The Shroud of Turin cannot be dismissed so easily


I have been buoyed up by reading an article by KV Turley in the National Catholic Register for August 5, entitled “The Shroud of Turin: Latest Study Deepens Mystery.” Readers of my blogs may know that there is a full-length facsimile of the Holy Shroud in our small, rural parish church, to which I have occasionally referred. This came about through the devotion of our late parish priest – a devotion that I fully share.

Thus reading Turley’s thoughtful and informative article has rekindled a long-held personal conviction (a conviction, I should add, that is supported by many intriguing discoveries found on the Shroud for those who are interested in reading about them.) His argument is that the supposedly scientific tests on the Shroud, conducted by the Universities of Oxford, Arizona and Basle in 1988 and overseen by the British Museum which proclaimed the Shroud a medieval forgery, were methodologically flawed and thus unreliable.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the British Museum confirmed, in response to a request made in 2017, that the samples of the Shroud which were analysed in radiocarbon testing were taken from its edge, a patched or mended part of the cloth. According to David Rolfe, editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter, who is quoted in Turley’s article, these patches “almost certainly dated from the medieval era.” Rolfe adds that “For reasons of their own self-interest, the individuals supervising the test and those running the laboratories – in Oxford in particular – glossed over the abandonment of the protocols, as they needed to give the impression of accuracy and infallibility of the new method.” No-one was prepared to challenge the authority of the British Museum and Oxford, as the result “matched the prevailing intellectual zeitgeist.”

Whether one believes that the Holy Shroud is an authentic relic of the crucifixion of Christ or not, it doesn’t alter Christian belief in the central truths of our faith contained in the Creed, recited every Sunday at Mass. To those who regard it as a relic it brings home, in horrifying detail, what the physical torture of crucifixion entailed. 

I certainly needed to be buoyed up by this graphic reminder of the cost of our redemption, having just read Karen Armstrong’s newly published The Lost Art of Scripture: Rescuing the Sacred Texts. Without here describing Armstrong’s complex thesis on comparative religion and the equal importance and status of the sacred books of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and so on, I will simply mention her deliberate usage of BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) to denote the historical passage of time that she is discussing. Whenever I see these modern terms replacing the ancient hallowed usage of BC and AD my heart sinks. Instead of Christ being seen as the Lord of history, whom previous ages pointed towards and whom subsequent ages reverently acknowledged, we are presented with a dreary formula, the timeline of which is meaningless if Christ is written out of the script.

Indeed in one passage Armstrong makes the confusing statement that “Jesus of Nazareth, hailed as a prophet and leader…was sentenced to death by crucifixion in about 30 CE by the Roman governor.” This attempt to rewrite history always presupposes an agenda: to ignore or downplay the uniqueness of Christ. Describing the Holy Shroud as a medieval forgery is prompted by the same motives. As research has shown, it will not be dismissed so easily.