Once and for All, is the Shroud of Turin a Fake?


British photographer Leo Vala displays the photographic representation he has produced of the face of Christ, January 1967 (Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Having spent eight years in Catholic school, I'm no stranger to tales of weeping statues and stigmata. (I always wished a saint would appear to me, to no avail.) The Shroud of Turin is one of those religious mysteries that drive people crazy. On one side, you have people claiming it's the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. On the other, you have people who say it's a fake, created for the money it could bring in from religious pilgrims.

In the news today, link courtesy of my colleague Rob Sheppe, scientist Luigi Garlaschelli declares that the shroud is definitely a fake, and to prove it, he's made one himself with period-appropriate materials. Put a sheet of linen over yourself and apply a pigment with acid in it, then heat up and wash the cloth before embellishing it with blood and burn holes and voila -- according to Garlaschelli, you have yourself the shroud.

For those of you who don't know much about it, the Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen that shows what looks to be the image of the crucified Christ. (It's hard to see unless you create a black-and-white negative of it.)

This isn't the first time someone's shown proof that the shroud isn't what it's purported to be. In 1988, radiocarbon dating indicated the shroud was from the Middle Ages, long after the death of Christ. But as with any item so strongly identified with an important historical figure, questions were raised -- some say the tests weren't done right.

If we take a look at the players involved, it gets even more interesting. Garlaschelli is an organic chemist at the University of Pavia, and he's taken on the Church before. A Washington Post article from 2005 discusses his work attempting to debunk the miracle of San Gennaro, the statue of Mary that wept blood and, again, the shroud. His most recent work was bankrolled by a group of agnostics and atheists, according to Reuters.

And as for the Church, it's been more silent than you might think on a matter of such magnitude. In general, the prevailing opinion as I interpret it is that even if these mysteries turn out not to be miracles, they are still blessings in that they're important reminders of one's faith.

What do you all think?

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