Over at History Today’s blog space

Cover Blurb:  Origins of the Turin Shroud: Solving history’s greatest mystery

imageIf by now you are thoroughly bored by the continuing coverage of Charles Freeman’s article, then ignore this. I promise many other topics as well.

The conversation is far from over. So if you are still with me we should take a look at History Today’s blog space. Here we find Charles attempting to defend his ‘it’s a painting’ assertion:

I am not sure why there should be something special physically about the Shroud and why it cannot be a ‘mere painting’. After all ,as my article shows, there is a mass of evidence that suggests it was just this . . .

And Terry Conspiracy putting the kibosh on:

The real issue, is whether the Shroud is a Medieval work of art, or not.

Well published scientific research has confirmed for most of us long ago, that whatever the Shroud is, and regardless of when exactly it was created, the Shroud of Turin is "not" a painting.

There are several highly respected teams of scientists and artists that have both invested and risked large portions of their careers by attempting to explain and/or replicate the process that created the image, and to date, none have even come close to being successful.

That is why it is still such a great mystery to ponder and speculate over.

What you fail to mention (I suspect deliberately) Charles, is that with the exception of the remaining stains of "human blood" that are still on the cloth, the actual image of Christ is virtually invisible to the eye up close, and it only takes on a vague human form at a distance.

All of the amazingly accurate "head to toe" evidence of scourging, the crown of thorns, and all the other chillingly accurate anatomical details of facial features, Crucifixion, and torture, only become visible when viewed in photographic "negative" images of the Shroud.

As much as I appreciate the insight you have given me through your discussion of the changes in the depiction of this icon’s blood in art images over time, I really would like you to explain how you could possibly devote so much time to exploring these fine forensic details in the Shroud’s image, without informing your readers about the unique and precarious precondition of having to wait 500 years for photography to be invented, before anyone, including the artist, could actually see those details.

Did I say kibosh? Not so fast. Charles has a reply:

No, Terry. These details were clear for all to see in the fifteenth ,sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when there were frequent expositions. Perhaps as the images faded, perhaps for other reasons, expositions became fewer and fewer and as the images could no longer be seen by large crowds, restricted to the cathedral and probably relatively few visitors. So in 1898 it had been thirty years since the previous exposition and twenty- six since the one before that (1842) . . . . So it must have been a real shock when the Shroud came out of storage and by this time it had the total faded images recorded by Secondo Pia.

Deliberately?  Or out of a lack of comprehension?  I suspect that Charles doesn’t understand what a photographic negative is (see Dear Charles Freeman, re the Famous Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck and his comments therein).

Dear Charles Freeman, re the Famous Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck

The picture of the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck is in Wikipedia’s image library.
It is in the public domain. The smaller picture shows details that are visible in a small
convex mirror on the wall.

Hi Charles,

Colin Berry had repeatedly pointed out that the image on the shroud is a negative image. He was suggesting that it implied a contact imprint.

Well, maybe. Or maybe a a chemical reaction from a diffusion of gases like Ray Rogers proposed or a photograph like Nicholas Allen theorized or maybe, if your worldview allows it, some radiation that was a byproduct of a miraculous event. But we don’t need to go into all that. The point was and is, as Colin pointed out to you,  the image on the shroud is a negative and “. . . one has to explain the NEGATIVE image.”  (caps are Colin’s)

That is when you responded to Colin saying:

Colin – what is the problem in creating as negative image? The artisT of the Shroud as well as the Besancon shroud, was commissioned to imagine an image that a dead body might have left. The conventional iconography of tHe side wound is on the right side of the body, so he produced it on tHe left. Not difficult.

imageFor a more sophisticated negative image look at the mirror on the famous Arnolfini portrait by Van Eyck in the National Galley, London ( 1434). There are other cases of mirror images but this is the best.

Do you not know the difference between a negative image and a mirror image?

In your article, you mention the negative image three times. In the very first paragraph you write:

. . . Here we have negative images of Christ’s body as if they had been transferred from the body to the cloth. . . .

Okay, that’s fine. About a quarter of the way down you write:

. . . Note, too, the blood dripping from the lance that, in the negative image of the Shroud, appears to be reproduced outside the body image on its left side. . . .

Left side! Is this a clue? And then in an extraordinary paragraph at about three quarters of the way on, you tell us.

