Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

Early Theories

Over the subsequent one hundred years, there was a rash of scientists who were eager to understand how the negative-like image of the crucified man appeared on the cloth. There had been no evidence of such a negative-like image in existence that matched that on the shroud. In an attempt to understand how it could have been produced, scientists tested many of their assumptions hoping that the results would provide some clue into the origin of the shroud. However, the testing of the theories and their results were more problematic than initially expected. In fact, the investigations raised more questions than they did answers, further facilitating the mystery surrounding the shroud.

Shroud of Turin, relic
Shroud of Turin, relic

Vaporograph theory

Vignon, a French biologist wrote a paper in 1902 entitled The Shroud of Christ, which was presented to the French Academy of Sciences in support of the shrouds authenticity. Vignon wrote in the paper that he believed the image on the shroud was produced by a combination of body vapors and spices that were used to anoint the body during burial, which fermented, vaporized than projected an image onto the shroud. Vignon pointed to the Bible to support his theory, saying that there were passages that clearly stated that Jesus body was anointed with an aloe, myrrh and olive oil. He believed that the aloe and oil were combined with natural ammonia-like vapors emanating from the body of Jesus. He suggested that the vapors emanating from the body caused a reaction that produced a chemical-like burn on the cloth in the image of Christ.

Vignon began to experiment to see if his hypothesis was correct. He had many attempts and failures at trying to recreate the negative image that he observed on the shroud. However, he did manage to achieve somewhat successful results, which produced stains similar to those seen on the shroud. He did this by soaking a cloth in oil, myrrh and aloes and exposing the cloth to a plaster mold doused in ammonia to see if the image of the cast transferred to the cloth.

Although there were stains visible on the cloth, in some ways similar to the Shroud of Turin, they were by no means clear images. Moreover, no matter how hard he tried he could not achieve the distinct lines that were apparent on the shroud that produced an almost picture perfect image of a man. Unfortunately for Vignon, many treated his theory with skepticism because he was unable to produce believable results. Many decades later, Vignons theory would be totally discounted when under modern scientific examination, no evidence of any spices, aloes or oil could be found on the shroud.

Early Anatomical Configuration and Blood Flow Theories

Yves Delage, portrait
Yves Delage, portrait

Some investigators believed that the anatomical details of the image on the shroud were undoubtedly correct, believing that it gave weight to the authenticity of the shroud being a true and divine depiction of Christ. One such investigator was a French anatomist and zoologist named Yves Delage, who happened to have paired up with Vignon in search of answers to their anatomical theories pertaining to the shroud image. The men determined that the image of the man could not have been an artistic representation because it was anatomically too accurate.

However, many scientists refuted the theory, stating that the image was anything but anatomically correct. In fact, measurements taken of the image of the shroud man found that many of the features were overly exaggerated, not symmetrical or highly abnormal. Some of the questioned features included the face and head that appeared to be too small and detached from the rest of the body, the arms were significantly uneven in length, there appeared to be no thumbs visible on the hands of the image and the hair appeared unnatural, almost drawn in certain areas.

Although some believed these inaccuracies merely made the image more lifelike being that we are not perfect, others believed that the figure was anatomically impossible. Intriguingly, many of the investigations made in the early part of the century were conducted without scientists or investigators being allowed to directly view the shroud. They had to work from photos or copies of the image.

Another highly investigated feature of the shroud was the pattern of blood. Because it was not allowed for the better part of the 20th century to conduct experiments on samples of the shroud, the major question revolved around whether the blood flowed in a natural pattern. One of the first investigators to tackle this problem was French surgeon and archeologist named Pierre Barbet.

Upon viewing the shroud at close inspection in 1933, Barbet noticed that the reddish bloodstains appeared more visible and stood out from the rest of the shroud. The color of the blood raised the first suspicious eyebrows concerning the shrouds authenticity. Instead of turning a dark brown color like aged blood normally does, the blood remained red. Moreover, Nickell stated that the blood appeared picture-like as if paint or real blood had been deliberately and artfully placed on the shroud. 

Interestingly, Barbet also noticed that some of the blood stains flowed in unusual, almost unnatural directions on the arms. However, he realized that the stains were consistent with ones arms being outstretched and than lowered, much like someones arms who had been crucified and then let down. If the blood flow was an artists representation, it was masterfully conceived and skillfully carried out. Yet, many believe that this fact only supports the theory that the image on the shroud is real and that of Christ. Whether it was real blood or not would remain a mystery until the later part of the 20th century.

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