The Shroud of Turin: Real or Fake?

Is the Image of Jesus Christ a Miracle or a Fraud?

shroud turin
The left side of this photo shows the positive image of the man's face imprinted on the shroud that is visible to the naked eye. The right side shows the negative image that photography reveals. Photo © Andrew Butko, public domain

The Shroud of Turin is one of the most studied artifacts in all human history. Yet, many centuries after it was first widely discovered, the shroud is still sparking controversy and intense debate. Some people believe that the shroud is the actual linen cloth that covered Jesus Christ's body in his grave -- and that the energy generated by Jesus' resurrection miraculously burned the image of his face and body on the shroud.

But others claim that the shroud is fake -- an elaborate forgery created by an artist. Is the Shroud of Turin a real miracle or just a piece of artwork?

An Incredible Image

The shroud shows both the front and back images of a tall, muscular man who had suffered wounds consistent with the Bible's detailed accounts of Jesus' crucifixion. It also contains blood stains and flower pollen spores.

Historical evidence may take the shroud as far back as 544 AD to the ancient city of Edessa, Turkey, and its location prior to that is unclear, so it can't be either proven or disproven from history. The first written historical records of the shroud date to the 1300s, some time after it disappeared during the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 and resurfaced in Lirey, France. The shroud has been located in Turin, Italy since 1578, and it has been on public display there during many exhibitions over the years.

Extensive Research

Scientists from all over the world have conducted extensive research on the shroud. Laboratory analysis of samples taken from the shroud's blood stains have conclusively shown that the blood (type AB) is real, and lab results from studies on the shroud's pollen spores (from the imprint of a crown of thorny flowers around the head) have revealed that the pollen came mostly from the Jerusalem area.

Radiocarbon dating tests performed by laboratories in 1988 at first seemed to discredit the shroud's reliability as a first century artifact, since results of tests on the material used (a small swatch of cloth taken from one of the shroud's corners) showed that the material dated from between 1260 to 1390 AD. However, those results have since been invalidated because the material selected for the testing may have been from parts of the shroud that were damaged and later repaired, rather than from the original material.

Many scientists want to do more research on the shroud to get a clearer idea of its age. For example, Christopher Ramsey, director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (one of the labs that helped with the 1988 tests), said in 2008: "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow, and so further research is certainly needed."

Another one of the shroud's mysteries -- how the man's image appeared there -- hasn't yet been solved, either. Scientific research has ruled out many previous theories about how the image may have formed on the shroud, such as painting techniques or chemical processes resulting from body decomposition.

Scientists have said that it's possible for the image to have been burned onto the shroud through a process called corona discharge, in which extremely high levels of energy can print images through ionization. Some people believe that this scientific theory is consistent with the miraculous explanation that energy generated by Jesus' resurrection printed the striking image of his face and body on the shroud.