Skip to content

The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? By Ian Wilson

June 21, 2015

TSI first heard about the Turin Shroud when the Sunday Times did an article about it on Easter Day in the late 1970s. As a theology graduate, I’d moved into the camp of those who see the empty tomb as a myth. This article prompted me to dig deeper into the subject and Wilson’s is one of the books that had a profound impact on me.

Although many sceptics dismiss Wilson as not being a proper historian, there are many features in this book that gave me pause for thought:

The first pause for thought was that, in 1898, it was photographed by lawyer Secondo Pia. The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head. Scientific interest in the linen, which has survived several blazes since it was discovered, began in TS31898, when it was photographed by lawyer Secondo Pia. The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head. Shroud scholars, known as sindonologists, have always argued that no medieval forger could either have produced such an accurate fake or anticipated the invention of photography. Was the forming of a negative image something which happened in the process of resurrection? Rather like the way that the flash of intense light from the Hiroshima bomb ‘printed’ images of people on nearby buildings?

In 1978, the overwhelming consensus from a host of chemical, spectral, and X-ray measurements of the Shroud was that the image was not painted or dyed. There was clear evidence that the apparent blood stains were really blood; the bodily secretion bilirubin was also detected, consistent with flesh wounds.

TS5The historical trail was interesting. A shroud forger might have copied existing images but what it if were the other way round? Was the Shroud image the original image upon which all Byzantine icons were based? The Sinai Icon from the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula was created around 550 CE and has numerous “points of congruence” to the Shroud image. It was crafted only 25 years after the Image of Edessa was discovered in 525CE.

Wilson claims a direct historical trail going back to First Centuiry Palestine.

In 1353 it was revealed by Geoffrey DeCharney in Lirey, France.

In1452, DeCharney’s granddaughter sold the cloth to the Duke of Savoy in exchange for two castles. It remained in the Savoy family until 1982 when it was officially willed to the Catholic church although it had custodial care of the Shroud for centuries.

In 1532, the burial linen was severely damaged by fire in Chambery, France. Thought to be arson the very security measures in place to protect it from theft thwarted the Shroud’s rescue until it was too late to prevent severe damage. Theories about the fire somehow altering the carbon date of the cloth have proven to be erroneous.

T4In 1534, the Shroud was repaired by the Poor Claire Nuns who were skilled in making textile repairs. The holes from the fire were patched and the entire cloth was attached to a backing cloth for support. (Is this section what was used for the carbon dating tests? That the carbon dating tests suggested a medieval forgery doesn’t convince me because the fibres were taken from edge and didn’t have herringbone patters, which suggests that they were part of the repair after the fire, not original to the shroud itself – the authorities only allowed samples from the edge so as not to damage the central image. In any case, the chemicals used to wrap the cloth would have contaminated it but those that were burned will not have been contaminated as they would no longer have any carbon.)

In 1578 it was moved to Turin for safe keeping and is kept in the Cathedral of S. John the Baptist and is only brought out for public display on rare occasions.

Wilson’s chronology fills in the gap between the time of Jesus and the Middle Ages: In 70 CE Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. The “Legend of King Abgar” suggests the Shroud was taken to Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey) sometime prior to this date. The King was miraculously healed of leprosy after gazing upon a mysterious image and converted to Christianity. The first church outside the Holy Land was reported to have been built in Edessa in the early second century. Later that century persecutions would sweep the Roman Empire. The mysterious cloth would be hidden away inside the fortified wall surrounding the city and forgotten for 300 years.

 In 525 CE, a severe flood destroyed most of Edessa. During the rebuilding of the walls, a metal box containing the mysterious cloth was rediscovered. By this time the Emporer Constantine had declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire so it was safe to reveal the image without fear of the persecutions. It became known throughout the Byzantine world as “The Image of Edessa” and later was called the “Mandylion”. It was described as “The true likeness of Christ, not made by human hands.”

 In 944, the Byzantine Imperial Army invaded Edessa for the express reason of retrieving the cloth from the city which had fallen to Islam. In exchange for gold and 200 prisoners of war, the cloth was delivered to the army without a fight. It was taken to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and presented to the Emperor. August 16th of 944, with great ceremony, the cloth was draped over the Emperor’s throne and crowned with his crown. The sermon that night was delivered by Gregory the Arch Deacon of the Hagia Sophia, the great cathedral. In that sermon he points to both the face and side wound of the image declaring it to be that of Christ.

 In 1204, Constantinople was invaded by the Fourth Crusade. After laying siege to the city for two years, they finally breached the walls and ended up burning down nearly half the city. In the carnage nearly everything of value was stolen. All the silver and gold were taken by the Venetians who had funded the campaign but the French desired the “relics of the saints” and, according to a letter to the pope written in 1205, “Most holy of all, the cloth in which our Lord was wrapped after his death and before the resurrection”. The Mandylion as it was then known had disappeared and most likely in the hands of the French.

 1204 to 1353 is one of several gaps in the history of the Shroud. Some evidence suggests it was secretly kept by the Knights Templars for safe keeping. The Templars offered protection for items of great value. They had castles all over France and Europe and specialized in offering safe passage to pilgrims making their way to he Holy Land. A small army of “warrior monks” to accompany the pilgrims on their trek by land or sea. Such protection came at a price and the Templars became wealthy with land, castles and gold. They had the means to keep the safe the booty stolen from Constantinople.

 In 1307, the King of France conspired with the Pope to bring down the Templars. They had become too rich and too powerful. The King had borrowed heavily from them to finance his war with England. It was decided that the Pope would issue a decree to have all Templars arrested and their property confiscated. It was Friday the 13th, 1307 when over 15,000 Templars were arrested in France on the same day and thrown into prisons. As part of the French Inquisition, the Catholic Church’s crusade against heresy, they were all made to confess under torture to various heresies. One of those heresies was that they “worshiped” a mysterious image. Two leaders of the Templars, Geoffrey DeCharney and Jacques DeMolay were burned at the stake for their “heresy”.

