Controversial Turin Shroud Makes Rare Appearance After Forgery Claims Deemed False

First Posted: Mar 29, 2013 09:50 AM EDT

The Shroud of Turin may be one of the most studied and controversial artifacts in history. The 14-foot-long piece of bloodstained cloth bears the faint outline of a crucified man, and some claim that it's the same shroud that Jesus was buried in. Although previous research seemed to point to the fact that it was a clever, medieval forgery, new evidence seems to say otherwise.

The first documented reference to the shroud dates back to the 14th century. But the artifact changed hands many times before it found its final resting place in 1578 when it ended up in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Italy. It wasn't until the late 19th century, though, that the shroud's history was altered forever. After a lawyer took pictures of the artifact in 1898, new and striking details were revealed and gathered the interest of scientists. In 1902, a French anatomist inspected the photographs and concluded that the figure was indeed Jesus. The scientific community was intrigued.

Doubt soon crept in when it came to the veracity of the shroud. While scientists in the 1970s were able to determine that the blood markings on the cloth did indeed come from a human and were consistent with a crucified body, later research showed that the dates were off. In 1988, scientists removed a swatch of the cloth for radiocarbon dating and found that the material probably originated between 1260 and 1390--far too late for the crucifixion of Jesus.

Controversy began to boil after the results were announced. Some claimed that the samples were contaminated with material from the Middle Ages when the shroud was repaired after a fire. Others believed that the study held true.

Now, though, scientists from the University of Padua in northern Italy say that the shroud actually dates between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D.--a time period that aligns perfectly with the crucifixion.

To find the new date, the researchers used infra-red light and spectroscopy--the measurement of radiation intensity through wavelengths. With these tools, the scientists analyzed fibers from the shroud. Since the artifact has been kept in a climate-controlled case in Turin, the researchers claim that the study shows that the shroud is far older than the other tests suggest.

Whether or not the shroud is actually the real thing will probably be debated for years to come. The Catholic Church itself doesn't have a stance on the issue, though the Vatican has often attested to its value and has arranged for public viewings. In fact, the shroud will be shown on television for the first time in 40 years this Easter Sunday.

"It will be a message of intense spiritual scope, charged with positivity, which will help hope never to be lost," said the archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, in an interview with The Guardian.

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