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Is the Shroud of Turin a Genuine Miracle?


In June I had the joy to spend a week in Italy. One reason for my pilgrimage was to venerate the Shroud of Turin. I had been intrigued by the supposed burial cloth of Christ since I was in college, and as I was in England leading a pilgrimage with Joseph Pearce, I did not want to miss the chance of traveling to Turin to see the shroud.

I was not disappointed. After taking the high-speed train from Rome, a decent restaurant and an overnight stay, we walked the few blocks from our hotel first thing in the morning to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We hustled, crowd free down the pathways set up to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the world who would, like us, have a few minutes to stand in silence before the famous, mysterious linen winding sheet of Christ.

After my visit I am more convinced than ever not only that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Christ, but that the mysterious image was produced by a blast of radiance from the resurrection. Those who wish to research the shroud can find scholarly and popular articles here and here. The most interesting thing about the shroud is the more scientific research is done the more the claims to authenticity accumulate. Not only is the image on the shroud that of a crucified man, but a particular crucified man.

He wore a crown of thorns. His legs were not broken. His face was punched. His side was pierced in a way consistent with a Roman spear. His back shows the marks of a severe flogging consistent with the flagellum used by the Romans. In other words, all the wounds match those not just of any crucified man, but those unique to Jesus of Nazareth.

Other details match in an extraordinary way. Fabric experts acknowledge that the particular linen cloth matches that used in the first century by wealthy individuals. The chemical traces on the cloth match the herbs and spices that were known to be used for Jewish burials in Roman times. Pollen from the shroud matches that present in Jerusalem in the first century. New scientific dating techniques counter the 1988 carbon 14 dating which identified a medieval date and they date the shroud to the first century.

Most mysterious is the image itself. In 1978 a team of American researchers were finally given access to the shroud. They ran a whole series of tests covering the range of scientific disciplines. Their analyses found no sign of artificial pigments and they concluded, “The Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.” What formed the image? The scientists were stumped and admitted that “no combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances” could adequately account for the image.

So what formed the image? The best description is that it is an extremely delicate singe marking. Italian physicist Paolo Di Lazzaro concedes, in an April 2015 article for National Geographic, that every scientific attempt to replicate it in a lab has failed. “Its precise hue is highly unusual, and the color’s penetration into the fabric is extremely thin, less than 0.7 micrometers (0.000028 inches), one-thirtieth the diameter of an individual fiber in a single 200-fiber linen thread.”

Di Lazzaro and his colleagues at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) experimented for five years, using modern excimer lasers to train short bursts of ultraviolet light on raw linen, in an effort to simulate the image’s coloration.

They came tantalizingly close to replicating the image’s distinctive color on a few square centimeters of fabric. However, they were unable to match all the physical and chemical characteristics of the shroud image, and reproducing a whole human figure was far beyond them. De Lazzaro explained that the ultraviolet light necessary to reproduce the image of the crucified man “exceeds the maximum power released by all ultraviolet light sources available today.” The time for such a burst would be shorter than one forty-billionth of a second, and the intensity of the ultra violet light would have to be around several billion watts.

The scientists shrug and say the only explanation lies beyond the realm of twenty-first century technoscience. In other words, the extraordinary burst of ultra violet light is not only beyond the ability and technology of a medieval forger: It is beyond the ability and technology of the best twenty-first century scientists.

Consequently, I wonder why atheists who insist on “evidence for the existence of God” don't take time to study the Shroud of Turin. If God does not exist, then the natural world has to be a closed system. If, however, just one miracle could be proven to have happened, then nature is not a closed system. If that miracle was intelligible then there has to be an intelligent force outside the system that is greater than the system. The resurrection of Jesus Christ would be that one necessary miracle. It is, after all, the miracle of miracles.

It is therefore ironic that it is only in this modern technoscientific age that the mysterious qualities of the Shroud of Turin have been unlocked. Ever since the photographer Secondo Pia discovered the shroud’s negative image in 1898 the forensic, archeological, documentary, cultural, chemical, physiological and physical evidence has accumulated. If there were ever any hard evidence for a miracle, this is it.

