The image on the Shroud of Turin was not some medieval hoax, but was caused by a supernatural "flash of light," according to a team of Italian scientists. The recent news reports of their findings conveniently coincide with the History Channel's repeat showing of The Real Face of Jesus tonight -- but for a group of Colorado-based researchers, they've been a long time coming.
According to Vatican Insider, experts at Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded that what's been billed as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked:
"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory ... This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made."
Their study involved a lot of technical use of laser lights -- pulses in short-term duration -- and also name-checks some of the research done by the Shroud of Turin Research Project headed by John Jackson, who led a STRP team of researchers to Italy back in 1978, and still runs the Turin Shroud Center in Colorado Springs. "It seems as though they're cueing off a paper that I did about twenty years ago on image-formation mechanism," Jackson says. "There's some essential physics here. I've thought for twenty years that ultra-violet could create a vision."
And in medieval times, no would-be hoax-ter would have access to the equipment needed to create that vision with ultra-violet light.
Which means that "the enigma of the Shroud of Turin is still a puzzle," he says. "Our interest was, and still is, that this characteristic tells us something about the science of the image, what made the image on the shroud. Now you've got a real scientific puzzle and problem to explain."
Jackson has been trying to solve that puzzle for decades. Born and raised in Denver, he saw a picture of the Shroud when he was thirteen or fourteen years old -- and was hooked. With STRP, he's crafted solid experiments to test different hypotheses of what might have created the image. "It's a real slow process," he admits. Partly that's because while many of the early researchers were based at the Air Force Academy, funding -- or lack thereof -- has always been an issue.
"Coloradans have played an important role in Shroud research," notes Barry Schwartz, publisher of the Colorado-based shroud.com. He was part of the team that went to Italy in the '70s (he only moved to this state five years ago) and has done much of the photographic documentation.
The Italian research, he says, "further supports the scientific data that the image on the Shroud is neither a painting or art or a hoax from the medieval times to fool us."
Jackson will continue to push for more proof of what, exactly, the Image is. "We keep pressing forward as best we can," he says. "I would commend the Italian researchers. They're trying to understand the shroud using a radiation model...I'm pleased that they're using capabilities that they have to try to explore that type of a hypothesis."
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But Schwartz, who is Jewish and says he was "the biggest skeptic on the team," is ready to make a more definitive pronouncement: "There's only one answer: This cloth wrapped the body of Jesus."
For more weird science, read Calhoun's "Plans for the Jefferson County Parkway are kicking up a lot of dust."