Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Shroud of Turin and the Mystery Surrounding Its Authenticity

On Closer Inspection

King Umberto
King Umberto
 

On November 24, 1973, the exiled King Umberto, who owned the famous shroud, granted permission to Cardinal Pelligrino to allow a small group of eleven people to examine the relic on close inspection and gather samples for testing. However, there were strict orders that the entire examination remain secret. Moreover, Umberto decided that any of the findings were to be withheld from the public until the time was deemed suitable to reveal the results.

During the inspection of the cloth, Professor Gilbert Raes of the Ghent Institute of Textile Technology was allowed to collect two samples from the shroud to be examined under an electronic microscope. Another member of the secret commission, Swiss forensic criminologist Max Frei was granted permission to collect pollen samples from the cloth for later inspection. Their examinations would reveal important information concerning the make-up and possible origin of the cloth. 

Max Frei
Max Frei
 

According to Gove, the samples taken by Raes showed, that there were trace amounts of Egyptian cotton present in the make-up of the shroud. Wilson stated that the samples taken from Frei were found to have traces of pollen from plants indigenous to Israel and Turkey, suggesting that the shroud must have been exposed to the air in these countries. Incredibly, Frei stated that there was a real possibility that the shroud originated from the time of Christ. However, Gove suggested that it was highly unlikely such information could be obtained from pollen samples. It would take much more sophisticated equipment to date the shroud. Other than Freis remarkable claim, nothing else of great significance was revealed concerning the cloth and all of the results were kept secret for approximately three years.

In the fall of 1978, a group of scientists formed a team whose main goal was to gather scientific data and perform experiments on the Turin Shroud. The undertaking would later be popularly referred to as STURP or the Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc. Scientists working on STURP would eventually make history by performing the most detailed investigation ever conducted in the shrouds history.

Turin's Royal Palace
Turin's Royal Palace
 

Some of the members of STURP, including a group of 24 scientists from the United States, Switzerland and Italy, gathered together in Turins Royal Palace in October 1978 to perform a five-day uninterrupted examination of the shroud that had mystified the world for so long. During the investigation the shroud was photographed extensively, x-rayed, unstitched for closer examination and vacuumed for dust and pollen samples. After 120 hours of gathering samples and inspecting the cloth with great scrutiny, the shroud was returned to its place behind the altar in the chapel.

That same year, world-renowned micro analyst and member of the STURP team, Walter McCrone began examinations on approximately thirty-two particle and fiber samples taken from various portions of the shroud. He studied the samples microscopically and came upon a startling conclusion. More than half of the samples taken from the shroud, including those from the areas of the body and where there was allegedly blood, were found to have a significant amount of pigment made up of iron oxide and tempera. Thus, McCrones discovery suggested that the image was the work of an artist and likely not the work of divine intervention.

Walter McCrone, portrait
Walter McCrone, portrait
 

The news of the discovery sent ripples of panic through many of the STURP members whose analysis was still ongoing. McCrone claimed that, anybody who is emotionally wrapped up in the shroud should start to consider the possibility that he better relax his emotions. Wilson stated that some of STURPs members disagreed with McCrones research methods and his conclusion, which eventually led to a rift between him and the team. In fact, not long after his discovery, he was allegedly dismissed from the project. 

In 1980, the first scientific articles related to STURPs 1978 investigation were published in academic journals. According to Gove, the majority of the articles, concluded that the evidence was against its being a painting. In fact, several of the STURP scientists confirmed that the samples analyzed by McCrone actually tested positive for blood.

Some shroud advocates believe this is proof enough that the cloth was indeed the genuine article and the burial shroud of Jesus. However, skeptics believed that the artist may have actually used a mixture of blood and pigment in order to achieve a more realistic effect. Regardless, the fact there was pigment and blood led many to further question its authenticity. It wasnt until the 1980s that more sophisticated techniques would lend greater insight into the age of the shroud and put to rest many of the arguments relating to its genuineness.

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