Therefore those who ask for evidence for the existence of God should take the time to examine the Shroud of Turin.
Originally posted at The Imaginative Conservative. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Heritage Daily)

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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  • Here are some thoughts on the claims made above. The linen cloth matches that of the first century, well no. There is a mix of flax and cotton that was unheard of in first century Middle East, but became popular in medievil Europe. The weaving technique is also unheard of until that time.

    The image shows his face, but the gospels say a cloth was placed over the face.

    The position he is in with arms folded but elbows touching the ground is impossible.

    Researchers testing for paint initially concluded that there was paint typically used in medievil times, but this was excluded from their report.

    Early depictions of the shroud show a clear and dark image, often different that that "observed" today. E.g, the loin cloth only appears after the council of Trent when Catholicism decided that it was wrong for people to be depicted naked.

    The image that remains is not inconsistent with any means of depiction known before the 20th century, in fact it is competely consistent with the remains of a thin layer of gesso needed to prep the fabric for painting.

    These comments are based entirely on the reasonable conclusions advanced by historian Charles Freeman in History Today. http://www.historytoday.com/charles-freeman/origins-shroud-turin

    Have a read it is really interesting.

  • I would like to hear from Catholics as to what they think the shroud is and what it means. Do you think it is the actual piece of cloth that wrapped Jesus?

    If so, then you need to explain some things to me. Why say it is miraculous? If it is an artifact it should be that, an artifact that is actual evidence of Jesus' death. Something entirely consistent with naturalism and Jesus being a normal human being.

    But it is inconsistent with that and incosistent with what we might expect in a miracle. For example. What we might expect is that the image miraculously not fade, or that it glow or something. But instead we have it fade, but in an allegedly miraculous way. I say allegedly because it is certainly the case that there is enormous dispute over whether its current state is impossible to explain on naturalism.

    My point is is that as a miracle, like Fatima, it is weird. In Fatima, the stated expectation was a visit from Jesus' mom. But what we get instead is accounts of strange weather and visions of a dancing sun.

    Why don't we get clear miracles? Why are they so vague and open to interpretation. We get aging doctors cured of radiodermitis, but never amputees re growing limbs. We get literally one in a million diseased people attending shrines who claim they it cured them. Why don't the millions get cured? Why don't the millions of children get cured?

    It seems that if god is in charge of these things, he is playing games. Are they evidence of the supernatural? If so why not be clear? If they are not evidence, when have them at all?

    • Mike

      I personally don't know enough about it to say whether i think it is real or not so to me it is just an interesting piece of christian history.

    • Michael Murray

      I thought the usual argument was that the image couldn't have possibly got there by natural causes. So yes it is Jesus burial cloth plus his image was blasted onto it as a side-effect of his resurrection by some supernatural or unknown natural process.

      Are they evidence of the supernatural? If so why not be clear? If they are not evidence, when have them at all?

      Yes -- all that effort to design a world that looks exactly like You are not there and then You run around making strange little miracles.

    • Doug Shaver

      Are they evidence of the supernatural? If so why not be clear?

      For some reason that has never been well explained to me, God provides enough evidence to convince those with a predisposition to believe, but not enough to convince those without such a predisposition, because sufficient evidence to convince the unpredisposed would violate their free will.

      • Peter

        "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't"
        Blaise Pascal

        • Doug Shaver

          Sounds like what I said.

    • Peter

      Where miracles which are subject to current scientific debate like this one are concerned, I like to keep an open mind. As a Catholic, I do not need scientific proof of a miracle to believe that God exists in that I would withhold belief if such proof were not forthcoming. If the Shroud were found to be fake, it would not alter my belief in God and, if found to be genuine, it would merely confirm that belief.

      All I know is that an any celestial Author who could write the laws of our space-time and exist beyond it, would also be capable of manipulating those laws to produce what we call miracles. That is why I keep an open mind about them and why I would not be surprised if they turned out to be true.

      The time and energy consumed by atheists to demonstrate that such miracles are false does little to further their cause, since they cannot explain the most pressing miracle of all which is the existence of reality itself.

