imageThey, whoever they are, say there are no coincidences. I don’t believe it. Even so, I thought I had heard it before, something in a quip about thymol overheard from someone in the audience during Barrie Schwortz’ talk in Savannah last week.

“It is only Listerine,” someone said. I had said something about thymol being used in Listerine, in the past, hadn’t I.

Yesterday, John Klotz, emailed me to ask about a press release I issued after Dallas. (He is working on his book.) The purpose of that press release was to publicize something I wrote in a blog space back in the day when I was trying to get a blog going. I called it, “An Enchilada Comes to Mind: Dallas Shroud of Turin Conference 2005.” And in it I mentioned Listerine.

I mentioned Listerine! Yep! Did I cause that quip? Probably not. I doubt anyone noticed anything I wrote back in 2005. And then there is the fact that some people actually use that awful tasting mouthwash and if so they must be the sort of people who actually read ingredient labels.

Since nobody read my posting back in 2005 and because Klotz will probably ask about that next, here is an encore presentation of “An Enchilada Comes to Mind: Dallas Shroud of Turin Conference 2005.”

The 2005 Dallas Conference on the Shroud of Turin was like hot stuff wrapped in a corny don’t-mess-with-Texas tortilla, awash in a salsa of controversy.

imageDon’t mess with Texas? Yup; there was a gun-totting sheriff-type in the grand ballroom of the elegant Adolphus Hotel ready to boot out any of the approximately 100 college professors or scholars from around the world who might dare to ask a question. Questions from the floor were not allowed. When University of Hong Kong archeologist William Meacham asked why an armed guard was needed, conference organizer Michael Minor explained he was there to prevent ‘insulting’ controversy and criticism.

But controversy and criticism happened. It erupted like a Texas-style Wild West shootout.

Conference organizers, hoping for focus, had told the media that the question before the conference was: “Is the shroud proof of a resurrection or a medieval fake?” Minor told a reporter from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “"I am a lawyer, and I believe I can prove that the shroud is authentic in a court of law.”

But no one cared much about that topic. Most scientist and other scholars at the conference, representing a broad spectrum of Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Evangelical Christians, agreed that it might well be genuine, though not proven. And if it were proven, they understood that it might not be proof of the resurrection of Jesus. They were here to share and learn.

imageBut, also, they were here to express their views on a growing feud between the Papal Custodians of the Shroud of Turin and scientists. The feud was like an old fashioned Texas turf war. Turin officials – not to be confused with the Vatican or the larger Church – were the Texas farmers controlling the flow of water and stringing barbwire to keep cattle from grazing in their fields. The scientists, archeologists and a fair number of historians were the cowboys singing, “Don’t Fence Me In.” A shootout was inevitable.

To kick off the conference, Fort Worth Bishop Kevin W. Vann read a letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano: “His Holiness [Pope Benedict XVI] trusts,” the letter said, “that the Dallas Conference will advance cooperation and dialogue among various groups engaged in scientific research on the Shroud . . .”

It happened, but not in a way that pleased Turin officials. At one point, Monsignor Ghiberti got up and walked out of the room.

In another letter given to attendees, Turin’s, Cardinal Severino Poletto quoted the late Pope John Paul II as saying, “the Church does not have specific competence to pronounce on these questions. It entrusts to scientists the task of continuing to investigate to find suitable answers to questions regarding the Shroud.”

So why were the Papal Custodians apparently not ready to accept what the scientists were saying? Was it because it challenged their competence and certain assumptions about the Shroud?

There were two hot questions at the root of the feud:

  1. Why was Turin ignoring the scientific reason for the failure of the 1988 carbon 14 dating?
  2. Was the 2002 restoration of the cloth archeologically, scientifically and preservation-wise reckless?
    These were scientific matters. Why were Turin officials ignoring their own stated opinion that the Church did not have competence in scientific matters? Why were the Turinese summarily dismissing scientific findings?
    Scientists wanted to ask questions. But questions from the floor were not allowed. You don’t invite academic researchers from around the world to a conference and treat them this way. Many are university professors or well published scholars who have studied the Shroud for many years.
    Scientific competence was the issue.
    Researchers now believe that in the 16th century, a corner of the Shroud had been expertly repaired using a mending technique known as “invisible reweaving.” It was from this repaired corner that the carbon 14 samples were taken. This resulted in a mixed sample of both new and old fibers leading to erroneous carbon 14 dating in 1988.
    Turin wasn’t buying it even though they agreed that the carbon 14 dating was wrong. They had not seen the repairs when they examined the Shroud. Invisible reweaving, they argued, would have been noticeable. But scientists disagree. It takes microscopic, spectral and chemical analysis to identity invisible reweaving. And the scientists have photomicrographs and plenty of test results to prove it.
    In 2002, Turin undertook a secret restoration of the Shroud. Archeologists, scientists and scholars of all sorts were horrified when they learned of it after the fact. It was reckless, they say. Meacham called it disastrous. It cannot be undone. Some scientists suggest that the restoration may have created problems that should be addressed to avoid potential future damage to the cloth.
    But the Archdiocese of Turin was not willing to embrace what scientists had to say. It seemed reminiscent of a time in history, when Cardinal Bellarmine forbid Galileo to hold Copernican views and when he tried to ignore Galileo’s telescope.
    The modern Galileo was the late Raymond N. Rogers, a lifelong chemist, a Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a highly respected scientist for his unwavering dedication to scientific methods. Turin authorities were trying to ignore his microscope and micro-chemical studies; studies published in a secular, peer-reviewed, scientific journal; studies independently confirmed by others such as John L. Brown, retired Principal Research Scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Energy and Materials Sciences Laboratory who examined samples from the Shroud with a Scanning Electron Microscope.
    What was the reason that Turin refused to consider the scientific data?

