When I was researching my book on medieval relics, Holy Bones, Holy Dust, I decided to leave out the Shroud of Turin. It is essentially a cult of modern times, not a medieval one.
First mentioned in the 1350s, it was even then denounced as a fake and it was only the haunting image revealed by photography in 1898 that transformed it into an icon. When one looked at modern debates over its authenticity they were, and continue to be, acrimonious. The scientific study of the Shroud was hampered in the 1970s by a number of individuals, many of whom had no expertise in ancient textiles, being allowed to examine the Shroud (then still in the ownership of the Royal Family of Savoy) and even remove samples from it. These samples are still travelling around and in doing so have surely lost any integrity as materials on which scientific conclusions can be based; hence, the continued and inclusive debates. It was better to leave well alone.
Then, two months ago, I was sent for review Thomas de Wesselow’s The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Resurrection of Christ (Viking 2012). . . .
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For those interested in the Shroud of Turin I have now written a longer critique of Wilson’s work to be found on here, entitled The Shroud of Turin and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey