This is Lee Carter, speaking for Atheists United. Today's program is about the
controversial "Shroud of Turin," a linen cloth containing the faint image of a bearded man
and purported to be the burial shroud of "Jesus Christ." Because there have been a great
number of misleading statements by tabloid newspapers, books, and television programs,
many people have been led to believe that the "Shroud of Turin" is positive proof of Christ's
resurrection. But contrary to these claims, human artifact has not been eliminated as a
possible method of forming the shroud image. In fact, both historical and scientific studies
indicate that this is the most likely explanation.
Throughout the history of religion, especially of Christianity, holy "relics" have been
venerated. The first pilgrims to the Holy Land brought thousands of apocryphal relics back
to Europe, which they then sold for veritable fortunes. To obtain, own, or even to see one of
these relics, the faithful cheerfully braved the greatest hardships. They were thought to ward
off all evil, and to cure the most dreaded diseases. Annual pilgrimages were made to the
shrines that contained them, and considerable revenue was collected from the faithful.
Since this was such a profitable business, many skilled artists began manufacturing relics,
and churches or monasteries frequently bought these newly "discovered" relics whenever
they were in need of additional funds.
The favorite relic was the wood of the "True Cross." Various histories of the Catholic
Church assert that Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, first discovered
the "True Cross" during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
fragments supposedly cut from it were available in almost every church in Europe. If these
fragments were collected together in one place, they would have provided almost enough
material to build a new cathedral!
Next in value was a most priceless relic: the "Tears of Jesus." By whom, and by what
method these invaluable "tears" were preserved, the faithful dared not inquire.
A church in St. Omer claimed to have bits of the True Cross, plus the lance that pierced
Christ, as well as his cradle, and the original stone tablets upon which the Ten
Commandments had been traced by the very finger of God!
Each of three scattered churches in France professed to have a complete corpse of Mary
Five churches in France vowed that they had the one authentic relic of Christ's circumcision.
Exeter Cathedral showed parts of the candle that the Angel of the Lord used to light the
tomb of Jesus, and fragments of the bush from which God spoke to Moses.
There were at least 26 "authentic" burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of
Europe, of which, the Shroud of Turin was just one.
Saints and their artifacts also became holy relics; their bones, hair, teeth, clothing, and
anything that they had used was procured. The Cathedral of Amiens enshrined the head of
St. John the Baptist in a silver cup. But the culmination of bad taste was the
dismemberment of dead saints so that several places might enjoy their patronage and
Not all of the clergy, however, were so intoxicated with relic mania. Some were intellectually
honest men, repelled by the circus that was engulfing their church, and they set out to
discover the truth about certain relics. It was in 1357 that the famous Shroud of Turin first
appeared publicly for large fees. A local French bishop named Henri de Poitiers started an
investigation into its background. As a result of his findings, the shroud was declared a fake
and the viewings were stopped. Thirty years later, the exhibitions were revived, prompting
the bishop to write a lengthy letter to Pope Clement VII. This important letter contains the
earliest written reference to the shroud. The translation begins:
The bishop then describes the image on the cloth, which we today call the Shroud of Turin,
along with the circumstances of the exhibitions, and continues:
Clement VII considered the matter and issued a Papal Bull, which ordered that the Shroud
of Turin be advertised only as a "copy or representation." However, since this directive did
not procure further money, the Bull was gradually forgotten, and this "cunningly painted"
shroud came to be the most venerated relic in all of Christendom.
The question now arises as to how the image was formed. The first test ordinarily
performed on archaeological artifacts is carbon dating. This would clearly show if the
material was old enough to qualify as genuine. But that was not allowed by the Church.
Consequently, other tests had to be used. Microscopic and chemical tests have found that
the so-called "bloodstains" were made of an artist’s pigment, called "vermilion," a type of
paint widely used in the Middle Ages. Walter McCrone is the best-known forensic
microanalyst in the world. He is president of the McCrone Research Institute in Chicago;
and he subjected the shroud to careful microscopic and chemical studies. His conclusion:
As a result of this investigation, and others, it was determined that the image was not
painted in the usual manner. It was probably formed through a process of rubbing the cloth
against a wooden statue – a technique used since the twelfth century or perhaps earlier.
This rubbing technique produces an image that simulates many of the characteristics of the
shroud image, including negativity. If some care is taken in the procedures, the resulting
image is rather faint, shows no brush marks, has visually proper tonal gradations, and has a
depth of color penetration limited to a few surface fibers.
The reason a large percentage of the public believes the shroud is genuine is caused by
two factors: (1) Many scientists are reluctant to issue a definitive conclusion without the
carbon dating test. (2) There are several deceitful books on the subject, such as a best
seller, called Verdict on the Shroud: Evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus
Christ. This book was written by Ken Stevenson and Gary Habermas, neither of whom are
scientists, and published in 1981. The dust jacket calls it "The Definitive book – from three
years of intensive investigation by the Shroud of Turin Research Project." This team is
known as S.T.U.R.P., pronounced "Sturp." Inside the book, all the STURP scientists are
gratefully acknowledged. But the STURP scientists themselves disclaimed the book and
forced the authors to print the following retraction:
In conclusion, the Shroud of Turin is one of many relics manufactured and venerated during
the Middle Ages. Shortly after it emerged, it was declared a fake by the bishop who had
discovered the artist. Recent scientific investigations have detected the existence of paint
in the image area. The Catholic Church will not donate even a few threads for the decisive
carbon dating test. After all, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose, because if the
carton dating test were to prove the shroud a fake, it would disillusion many Christians
whose hopes are interwoven with the cloth of the shroud. It's a shame that in spite of the
scientific results, the credulous media and public are shrouded in more confusion than a
bishop from the Dark Ages.
If you'd like to know more about the scientific results, we refer you to the Spring 1982 issue
of the Skeptical Inquirer – published by CSICOP – the Committee for Scientific
Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, a division of the Council for Secular Humanism.
If you'd like transcripts of our programs, or any other information about the freethought
movement, write to Atheists United. Be listening next week at this same time for another
commentary by Atheists United – the Rational Minority.
Update: In 1988, carbon dating was finally allowed, and the analysis reaffirmed the date of
the cloth as being of medieval origin.
The Shroud of Turin
"The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Sometime since, in this diocese of Troyes,
the Dean of a certain collegiate church, to wit, that of Lirey, falsely and
deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not of any motive of
devotion, but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly
"Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he (meaning himself, Bishop
de Poitiers) discovered the fraud and how the said cloth was cunningly painted,
the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was the
work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed... I offer myself as
ready to supply all information sufficient to remove any doubt concerning the
"My microanalytical work on the sticky tapes from the shroud's surface has
proved to my satisfaction that the entire image was produced by an artist
using iron earth and vermilion pigments in a tempera medium... The amount
of these pigments is greater in the areas of greater image density, particularly
the so-called 'bloodstains'...”
“Verdict on the Shroud is not an official publication of the Shroud of Turin
Research Project. While the book is based in part on scientific work done
by The Project, the book was not authorized, sponsored or approved in any
way by The Project, and the conclusions reached by the authors are their
own. They do not necessarily represent those of members of the scientific
team. All of the names of the scientific team should be deleted from the