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Fact Checking

I used to live in an old house. All the windows, and there were many of them, were made up of twelve individual panes of glass, each one held in its place by a thin wooden grill with window putty. One year, in the Spring, after we took down the winter storm windows and put them away in the garage, my father told me I was old enough to climb a ladder and perform the annual painting of the grills and the putty. And I was not, of course, to get any paint on the glass.

“Use masking tape,” my father advised. “It will make it easier to avoid getting unsightly paint on the glass.” But being fourteen, I knew better. I would use a thin sable hair artist’s brush and paint very accurately. Well, a week later, I found myself up on the ladder again, now scraping paint away. Big globs, sometimes as thick as a penny covered parts of many glass panes.

. . . chemically-modified cellulose – as declared by STURP’s 1981 Summary – formed with no extraneous add-ons- OR whether it shows a better match with Maillard browning product . . .

Did you know they make razor blades specifically for scraping paint from glass, chewing gum from the soles of shoes, and splatted bugs from automobile windshields. I once watched a sidewalk artist in New York use a razor blade to scrape all the paint off a finished portrait of a tourist who had stiffed him so he could use the canvas again to paint another tourist.

So I was puzzled when I read the sentence below (emphasis mine, in red) about the Shroud’s image at the Sign From God website.

Fact: The image of the man does not penetrate the cloth as it would if any artistic substance was used by someone to create the man’s image. In fact, the best chemistry regarding the image is that it is simply a discoloration of the cloth as a result of something having caused the accelerated dehydration and oxidation of the cellulose linen fibers but only in those areas immediately surrounding a body. The image affects only the cloth’s top two microfibers. It is so thin it can be scraped off with a razor blade. Furthermore, the image is uniform in intensity throughout the entire cloth with no variation in density or color—an impossible feat for any artist of the Middle Ages.

So what does it mean it was so thin? Almost any thickness of almost anything can be scraped off with a razor blade. I left in the full paragraph above hoping for some context. I think I know what SFG is trying to say. Maybe, try reading the first sentence and the red-letter sentence together.

I tried to figure out where the razor blade idea came from. It turns out that red-lettered sentence is very similar to a sentence in an article, The Shroud of Turin, Authenticated Again, in National Review back in April of 2016 (limited free access).

Here is a startling fact that makes the Shroud nearly impossible to be considered a forgery and enhances the mystery. Unlike his blood, the man’s crucified image does not penetrate the cloth but rests on top. His image could be scraped away with a razor blade. Since any earthly substance used to create the man’s image would seep into and adhere to the cloth, this lack of penetration continues to baffle modern science.

In seeing National Review it makes more sense. But is the SFG statement factually correct? Is this really the best chemistry? Is the chromophore simply discoloration? Is accelerated dehydration and oxidation of the fibers the best way or even the right way to describe it? Is it true the image affects only the cloth’s top two microfibers?

That overall narrative about the image has been challenged. What follows, is something I wrote in an essay, Slouching Towards Emmaus And Some Nonsense Along the Way.


[What we know] doesn’t mean that the cloth was not draped over the body of a crucified man at some time. That is highly possible. It was possible enough for John Dominic Crossan, a very controversial Jesus Seminar Biblical scholar, most noted for his assertion that Jesus was not buried, to proclaim on Belief Net

My best understanding is that the Shroud of Turin is a medieval relic forgery. I wonder whether it was done from a crucified dead body or from a crucified living body. That is the rather horrible question once you accept it as a forgery. 

Dr. Michael Tite, who in 1988 led the British Museum’s oversight role in the carbon dating process  and later was Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, implied something similar in a BBC Radio interview in 2016:

I don’t believe it’s the [authentic] Shroud but I think it is highly probable there was a body in there. It was the time of the Crusades. A very appropriate way of humiliating a Christian would be to crucify him, like Christ. I think that is a very real possibility. And then the cloth is put over the body and sort of bodily fluids resulting from the stress of a crucifixion react and cause this discolouration and ultimately a certain degree of decay in the Shroud.

Really? Bodily fluids reacting? We have been down this road before, back in the 1930s and again in the 1970s, before STURP. 

Nonetheless, I’m thinking as I write this. There is, even among some skeptics, a recognition that we don’t have all the answers. 

It’s not that it isn’t easy to make something that looks like the Shroud on a piece of linen. It is relatively easy. But there are other image characteristics that must be met.  We thought we had a good handle on these when STURP issued its Final Report in 1981, as well as an official summary distributed to the press. Having learned new things since then, some assertions need to be reexamined and maybe changed. 

For instance, we may have gotten the physical and chemical nature of the image chromophore all wrong.  The summary reads:

The scientific concensus (sic) is that the image was produced by something which resulted in oxidation, dehydration and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the microfibrils of the linen itself.

That statement in slightly different grammatical constructs may be the most stated assertion about the Shroud’s image, ever. It may be repeated even more than the line about paintings and photographs not producing 3D. The most significant change you ever see is to correct the spelling of consensus. 

Consensus is an important word here. It strongly suggests something other than unanimity.  And indeed, STURP chemist Ray Rogers had other ideas. With Dr. Anna Arnoldi from the University of Milan, he published a significant paper in 2002. They proposed something else. Ray Rogers and Dr. Arnoldi are clearly not part of the consensus.  They wrote: 

I [= Rogers] believe that impurities in ancient linen could have been suspended by the surfactant property of a Saponaria officinalis washing solution. They would be concentrated at the drying surface by evaporation. Reducing saccharides would react rapidly with the amine decomposition products of a dead body. This process could explain the observations on the chemistry and appearance of the image on the Shroud of Turin. Such a natural image-production process would not require any miraculous events; however, it would support the hypothesis that the Shroud of Turin had been a real shroud.

The observations do not prove how the image was formed or the “authenticity” of the Shroud. There could be a nearly infinite number of alternate hypotheses, and the search for new hypotheses should continue. 

If shroudies gave a prize for objectivity, it should go to Ray Rogers – regrettably posthumously – for that short second paragraph. I suspect there are, indeed, many hypotheses. And we haven’t even thought of many of them.

And if they gave a prize for admirable chutzpah, it should go to the Shroud’s most qualified skeptical chemist, Dr. Berry. He has identified a technology that:

appears to provide a potential means for exploring the chemical make-up of the image chromophore (something that has evaded science for the best part of 40 years – and more!).

More to the point, it provides a means (hopefully) for distinguishing between rival models – notably the ones supplied by STURP (2 contrasting models – modified cellulose v Maillard!) and now my own Final Model 10 (“FILM-SET”).

No, we don’t need – as yet – to go the whole hog, i.e. to determine the detailed chemical structure of the image chromophore. No, far from it. Let’s be content (for starters) with determining whether or not the fragmentation pattern seen on mass spectrometry is that from a chemically-modified cellulose – as declared by STURP’s 1981 Summary – formed with no extraneous add-ons- OR whether it shows a better match with Maillard browning products, involving amino-carbonyl reactions in the first instance (the nitrogeneous amino groups supplied by additional non-cellulosic participants!).


The short, so often cited page called, STURP’s 1981 Summary is a problem. It’s a problem for skeptics and authenticists alike. More work needs to be done before we can call the chemical nature of the chromophore a fact.

A typical single edge, uncoated carbon steel, laboratory grade razor blade is about .228mm thick with a 20 degree cutting edge. That’s about 2/3 of the thickness of the Shroud. We probably need something much thinner and sharper.  

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