Home > Archives > 06/07 - 2008 > Data that raise questions
from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

INTERVIEW. The scientific data

Data that raise questions

More than a century of scientific research has not yet been able to determine the cause and manner of production of the human image imprinted on the cloth of the Shroud. An interview with Emanuela Marinelli

Interview with Emanuela Marinelli by Pina Baglioni

The face on the Shroud

The face on the Shroud

“My scientific interest in the Shroud began in 1977, when Dr. Max Frei, an expert in botany, announced the discovery on the Shroud of grains of pollen from plant species that exist in the Middle East but not in Europe. Since then I have collected about eight hundred volumes on the Shroud and a huge number of articles, but in particular about three hundred scientific articles, and I have written many books on the argument”. Emanuela Marinelli, a naturalist, is among the most competent Italian researchers on the Shroud. A decided and impulsive person, she has to her credit a vast production of a more informational kind on a topic that is certainly not easy to deal with in balanced fashion, especially when faced with often amateur offerings, in one way or another preconceived .

The linen cloth – or Shroud – kept in Turin was the object during the last century of numerous studies that investigated – using the methods of various scientific disciplines (including in the expression the various aspects of historical and archaeological research) – the characteristics of the image that is visible there – the front and back imprint of a man with obvious wounds from crucifixion – and in particular have questioned – so far unsuccessfully – the mode of its production. What are the objective data that can reasonably be taken as certain?
EMANUELA MARINELLI: The scientific interest in the Shroud arose at the end of the nineteenth century, in 1898, when in the first photographs, made by Secondo Pia, it seemed clear that part of the images imprinted on the linen cloth has similar characteristics to those of a photographic negative. I say “part of the images” because these characteristics are proper to the dual image that appears on the linen – front and back – of the man with wounds identical to those of the crucified Jesus described by the Gospels, but not the stains, then shown to be human blood, that in correspondence with the wounds seem partly to cover the “negative” image and which in fact were stamped on the cloth before it.
The first absolutely certain fact, demonstrated by different and independent studies, is that the red coating of the linen matching the wounds is group AB human blood. This result is confirmed by microspetroscopic investigation, chromatography and the reaction to benzedrine. In addition, the red coating on the threads is lysed (i.e. dissolved) completely by protease. The test of the proteolytic enzymes proved the absence of dyes too. Under the area of the feet was found a red globule and some human epidermal cells. The blood contains human male DNA. The high amounts of bilrubin found in the blood is an indication of a person heavily traumatized before death. Moreover, blood components are evident in many threads typical of the various stages of clotting: the crust (with the formation of fibrin bridges by factor XIII) and the serous exudation. It is therefore evident that these stains were formed through direct contact of the linen with a corpse. The serum haloes are invisible to the naked eye, but appear when ultraviolet light is shone on them. The blood, clotted on the wounded skin, was transferred to the cloth by fibrinolysis, a phenomenon which causes a partial lysis (i.e. redissolving) of blood clots during the first thirty-six hours of contact.
While the “negative” front and back image of the Man of the Shroud ...
MARINELLI: The image of the body is stamped in a still scientifically inexplicable fashion. Despite the most disparate experimental tests conducted (some of which – it must be said – stubbornly reproposed, defended and promoted despite their evident failure), the most sophisticated techniques currently available are unable to construct in detail an image similar to that of the Shroud. It shows three-dimensional characteristics, has no clear lines of demarcation and was certainly formed after the depositing of the blood on the linen, because it is not present under the bloodstains. The yellowing of the fabric that forms the image affects only a very superficial layer of the linen fibrils of which the cloth is made. The dorsal image, finally, is not affected by the weight of the body. One can also say with certainty that the image is not painted: there is no organic or inorganic pigment on the cloth, and the translucent yellow color of the image is not due to any substance put on, but is caused by the dehydration and oxidation of the outer fibrils, twenty-five different types of solvents, including water, do not alter or erase the image. And we can also say that it was not produced by scorching. It is impossible to get an image with the same chemical and physical characteristics as the Shroud by using, for example, a heated bas-relief.
The fabric of the Shroud (A) compared with similar Egyptian tissues (B and C) dating to the second century A.D.

The fabric of the Shroud (A) compared with similar Egyptian tissues (B and C) dating to the second century A.D.