    In the past few years, the custodians of the Shroud have faced significant public criticism from archeologists, scientists and all manner of Shroud researchers. Not only were they criticized for the restoration and the way the carbon 14 samples were selected, they were criticized for an unscientific, cavalier rejection of Rogers’ findings — findings that actually support the Shroud’s authenticity. Rogers had proved that what had been carbon 14 dated in 1988 was chemically unlike the rest of cloth Moreover, Rogers showed that the Shroud had certainly been artfully and discretely repaired.
    Turin authorities were also criticized for treating the Shroud’s reliquary with thymol. Thymol (3-Hydroxy-1-methyl-4-isopropyl benzene), the active stuff of Listerine antiseptic mouthwash, is a phenolic compound that will react with many functional chemical groups on the Shroud. According to Rogers, it permeated the cloth. “This will confuse image analyses, and it may result in damage to the cloth,” he had written shortly before his death in early 2005.
    The first shootout occurred during the evening of the first day. It was during an after-hours presentation that had been billed as a tribute to the late Ray Rogers. Minor, the conference moderator, and his armed guard were not present. Nearly everyone else showed up.
    It wasn’t a tribute at all. It was a DVD of Rogers interviewed by Barrie Schwortz shortly before Rogers’ death. Schwortz never claimed it was a tribute. It was titled, “Ray Rogers in His Own Words.” Rogers’ words were scientifically precise. He expanded his criticism of the Thymol treatment of the Shroud’s reliquary, stating that because Thymol was absorbed into the cloth, it might make future dating problematic. And Rogers offered a blistering criticism on the secretive, poorly documented, unnecessary, potentially damaging restoration of the Shroud.
    Rogers explained the invisible reweaving in chemical terms and why the reweaving had fooled the carbon 14 dating. 1) Everyone knew that those findings were independently confirmed by Brown; 2) confirmed by textile experts; 3) confirmed by ultraviolet photography; 4) confirmed with x-rays. 5) Statistical studies of carbon 14 measurements suggested anomalous age patterns in the sample and everyone knew that. 6) Most everyone knew, that in 1988, Teddy Hall, then the director of Oxford University’s Radiocarbon Laboratory had seen cotton fibers that might be from mending. 7) Almost everyone knew that a 1988 article in Textile Horizons by P.H. South entitled “Rogue Fibers Found in Shroud,” suggested that those cotton fibers were suspicious and might have been part of repairs. 8) Some knew that in 1998, Turin’s own scientific advisor, Piero Savarino, wrote, “extraneous substances found on the samples and the presence of extraneous thread (left over from ‘invisible mending’ routinely carried on in the past on parts of the cloth in poor repair).” 9) Many knew, too, that longtime researchers Sue Benford and Joe Marino had made a strong case for invisible reweaving. 10) And many knew of an earlier paper by Rogers and Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan, published in 2002, that confirmed Benford and Marino.
    Many knew that in 2004, the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology published an important paper by Lloyd A. Currie. Currie, a highly regarded specialist in the field of carbon 14 dating and an NIST Fellow Emeritus, cited the Rogers and Arnoldi paper giving it additional scientific standing and credence.
    Currie’s NIST paper was significant in other ways. It set aside any argument that the labs had done anything wrong or that there was anything uncertain about carbon 14 dating. It debunked other hypotheses circulating in the polemic rumor mill such as the notion that a biological polymer on the fibers was the cause of a measurement failure. And it brought into focus the issue of sampling. A serious violation of the original scientific sampling protocol had occurred in Turin. Had the proper protocol calling for multiple sample locations been followed by Turin, the single bad sample would not have caused the problems it did. (Three labs conducted the test on one sample that had been divided into pieces).
    By the time Currie’s paper was published, Rogers was well on his way to proving that the carbon 14 tests were wrong. In December of 2003, he received material that had been reserved from the center of the carbon 14 sample. It would take a year for testing, independent confirmation and peer review. In January 2005, Thermochimica Acta (an Elsevier BV journal) published Rogers’ proof.
    What had been carbon 14 dated was chemically unlike the Shroud. Thus the Shroud had not been dated. Moreover, Rogers found clear evidence of mending. Dyestuff used by medieval tapestry craftsmen to discreetly mend old tapestries was found. Rogers found Madder root dyes, aluminum hydroxide and gum Arabic. He found cotton fibers twisted in with flax fibers in the threads. And he found splices. Where newer thread had been spliced to older thread, one end was dyed to match the other end. Benford and Marino were right. The Shroud was mended and it was the repaired area, a mixture of old and new thread, that had been tested.
