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Shroud of Turin: the image of the extreme pain suffered for our redemption, Part One

Today we begin the publication of a magnificent article by Professors Alfonso Sánchez Hermosilla (Department of Clinical Forensics, Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science, Murcia, Spain) and Massimo Rogante (Studio di Ingegneria Rogante, Civitanova Marche, Italy). It is a profound meditation on the Passion and Death of the Man of the Shroud, conducted with rare scientific expertise and sincere devotion. The second part will be longer, but also the most interesting.


Those who stand before the Crucifix are often unaware of the extreme suffering it depicts, especially due to the terrible tortures of scourging and crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin, in this context, is the most realistic key to interpretation: through in-depth studies of forensic medicine together with the consultation of historiographical and biblical texts, in fact, it has allowed us to come closer to the awareness of what the tortures may have been, which involved every part of the physical apparatus of the Man that the Shroud represents. This article, after a brief general introduction, briefly sets forth the main results of these studies, together with considerations and reflections on the significance of the Shroud of Turin for the man of faith.

1. Introduction

The majority of those who contemplate the Crucifix, and of the faithful who pray to it, are unaware of how the tortures of scourging and crucifixion, as documented in historiographical and biblical texts, inflicted the many immense sufferings on the Man of the Crucifix.

These sufferings are depicted by the Shroud of Turin, a special and mysterious linen sheet that bears the imprinted figure of the corpse of a tortured and crucified man, undeniably harking back to the Passion of Christ and arousing great emotions since its appearance because of the extraordinary figure it encloses.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, people were approached to the Shroud from the devotional aspect: after the appearance of the photographic plate impressed by Secondo Pia in 1898, whereby the Shroud proved to behave similarly to a photographic negative, numerous doubts began to arise about the hypothesis of a medieval forgery, and thus research began to develop to try to understand the possible origin of such a peculiar phenomenon.

The actual scientific research related to the Shroud of Turin, which began in 1978 as part of the so-called Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), involved chemical, spectroscopic and forensic investigations, and analysis of the possible solution of preservation issues.

Scientific discussions of physical, chemical, biological, forensic, and historical aspects of the Shroud of Turin, comparing it with possible copies, have shown in particular that the image was not produced by means available to a medieval forger.

Recent studies, while not yet having clarified how it was formed, have now conclusively established that the shroud image cannot be a painting: results of experiments carried out by Di Lazzaro and colleagues in 2015 confirmed that a medieval craftsman would not have been able to obtain a surface image at the fibril level. At present, there is widespread agreement that this is an imprint left by a human body, the characteristics of which suggest that the man was dead, as evidenced both by the position of the body referable to cadaveric rigidity (rigor mortis), and by the shape and nature of the injuries present (in particular, the one on the side of the chest), which are incompatible with life.

The death of the Man of the Shroud was certainly due to the torture and torture of the cross, as the nail wounds in the wrists and feet clearly show, and this refers very accurately to the modalities for the execution of Jesus Christ set forth in the Gospels.

Crucifixion, barbaric, ignominious and "crudelissimum eterrimunque supplicium," as defined by Cicero, was practiced until the 4th century by the Romans, Phoenicians, Persians, Seleucids, Egyptians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Jews, when it was abolished by Emperor Constantine; however, it reappeared in the 7th century, practiced by the Arabs with respect to Christians.

The analysis of the footprints that appear referable to blood clots led to the hypothesis by scholars Baima Bollone and Adler that it is human blood of group AB, a hypothesis that has not yet been proven with certainty due to the unavailability of a specific antigen at the time of the measurement (1981).

Pollen grains, consistent with a Middle Eastern provenance, and traces of aloe and myrrh have also been detected on the Shroud. The Americans Jackson and Jumper, in 1977, demonstrated that the shroud image contains three-dimensional information that can be highlighted by computer, and later Tamburelli and Balossino in Turin perfected three-dimensional processing by, among other things, obtaining the image of the face, cleansed of wounds, and highlighting details traceable to the presence on the eyes of coins from the time of Christ.

Regarding the mode of formation of the imprints, the images of the wounds are certainly due to the descaling of blood clots on the fabric, while the imprint of the body is due to the oxidation of the surface fibrils of the linen threads: on the origin of this phenomenon, however, there is no completely acceptable explanation.

The latest direct examination of the Shroud is the radiocarbon dating carried out in 1988 at laboratories in Oxford, Tucson and Zurich, which would date the Shroud cloth to between 1260 and 1390. Various scientific objections about the actual value to be attributed to the Carbon-14 examination results, however, have long been raised, and the possible radiocarbon "rejuvenation" of the Shroud fabric could also be explained by its vicissitudes and possible pollution of various kinds.

A working group coordinated by Marco Riani (Parma University), in particular, calculated the 387,000 possible spatial configurations of the twelve pieces cut out of the four linen samples delivered to the three laboratories and radiodated, arriving at two surprising results:

- Tucson dated only one of the two samples received

- the data provided by the three laboratories are heterogeneous and show a spatial gradient of age, denoting the presence of a contaminant not removed by sample cleaning operations: the three dates show differences of a systematic nature.

The 1260-1390 result, therefore, is not scientifically reliable: the research, therefore, remains open and today there are no definitive elements either to arrive at the age of Christ or to consider the matter closed with medieval dating.

As for forensic analysis, which included the study of the structural characteristics of the linen fiber and image formation, the results were consistent with those of chemical, microscopic, spectroscopic and computer analysis, and among the various evidences found was that of elevated bilirubin levels, indicative of trauma.

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