Another set of considerations can be deduced from an analysis of the object and of the substances which over time have deposited on the linen cloth. What has been ascertained?
MARINELLI: As for the artifact, the threads of the cloth were spun by hand with the “Z” twist widespread in Syrio-Palestine in the first century A.D. The weave of the fabric, of the “herringbone” sort, comes from a rudimentary treadle loom. It has jumps and mistakes in the passage of the spindle. Herringbone fabric is of Syrian or Mesopotamian origin. In the finds of Jewish fabrics in Masada in Israel a special type of hem, like that on the Shroud, is known for the period between 40 B.C. and the fall of Masada in 74 A.D. On the Shroud there is also a longitudinal seam, identical to that found on fragments of tissue from the finds at Masada. So the technique of manufacture and type of tissue give a dating consistent with the time of Christ. One can add that the dimensions of the cloth (even if the size of the object may also have varied significantly because of repeated displays, with resulting unrolling, rolling, stretching and pressing) seem to match whole numbers in Syrian cubits, a unit of measurement used in ancient Israel. Other systems of measurement seem to match less well, in terms of whole units, the length and width of the cloth. It is also interesting that the parts of the fabric of the Shroud that could be examined did not reveal traces of animal fiber, in conformity with the Mosaic law that requires wool to be kept separate from flax (Dt 22, 11), the only other (minimal) traces of other fibers found in the cloth are cotton of the type Gossypium herbaceum, widespread in the Middle East at the time of Christ.
As for substances that have over time deposited on the cloth, it was discovered that particles of soil, taken from the Shroud in correspondence with the impressions of feet, contain aragonite with impurities of strontium and iron; samples taken in Jerusalem caves were found to be very similar. Another element found on the cloth is natron (basic sodium carbonate decahydrate), used in Egypt in embalming because of its water-absorbent property, and also used in Palestine for the dehydration of corpses. The presence of aloes and myrrh was also found on the Shroud. These substances were used in Palestine at the time of Christ for the burial of corpses. Experiments have shown that the saw-edged stains, left on the Shroud by water, form only on a cloth soaked in advance in aloes and myrrh. Finally, the analysis of pollen on the Shroud confirms that it was displayed in Palestine, Edessa and Constantinople. Of the fifty-eight species of pollen on the Shroud identified by the botanist Max Frei, thirty are plants that do not exist in Europe but grow in Palestine and many are typical and frequent in Jerusalem and surroundings (among them the Acacia albida, very widespread in the valley of the Jordan and around the Dead Sea, the Gundelia tournefortii, a plant of stony or salty terrain, and Hyoscyamus aureus and Onosma orientalis, present on the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, Prosopis farcta and Zygophyllum dumosum, very frequent around the Dead Sea; Haplophyllum tuberculatum and Reaumuria hirtella, desert plants). On the basis of the classification of nineteen other new types of pollen (in total therefore they are seventy-seven), it is also shown that the Shroud crossed the highlands of Lebanon. Among the pollens found, two exist neither in Europe nor in Palestine, but one of these species (Atraphaxis spinosa) exists in Urfa (Edessa) and the other species (Epimedium pubigerum) exists in Istanbul (Constantinople).
So, the whole series of elements that you have mentioned tend to date the Shroud to the time of Jesus, and also to confirm some details of the historical tradition that identifies the cloth with the Mandylion, the image of the face of Jesus known in the East from the early centuries of Christianity. Yet the carbon dating with C14, done in 1988 by three laboratories in Tucson, Oxford and Zurich, gave a date for the fabric between 1260 and 1390 A.D., totally incompatible with the data you have just set out.
MARINELLI: I would first like to say that your reference to historical tradition is important. I deal mainly with the physical and natural sciences, but it is also my impression (as that of other scholars who have dealt with the Shroud) that the historical data on this topic was often neglected in favor of science, too often considered as absolute in comparison to the supposed opinable nature of the literary (beginning with the Gospels), archaeological, iconographic, numismatic and archival tradition. Often, for example, one hears it said that there are no documents on the Shroud before its appearance in France in the mid 14th century in the hands of a noble crusader, Geoffroy de Charny. Through facile deduction some people claim that it must have been manufactured at that time, and corroborate the deduction citing a letter sent in 1389 by the Bishop of Troyes, Pierre d’Arcis, to the antipope Clement VII, in which the Shroud is declared false because there was the confession of the painter who painted it. But all the analyses done on the cloth rule out the possibility that the image is a painting: so what value can similar testimony have that historical criticism, setting it in its precise context, can easily prove mistaken? I don’t want here to discuss all the historical and iconographic indications referring to the Shroud before the 14th century, but it is certain that at least by the sixth century a particular kind of portrait of Christ spreads that has many characteristics in common with the face on the Shroud. The study of the folds in the cloth enables us to understand that for a certain period of time it was displayed folded, so as to show only the face of Christ, and later hung vertically showing also part of the body, similar to the imago pietatis, the depiction of the dead Christ emerging up to the waist in an erect position from the tomb, a depiction that perhaps takes its origin in this specific way of displaying the Shroud. Not to mention the miniature of the burial of Christ in the Budapest Pray Manuscript, dating back to 1192-1195, clearly derived from the Shroud. The Shroud is also cited in 1204 by a French knight, Robert de Clary, who saw it in Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
How therefore is one to judge all this, if the C14 has given a date between 1260 and 1390? Are we to assume the existence of a real Shroud subsequently lost, of which the one come down to us would be an imitation? But that would still clash with the data, largely incontrovertible, that emerges from analysis of the cloth and the residues on it I mentioned earlier. It would also clash with the inability to reproduce, even now with the most modern technologies, the Shroud image.
The scientist Samuel F. Pellicori examining the Shroud through a stereomicroscope

