Is the Image Of The Shroud Of Turin A Painting?

by Apologetics, Faith & Science, History of the Church, Jesus Christ

(All excerpts and photos in this article were selected from Dr. Lavoie’s new medical forensic, scriptural study of the Shroud of Turin: The Shroud of Jesus And the Sign John Ingeniously Concealed.” Published by Sophia Institute Press, June 2023; endorsed by Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina and others. 8-17-2023)

What IS The Shroud Of Turin?

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth approximately 14 feet by 3.5 feet that shows an image of the front and back of the body of a naked man. It also carries blood marks that are consistent with the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the Gospel of John. From a forensic perspective, the blood marks of the shroud are definitely consistent with a man who died in the crucified position, and then was laid out in burial. Many believe that this is the shroud of Jesus. 

The shroud image is a separate event from the blood marks. The following information helped me to understand that at the microscopic level (or at any level) the image of the man is not a painting:

I first met Vernon Miller in Turin Italy in 1978. It was at the time that he was working as the official scientific photographer for an investigation being done on the Shroud of Turin. Two years later we met again at a Boston restaurant. He had with him his folder of shroud slides. He held his hand out over the table, handing me a slide that he explained was a micrograph that was taken at 64x magnification at the image area of the nose, which happens to be the darkest portion of the entire shroud image. I held the slide to the light, and I could see the basic structure and color that was responsible for the image (figure 1). There was no paint causing the image; anyone could verify this by simply looking at the slide. I could see that the individual fibers of each thread were yellowed. It was these individual yellowed fibers of each thread, not paint, that caused the image.  

In 1982 I met with Dr. Alen Adler, a professor of chemistry from Western Connecticut State University. He was an expert on porphyrins which are organic chemicals that form part of the structure of red blood cells. Adler analyzed particles and fibers that adhered to sticking tapes that were collected from the Shroud during the examination of 1978. He explained that a single thread of the shroud cloth was made up of many very small (10 to 15 microns in diameter)12* linen fibers. The width of one of these fibers is much smaller than that of a human hair. Only the topmost fibers of the thread were yellowed. These yellowed fibers, composed of cellulose, were found only on the image side of the cloth and were responsible for the image. As he spoke, I realized that he was confirming what I had seen for myself when Vernon Miller handed me one of his micrographs in a Boston restaurant. 

After extensive chemical testing, Adler concluded that (1) there is no paint medium coating the image fibers and (2) there are no stains or dyes causing the image. Rather, the yellowing of the shroud image fibers was produced by a dehydrative oxidative process that affected the fiber (cellulose) structure itself and caused it to yellow. In other words, this process is a degradation of the fibers themselves and is identical to the aging of linen, causing linen to turn from white to yellow. 

Adler explained that light, heat, or an acid (such as sulfuric acid) can all yellow linen fibers like those found in the image area of the shroud. Therefore, it is not a painted image, but rather the result of a chemical change of the cellulose itself. (For those interested in the chemistry of the image fibers of the shroud, Adler’s article is excellent.13*) 

Adler went on to explain that even though he understood the chemistry of the cellulose that makes up the yellowed fibers of the image, he still did not know what event took place to cause the image. He leaned back in his chair and went on to say that with human perspiration,14* the yellowing of the topmost fibers can be reproduced when linen is placed over the flat surfaces of a body. However, when it comes to more complex surfaces, such as the face, this contact mechanism with perspiration is not capable of causing the image seen on the shroud.15* 

More Insights On The Shroud

Further insights on the shroud image fibers came from Dr. Eric Jumper (Ph.D., Gas Dynamics and Laser Physics), whom I initially met in 1978 at the Turin Cathedral during a private showing of the shroud. Jumper, an engineer, spent a great deal of time studying the shroud and published several papers regarding his findings. In my opinion, his best article, “A Comprehensive Examination of the Various Stains and Images on the Shroud of Turin,”20* is a must- read for the scientifically inclined. I called Jumper to ask him about the observations he had made concerning the image marks. He explained that his team’s goal was to understand what caused the image. 

Is the Shroud of Turin a painting?

On viewing the shroud image under magnification (figure 1), Jumper and his colleagues found no excess material around the image fibers. Furthermore, they found that only the topmost fibers of the threads of the cloth were yellowed, and it was these yellowed fibers that caused the image. 

Jumper followed along the length/weave of the image fibers and found that as the yellowed uppermost fibers dipped down under other threads, they were no longer yellow but remained their original white. Likewise, as the fibers followed a normal twist of the thread, the top fibers were yellowed while the lower part of the fibers remained white. Therefore, whatever caused the image affected only the uppermost fibers, even to the point of not wicking (absorbing and conveying fluid along a fiber like the wick of an oil lamp) along the fiber as a liquid would do if it had been applied to the shroud surface.21* 

As Jumper and his associates teased at the fibers of the threads, they made another observation: The yellowed fibers that caused the image were only one fiber deep and possibly two fibers deep in some places.22, 23* 

As I listened to Jumper, I felt that I was being taken right down into the image and fabric of the shroud. I was enjoying every moment of Jumper’s firsthand observations. He was someone who had been there; he was an eyewitness. Jumper went on to say that he later looked carefully at the micrographs taken by Vernon Miller and made other observations regarding the image fibers (figure 1). He saw that there were examples everywhere of yellowed image fibers lying side by side with white non-image fibers. He also noted that the yellowing of the individual fibers was uniform: the amount of yellowing of each fiber was a quantitative event. Each fiber that was yellowed was yellowed to the same extent as the next image fiber. In other words, there was no graduating difference in yellowness of the fibers. Rather, each fiber held almost exactly the same quantity of yellowness. 

Now the question was, if every topmost fiber of yellowed threads contained the same shade of yellow, then what caused the difference in the shading of the image? Jumper explained that the difference in the shading of yellow from one area of the image to another was dependent on the number of yellowed fibers present. He made a count of them, and if one area was darker than another, that area would contain more yellowed fibers.24*Regarding why we see the changes in shading that causes the image, Jumper’s words to me best describe it: “It’s like the dots of newspaper print. If you want to make an area darker, you put in more dots.” 

There is one thing that is certain: the image is not a painting. Jumper is convinced of this, and so is anyone who understands his detailed study of the image fibers and also understands the wicking ability of linen. The liquid medium of a paint, stain, or dye would wick along the fibers and color the fibers as they dip below the threads of the weave. Furthermore, a liquid medium would spread adjacently from fiber to fiber, and if enough is added, it would soak through to the opposite side of the cloth. If the paint were more viscous, it would collect on and between the fibers. Simply, it would not look like what is seen at the image areas but would look more like what is seen at the blood areas. (figure 2) The only places where the fibers were cemented together were at the blood-mark areas. The blood marks do soak through to the back of the cloth.

Is the Shroud of Turin a painting?

Adler “established by detection of heme derivatives, bile pigments, and proteins” the presence of whole blood on the shroud.8* Anyone interested in pursuing the chemistry of Adler’s blood studies should refer to his excellent journal articles.9* 

In summary, the image is not a painting; the blood marks are definitely the blood of a scourged, crucified man. No one has ever reproduced the shroud image at the microscopic level, even in this era of modern technology.

This article is from excerpts from chapter five of The Shroud of Jesus. All the reference numbers (*) noted here are in the reference section of chapter five. 

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