Maybe the Shroud is Dead After All (or maybe not)

Robert Sutherland, author of Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job: A literary, legal and philosophical study, recently sent me a link to an Discovery Magazine article about the Shroud of Turin entitled "Experiment: Turin Shroud An Easy Forgery". The article notes that "Nathan Wilson, a fellow of literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, claims to have successfully created a shroud-like image."

Rather than attempting to discover how to darken linen without chemicals or paint, Wilson just did the opposite.

"It is not an issue of dark placed on light, but of light replacing dark. The most obvious method for lightening linen is the one housewives have used to bleach tablecloths for centuries and, more likely, millennia. Put the cloth outside beneath the sun," he said.

Helped by microbiologist Scott Minnich, an associate professor at the University of Idaho, who provided him with scientific advice on structuring the experiment, Wilson put fabric under a glass panel painted with a human face — using white paint — and left it in the sun for a few days.

Wilson found that when a positive image of a man's face was painted onto glass, and left over linen beneath the sun, a color inversion took place, creating a photo negative.

"Wherever light paint had been applied, the linen remained dark beneath, and wherever the darker shade of linen had been left bare, the image lightened. In this regard, the image produced is very similar to that of the Turin Shroud," Wilson told Discovery News.

Not being a Shroud of Turin expert, I certainly don't know whether this effort has duplicated what is found on the shroud. However, I return to an article that I linked in my earlier Shroud post from 2005 News on the Shroud of Turin from

The Shroud of Turin images may not the direct result of a miracle, at least not in a traditional sense of the word. But they are not manmade either. These seem to be the contradictory conclusions from an article in the peer-reviewed, scientific Journal of Optics (April 14, 2004) of the Institute of Physics in London: Giulio Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, researchers at the University of Padua, Italy, discovered a faint image of a second face on the back of the Shroud of Turin.

This supports a hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin's images are the result of a very natural, complex chemical reaction between amines (ammonia derivatives) emerging from a body and saccharides within a carbohydrate residue that covers the fibers of the Shroud of Turin. The color producing chemical process is called a Maillard reaction. This is fully discussed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Melanoidins, a journal of the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities (EU, Volume 4, 2003).

This conclusion by the two physicists seems to be at odds with Mr. Wilson's conclusion from his experiment. The Discovery Magazine story, however, mentions the work of physicists Fanti and Maggiolo, and seems to acknowledge that Mr. Wilson has not fully answered their paper:

In a study published last year in one of the journals of the Institute of Physics, the Journal of Optics A: Pure and Applied Optics, Giulio Fanti, professor of Mechanical and Thermic Measurements at Padua University, claimed that enhancing imaging procedures revealed the image of a man's face on the reverse side of the shroud.

Featuring striking three-dimensional quality, the image matched in form, size and position the known face, according to Fanti's controversial claim.

"On both sides, the face image is superficial, involving only the outermost linen fibers. When a cross-section of the fabric is made, one extremely superficial image appears above and one below, but there is nothing in the middle. It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti said.

According to Wilson, if the cloth is reversed beneath the sun — after the image on the front has been created — the image can be made as superficial as desired.

"It is not difficult for me to produce an image on the reverse side of the cloth, but Fanti's conclusion that both images are superficial presents something for me to explore in future experiments," Wilson said.

Don't know quite what to conclude from all of this, but it does seem that there are reasons to ask further questions before assuming that Wilson's experiment proves that the Shroud of Turin is a fake. One question I would like to ask is: how sophisticated would a medieval forger have to be to include the following in his fake:

1. Actual human bloodstains including pericardial fluid and serum, some of which flowed from a living body and some of which flowed from a dead body. Consider the following from

Many of the [bloodstains] have the distinctive forensic signature of clotting with red corpuscles about the edge of the clot and a clear yellowish halo of serum.

Some forensic experts think that can identify that some of the blood flow was venous and some was arterial. Most of the blood flowed while the man was alive and it remained on his body. There is some blood that clearly oozed from a dead body, as was the case for stains resulting from a wound in the man’s chest. Here, the blood, with a deeper color and more viscous consistency, as is the case for blood from a postmortem wound, ran from a chest wound, flowed around the side of the body and formed a puddle about the man’s lower back.

Mingled with the blood from the chest wound are stains from a clear bodily fluid, perhaps pericardial fluid or fluid from the pleural sac or pleural cavity. This suggests that the man received a postmortem stabbing wound in the vicinity of the heart.

2. Large nails through the wrists instead of the palms of the hands which one would not expect of a medieval forger since the iconography of medieval and pre-medieval periods was that the nails were put through the palms.

3. The face image is on the shroud itself instead of a separate cloth where medieval incongraphy and practice (as I understand it) would have suggested that the face would have been covered separately.

4. Medically accurate details of a scourging. Again, according to

Forensic experts tell us that the body images show explicit and medically realistic details of piercing wounds, lacerations, bruises, contusions, and abrasions are medically accurate.

The man’s once-outstretched arms are modestly folded at the wrists. It is on the images of the arms that we see rivulets of blood. It is on the man’s chest, between the fifth and sixth ribs that we see an elliptical gash from which the blood flowed under the man’s lower back. We see the horrific wounds where the man was nailed to the cross. So accurate are the details, medical experts realize they demonstrate a knowledge of pathology that was not understood in the Middle Ages; not by artists, not by crafters of fake relics, and not by the best medical minds of that age. How did this relic forger translate such medically-accurate detail, in both the front and back images, onto the long piece of linen cloth?

I will look forward to some of the pro-Shroud apologists examining Mr. Wilson's experiment a little more closely. In the meantime, I am going to reserve any type of concession that the shroud is fake.


I saw Nathan Wilson being interviewed on T.V. and I was highly disappointed with his case. Putting paint on a glass plate and putting it in the sun just didn't seem all that convincing. I'm not a big expert on Shroud of Turin, but if that was all he proposed, then I'm not convinced at all. Honestly, I haven't looked into the Shroud as much as I should to give a credible response. Even if it turns out that the Shroud is false, that doesn't shake my faith in the historical evidence for his existence. It just shows that someone pulled a hoax. That wouldn't surprise me, considering how many people there are out there that would love to see Christ's existence disproven. Great work! Thanks for the references as well.

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