The scientist Samuel F. Pellicori examining the Shroud through a stereomicroscope

The very anatomical accuracy, down to the smallest detail, of the image of the Man of the Shroud would exclude – apart from all the scientific evidence you have mentioned – its being a medieval artifact, impossible given the level of knowledge of the human body that existed then.
MARINELLI: Absolutely. But there’s more: on the image of the Man of the Shroud there are truly amazing traces which show us with certainty that the Shroud wrapped the corpse of a man who was tortured and killed just as the Gospels tell us about Jesus.
And what are these particular traces?
MARINELLI: First of all the Man of the Shroud was scourged. The whole body, except the chest, was struck with a Roman flagrum taxillatum. The wounds indicate two different points of origin of the strokes, and one can therefore assume that there were two flagellators. The scourging will not have been fatal and was imposed as punishment in itself, more abundantly than the usual prelude to crucifixion: in fact something like a hundred and twenty strokes were given instead of the usual twenty-one. That’s how many can be counted on the cloth. This is not a Jewish scourging because the Jews, by law, did not exceed thirty-nine strokes. Each stroke caused six bruises made by as many small bones set into the ends of the three cords of the flagrum. It should have meant release, whereas the offender was later crucified (Ps 129, 3; Is 50, 6; Mt 27, 26; Mk 15, 15; Lk 23, 25; Jn 19, 1). The flagellation did not occur during the carrying of the patibulum because there are signs of the flagrum in correspondence with the shoulders. Those wounds are different from the others present over the body since they turn out to have been compressed by a heavy object.
The Man of the Shroud was crowned with thorns: the head has, over its entire surface, about fifty wounds caused by sharp bodies. A helmet of thorns was woven matching the royal crowns of the East. It was not a matter, therefore, of the circle of thorns passed on by the Western tradition (Mt 27, 29; Mk 15, 17; Jn 19, 2). The reversed 3-shaped rivulet one sees on the forehead (a detail, this, that among other things appears in various depictions of Christ’s face in the East well before the year 1,000) corresponds to a slow and continuous downflow of venous blood caused by a thorn sticking into the frontal vein, the particular appearance of the backward 3 is due to frontal muscle spasming under the pain. The stain of blood on the right, at the root of the hair, was formed by a circular clot of arterial blood, because it came out in intermittent spurts.
On the face of the Man of the Shroud there are various swellings evident and a broken nose, probably caused by a blow that also struck the right cheek (Mt 27, 30; Mk 15, 19; Jn 19, 3).
The Man of the Shroud has an ecchymosis on the left scapula and a wound on the right shoulder, linkable to carrying the horizontal part of the cross, the patibulum (Mt 27, 31-32; Mk 15, 20-21; Lk 23, 26; Jn 19, 17). In the area of bruising, the wounds from the flagrum have not been lacerated by friction from the wood: if in fact Jesus was made to wear a robe (Mt 27, 31; Mk 15, 20), which protected the wounds from being rubbed, but then caused considerable pain when it was torn off before the crucifixion (Mt 27, 35; Mk 15, 24; Lk 23, 34, Jn 19, 23-24). The falls, passed on by tradition, are confirmed by soil particles mixed with blood found on the nose and left knee. The tying on of the patibulum prevented the convicted man from using his hands to break his fall. A considerable amount of soil material was also identified at the heel.
The Man of the Shroud was not a Roman citizen, otherwise he would not have been crucified. The wrists and feet wounds correspond to those of a man fixed to the cross with nails. The Shroud image does not show the thumbs: lesion of the median nerve, caused by a nail piercing the wrist, causes, in fact, contraction of the thumb.
Forensic analysis shows that when the Man of the Shroud died he was dehydrated (Mt 27, 48; Mk 15, 36; Lk 23, 36, Jn 19, 28-29; Ps 69, 4; Ps 69, 22; Ps 22, 16). To speed up death, the legs of the crucified man were very often broken: thus the condemned man died asphyxiated since hung by his arms. It appears from the Shroud that the legs were not broken (Jn 19, 33; Ex 12, 46). The Man of the Shroud was pierced on the right side of the chest. The edges of the wound are spread, sharp and linear, typical of a blow given after death. Heart attack followed by haemopericardia is considered the most probable cause of death. Haemopericardia is the terminal moment of a myocardial heart attack and is caused by spasms in the coronaries under the pressure of violent psychophysical stress. Death by haemopericardia is clear from the splotch of blood escaped from the wound, in which there are thick clots separated by a dense ring of serum, which can happen in a man who has died following considerable accumulation of blood in the thoracic region. This accumulation can be explained by the rupture of the heart and the consequent pouring of blood between the heart and outer pericardial tissue, which causes rending retrosternal pain. The Gospel says that before expiring Jesus launched a cry (Mt 27, 50; Mk 15, 37; Lk 23, 46; Ps 69, 21; Ps 22, 15). The wound, made on the corpse by a spear after a certain time, allowed an outflow of blood that had already separated from the serum (Jn 19, 34; Is 53, 5; Zc 12, 10; 1 Jn 5, 6; Ezk 47, 1).
The Shroud is a linen sheet of precious weave: the Gospels tell us that the winding sheet of Jesus was bought by Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man (Mt 27, 57-60; Mk 15, 42-46; Lk 23, 50-53; Jn 19, 38-40). On the Shroud were found traces of aloes and myrrh, fragrant substances brought by Nicodemus (Jn 19, 39-40). The Man of the Shroud was not washed because he was a victim of violent death. From the blood stains it is deduced that his body was wrapped in the linen within two and a half hours after death and remained in the sheet for less than forty hours. There are in fact no signs of putrefaction (Ps 16, 10).
Finally, contact between the body and the cloth was interrupted without altering the blood stains that have remained extremely sharp. If the body had been taken out of the sheet, there would be smudges and there are none. But the imprints show that there was no mechanical extraction.
Pope Benedict XVI receiving a present of a copy of the Shroud from the diocese of Turin, in the Paul VI  Hall 2 June 2008. The copy is actual size – 437 cm long by 111 high