    Over a hundred researchers and thousands of people who follow shroud research were aghast when, within days of Rogers’ paper, Turin’s Monsignor Giuseppe Ghiberti pronounced a summary judgment on Rogers’ findings. He said, “I am astonished that an expert like Rogers could fall into so many inaccuracies in his article. I can only hope, indeed, also think that the C14 dating is rectifiable (the method, in fact, has its own uncertainties), but not on the basis of the ‘darn’ [sic, darning is altogether a different method of repair] theory."
    How can Ghiberti possibly know this? He offered no evidence or explanation. So, now, people at the conference wanted to ask him about it. It wasn’t that questions were not allowed at the conclusion of the interview with Rogers. Neither the conference moderator nor the conference sheriff were there for the evening presentation. And Ghiberti, representing Turin’s Cardinal Poletto, could have invited questions and no one would have objected.
    Ghiberti walked out.
    The ranking representative for of the Papal Custodian of the Shroud of Turin got up and walked out of the room. It was the wrong thing to do. Some felt he should have stayed to defend his archbishop, the diocesan staff, its advisors and ultimately the decision that later he defensively characterized as a decision by the Holy See. People would have respected that. More so, they would have respected and probably admired someone in his position exerting leadership, the sort of leadership characterized by open discussion with the audience; questions such as, “What mistakes have we made?” and “What can learn from them?” Poletto had asked for harmony and dialogue at this conference. But Ghiberti, as they say in Texas, skedaddled.
    The Rogers interview will soon be on the World Wide Web. By the time of the Winter Olympics in Turin, in February of 2006, a Google search on the word “Turin” will be but two or three clicks away from the interview — in full living color, in easy to watch streaming media.
    Defense of the Turin position, on the next morning, fell to Dr. Mechthild Flury-Lemberg. Flury-Lemberg is a renowned textile conservator. Ghiberti once described her as “the greatest world-wide authority in the ancient cloth field.” She stated that she did not see invisible reweaving.
    But that is just the point. She should not have noticed invisible reweaving without the tools of science. Without the freedom to ask questions and get answers, the whole substance of her argument was reduced to a visual polemic.
    Later in the conference, Alan Whanger, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, surprised everyone with a powerful analysis from x-ray photographs that clearly showed weaving anomalies, the exact sort of anomalies expected from reweaving. It seemed that Flury-Lemberg and the Turin folks stood alone on this issue. Turin officials had not expected Whanger to include this information in his presentation.
    Flury-Lemberg had also argued that invisible reweaving skills were not known in medieval Europe. But in an unscheduled, after-hours, off-the-record presentation, researchers Marino and Benford presented a paper supporting medieval use of invisible reweaving on the Shroud. Museums in Europe, they pointed out, have many examples of tapestries repaired in this way.
    Flury-Lemberg took the most heat for the 2002 restoration. She had recommended it and she led the work effort. It is certainly true that most people at the conference felt that the restoration was a mistake. Some were very angry. That having been said, however, it is important to remember that Flury-Lemberg is a highly regarded professional and as such she should have received more respect than she did. Audible snickers during her talk — inevitable since real comments were not allowed — were unfortunate.
    It is easy to imagine that Flury-Lemberg, being a professional, would subscribe to the idea of second opinions. The Turin folks, one might think, would also value second opinions. How many people have been saved from unnecessary and sometimes reckless surgery because they sought second opinions? How many lives were saved by people who sought second opinions to avoid possible misdiagnosis? Turin had put all their eggs in one basket, Flury-Lemberg, and for that they should be and have been publicly criticized. She should not have accepted such a situation.
    Flury-Lemberg as a professional, and given the chance, would certainly have welcomed open discussion. Instead, she was called upon to take to the podium for a second time during the conference to dispel hallway rumors about the restoration. Minor, speaking from the dais, asked about a dozen questions that seemed trumped up and exaggerated. They sounded like the all-to-often self-serving “frequently asked questions” or FAQs so common on many websites. Was the Shroud vacuumed all over? Of course not! Who was asking such questions? It is hard to imagine. These staged questions brought back the audible snickers to the room.
    “Can I ask a question,” said archeologist Bill Meacham from the back of the room to Flury-Lemberg.
    She looked at Minor quizzically.
    “No,” was the answer from Minor. Questions from the floor were not allowed. And certainly, had Meacham persisted, the sheriff of the conference would have removed him from the room. He had already been warned.

