Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Shroud / Fraud of Turin

Head of Christ from the Shroud of Turin

One of the most interesting examples of modern nonsense is the veritable cult surrounding the Shroud of Turin or more accurately the Fraud of Turin. It amazes me that people can take seriously the idea that this artifact is in fact the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. What is further amazing is how so much of the time shroud gawkers have turned the onus around against sceptics to prove that the shroud is a forgery.

It does not work that way the onus in proving a miracle is on those who assert the miracle not those who doubt it. The simple fact is that it is unlikely in the extreme that the Shroud of Turin is in fact the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth.

One is further amazed about how the shroud gawkers were able to spin away with acres of special pleading and very dubious arguments the carbon 14 dating results done by three separate laboratories in 1988; they tested three different samples from three different parts of the shroud, yielded dates between 1260 -1390 C.E., or an average date of 1325 C.E, +- 65 years.1 The enormous amount of effort to get around and attack these results is positively breathtaking. The chances of such an error are frankly very minimal. Amazingly faced with the carbon 14 results the shroud gawkers still put the onus of proof on the sceptics! Of course it is also common for the shroud gawkers to simply ignore the carbon 14 dating results and act like they do not exist.

What makes the carbon 14 dating results interesting is that the mid 14th century date for the shroud also corresponds to the first literary evidence for the appearance of the shroud. It appears from the Carbon 14 results that the shroud appears just when it makes its first historical appearance.

The document is a letter is from the then Bishop of Troyes Pierre D’Arcis concerning the exhibition of the shroud The letter is mainly concerned with the impropriety of exhibiting the shroud and not with its authenticity. It does however refer to an earlier exhibition of the shroud, in the 1350’s and a investigation by a certain Henry of Poitiers then Bishop of Troyes. Right from the start the shroud was labeled a fraud.2

The letter goes as follows.

[Letter to Pope Clement VII, 1389.]

The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Some time since in this diocese of Troyes the Dean of a certain collegiate church to wit, that of Lirey, falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb and upon which the whole likeness of the Savior had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore. This story was put about not only in the kingdom of France, but, so to speak, throughout the world, so that from all parts people came together to view it. And further to attract the multitude so that money might cunningly be wrung from them, pretended miracles were worked, certain men being hired to represent themselves as healed at the moment of the exhibition of the shroud, which all believed to be the shroud of our Lord. The Lord Henry of Poitiers, of pious memory. Then Bishop of Troyes, becoming aware of this, and urged by many prudent persons to take action, as indeed was his duty in the exercise of his ordinary jurisdiction, set himself earnestly to work to fathom the truth of this matter. For many theologians and other wise persons declared that this could not be the real shroud of our Lord having the Savior’s likeness thus imprinted upon it, since the holy Gospel made no mention of any such imprint, while, if it had been true, it was quite unlikely that the holy Evangelists would have omitted to record it, or that the fact should have remained hidden until the present time. Eventually after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered the fraud and how said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed. Accordingly, after taking mature counsel with wise theologians and men of law, seeing that he neither ought nor could allow the matter to pass, he began to institute formal proceedings against said Dean and his accomplices in order to root out this false presumption. They, seeing their wickedness discovered, his away the said cloth so that the Ordinary could not find it, and they kept it hidden afterwards for thirty-four years or thereabouts down to the present year. And now again the present Dean of the said church with fraudulent intent and for the purpose of gain, suggested as it is reported, to the Lord Geoffrey de Charny, Knight, and the temporal lord of the place, to have the said cloth replaced in the said church, that by a renewal of the pilgrimage the church might be enriched with the offerings made by the faithful. Acting upon the Dean’s suggestion, who was thus treading the footsteps of his predecessor, the knight went to the Cardinal de Thury, your Holiness’ Nuncio and Legate in the French territory, and suppressing the facts that the said cloth at the time above referred to was asserted to be the shroud of our Savior, and that it bore the Savior’s likeness imprinted upon it, and that the Ordinary had taken action against the canons in order to stamp out the error which had arisen, and that said cloth for fear of the Ordinary had been hidden away, nay even, it is said, conveyed out of the diocese, he represented to the Cardinal that the said cloth was a picture or figure of the shroud, which many people came to visit out of devotion and which had previously been much venerated and resorted to in that church, but on account of the war and other causes, by the command of the Ordinary, had been placed for a long time in safer keeping, petitioning that he might be allowed to set up in the said church this picture or figure of the shroud which so many out of devotion desired to see, so that it might there be shown to the people and venerated by the faithful. Then the said Lord Cardinal, without entirely approving the petition, but probably acting on the facts before him and so far prudently, granted to the petitioner by Apostolic authority that without asking leave of the Ordinary or of any other person he might set up this picture or figure of the shroud of our Lord in the said church or in any other decent place. And under cover of this written authority the cloth was openly exhibited and shown to the people in the church aforesaid on great holidays, and frequently on feasts and at other times, with the utmost solemnity, even more than when the Body of Christ our Lord is exposed; to wit, by two priests vested in albs with stoles and maniples and using the greatest possible reverence, with lighted torches and upon a lofty platform constructed for this special purpose; and although it is not publicly stated to be the true shroud of Christ, nevertheless this is given out and noised abroad in private, and so it is believed by many, the more so, because, as stated above, it was on a previous occasion declared to be the true shroud of Christ, and by a certain ingenious manner of speech it is now in the said church styled not the sudarium but the sanctuarium, which to the ears of the common folk, who are not keen to observe distinctions, sounds much the same thing, and crowds of people resort there as often as it is shown or is expected to be shown, under the belief, or more truly the delusion, that it is the true shroud. Moreover, it is currently reported amongst them that it has been approved by the Apostolic See by means of the letters of the said Lord Cardinal.

