right?

Unfortunately not. Tom Chivers, writing his blog for The Telegraph, took the announcement from the Italian scientists and both began and ended his piece with the imperious and rather arrogant claim, 'The Turin Shroud is fake. Get over it.' Quite how he got that headline out of the latest research on the Shroud is anyone's guess, but to me it seems rather over-defensive.

After all, the Catholic Church has not made belief in the Shroud an article of Faith to be held by believers. It is an object of private devotion, though obviously one cannot have a Shroud in ones own home.  Personally, I am not 100% convinced that the Shroud is genuine. If it is, then we marvel at the goodness of the Lord because our faith, really, is based on the the testimony of the Apostles to the Lord's death and Resurrection. However, one does get the 'impression' that whether the Shroud is genuine or not, we can be 100% certain that Tom Chivers is trying to bury Our Lord Jesus Christ, like so many atheists do.


Patricius said…
A piece on the Shroud that I entirely agree with. I have been fascinated by the Shroud for over forty years. I am convinced that the image was formed in some way from contact with a life-size and solid three-dimensional body.
I was surprised when the carbon dating results in 1988 matched so neatly with the documented history. At the time I felt the rush to denounce it as a fake was premature. All that was certain was that the test results were consistent with a medieval date which seemed to argue against authenticity. There remained the tantalising fact that no one had - or indeed has- been able to identify the means by which the image was made. As for the remarks of the most recent group of scientists- I feel they are simply projecting their own current notions of image-formation onto the subject as many before have done. Previous suggestions have included the use of a camera obscura or a burst of microwave radiation. The science boys like their toys! One idea about it which I find appealing is the possibility that, genuine or not, the image only became apparent with time.
Tim said…
The scientific theories are all very fascinating no doubt but any art historian could look at that image and tell you from style alone that it could only have been produced in late antiquity or from the mid-nineteenth century onwards and at no point in between - certainly not the middle ages. If the carbon dating is good then it must be a medieval copy of an older image not an original fake - a medieval artist simply would not have conceived of a human face in those visual terms.