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Third and last part of this fundamental article by Prof. Villalaín López. We hope that its reading has been useful to deepen in the state of the corpse shown in the Shroud of Turin.

Chronology of time after death

To recontruct the temporal evolution, we count on a fixed reference point and another approximate. It is a fixed reference that when the body was removed from the cross, it was in a state of complete rigidity and this was fully established because it maintained the position it had on the cross despite the manipulations to which it was subjected.

We know from the calculations performed on the Sudarium of Oviedo that, after death, the body remained suspended between three quarters of an hour to an hour, and therefore the evolution of the rigidity must have been very fast.

When was the image produced?

This being so, the existence of established rigor mortis and its temporal assessment can help inform us about the time the image was produced from the time of death, which is another of the great unknowns of the Shroud.

Porter stated in his book, without origin or reasons cited, that Gilbert Lavois had suggested that the crucified body had been wrapped in the shroud for no longer than two and a half hours after death, as compared to other authors like Rolling, who estimated that this period was thirty-six hours, applying standard forensic calculations, a criterion that Benitez copies. Igartua, upon not detecting any signs of putrefaction, estimates a period within less than three or four days, but notes that the corpse was not too long in the cloth that wrapped it; Manuela Corsini provides the number of about thirty hours, short of forty, based on the vaporographic theories of image formation that were given as valid at that time.

Moreover, the evolution of the rigidity, whether short or prolonged, follows an equal development, therefore, with reference that it is complete within 60 minutes of death, and evaluating the mean figures of the literature, we can move the corresponding values to early rigor mortis​​.

Indeed it is estimated that the beginning of a normal, average rigidity varies between two and four minutes. For the Man of the Shroud the beginning would be between 20 and 48 minutes; after an hour, the rigidity would be complete and maximum in a period between two and three hours, with the average period for the beginning of its disappearance at 24 to 36 hours. If we study the maximum possible for the Man of the Shroud, it offers us an image of contracture that would be between 3 and 6 hours.

The moment when the rigidity of the arms is overcome should be at the time of moving the body or the superficial cleaning and shrouding of the body. The rigidity is once again established about two hours or so after that maneuver.

Given these figures and the basis of the terms and movements that the corpse suffered, which we know from the Gospel accounts and, above all, by the study of the Sudarium of Oviedo, we could outline it as follows:

Therefore the time period to produce the image of the Man of the Shroud in a state of total rigidity should be between 19.5 (minimum) and 21 hours (maximum) from the time of death.

Final considerations

The figures we have reached are obviously approximate and require comparison and discussion by other specialists in Forensic Medicine, but they are very likely accurate in view of the knowledge that currently exists on rigor mortis and its evolution and the possible influence of modifying circumstances.

Obviously these figures raise new problems to study that transcend medicine but are posed by forensic study.

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