The authenticity of the Shroud of Turin has been debated for centuries. 1998 carbon-dating on the bacteria on the cloth showed it was created between 1260 and 1390, making it a Medieval forgery. Other experts say the bacteria comes from the hands of people who handled the shroud during that period. Now Swedish textile expert Mechthild Flury-Lemberg says, “There have been attempts to date the shroud from looking at the age of the material, but the style of sewing is the biggest clue. It belongs firmly to a style seen in the first century AD or before.”

Mark Guscin, of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, says, “The discovery of the stitching along with doubt about the carbon-dating all add to the mountain of evidence suggesting this was probably the shroud Jesus was buried in. Scientists have been happy to dismiss it as a fake, but they have never been able to answer the central question of how the image of that man got on to the cloth.”

The first reference to the shroud, which is supposed to be the cloth Jesus was wrapped in after being crucified, was in 1357, when it was displayed in a church in Lirey, France. One confusing point was that the figure on the cloth has a wrist wound and people at that time thought that victims of crucifixion were nailed to a cross by their hands. It’s since been discovered that the nails actually went through the wrists, since the hands couldn’t support the body’s weight.

Before it arrived in France, it may have been known as the Edessa burial sheet, which, according to legend, was given to King Abgar V by one of Jesus’s disciples. For the next 1,200 years it was kept hidden in an Iraqi city, and brought out only for religious festivals. In 944 it turned up in Constantinople before being stolen by the French knight Geoffrey de Charny during the Crusades.

It was scorched in a fire in 1532. In 1578 it was moved to Turin in northern Italy, and wasn’t photographed until 1898. The photographer, Secondo Pia, was amazed to see a detailed figure on the negative, since only a vague, light-colored image can be seen on the actual shroud. Scientists weren’t allowed to examine the shroud until 1978.

Barrie Schwortz, photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, says, “We did absolutely every test there was to try to find out how that image had got there. We used X-rays, ultra-violet light, spectral imaging and photographed every inch of it in the most minute detail, but we still couldn’t come up with any answers. We weren’t a bunch of amateurs. We had scientists who had worked on the first atomic bomb and the space program, yet we still couldn’t say how the image got there. The only things we could say was what it isn’t: that it isn’t a photograph and it wasn’t a painting. It’s clear that there has been a direct contact between the shroud and a body, which explains certain features such as the blood, but science just doesn’t have an answer of how the image of that body got on to it.”

In 1988, scientists were finally give permission to cut a small piece from the edge of the shroud so it could be carbon-dating, which placed it in the Medieval era. But researcher Ian Wilson says, “What I found quite incredible was that when they had all the scientists there and ready to go, an argument started about where the sample would come from. This went on for some considerable time before a very bad decision was made that the cutting would come from a corner that we know was used for holding up the shroud and which would have been more contaminated than anywhere else.”

Researcher Marc Guscin says evidence for the shroud’s authenticity is the small, blood-soaked cloth kept in a cathedral in Oviedo, Spain, which is believed to have been used to cover Jesus’s head after he died. This cloth is described in the gospel of John as lying in the tomb in a separate place from the shroud. Unlike the shroud, it has been traced back to the first century and contains blood from the same rare AB group that’s found on the shroud. Guscin says, “Laboratory tests have shown that these two cloths were used on the same body. The fact that the Sudarium has been revered for so long suggests it must have held special significance for people. Everything points towards this cloth being used on the body of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Researcher Nicholas Allen thinks the image comes from an early form of photography called the camera obscura, in which the cloth was somehow treated so that it would retain an image, the same way that film does. Professor Stephen Mattingly thinks it could have been created by bacteria which grow on the skin after death. He says, “This is not a miracle. It’s a physical object, so there has to be a scientific explanation. With the right conditions, it could happen to anyone. We could all make our own Turin Shroud.”

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