For many centuries, the Turin Shroud has been cloaked in mystery and debate. The single piece of cloth shows an image of a skeletal like figure, with wounds consistent with someone who was crucified. Is this iconic image really that of Christ? The image is certainly much clearer in its black and white negative, adding to its divine nature. For many years, devout believers have flocked to the relic, despite scientific speculation, and it has proved to be a source of sacred comfort.
The scientific story of the shroud has in recent months taken a new twist. The Shroud has undergone numerous tests in chemical, biological and optical image analysis. Original radiocarbon dating tests of the Shroud, placed its creation back to the Middle Ages, and it was therefore written off as a medieval forgery; another relic whose origins had been glorified through myth and propaganda. In 1978, a team of American scientist tested some strands of the cloth, claiming to find no solid evidence that it was in fact a forgery. The question about how the image appeared on the length of linen was still a mystery. However, since 2005, suggestions were made that the samples used had in fact been damaged fragments from a fire the Shroud survived in the Middle Ages. This caused an even greater increase in the interest of the Shroud’s murky history. However, in recent months, new types of tests carried out by Giulio Fanti, (a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University) have caused a stir in both the scientific and Catholic world. The tests were carried out through a form of radiation and have in fact, dated the Shroud back to the time of Christ, specifically 300 BC to 400AD.
This discovery is being disputed on every front for its scientific validity, however the tests have at last provided some kind of answer for the imprinted image. Mr Fanti was quoted in a recent Telegraph article as describing the stamp as being “caused by a blast of ‘exceptional radiation’”, more specifically, a blast of radiation from the inside out.
What does a discovery of this kind mean for the art and papal community? The Catholic Church has never confirmed or denied the authenticity of the Shroud, but have been greatly encourage by this new research.
The image of Christ is one that has long been established, the oval face with neat beard and parted hair. Despite the biblical commandment against creating idols, Christ’s face evolved from images that where supposedly not made by human hands. While many will defend vigorously that the Shroud is a fake, I wonder why there is such an aversion to considering the relic as authentic. Perhaps because of the divine and historical implications the Shroud would have if ever proved genuine. The thought that a man called Jesus might have been crucified and risen through a “blast of exceptional radiation”, is certainly an uncomfortable one to our society today.