  • Galorgan

    The Unbelievable? English Christian Radio Program did an episode of the Shroud of Turin over a year ago, with somebody in support of its authenticity and somebody against it. The man who argued it against it seemed far less biased and far more convincing, but I would say that wouldn't I?


    • Mike

      i used to listen to that show; the host is great i think.

      thx for the link.

  • Doljonijiarnimorinar

    "Therefore those who ask for evidence for the existence of God should take the time to examine the Shroud of Turin."

    Granting there was a Jesus, and he was crucified. Granting that the shroud is legitimately the itinerant rabbi's burial cloth - neither provide evidence of the resurrection or of The Sustainer of Being™.

    Next, please.

  • David Nickol

    The "top of the head" problem is well, known, but how do believers account for it? Think of the burial cloth being placed over the front of the body and then up and over the scalp and down the back of the body. The image of the body should contain the top of the head (the scalp). And yet the image on the cloth shows the face and the back of the head, but no scalp, as if the head had somehow been flattened to be only a face and the back of the head, or as if the cloth bore the image of two bodies touching at the top of the head, one lying face up and the other lying face. This is easy to see just from looking at the image.

    • Mike

      has anyone every measured the actual size of the head to see it makes sense as a real human head? if it's really small or really big it would mean that it couldn't be a direct copy of a human head.

      • Robert Macri

        Various groups have performed 3-D image construction on the shroud, and from what I've seen, the proportions are reasonable. You can see the results of one of these reconstructions here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlh8UxBvDBg)

        This was from a History Channel documentary.

        • Mike

          interesting...btw does the face 'Look' semitic or greek or whatever bc to me it kinda look like a knight.

          • Robert Macri

            "In the eye of the beholder", I suppose...

            It is a reasonable approximation to my personal expectations, but by no means identical.

    • Robert Macri

      I was just taking a look at this in shroudscope (http://www.sindonology.org/shroudScope/shroudScope.shtml) but I have a very hard time identifying the scalp problem.

      If I make a crude measurement from the top of the shoulders on the front side to a similar position on the dorsal side (which is not easy, given the image quality, so I expect a certain amount of error) I estimate that the center point is not, in fact at the point to which the eye is first drawn, but rather a short distance along the dorsal side. If this is the case, and not my measurement error, then we do not have two images joined with no scalp, but rather a scalp that is smeared out towards what we perceived as the dorsal side. It could be that the way the cloth was folded over the head provided just the right curvature to trick the eye into seeing a head with no scalp on the dorsal side.

  • David Lentini

    And don't forget the Tima

    • bdlaacmm

      Do you mean tilma?

  • bdlaacmm

    I believe this has been alluded to in the comments below, but could someone please explain how the image can be consistent with the following:

    "Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself." (John 20:6-7)

    Now I'm not a "shroud skeptic" (nor am I convinced of its authenticity either), but I just can't get past this passage in John. If there was a separate cloth which had been wrapped around Christ's head, why would His face be on the shroud image? Shouldn't the image stop at the shoulders? What am I missing here?

    • Robert Macri

      I am not certain if it is the same cloth referred to in the gospel passage you cite, but the Sudarium of Oviedo (which is still in existence) seems to have been in contact with the same face as the shroud. The sudarium does not possess an image, but it does have blood stains which match those on the shroud in both position, shape, and blood type.

      As to your question: perhaps the facial covering was removed when the body was wrapped in the shroud. Unless I am mistaken, all such bloody cloths used during the transport and/or cleaning of the body would have been buried in the same tomb, but not necessarily be left in contact with the body.
      Otherwise, if the image was formed miraculously, all bets are off.

      • bdlaacmm

        Interesting answer. Thanks.

  • Doug Shaver

    Therefore those who ask for evidence for the existence of God should take the time to examine the Shroud of Turin.

    Been there, done that. I have read enough articles, by both believers and skeptics, to comprise a good-sized book. The believers have failed to make their case, in my judgment.

  • Doug Shaver

    Not only is the image on the shroud that of a crucified man, but a particular crucified man.

