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Arguments about the Turin Shroud’s authenticity

15 May 2015


From Canon Andrew Willie

Sir, - I read with interest Charles Freeman's contribution to the Turin Shroud debate (Features, 8 May), but question his findings. He asks whether the Classical era could have produced such a large cloth with such a complex weave. The question is difficult, because of the paucity of materials from that era. Small samples of herring-bone pattern have been found, however; and a sheet from the period, in Tunis Museum, is of even larger size.

As for the Middle Ages, Ian Wilson, a foremost authority on the shroud, was consulted by Dr Michael Tite. Dr Tite was involved in the carbon-dating process and searching for control purposes for a medieval sample of similar weave. None was found, nor was a large sheet of similar size.

Here the balance of argument favours the shroud's authenticity. In fact, the carbon-dating process was vitiated by a failure to follow agreed protocols, and by the immature contempt of another carbon-dating scientist, Edward Hall: "Some one just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it."

Mr Freeman certainly does not see the shroud as a fake in the usual sense, but as a medieval Quem Quaeritis ceremony artefact from which the pigments have disappeared. It does not seem unreasonable, however, to ask, since the Middle Ages regarded the shroud as a portrait not made with hands, whether the pigments were there in the first place.

Mr Freeman assumes that the scourging alone, as shown on the shroud, would have killed Jesus. St Paul, according to 2 Corinthians 11.24, survived it five times. The shroud does, however, show it as being especially vicious in our Lord's case - so much so that St Mark's Gospel speaks of the need for Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross on Jesus's behalf, and St John's Gospel speaks particularly of Jesus's determination to take control and see the task finished. Help from Simon and his own determination brought him to Calvary; the scourging meant that Jesus died on the cross more quickly than normal, so that his legs did not need breaking when he was taken down (John 19.31-33).

Mr Freeman's idea that the man in the shroud was standing, if true, might merely reflect on what stage in the resurrection process the image was made. What convinces me of the shroud's authenticity, however, is the research that has found on it pollen and dust from Jerusalem, and splinters of a true cross made not of the usual expected pine, but of holm oak found in Palestine.

Why does the authenticity of the shroud matter? We have, after all, evidence of our Lord's resurrection in the Gospels and in 1 Corinthians 15, and of his continued presence among us in the eucharist. The shroud matters because it seems to provide corroborative, but totally different evidence, certainly of the former; and any attempt to prove it false may well fuel the aggressive atheism present in our society.

Cornerstone, 6 Cordell Close
Llanfoist, Abergavenny
Monmouthshire NP7 9FE

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