Another shootout.

Another shootout occurred over a list of scientific facts compiled by Giulio Fanti. He is Professor of Mechanical and Thermic Measurements at the University of Padua in Italy. He has authored over a hundred scientific papers, many of them published in distinguished peer-reviewed, international scientific journals. He had spent much of the last two years in consultation with dozens of people as he compiled the list of facts.

Giulio Fanti is the epitome of old world charm, one of the nicest, most gentle mannered university professors one might ever meet. For the conference, he submitted the list as a paper coauthored by twenty-four researchers. It was initially accepted. Then it was rejected. After considerable pressure from others, the conference organizers agreed that it could be read into the proceedings. Only after Fanti arrived from Italy, and even though the paper was listed in the program, he was told it would not be allowed. When he asked why he was told it was too political. Political?

You don’t treat people this way. You certainly don’t treat a respected professor from the University of Padua in this way. Here is an instance where Monsignor Ghiberti, because of his high clerical position, could have exercised leadership in the interest of science and common decency. He was silent. Fanti described the situation as a lack of cooperation by the “Turin Authorities.” It certainly seems so.

Fortunately, in a privately funded room, after the banquet, away from the conference venue, Fanti was able to present his paper to a large gathering. This paper will get wide circulation on the Internet and many will wonder why some people didn’t want it to be presented. Was it because the scientific facts support invisible reweaving? Was it more embarrassment for the Papal Custodian of the Shroud?

At the very end of the conference, just before a scheduled banquet, Father Kim Dreisbach, an Episcopal priest, was presenting a paper. Because time was tight, it had been announced that closing remarks by Dr. Pierluigi Baima Bollone could be moved to the banquet forum. This was necessitated by the extra time needed for Flury-Lemberg’s return to the podium. Dreisbach had gone over his time limit by a couple of minutes when the chair cut him off to allow Bollone to speak immediately. It was completely unnecessary. Many other presenters had gone well over their time limits without objection from the dais. Dreisbach could have finished. It was no way to treat a respected researcher who had spent much of his life studying the Shroud. Was it his biblical perspectives with shades of contemporary revisionism that troubled the conference organizers? Some think so. In protest, many people got up and left the room before the closing remarks.

Was there anything good that came out of the conference? Absolutely.

More than two dozen excellent historical and scientific papers were presented. In the weeks ahead, these papers will begin to see the light of day. They add to our knowledge of this enigmatic cloth.

There is no empirical proof yet that the Shroud is a first century burial cloth. But there is enough data to infer that it is. There is, in fact, enough information to reasonably infer that it is the burial cloth of Jesus. And if you can infer that you can infer that for some reason it was separated from Jesus’ body and it survived the tomb. That is powerful stuff.

We don’t know how the images of a crucified man were formed on the fabric. So far, scientist can do little but offer hypotheses. But we do know that the images are a caramel-like product within a coating of starch and sugar that is thinner than most bacteria. Chemically it seems like the browning that takes place when amine vapors such as cadaverine and putrescine react with the coating. But how the right molecules got to just the right places in just the right amounts to form such a picture is still a mystery.

This cloth is too valuable to all Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians; to valuable to all people of faith and too valuable in the quest for the historical Jesus to be cared for without second opinions and open discussion. This may be the most important lesson learned from this conference.

I think most people would agree that whatever it is that we know about it, it is not a substitute for faith. We may never be able to prove, by the Shroud, that Jesus is the Christ or that he rose to new life. But it is nice to learn what we can.

Cardinal Poletto wrote: “The fascination of the mysterious image that regards us from the Holy Shroud strikes people of every religious faith and culture, in particular those who experience the presence of Jesus of Nazareth in their personal lives and who believe that His life on earth represented the culminating moment of human history.”

And the Vatican Secretariat of State, Cardinal Sodano told us that “His Holiness [the current Pope Benedict XVI] trusts that the Dallas Conference will advance cooperation and dialogue among various groups engaged in scientific research on the Shroud . . .”

It happened in a way that Turin could not have hoped for.