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Researcher says she’s proved authenticity of Shroud of Turin

Analysis of marks on cloth revives debate

The 13-foot-long linen believed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus bears faintly written markings. The 13-foot-long linen believed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus bears faintly written markings. (Antonio Calanni/Associated Press/File)
By Ariel David
Associated Press / November 21, 2009

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ROME - A Vatican researcher has rekindled the age-old debate over the Shroud of Turin, saying that faint writing on the linen proves it was the burial cloth of Jesus.

Experts say the historian may be reading too much into the markings, and they stand by carbon-dating that points to the shroud being a medieval forgery.

Barbara Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says in a new book that she used computer-enhanced images of the shroud to decipher faintly written words in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic scattered across the cloth.

She asserts that the words include the name “(J)esu(s) Nazarene’’ - or Jesus of Nazareth - in Greek. That, she said, proves the text could not be of medieval origin because no Christian at the time, even a forger, would have mentioned Jesus without referring to his divinity. Failing to do so would risk being branded a heretic.

“Even someone intent on forging a relic would have had all the reasons to place the signs of divinity on this object,’’ Frale said yesterday. “Had we found ‘Christ’ or the ‘Son of God’ we could have considered it a hoax, or a devotional inscription.’’

The shroud bears the figure of a crucified man, complete with blood seeping from his hands and feet, and believers say Christ’s image was recorded on the linen’s fibers at the time of his resurrection.

The fragile artifact, owned by the Vatican, is kept locked in a protective chamber in a Turin cathedral and is rarely shown. Measuring 13 feet long and 3 feet wide, the shroud has suffered severe damage through the centuries, including from fire.

The Catholic Church makes no claims about the cloth’s authenticity, but says it is a powerful symbol of Christ’s suffering.

There has been strong debate about it in the scientific community.

Skeptics point out that radiocarbon dating conducted on the cloth in 1988 determined it was made in the 13th or 14th century.

Another shroud expert, Gian Marco Rinaldi, said that even scientists who believe in the relic’s authenticity have dismissed as unreliable the images on which Frale’s study was based.

“These computer enhancements increase contrast in an unrealistic way to bring out these signs,’’ he said. “You can find them all over the shroud, not just near the head, and then with a bit of imagination, you see letters.’’

Unusual sightings in the shroud are common and are often proved false, said Luigi Garlaschelli, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pavia. He recently led a team of experts that reproduced the shroud using materials and methods available in the 14th century - proof, they said, that it could have been made by a human hand in the Middle Ages.

But Raymond Rogers of Los Alamos National Laboratory said in 2005 that the tested threads came from patches used to repair the shroud after a fire. Rogers, who died shortly after publishing his findings, calculated it is 1,300 to 3,000 years old and could easily date from Jesus’ era.

Another study, by the Hebrew University, concluded that pollen and plant images on the shroud showed it originated in the area around Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.

While faint letters scattered around the face on the shroud were seen decades ago, serious researchers dismissed them because of the results of the radiocarbon dating test, Frale said.

But when she cut out the words from enhanced photos of the shroud and showed them to experts, they concurred that the writing style was typical of the Middle East in the first century - Jesus’ time.

She believes the text was written on a document by a clerk and glued to the shroud over the face so that the body could be identified by relatives and buried properly. Metals in the ink used at the time may have allowed the writing to transfer to the linen, Frale said.

She said she counted at least 11 words in her study of enhanced images produced by French scientists in a 1994 study. The words are fragmented and scattered on and around the image’s head, crisscrossing the cloth vertically and horizontally.