The Shroud of Turin receives its name from its present location, the city of Turin, Italy where it is kept in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It is a rectangular piece of linen cloth, 4.36 by 1.1 metres, which bears the front and back image of a man consistent with one who has been crucified and showing the marks of the Passion as described in the Gospels.
Throughout the centuries, many have believed it to be the burial cloth of Jesus.
The Gospels speak of the burial cloths used to wrap the body of Jesus and then being found in the tomb after Jesus' resurrection. Luke mentioned Peter seeing the linen cloths (24:12). In John's Gospel, Peter saw the linen wrappings and the "other disciple . . . went in, saw and believed" (20:7-8), thus seemingly connecting belief in the resurrection to the sight of the cloths lying there empty.
During the first centuries there seems to have been few references to the shroud. After the fourth century, when Christians were free to practise their faith, as well as in subsequent centuries, it was mentioned frequently. One of the difficulties in considering the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is that for a number of years, it seemed to have disappeared from view.
But recent researchers claim to have found traces of it throughout its history. Not surprisingly, considering the turbulent times, this relic was moved several times.
It was kept in Jerusalem at first and later in Turkey, being taken to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 944.
During the tragic turn of events in the Fourth Crusade, the attack was directed at Constantinople. In the plundering that followed, the most sought-after loot was relics and other religious objects.
At the end of the fighting, the shroud was awarded to a French nobleman for his valour. He took it with him to Greece and then to France. In 1453, it became the property of the Royal House of Savoy who took it to Turin in 1578.
In 1898, when the first photos were taken of what turned out to be like a negative, an astonished photographer saw the image of a man in a positive picture. This is something unique to the shroud. Attempts have been made to reproduce such an image but without success.
Pollen grains, which are resistant to change, can show where the cloth has been and so have been studied on the shroud. They seem to corroborate the historical evidence of the places where the shroud has been.
Carbon-14 dating was undertaken in 1988 in three separate laboratories to try to ascertain the age of this cloth. The results showed its origins in the Middle Ages between 1260 and 1390, thus eliminating the possibility of it being the burial cloth of Jesus.
However, some scientists began to question these findings. It appears that the 15 fibres used in the analysis were not of the same material as 19 other fibres of the shroud tested later. Therefore, those 15 fibres tested initially were polluted.
Parts which had been mended invisibly may have been used, thus showing the later date.
In addition, because of a fire in the building where the shroud had been kept, it had been subjected to high temperatures.
This increased the carbon content of the material, thus giving it a later date. Therefore, agreement exists of a need for further analysis and study.
The Church says . . .
What does the Church say about this relic? As with any extraordinary phenomena, the Church has maintained a neutral stance, tempered with skepticism. Although it has been venerated as the authentic burial cloth of Jesus, it has never been declared as such. The Church is open to what science will discover. Therefore, we are free to believe or not believe.
If it is authentic, it can be a powerful witness to the life, death and resurrection of Christ today when disbelief in God and in Christ as God comes from many quarters.
If it is not authentic, nothing is lost of Christ and his gift of himself to the world that we know from Scripture and Tradition.