Shroud of Turin (Part 2)

The information presented is gleaned from a variety of sources, but an excellent book entitled The Blood and the Shroud by Ian Wilson provides the most recent and thorough presentation.

As an aside, I have a special interest in the Shroud: When I was doing accounting for NASA, Dr. John Jackson from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and who was a member of the STURP team, gave a lecture on the Shroud and the scientific evidence they had gathered. Also, in May, 1998, two priest friends and I went to Turin to view the Shroud which was on exhibition. While I personally believe that the Shroud is authentic, the Church has not declared it so, and therefore, this article will refer to the image of the Shroud as that of an anonymous “man” rather than our Lord Jesus Christ; yet, the parallels between the two will be noted.

Here is a brief overview of the major scientific findings: The Shroud is a long, linen sheet about 4.36 meters long by 1.1 meters wide. Jesus would have been laid down on top of the Shroud, and then it would have been folded over Him. Interestingly, the frontal image is a little short, and the cloth covers only part of the right foot.

The Shroud is made of linen. Linen making has been known for the last nine thousand years with the area of Galilee being an important manufacturing center of the cloth. This cloth is also very durable: Egyptian linen wrappings on mummies at least 4000 years old survive to this day, which means the Shroud could have been produced at the time of Christ.

The weave is a herringbone pattern with the twist of the yarn being a “z” twist (meaning the spindle was rotated clockwise). The cloth also has a high thread count which produced a fine cloth. Although such cloth was not common, it was not unusual at the time of the Lord especially in the Middle East area. Moreover, cotton fibers particular to the kind of cotton found in Palestine are also present in the linen cloth.

Pollen evidence also places the origins of the Shroud in the Middle East. Pollen, because of its outer shell, the exine, can survive literally tens of thousands of years. Dr. Max Frei of the University of Zurich and founder of the Zurich Criminal Police’s Scientific Service found pollen, spores, and molds common to the habitats of the places where the Shroud had been reported. He also found pollen from halophytes, plants typical of the desert regions around the Jordan Valley and adapted to live in the soils with the high salt content found almost exclusively around the Dead Sea area.

A more recent scientific study of the pollens was conducted in 1999. Avinoam Danin, Professor of Botany at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said that “in light of our findings, it is highly probable that the Shroud kept in Turin does, in fact, come from this part of the world.” The scientists found very old residues of plants identified as Zygophyllum dumosum, which only grow in Israel, Jordan, and the Sinai desert. Two other native plant residues found were that of the “Rocks Rose” (Cistus creticus) and Goundelia tournefortii (which may have been used for Jesus’ crown of thorns). Uri Baruch, a pollen expert of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, also concluded that the pollen samples taken from the Shroud belong to plants found in Israel and its neighboring countries.

The Shroud depicts the image of a man, slightly under six feet tall, who suffered the brutal death of crucifixion. The wound marks evidenced by blood stains correspond with the sufferings our Lord endured as accounted for in the gospel. Nail wounds appear at the feet (with the sole of the right foot having a full and very bloody imprint since it was placed beneath the top of the left foot) and wrist (one hand covers the wrist of the other hand). Note that unlike most artist’s depictions, the victim of crucifixion was nailed in the wrist between the radius and ulna so that he could hang securely on the cross; nailing through the palm of the hand would not have provided such support.

Interestingly, the nail at the wrist would have penetrated a nerve and caused the thumb to snap into the palm. The thumbs of the man in the Shroud are hidden due to this nailing.

The Shroud does show a wound to the right side, as where the soldier’s lance would have pierced the heart of our Lord. The spear passed through the fifth and sixth ribs, and pierced the pericardium and the right auricle, causing the flow of blood and pericardial fluid.

Blood stains around the forehead and nape of the neck could be attributed to the crown of thorns.

Blood stains also appear across the back, alternating right and left shoulders, and on the buttocks due to scourging. In scourging, usually two Roman soldiers would alternate striking the victim from two directions. The scourge wounds fan out, which makes sense since the flagellum used by the Romans had two or three leather thongs with small lead balls or hooks at the end to gouge the flesh of the victim. Clearly, the victim was whipped very methodically, and over 120 wound sites are present.

The blood is definitely human blood. The STURP team determined that the stains were human blood of the AB group. This finding has been corroborated by others: Professor Pierluigi Baima Bollone, Professor of Medicine at the University of Turin, reported in 1978 that the blood stains were indeed human blood with traces of aloes and myrrh and belonging to the group AB. French geneticist Professor Jerome Lejeune also concluded that the blood sample he obtained was human hemoglobin.

Another intriguing point is that the blood marks on the Shroud are clear and red, not dark brown as typical of dried blood. Also the blood stains are complete without signs of flaking off. Dr. Gilbert Lavoie suggested that what appears on the Shroud is more an exudate from clotted wounds rather than whole blood. Likewise, Dr. Alan Adler explained that the torture, scourging, and crucifixion suffered by the man produced a hemolysis (break-up of red blood corpuscles), which would produce the lasting red color of the exudate.

Next week we will continue a review of the research, particularly that dealing with photographic studies.

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders' work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

Fr. William Saunders


Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage