Scientists Confident That Shroud of Turin Tests Are Conclusive

Times Religion Writer

The definitive Carbon-14 dating of the Shroud of Turin to a time between AD 1260 and AD 1390 has effectively discounted--in the eyes of scientists and church leaders--all the earlier shreds of evidence pointing to its possibility as the burial cloth of Jesus.

No evidence of forgery was uncovered by a team of U.S. scientists who conducted an array of tests in 1978 aimed at finding the origin of a faint yellowish image of a beaten and bloodied man on the shroud. But a spokesman for the group also expressed confidence that the long-sought Carbon-14 tests made this year were conclusive. It was expected that few scientists associated with research on the shroud would have reservations.

The Roman Catholic Church viewpoint was established through the official announcement Thursday by the archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero: The 14-foot-long linen cloth was long “venerated” but never declared an authentic relic, and it may still have religious value as a Middle Ages artistic representation of the crucified Jesus.

That was the view, in fact, of two Catholic pastors in Southern California whose churches are decorated with artistic renditions based on the shroud’s image.


Image Reproduced

The brass and bronze depictions of Jesus on the walls of Our Mother of Confidence parish in San Diego since late 1978 were based on the image on the shroud. Even the burn marks seen on the shroud (from a fire in 1532) are shown in the full figure of Jesus that parishioners see behind the altar.

But the scientific findings “don’t faze me in any way,” said Msgr. James P. O’Donoghue, pastor of the 3,000-member parish. “It’s a good image of Christ as far as tradition thinks of him. Parishioners that I have talked to said that they would not be perturbed (over a Middle Ages dating for the cloth).”

Within recent weeks, a stained-glass window depicting Jesus and based on the facial image shown on the shroud was dedicated in the chapel of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pomona.


“It would be better if we knew that (the shroud) belonged to the 1st Century,” said Father Manuel Sanchez, the pastor of the 4,000-member parish. “It is still one of the oldest pictures of Jesus. It came out beautifully. Everyone is very pleased with it.”

Church Hesitates to Label

Despite the proliferation of reputed relics during medieval times, including other burial shrouds of Jesus, Catholic church authorities are hesitant to label this artifact as a deliberate fake. The shroud was described as an icon--"a revelation of the face and the body of Christ"--on Thursday by Cardinal Ballestrero.

“I don’t think it was an attempt to fool people,” added Father Adam Otterbein, a Redemptorist priest who directs the Holy Shroud Guild near New York City.

The first actual written record of the shroud dates from 1354 when it was owned by a duke in Lirey, France. As early as 1389, however, Bishop Pierre D’Arcis reported to Pope Clement VII that the shroud was a fraud and that the perpetrator had confessed.

Otterbein, interviewed by telephone, attributed the “fraud” report to rivalries between the local bishop and the owner of the reputed relic. The priest also discounted the 1979 conclusion by chemist Walter McCrone that the so-called blood stains on the shroud were produced by red ocher paint.

McCrone, whose research institute in Chicago authenticates art objects, said in an interview Thursday that iron oxide was present in threads gathered on adhesive tape pressed onto the shroud in those areas. “They were tiny particles and well dispersed, but they were recognizable microscopically as an artist’s pigment,” he said.

Other U.S. team members disagreed with McCrone, so they “parted company,” as McCrone put it. But McCrone also said he thought the shroud image was produced in the 1300s because a common style of painting in that period was to apply a very thin layer of paint to a surface. The shroud image has mystified scientists because the cloth’s fibers were not permeated clear through by whatever substance caused the image.


The age-dating tests were done on tandem accelerator mass spectrometers at the University of Arizona, England’s Oxford University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich. Ballestrero said the scientists were 95% certain of the accuracy of the tests.

Carbon-14, the radioactive form of carbon, is created when cosmic rays from space strike Earth’s atmosphere and are incorporated into the tissues of plants, animals and humans while they are alive. When an organism dies, it no longer takes in Carbon-14 from the environment and the isotope in the tissues begins to decay at a known rate.

Dated to 13th Century

Physicist Douglas J. Donahue and geoscientist Paul E. Damon of the University of Arizona announced in Tucson this week that there was only one chance in 20 that the material of the shroud was fabricated before AD 1260 and essentially no possibility that it was made before AD 1200.

Damon and Donahue witnessed the cutting of the shroud in Turin last April. The British Museum provided samples of other cloth from known periods to provide a “blind test” of the postage-stamp size pieces of cloth. But the scientists recognized the weave of the shroud and some telltale red threads clinging to the sample. The artifact is kept in Turin’s cathedral, wrapped in red silk within a silver casket.

The University of Arizona scientists said they used two different methods to rid the sample of any impurities. No age difference was produced by the cleansing methods used on the shroud sample or on the other samples sent to the laboratory.

Damon said in an interview that the pieces were taken “from the main body of the shroud away from any patches or added parts and away from the charred areas.”

Indeed, chemist Robert Dinegar of the University of New Mexico, who spearheaded the effort to persuade the church to permit age-dating tests, said he had “no qualms in accepting the results.”


Dinegar and others who conducted the 1978 analyses said they plan this month to ask Luigi Gonella, the scientific adviser to the Turin archbishop, if more samples from the shroud can be removed for more Carbon-14 tests, including those by laboratories that use different techniques, in order to eliminate any doubt.