What can we say about the painting on the Shroud? The images are crude and limited in tone. They show none of the expertise of the great painters of the 14th century, who, even on linen, were capable of mixing a variety of pigments into rich colours. . . . Again, the hair of the body would have fallen back if the figure had been lying down but the blood is as if it is trickling down the hair of a standing figure. In short, it appears to be a painting made by an artist whose only concession to his subject is to imagine that this is a negative impression of the body (as shown by the wound on the chest being on the left of the image in contrast to the conventional right, as seen in the Holkham crucifixion scene) that had been transferred to the cloth. (red emphasis mine in all instances)

Do you not know about Secondo Pia’s famous photograph in 1898?  Do you not know what it means?

Charles, you write:

I am working within the mainstream, not Shroudies mainstream, but academic mainstream in setting out my hypotheses. No one who has read my articles thinks I am saying anything more than placing the Shroud within an acceptable medieval context.

imageAcceptable medieval context?  Show me one example of someone painting a negative image in the medieval or anytime in history. Find me an artist anywhere in the world who can do so. I’m sure it is possible. So, too, I imagine is patting your head, rubbing your stomach, jumping rope and singing the Halleluiah Chorus backwards all at the same time. Try it. No, I mean try painting a negative without a negative to copy. Try it.

There is something more going on in the picture on the right than a mere mirror image. It’s a negative of the picture on the left. And since the picture on the left is, itself, a negative and since two negatives make a positive, the negative on the right is a positive.

Charles, check out this negative thing with academic mainstream.  Without an example, you do not have any medieval context.

imageOne more question, in three parts, Charles:  If all the paint has flaked off, how do you know the images are limited in tone? How do you know it was not painted in rich colors? And, was this a color negative painting in which colors as well as gray scale values are reversed?

Without an example you do not have any medieval context.

A Couple of Terrific Comments About Charles Freeman’s Article

Please note, first, that Charles Freeman has maintained a very civilized dialog with everyone in this blog. He has posted more than 80 comments in this blog since his article appeared in History Today. It continues to be a fruitful discussion.

If you are not familiar with the issues, these have the been the primary postings about Charles Freeman’s article:

Now, onto those terrific comments:

imageRuss Breault writes:

So someone depicts Christ with more scourge marks than the artistic norm at the time and that’s proof the Shroud is an Easter prop? All the paint just happened to flake off? I might add that none of these images show any anatomical realism–they just show the body scourged more than usual. How these images from the Holkham bible are used as a reference point seems a little obtuse.

Colin Berry writes:

Despite your historical analysis, the TS remains an unsolved scientific enigma – and that cannot be casually dismissed with scientifically-flaky explanations that depend on even flakier paint.

For full context, Colin’s expanded comment should be read:

Yes, I’ve been through your article several times now Charles, and find it thought provoking and (in places) provocative too. That’s why I was interested to hear your opinion re the chemical nature of the body image and bloodstains if, as you suggest, they were both applied freehand as artists’ pigments . (My own views on the nature of the body image and blood have been the subject of numerous postings, and are probably best kept to one side for now to avoid cluttering up the discourse).

Can be confine ourselves first to the body image (blood being hugely more problematical)?

The body image is bleached by a reducing agent (diimide), Susceptibility to one type of simple chemical invariably means it’s susceptible to others too, like oxygen in the air, maybe activated by light. (There are well known model chemical systems in which photooxidation results in bleaching of dyes and other organic chomophores occurs due to self-sensitized production of singlet oxygen).

So while the original image may have been a lot easy to see at a distance than today’s TS, one has to consider a whole range of physical and chemical options and scenarios, instead of assuming it was simply paint that had flaked off. The latter would not explain why the resistant faint ‘signature’ has the physical and chemical properties of chemically-dehydrated linen carbohydrates, i.e essentially “scorch-like” (even if that term was not used by STURP). Nor would it explain why a highly degraded image comes to have so spectacular a response to 3D-rendering software. Thousands of oil and water colour portraits must have flaked away over the centuries. How many have left a faint and intriguing quasi-photograph?

Once you take on board that the image we see today is the primary image, albeit now somewhat faded, and reject any paint-flaking hypothesis that is unsupported by chemical evidence of trace contamination, then one is back where we started. Despite your historical analysis, the TS remains an unsolved scientific enigma – and that cannot be casually dismissed with scientifically-flaky explanations that depend on even flakier paint.

More on Charles Freeman’s Article

imageStephen Jones reacts to Charles Freeman’s article The Origins of the Shroud of Turin in History Today. He unfortunately begins with an inappropriate barrage of ad hominem.

He subtly questions Freeman’s credentials as a historian. “Freeman has never held a actual historian position in any university,” he writes. He elaborates (see Jones’ blog posting) and then states, “This should be borne in mind when assessing the headline ‘…historian says.’”

