The Shroud of Turin is reputedly Christ's burial cloth. It has been a religious relic since the Middle Ages. To believers it was divine proof the Christ was resurrected from the grave, to doubters it was evidence of human gullibility and one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of art.
No one has been able to prove that it is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, but its haunting image of a man's wounded body is proof enough for true believers.
The Shroud of Turin, as seen by the naked eye, is a negative image of a man with his hands folded. The linen is 14 feet, 3 inches long and 3 feet, 7 inches wide. The shroud bears the image of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Jesus.
The shroud is wrapped in red silk and kept in a silver chest in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy since 1578.
The shroud is unquestionably old. Its history is known from the year 1357, when it surfaced in the tiny village of Lirey, France. Until recent reports from San Antonio, most of the scientific world accepted the findings of carbon dating carried out in 1988. The results said the shroud dated back to 1260-1390, and thus is much too new to be Jesus' burial linen.
Image Formation Theories
The Painting Theory
One theory is simply that the Shroud is a painting . It has been proposed that it was painted using iron oxide in an animal protein binder. The STURP scientists have concluded from their studies that no paints, pigments, dyes or stains have been found to make up the visible image. Small amounts of iron oxide have been found on the Shroud but the iron oxide is evenly distributed all over the Shroud. If it were painted using iron oxide you would expect its concentration to be greater in the image areas verses the non-image areas. This is not the case but the iron oxide is evenly distributed all over the Shroud. Thus it is probably a containment caused by the presence of the Shroud in artists studios throughout history who were copying it. It is also possible that the copies may have been touched to the Shroud to transfer its sacredness and this contaminated the Shroud with iron oxide.
Also no painter has been able to reproduce all the different qualities and characteristics of the Shroud. That is, its negativity, 3D effect, no brush strokes or directionality, perfect anatomical details from blood stains, scourging, etc. and the image is a surface phenomena, that is the image only penetrates about 1/500 of an inch into the cloth. It was shown that the blood went on first and than image. Try doing that and then painting the body image. Thus up to now no one has been able to reproduce the Shroud in all its characteristics. Most scientists reject the painting theory.
The Radiation Theory
Could the image have been produced by a burst of radiation (heat or light) acting over short period of time which would have scorched the cloth? Scientists have not been able to duplicate the characteristics of the Shroud using this method just like the painting hypothesis. Also the color and ultraviolet characteristics of the Shroud body image and a scorch are different. The shroud body image does not fluoresce under UV light but scorches like the burns from 1532 do fluoresce under UV light. Thus many scientists rule out the radiation theory.
DeSalvo's Revised Vaporgraphic - Direct Contact Theory
There are other theories regarding vapors from the body diffusing to the Shroud and producing the image. Another theory is a direct contact process in which substances were directly transferred to the cloth and produced the image.
DeSalvo's Theory takes both of these into consideration.
Nature may have supplied us with a miniature example of how the Shroud body image was produced. It is known that when certain plant matter (such as leaves) are placed in a book and left undisturbed for many years, there develops on both the upper and lower sheets of paper a faint sepia colored imprint of the plant matter (called Volckringer patterns). Dr. Jean Volckringer in the 1940's noticed that these plant images closely resemble the body image on the Shroud of Turin. In fact the plant imprint also appears to be a negative image, just like the Shroud, and when photographed a positive imprint appears on the negative plate.
Volckringer patterns are produced when acids from the plant are transfered to the paper causing cellulose degradation (oxidation). The most prominent plant acid in this process is lactic acid. Where would lactic acid fit in with the Shroud body image formation process? Human perspiration contains a certain amount of lactic acid. A person who had been tortured and crucified would have sweated profusely and medical studies have shown that this perspiration would have very high concentrations of lactic acid. Thus, this could have been the transferring agent involved in producing the body image on the Shroud. The lactic acid would have been transferred to the cloth by both direct contact and vertical diffusion. Areas of the body like the nose that touched the cloth would transfer the lactic acid by direct contact. In the areas further away that did not touch the cloth, i.e the cheeks, the lactic acid would travel to the cloth by diffusion. Thus two processes, both direct contact and vertical diffusion would transfer the lactic acid to the cloth. Than this acid would oxidize the cellulose in the linen and produce the image over a period of time. It may be that originally there was no image on the cloth and after many years the lactic acid working on the cloth eventually developed the image. This is what occurs with the plant matter in books. My theory does not answer all the questions. Some problems are that the Shroud body image is a surface phenomena but the Volckringer patterns are not. They penetrate into the paper. Also calculations using diffusion of lactic acid would not produce the high resolution of the image we see on the Shroud. Thus my theory does not explain all the characteristics of the Shroud and more research needs to be done. Thus no one theory to date can explain how the image on the Shroud was produced.