    He wore a crown of thorns. His legs were not broken. His face was punched. His side was pierced in a way consistent with a Roman spear. His back shows the marks of a severe flogging consistent with the flagellum used by the Romans. In other words, all the wounds match those not just of any crucified man, but those unique to Jesus of Nazareth.

    If it had been a forgery, which of these characteristics should we not have expected to be present?

  • Doug Shaver

    If God does not exist, then the natural world has to be a closed system.

    Not necessarily. If the natural world is not a closed system, then something supernatural exists. Theists are not entitled to the assumption that their particular supernaturalism is the only kind there could be. I am an atheist because I am a naturalist, not vice versa.

    • Peter

      I am a naturalist too, but that does not make me an atheist. The fact that the universe behaves naturalistically, and may even have begun naturalistically, means that it follows natural laws. From a strictly naturalistic point of view, I see the universe evolving towards widespread consciousness and self-awareness, which would indicate purpose.

      When combining this phenomenon with the presence of discreet natural laws which lead to it, I find the most parsimonious explanation to be that these laws and their ultimate purpose are authored by a supreme intellect existing beyond our space-time.

      • Doug Shaver

        I am a naturalist too, but that does not make me an atheist. . . . I find the most parsimonious explanation to be that these laws and their ultimate purpose are authored by a supreme intellect existing beyond our space-time.

        OK, but you must be defining naturalism differently from how most people who call themselves naturalists define it.

        • Peter

          What, then, would the most parsimonious explanation be for most of those who call themselves naturalists?

          • Doug Shaver

            Sometimes parsimony requires you to admit that you don't have an explanation.

          • Peter

            How can you call yourself a naturalist if you admit that naturalism offers no explanation?

          • Doug Shaver

            I didn't say it offers no explanation. I said it doesn't have to in order to be more parsimonious than supernaturalism.

          • Peter

            What explanation does naturalism offer?

          • Doug Shaver

            What explanation does naturalism offer?

            For what, specifically?

          • Peter

            For existence.

          • Doug Shaver

            We all, without exception, treat some propositions as axiomatic and some concepts as undefined, or else we just talk in circles. As a philosophical naturalist, I don't try to define existence, and I don't try to prove that the universe exists.

            There is an analogous constraint on our ability to explain things. No worldview explains or can explain everything, because explanations require information. We can explain Z in terms of Y, and explain Y in terms of X, and so on back until we have used up all the information at our cognitive disposal. At that point, explanation must stop until we get more information. But then that new information will itself contain or presuppose unexplained things. This cannot end until we know everything there is to know, and that isn't going to happen.

          • Peter

            I would have thought that a more parsimonious explanation of reality for a naturalist would be to simply posit a multiverse.

          • Doug Shaver

            There is nothing prima facie supernatural about a multiverse. The multiverse hypothesis was formulated as a possible naturalistic explanation for certain facts discovered by conventional naturalistic science. When other explanations for those facts are offered for consideration, then we can compare them for their parsimony. But unless one of those explanations presupposes some supernatural force at work, they will all be naturalistic explanations.

          • Peter

            "There is nothing prima facie supernatural about a multiverse"

            That's why it's a parsimonious explanation for a naturalist.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's why it's a parsimonious explanation for a naturalist.

            That depends on what it's supposed to be an explanation for.

  • Michael Murray

    Seems Christians aren't the only ones with carbon dating problems. This one could prove tricky for the opposition team:


    The argument against an early Koran does seem more plausible to my uneducated eye though.

  • Consequently, I wonder why atheists who insist on “evidence for the
    existence of God” don't take time to study the Shroud of Turin.

    I did. And unlike Fr. Longenecker, I didn't stop at tickling my confirmation bias, but instead looked at the evidence on both sides. There are some interesting pieces of evidence that suggest authenticity, they're hugely outweighed by the evidence pointing to fraud.

    FWIW, here's the way I tallied up the evidence in 2013. I challenge someone who believes the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus to do the same - it would be illuminating to compare the points on which we differ.

  • melanie statom
  • SpokenMind

    Here is an interesting take on the Shround of Turin.


    The main speaker is about 8 minutes in.

    "he [Peter] went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place." (John 20:6-7)