Pope Benedict XVI receiving a present of a copy of the Shroud from the diocese of Turin, in the Paul VI Hall 2 June 2008. The copy is actual size – 437 cm long by 111 high

And therefore, to return to the previous question, how does one explain the date 1260-1390 given by the 1988 C14 analysis?
MARINELLI: Many scholars immediately after the presentation of results of the analysis, and again recently, were convinced that it can’t be considered valid. It has been said that the sample was not representative of the whole cloth. A bioplastic coating of fungi and bacteria was found on the threads. In addition there are cotton fibrils and incrustation of dyes, indicative of an invisible mend that may have affected the validity of that test. Unfortunately, the three laboratories did not at the time provide the raw data of the analysis, and that requires us to accept the result without even a partial possibility of counter testing. But there has been much talk of the analyses, perhaps even too much, and common opinion tends to give C14 dating an almost “prodigiously” definitive value. It is instead a complex test itself naturally subject to error.
In a BBC documentary, recently broadcast by Italian television also, Professor Christopher Ramsey, the current director of the laboratory at Oxford and the person who signed the results of the tests at the time, seemed fairly willing to rethink the 1988 results. It has been said on several sides that they could be put into question...
MARINELLI: I have had a direct exchange of correspondence with him precisely on that point and it seems to me that his thinking was a little forced, perhaps also to gain publicity for the documentary. In substance, he says that faced with new elements he would be willing to call the matter into question again, but that at present he doesn’t see why it should be reopened. Whereas we hope that on the occasion of the new display planned for 2010 a fresh wider-ranging inquiry may be conducted. The problem of dating methods, albeit important, is certainly secondary to the question of how the image was made on the cloth of the Shroud. And the how would help us also understand the when and the why.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português