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Whatever one thinks about its authenticity, the Shroud is a fascinating object.

Carbon dating tests conducted in 1988 indicated the Shroud could not be dated any earlier than 1260. That figure was immediately disputed (and not just by Shroud believers) because it was claimed that the very small parts of the Shroud removed for dating had been taken from a place where repairs had been carried out in the Middle Ages.

Last year John Jackson, a Colorado physicist working with Oxford University, said that because of high Carbon Monoxide levels, those dating results could have been skewed by as much as 1300 years. Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (the group that tested the Shroud in 1988) said ‘There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow and so further research is certainly needed.’

The other evidence includes matches with the Sudarium of Oviedo, and pollens, cloth and weave types that are a perfect fit to 1st Century Israel.

One of the problems has been a gap in the Shroud’s history.

The Shroud, or something like it, had been known in the Eastern Church until the sack of Constantinople in 1204. But there was no record of its existence between then and the appearance of the Shroud we have now in France in 1353. The Shroud was in the possession of a family descended from a Knight Templar who had been in the Middle East. This led historian Ian Wilson to propose that it had either been in that family’s possession, or in the possession of the order of Knights Templar between 1204 and 1353 – and therefore that this was the same cloth and image that had been known in the East.

Now Dr Barbara Frale, an historian researching the Templars in the Vatican Archives, reports finding a Templar document which confirms Wilson’s theory.

Even now, no one understands how the image came to be made on the cloth. The negative image, wounds in the wrists rather than the hands, realistic blood flow patterns and a multitude of other factors make it unlikely in the extreme that it is a medieval forgery. So what is it?

Probably the two best books on the Shroud are Ian Wilson’s The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World’s Most Sacred Relic Is Real and John Iannone’s The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence.

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