Accordingly, most holy Father, perceiving this great scandal renewed amongst the people and the delusion growing to the peril of souls, observing also that the Dean of the said church did not keep within the terms of the Cardinal’s letters, obtained though they were by the suppression of the truth and the suggestion of what was false, as already explained, desiring to meet the danger as well as I could and to root out this false persuasion from the flock committed to me, after consultation with many prudent advisers, I prohibited the said Dean under pain of excommunication, by the very act sufficiently published [eo ipso latae], from exhibiting this cloth to the people until otherwise might be determined.

He, however, refusing obedience and lodging an appeal, in defiance of the prohibition went on with the exhibition as before. Moreover, the knight, maintaining and defending his behavior, by holding the said cloth with his own hands on a certain solemn feast, and showing it to the people with the observances above described, caused himself, by a royal warrant [salvagardia], to be put in formal possession and occupation of the said cloth and of the right of exhibiting it, and had this notified to me; and so under cover of the appeal as well as of the said royal warrant this delusion is shielded and propagated, to the contempt of the Church, scandal of the people, and peril of souls – all which I am powerless to remedy – nay more to defamation of my above-named predecessor who denounced the abuse in this time, and of myself who to the best of my poor ability am also anxious to take such prudent as I may. But Alas! The scandal is upheld and defended and its supporters cause it to be spread abroad among the people that I am acting through jealousy and cupidity and to obtain possession of the cloth for myself, just as similar reports were circulated before against my predecessor; while, on the other hand, others aver that I move too half-heartedly in the matter and that I make myself a laughing-stock by allowing the abuse to continue. But though I have earnestly and humbly cited the said knight and besought him that he would for a time suspend the exhibition of the said cloth until your Holiness could be consulted and should pronounce upon the matter, he paid no attention, or rather without my knowledge he had representations made to your Holiness in the same sense as those already made to the said Lord Cardinal, adding that I refused to defer to the said Cardinal’s letters, that I disregarded the appeal and went on launching inhibitions and sentences of excommunication against those who exhibited the cloth and against the people who came to venerate it. But with all deference to the author of representations, my action in thus proceeding against those who exhibited and venerated the cloth was in no wise derogatory to the said Lord Cardinal’s letters, obtained though they were surreptitiously. This authorization of his by no means conceded that the cloth could be exposed with publicity or venerated, but only that it might be restored to or lodged in the said church or some other decent place. And because they would not keep to the terms of the Cardinal’s permit therefore it was that I proceeded against them according to the ordinary forms of law, as in my duty I am bound, and not without much asking counsel, with the view of removing the scandal and the said popular delusion, believing that I should be gravely in fault if I connived at such abuses. Moreover, having to look to my own security in this matter, I was compelled, acting always upon the advice of prudent counselors, to have recourse to the aid of the secular arm, and this being more particularly because the said knight in the first instance had begun to place the matter in the hands of the civil authorities by causing himself to put in formal possession of the right of exhibiting the cloth by the King’s warrant, as said above, which seems a sufficiently absurd proceeding. Accordingly I took measures to have the cloth placed in the custody of the King’s officers, always with the same end in view, viz., that at least until I could bring the whole story to the notice of your Holiness there might for a time being be an end of these exhibitions. And in this request I prevailed without any difficulty with the court of the King’s Parliament when once they were fully informed of the superstitious origin of this shroud, of the use to which it was put, and of the delusion and scandal to which I have called attention. Indeed it is a wonder to all who know the facts of the case that the opposition which hampers me in these proceedings comes from the church, from which quarter I should have looked for the vigorous support, nay, rather have expected punishment if I had shown myself slothful or remiss. However, the knight above mentioned has been beforehand with me, and, having represented the matter as I have explained, has obtained from your Holiness a Brief in which the said Lord Cardinal’s letters are substantially confirmed ex certa scientia and permission is granted that in spite of all prohibitions and appeals, the said cloth my be shown and exposed for the veneration of the faithful; while, as I hear – for I have not been able to procure a copy of said Brief – perpetual silence is enjoined upon myself.

