Italian Organic Chemist Luigi Garlashelli claims he has recreated The Shroud of Turin, the legendary artifact of religious significance to several Catholics around the world. The legend behind the shroud is that the image of Jesus was burned into it as it wrapped his body after his crucifixion. Is Garlashelli offering up a final solution to the mystery of the shroud? Or is this ‘scientific proof’ veiled in ignorance?
Garlashelli has for many years worked to debunk several supernatural miracles connected to the Catholic church. From his attempt to disprove Stigmata to the San Gennaro Miracle and finally his attempt to debunk statues who weep blood. Garlashelli has made the claim that, using only methods available in the medieval era, he was able to recreate a (more or less) complete copy of The Shroud of Turin. His method began by wrapping one of his students in a shroud woven specifically for the experiment using a technique he suspected the original had been created. He then painted the cloth using non-synthetic paints in the shape of the student’s face, giving it a warped quality. After the image was painted, Garlashelli removed the shroud from his assistant and baked it in an oven (dubbed the “shroud machine” by faculty) for several hours. He then turned around and washed the paint off. The result bore a striking similarity to the Shroud of Turin.
But is it enough for the shroud to look the same? One of the incredible things about the shroud of Turin was the astounding accuracy the portrayal was of a human face. The shroud was scanned through computer imaging software and showed a distinct 3D image which could be directly transposed from the flat image, much in the same way a photograph can be turned into a 3D computer image. Though the Garlashelli image is a compelling reproduction (the most compelling thus far) the realm of science is not as easily swayed. And there are a number of hurdles for this reproduction to leap before the shroud is officially declared an “adequate” reproduction.
First, the original shroud was scrutinized under several microscopes where bloodstains were found to have soaked into it long before the image would have been painted. The blood was also analyzed, and found to be not only genuine, but human blood with an unusually high amount of bilirubin. While this was unknown until the past century, high levels of bilirubin are indicatative of either certain diseases, or severe scourging. The artist would have not only known about bilirubin, and its eventual detection, but would have gone through the effort of procuring affected blood.
The image on the shroud was a nude man, never depicted in medieval or subsequent pictures to represent Christ. To this day an image of a nude Jesus would be difficult to find, yet it is almost certain the Romans would not have allowed those crucified clothing. In this way a nude figure is more historically accurate than almost any other image of the time.
Finally, the nail marks on the shroud are located in the man’s wrists. In medieval as well as contemporary depictions of Jesus, nails are driven through the palms, although the grim reality is that holding a man up in such a location would result in tearing through the hand and dropping him.
Still, if these are all debunked somehow, and the shroud is indeed proven to be a sixteenth century fake as some radio carbon tests have indicated, does not being a symbol of hope for millions of people make it an artifact to be revered? Regardless of the religious implications, the object symbolizes something important to a great many. Pope John Paul the second probably said it best, “Before the shroud, how can we not think of the millions of people who die of hunger, of the horrors committed in the many wars that soak nations in blood, of the brutal exploitation of women and children, of the millions of human beings who live in hardship and humiliation on the edges of great cities, especially in developing countries?” In the mean time it is yet another mystery that continues to confound science and remain unexplainable.