A renowned textile historian has become the latest specialist to say that the Turin shroud bearing the features of a crucified man may well be the cloth that enveloped the body of Christ.
Disputing inconclusive carbon-dating tests suggesting the shroud hailed from medieval times, Swiss specialist Mechthild Flury-Lemberg said it could be almost 2,000 years old.
Perhaps even more important is what Mrs. Flury-Lemberg saw when she examined the back of the shroud, the first researcher ever to do so. While it bore bloodstains, there were no mysterious marks comparable to those on the front of the cloth.
These marks show an amazingly detailed picture of a bearded man who had been beaten about the body, crowned with thorns and pierced with nails through the wrists and the feet.
On the side of the body’s outline there appeared to be an image of a wound, which was perhaps the one caused by a Roman soldier’s spear when he tried to find out if the crucified Jesus was alive or dead (John 19:34).
It was to this fist-size wound the resurrected Jesus guided the apostle Thomas’ fingers, whereupon the doubting disciple explained, “My Lord, my God.” (John 20:28).
Mrs. Flury-Lemberg, a Hamburg, Germany-born scholar now living in Bern, Switzerland, did preservation work on the shroud this summer. She said the outline of the body looked somewhat like burn marks, but only in the top 2 millimeters of the cloth.
Some theologians believe this may have occurred as Christ’s body exited the shroud during his resurrection. Mrs. Flury-Lemberg was quick to point out, though, this could never be scientifically proven. The same applied to the question if the tortured and crucified man buried in the shroud was Jesus.
Mrs. Flury-Lemberg investigated the cloth this summer as she separated it in from the Dutch linen cloistered nuns in Chambery in Savoy had sewn it to after a fire in 1534.
She explained the linen’s progressing oxidization had been endangering the shroud. As she separated the two textiles, she removed “spoonfuls of soot.” She cleaned the shroud before it was sewn to a new cloth.
Pollen analysis and the shroud’s measurements suggested it originated in the Middle East and not in medieval Europe. Mrs. Flury-Lemberg described its quality as “stunningly noble, with an almost invisible seam.”
She related she discovered identical forms of weaving and high-quality sewing on textiles found at Masada, the ancient fortress in southeastern Israel. They hailed from the year 73 A.D.
According to the Bern scholar, other first-century cloths found in the Red Sea region showed weaving patterns similar to those of the Turin shroud.
“This cloth left a radiant expression on me,” she said. She made it clear she was not a Roman Catholic but a Lutheran, “but this shroud is not just a Catholic relic but a treasure of all Christendom.”
She said regardless of this impression, she has had to work on the shroud dispassionately “like a surgeon operating on his own wife.”
Mrs. Flury-Lemberg questioned the relevance of findings by other researchers who discovered pollen and dust traceable to the Middle Ages on the cloth.
“Of course it had such particles on it,” she said, “after all, the shroud was exhibited a great deal in those days.”
Historian Karlheinz Dietz of Wuerzburg University in Germany shares Mrs. Flury-Lemberg’s doubts of the 1988 carbon-dating results claiming that the cloth was made between 1260 and 1290.
In an interview with the German daily, Die Welt, he stated, “If you believe that the cloth hails from the Middle Ages then you must also believe that a man looking exactly like Jesus was whipped, crowned with thorns, crucified and then placed on linen imported from the Middle East and sprinkled with aloe and myrrh, and that on top of all he had invented monumental photography.”
Mr. Dietz was referring to the discovery of the Christ-like image by Italian photographer Secundo Pia in 1889.
“On the shroud we see a genuine ‘photography’ that originated long before photography was invented,” he said.
Scientists can’t say what might have caused this ancient “photography” of a Christ-like figure. Many Catholic and Protestant theologians do not doubt, though, it was the Resurrection. If it was that, test results show it must have occurred no later than 36 hours after the dead man’s bloody body had been wrapped in this expensive shroud.
This too, corresponds to the biblical narrative.