But whereas the canon law requires me to see that no man be imposed upon by false representations and documents for the purposes of gain, and because I am certain that this Brief was obtained by suggestion of what is false and suppression of the truth, and that otherwise it would never have been issued, while I was neither cited nor heard, especially as a the resumption ought to stand in my favor that I would not interfere in such a cause without reason, or disturb any man in any practice of devotion which was harmless and free from extravagance, I do most confidently trust that your Holiness will bear with me if in view of the foregoing facts I still oppose the said exposition until I have fuller instructions from your Holiness yourself, now better informed of the truth of the case. I would ask you then, most blessed Father, to vouchsafe to bestow your attention upon the foregoing statement and to take measures that such a scandal and delusion and abominable superstition may be put and end to both in fact and seeming, in such wise that this cloth be held neither for sudarium nor sanctuarium, nor for an image or figure of our Lord’s sudarium, since our Lord’s sudarium was nothing of the kind, nor, in fine, under any other ingenious pretext be exhibited to the people or exposed for veneration, but that to express horror of such superstition it be publicly condemned, the surreptitious letters above spoken of being recalled, or more truly declared null and void (for fear that the keen-eyed persecutors and detractors of the Church should rail at the Church’s discipline and say that a more prompt and efficacious remedy against scandals and impostures is found in the secular tribunals than in those of ecclesiastical authority). I offer myself here as ready to supply all information sufficient to remove any doubt concerning the facts alleged both from public report and otherwise, in order to exonerate myself and also to discharge my conscience in a matter which I have greatly at heart. Moreover, if health had allowed I should have presented myself personally to your Holiness to state my complaint to the best of my poor ability, for I am convinced that I cannot fully or sufficiently express in writing the grievous nature of the scandal, the contempt brought upon the Church and ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and the danger to souls; still I do what I can, chiefly that I can, chiefly that I may be guiltless before God, leaving all else to the disposition of your Holiness, whom may the Almighty long preserve, &c.
Pierre D’Arcis
Bishop of Troyes3

Front image from the Shroud of Turin

On January 6, 1390, Clement VII replied to D’Arcis’ letter. The Exhibition could continue so long as it was always declared that the shroud was a figure or representation of Christ’s shroud not the real deal. D’Arcis was told be keep quiet about the whole thing under pain of excommunication. Letters to other Bishops near Troyes instructed them to enforce the above decisions. Pierre D’Arcis died in 1395.4

The key sections in the above letter related to the issue of forgery are as follows:

Some time since in this diocese of Troyes the Dean of a certain collegiate church to wit, that of Lirey, falsely and deceitfully, being consumed with the passion of avarice, and not from any motive of devotion but only of gain, procured for his church a certain cloth cunningly painted, upon which by a clever sleight of hand was depicted the twofold image of one man, that is to say, the back and front, he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb and upon which the whole likeness of the Savior had remained thus impressed together with the wounds which He bore.

Eventually after diligent inquiry and examination, he discovered the fraud and how said cloth had been cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who had painted it, to wit, that it was a work of human skill and not miraculously wrought or bestowed.

Thus the Shroud of Turin enters history as a self confessed fraud.

The carbon 14 results which place the creation of the shroud in the mid 14th century match the statements in the letter about the fabrication of the shroud very well. In fact so well that both pieces of evidence reinforce each other.

Faced with the above the onus is on the shroud gawkers not the sceptics to prove their case.

I will not go into the endless debate and throwing sand in your face antics of the shroud gawkers, all designed to to disguise the perfectly reasonable conclusion that the shroud is a fake. Neither will I go into the various shoddy “documentaries” that appear from time to time on TV that gawk at the shroud and manage to shoddily suppress mention of the letter and the carbon 14 results.5

Of course the main problem with the shroud image as can be seen from the photos used in this post are that the image looks like a painting. If it was actually the image of Jesus of Nazareth “burnt”? onto the shroud by the Resurrection event then the image would be distorted. It is not. It looks painted on. Just wrap any thing in a cloth and gradually unfold it you will see that the image resulting on the cloth will be and must be distorted.

That people continue to gawk at the Shroud of Turin is a sad testement to our times.

1. McCrone, Walter, Judgement Day for the Shroud of Turin, Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 1999, pp. 245-251, Nickell, Joe, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 1998, pp. 150-151.

2. Nickell, 1998, pp. 11-21, McCrone, pp. 1-2, 117-118, Sox, H. David, The Image on the Shroud, Unwin Paperbacks, Boston, 1981, pp. 2-3.

3. The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History, Translated by Rev. Herbert Thurston, The Month, v. 101, 1903, pp. 17-29 as quoted in Sox, pp.148-152. I put the whole letter here to make it available on the web.

4. Sox, pp. 2-3.

5. The books listed in the notes are a good beginning to do real research on the shroud. I should mention the supposed find of Middle Eastern pollen on the shroud as another example of shroud gawking. The allege pollen find is shall we say like the shroud itself likely fraudulent. See Nickell, Joe, Pollens on the “Shroud”: A Study in Deception, Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 18, No. 4, Summer 1994, pp. 379-385.

Pierre Cloutier

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