He implies motive:

Freeman is evidently an atheist/agnostic having published papers critical of Christianity in the New Humanist online magazine, the subtitle of which is "Ideas for godless people", and is "produced by the Rationalist Association … dedicated to reason, science, secularism and humanism."


. . . so presumably Freeman was once a Catholic but is now a non- (or even anti-) Christian. If so, then according to Freeman’s presumed personal atheist/agnostic philosophy, there is no supernatural, so Christianity must be false, and the Shroud of Turin must be a fake.

“I hasten to add that I am a Protestant evangelical Christian . . . ,” Jones writes. Well, so am I. I’m a Christian anyway, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, and I feel compelled by my belief to respect Freeman’s worldview and not try to use it as a weapon against him.  I don’t agree with much of anything he said in the article but it was not because of his worldview.

The intelligent reader can only see that this is what Jones is doing. I am so reminded of the words of another atheist/secular humanist, Christopher Hitchens, speaking out about such attacks . . .

whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method . . . is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.”

Okay, it sounds like I’m doing the same thing. Maybe. But I’m not calling Jones a moron. No, I’m not. I’m thinking about his methods. Maybe he will think about them, as well.

Jones moves on. He spends time arguing against the 1988 carbon dating results with his amazing conspiracy theory (does anyone else on the planet buy into this?):

But [the carbon dating] is explicable if the Shroud sample dates were computer-generated. E.g. by a computer hacker, whom I have provided evidence in my soon to be completed series, "My theory that the radiocarbon dating laboratories were duped by a computer hacker," was Arizona Radiocarbon Laboratory physicist Timothy W. Linick (1946-89), aided by self-confessed KGB hacker Karl Koch (1965–89), who both died of suspected `suicide’ within days of each other, presumably executed by the KGB to ensure their silence.]

Jones does spend time, appropriately as I see it, challenging other aspects of Freeman’s article. However, in a response to Freeman pointing out that the church officially regards the shroud with an open mind he falls into a trap of speculating to explain speculation (pretty much the way Freeman does in his article):

As I have stated before, the Vatican is dishonest in this. From its actions in spending the equivalent of millions of dollars preserving the Shroud and holding exhibitions for millions of people to see it, clearly the Vatican regards the Shroud as authentic. So presumably the reason it refuses to confirm or deny that the Shroud is authentic is that the Vatican would then have to say which of its other relics were authentic or fakes, and most of them would be the latter. It might be good church politics to suppress the truth in this matter but it is not Christian (Rom 1:18; . . . ).

The Vatican is dishonest, the church is suppressing the truth . . . is not Christian? And Jones, points to Romans 1:18, not as a citation but as a threat. It reads: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

All quoting by me is in accordance with doctrines of Fair Use defined in Title 17 of the United States Code, Chapter 1, Section 106. This grants me the right to limited copying for commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.

A Significant Article by Charles Freeman in History Today

Charles is a regular and frequent participant in this blog. He has written, The Origins of the Shroud of Turin being published in History Today (Volume: 64 Issue: 11 2014)

imageCharles Freeman, surprised by the lack of research into one of the great unsolved mysteries, reveals for the first time his groundbreaking examination into the creation of the venerated object.


When one sees the variety of depictions of the Shroud in the 16th and 17th centuries it is hard to see any other explanation for their vividness than that they were painted on the linen. . . . A study of the depictions of expositions in 1842 and 1868 suggests that serious deterioration of the images set in during the 19th century: it is symbolised by the replacement of the enormous crowds originally able to see the images from afar by the single-file observers of today’s framed Shroud within the cathedral. Each dramatised unfurling would cause the fragmentation of its painted surface, especially when one custom was for the crowds to throw rosaries at it (in the Tempesta engraving the outstretched hands of those awaiting their return can be seen).

While we are left with only the faint images of the original painting it remains an interesting question as to whether any pigments of the original paint still remain on the Shroud. The STURP team, which descended on Turin in 1978 with several tons of imaging equipment, removed a number of samples from different areas of the surface of the cloth with sticky tape, which, remarkably,  they were allowed to take back to the US for examination, without any requirement that they should be returned to Turin (they do not appear to be kept together in a single archive, hampering further research). A furious argument took place when an expert microscopist, Walter McCrone, who was given the tapes to examine, claimed that he had indeed found pigments, vermilion on the bloodstains and red ochre for the main part of the bodies. Although McCrone does not seem to have known this, vermilion is the pigment used to depict blood on other medieval painted linens, while red ochre is ubiquitous as a medieval pigment. McCrone dated the painting to the middle of the 14th century (ten years before the radiocarbon laboratories came to the same conclusion). . . .

Hat tip to Gian Marco Rinaldi