The shroud is purported to be Jesus’ burial cloth. Front and back images of a man who seems to have been crucified can be seen on the 14-by-3.5-foot linen cloth.
As described by Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., in the November/December 2000 issue of BAR, the tradition of Jesus’ burial shroud and the cloth now known as the Shroud of Turin has had a long and complicated history:
Eusebius reports that in 30 A.D. a certain Thaddeus, one of Jesus’ disciples, gave “a cloth with an image on it” to King Abgar V, whose palace was in Edessa (in modern Turkey). Abgar was severely ill with what scholars now believe may have been leprosy. However, after Abgar touched the cloth, he was miraculously healed. The news of his cure spread rapidly, and soon many pilgrims were flocking to Edessa to see and touch the cloth. More than 900 years later, in 944, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Romanus I, wanted to obtain the “magic” cloth, which by then had become known as the Mandylion, or “Little Handkerchief.” The city of Edessa refused to give up its sacred relic, so Romanus I laid siege to the city until the people surrendered the Mandylion. The cloth was then taken to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
According to Byzantine historians, the Mandylion bore only the facial image of Jesus. Some believers today say that the Mandylion was the shroud, folded into eighths to make a small square, leaving only the face visible. (This may be why—if the Mandylion and the shroud are one and the same—historians did not record that the Mandylion contained a full-body image. But why they wouldn’t realize its true size is hard to fathom.) In 1204 Knights of the Temple of Solomon (an order of monk-knights, also known as the Knights Templar) of the Fourth Crusade reportedly took the cloth—whether the Mandylion or the shroud—to France. It remained in France until sometime during the early 1300s, when it was removed to England for safekeeping after King Philip IV of France destroyed and confiscated properties owned by the Knights of the Temple of Solomon. After about half a century in England, it returned to France, and in 1357 a French nobleman, Geoffrey de Charmy, displayed a cloth to the public in Lirey, France, as the “true burial shroud of Jesus.” However, he never revealed where the shroud came from nor how he acquired it. This is the first verifiable reference to the object now called the Shroud of Turin. In 1453 that cloth was given to the King of Savoy. For more than a century, it remained in a castle belonging to the House of Savoy in Chambéry, France. After surviving a fire in the castle in 1532, the shroud was eventually brought to Turin, where it has remained since 1578, in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
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Numerous scientific studies—from radiocarbon dating to x-ray and pollen analysis—have been conducted over the past century, and numerous theories have been put forth. The Shroud of Turin has been regarded as a relic, a forgery and even a work of art.
A research team led by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy hypothesized in a newly published study that an earthquake that hit Jerusalem in 33 C.E. may have been strong enough to cause neutron radiation. This phenomenon in turn may have created the images on the shroud through radiation imagery as well as corrupted the radiocarbon testing conducted on the shroud in the 1980s. It may therefore be possible that the shroud is older than the 13th–14th century dates originally suggested by the 1980s radiocarbon dating studies.
The study by Carpinteri and his team has been met with some criticism. As Christopher Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, told LiveScience:
One question that would need to be addressed is why the material here is affected, but other archaeological and geological material in the ground is not. There are huge numbers of radiocarbon dates from the region for much older archaeological material, which certainly don’t show this type of intense in-situ radiocarbon production (and they would be much more sensitive to any such effects).
Carpinteri’s research—on piezonuclear fission—has courted so much controversy that in 2012, the Italian research minister conceded to a call by over 1,000 scientists from Italy and abroad to take a closer look at the research program.
Learn more about the Shroud of Turin in the BAS Library:
Vaughn M. Bryant, Jr., “Does Pollen Prove the Shroud Authentic?” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2000.
Gary Vikan, “Debunking the Shroud: Made by Human Hands,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1998.
Suzanne F. Singer, “Has the Shroud of Turin Been Dated—Finally?” Bible Review, April 1989.
Joseph A. Kohlbeck and Eugenia L. Nitowski, “New Evidence May Explain Image on Shroud of Turin,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1986.
Robert A. Wild, “The Shroud of Turin—Probably the Work of a 14th-Century Artist or Forger,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1984.
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