In 1353: the Shroud was revealed in public for the first time at a small collegiate church in Lirey, France. It was owned by Geoffrey DeCharney. Although how the Shroud came into his hands is not completely known, he was obviously a descendant to the Geoffrey DeCharney who was burned at the stake less than 50 years prior.

It is from this point that the history of the Shroud is without dispute.

Particle analysis also backed up this chronology – it found travertine aragonite limestone particles indigenous to caves surrounding Jerusalem. Outside pollen are mineral coated whereas inside pollen are uncoated which suggests placement in damp tomb or cave

They also found traces of pollen which are indigenous to Palestine.


“There are many more issues of the Shroud’s relation to the Gospels that must remain for the present in the balance. There is, for instance, the issue of why the Gospels make no mention of any imprint having been left on the linens, surely an obvious addition to the list of Jesus’ miracles.”

“[researchers] pressed on with the standard forensic tests for detecting the presence of blood… the scientists obtained no blue reaction from the Shroud samples. Had the Shroud samples turned blue, this would not necessarily have proven the presence of blood… But the fact that the samples did not turn blue was a very, very strong indicator that there is no blood on the Shroud. And as it happened, the more specific tests then carried out produced similarly negative results.”

“the deCharny’s guilt seemed to be independently demonstrated by various factors, not least of which is that they failed to make any attempt to explain how they acquired the cloth. If the Shroud was genuine, such an explanation would surely have put an end to the matter. They were, it must be understood, not the sort of family who would be expected to have in their possession such a fabulous relic…”

“If one asks oneself whether artists’ copies of the Mandylion convey in any way the idea that the cloth was burial linen, the answer again must be no—Jesus’ eyes are represented as open, as in life… If there was, therefore, any case to be made for the Babylonian Mandylion being the same as our Turin Shroud, once fact must be faced—that those individuals who saw the cloth… THOUGHT they were looking at a cloth representing Christ alive. They had not the faintest idea that they were looking at a burial shroud.”

TS2the Mandylion was folded in such as way that only the face was visible; “without the knowledge of the ‘corpse’ image hidden away in the folds, it would have looked ALIVE, just as the early stories report… There is but one more problem. What about the blood from the crown of thorns that is visible on the Shroud face? Would this not lead anyone looking at the cloth to believe that the image had been formed during the Passion itself, rather than by water or sweat? Not necessarily… in even a moderately subdued light it is virtually impossible to distinguish a colour difference between ‘body’ and ‘blood’ stains on the Shroud.”

In 943, the ‘cloth of Edessa’ was moved from Edessa to Constantinople. The year thereafter, this cloth was described as bearing “blood and water from his [Jesus’] very side,” and in a circa 1130 sermon borrowing from a 769 discussion, the cloth of Edessa was described as having “the glorious features of [Jesus’] face, and the majestic form of his whole body… supernaturally transferred.

The cloth of Edessa disappeared around the time of the 1204 ransacking of Constantinople.[i] Assuming that the cloth of Edessa is identical with the Shroud of Turin, the cloth of Edessa reappeared in circa 1355, and has been known ever since as the Shroud of Turin.

Eventually, after diligent inquiry and examination, he [the preceding bishop] discovered the fraud and how the said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.

In 1931 and 1932, the French surgeon Pierre Barbet performed experiments on cadavers to learn more about crucifixion in relation to what is seen on the Shroud. Barbet discovered that nails driven through the palms of the hands cannot support a body; in contrast, nails driven through the wrists would support a body, and furthermore, would damage nerves in the wrists, causing thumbs to retract into the palms. On the Shroud, a wound appears in the visible wrist, and no thumb is apparent.

Vignon (in the 1930s) and the American Robert Wuenschel (by 1954) found at least 15 peculiarities shared by 1) the Shroud face and 2) many Byzantine portraits of Jesus from the 6th‑12th centuries, suggesting that the Shroud was in existence well before the 1988 carbon‑dating date of between AD 1260 and 1390. In 1969, a group of individuals examined and photographed the Shroud, but did not perform any testing.

Attempts to dissolve the granules during chemical treatment with acetic acid, oxygenated water, and glycerin of potassium were all unsuccessful.

during the Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc. 8 – 13 October 1978 period of data collection on the Shroud, team members Ray Rogers and Robert Dinegar applied to the Shroud and removed 32 sticky tapes, each approximately 5 cm^2 in area.

not all the ‘blood’ material is red, for its color ranges from yellow to orange to red to brown. Also, the ‘blood’ is not whole blood, but exudate from a blood clot (when a blood clot dries, it contracts, exuding liquid blood material). The ‘blood’ moreover is blood clot exudate from a beaten, traumatized individual. A traumatic beating would destroy red blood cells, and the red cell debris would go to the liver, which in turn would take the debris’s hemoglobin and convert it to the bile pigment bilirubin. Bilirubin levels in the blood would rapidly rise, meaning that should a cut form, the resulting blood clot’s exudate will contain serum albumin (a protein found in blood serum), and that albumin will bring with it bilirubin. The clot exudate’s hemoglobin oxidizes to become “methemoglobin,” which is reddish‑brown/ brown; this reddish‑brown/ brown + the yellow‑orange bilirubin = red. (Malaria can produce red cell destruction, but severe malaria cases are rare.)[ii] Ancient DNA specialist Thomas Loy agrees with Adler’s explanation for the seemingly too-red color of much of the ‘blood,’ himself having found 300,000 year‑old blood with the same vivid red colour.

see also and


To return to the home page, click on the header at the top of this page.

From → Church History

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: