set to dog both scientists and the churchmen in the coming year
Science and the Shroud
"WE saw suffering on that face that we could never begin to imagine . .. it was a harrowed face . . . swollen and disfigured under brutal blows . . . rivulets of blood had flowed on the forehead."
This is what a group of Poor Clares of the Convent of SaintClaire-en-Ville in France wrote on April 16, 1534, about a task they had been assigned that day. They had to repair "a cloth" which had been damaged two years before in a fire.
The cloth's harrowed face has haunted the world of Christianity and science ever since. But this coming year two new studies could force a definitive investigation which would lay the ghost of the Shroud of Turin once and for all.
As the Vatican consolidated its commitment to world peace and politics in 1990, as international diplomacy kept Holy See ambassadors on the move, and as clergy wrestled with unprecedented moral and social ills, it was the world of science which paradoxically brought Christians back to the source this year.
For in the name of science Italy's leading forensic expert has shown that if the Shroud were the subject of a routine legal enquiry, there would be more than enough evidence for any court of law to demand a fresh investigation into its mystery.
The Shroud would be labelled "exhibit one", the key to the case. Numerous scientists from the fields of archaeology, biology, medicine and geology would be called to testify. The prosecution would haraneue the three accused, the British, Swiss and American laboratories which date-tested the Shroud in 1988 at between 1260 and 1390. The world's definitive experts in all the scientific fields concerned would serve as judge and jury.
When all possible avenues of enquiry had been explored they would be asked to rule — on the possibility that Christianity possesses the most sacred image of all.
This, in summary, is what two new studies on investigations so far into the Shroud of Turin are urging.
Both were compiled by scientists; both accuse the 1988 Vatican-commissioned lab tests on Shroud samples of creating an enigma within an enigma. Both represent appeals to the Vatican to overcome its reluctance to sanction a full scientific analysis of the linen which would be independent of the matter of faith — that seeing is not necessarily believing.
It is thought that the Vatican could order a new investigation in the new year on the basis of the 1990 studies.
One, entitled Is it the Shroud or not? was compiled by Professor Pier Luigi Baima Bollone who is considered Italy's leading forensic scientist. He as dean of legal medicine at the Univeristy of Turin, and a ballistics expert. Today, the FBI and Scotland Yard deploy his methods of micro-substance analysis in crime investigation.
Since 1980 he has directed the Internation Centre for Shroud Studies in Italy and about a decade ago, he was asked to analyse the traces of blood found on the linen cloth. The man whose negative image is embossed on the 4.36 metre by 1.10 metre linen, showing signs of death by crucifixion, had AB blood.
"My intention with this book is not to influence the reader but to provide scientific documentation so that he can make up his own mind. 1 have presented all the opinions including those supporting the Shroud's medieval dating. Where necessary, I confounded these opinions, not on the basis of my own personal view but according to science" Professor Baima Bollone said.
The main criticism of the 1988 sample dating test in three laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona is levelled at the dating method itself.
The samples were subjected to the so-called carbon 14 isotope test devised just after World War II by the American scientist, Willard Frank Libby, who won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1960.
All substances contain carbon 12 and carbon 14 isotopes. Carbon 12 is a stable isotope and so remains unchanged while the presence of carbon 14 is reduced through time. Libby said. The age of a given substance could be deduced by the amount of carbon 14 to be found — the more there is, the "younger" the object or substance.
Libby's test, however. has recorded numerous, sometimes spectacular. errors. Professor Baima Bollone cites several, including the date of Barbados corals which carbon 14 indicated as 20,000 years younger than they had proved to be after other tests.
The British Museum is also said to have fallen foul of the test's imprecision and in 1983, the Zurich laboratory's attempts to convince the Archdiocese of Turin, where the Shroud is conserved, that the carbon 14 test was trustworthy were a dismal failure. The lab was asked to date-test an Egyptian linen of 3,000 BC. The test showed an error of 1,000 years.
in the second study critical of the method, The Shroud: Putting Science to the Test, Professor Emmanuela Marinelli, a geology and natural science expert, and co-author Orazio Petrosillo, a Rome journalist, point out that the carbon 14 test took no account of the atmospheric and thermal conditions to which the linen could have been subject over the centuries.
The application of water alone containing a high percentage of the carbon 14 isotope would have reduced the Shroud's age. It is known that the linen was doused at least twice with water to save it from fires. And down the centuries water would have been the least of the threats to the cloth.
The sixteenth century European court chronicler, Antoine Di Lalaing, wrote: "in 1503, the Archduke Philip of Austria met his s;ster, Margherite, who had the Shroud with her. Philip wanted proof of its authenticity and ordered his sister to have it boiled in oil, touched with flame, washed and scrubbed several times. None of the treatments cancelled the image." Other historical records in Italy relate that the Shroud would later be "breathed, sweatedand weapt upon" by the faithful when it was placed on public show.
—IF we consider the interaction with water alone, there are some types of water so rich in the carbon 14.isotope that the Libby test would date them far into the future", Professor Marinelli said.
Professor Balina Bollone goes on to stress in his study that textiles, especially linen, are the least adapted for carbon 14 date testing because Ihey are biochemically degradable.
Other international scientists have condemned the method which, in theory, allows for a 150-year margin of error. The first to do so was its inventor who was once asked about datetesting the Shroud and advised against using the carbon 14 technique. American archaeologist, Professor William Meacham, has said: "We must abandon the idea that a radio-carbonic dating will resolve questions of authenticity."
According to Professor Baima Bollone, a thread of the Shroud which had been extracted in 1973 for chemical analysis, was secretly carbon 14 date-tested at the University of California ten years later. One end of the thread was dated at 100 AD and the other end at 200 AD.
The 1990 studies on the Shroud are just another chapter in the linen's 700-year-old, or 2,000-year-old, history.
In 393, a Christian convert called Epiphanius of Salamine wrote a letter to the Bishop of Jerusalem to tell him that he had seen an "image of Christ on a woven cloth".
It is known that the linen was transferred to Constaninople on August 14, 944, and conserved there until 1204 when the seat of the Holy Roman Empire was sacked by Christians towards the end of the fourth crusade.
All traces of the linen were lost for 150 years until 1353, when it appeared in Lirey, France, in the possession of a crusader, Geoffroy de Charny. He claimed that his uncle, a Knight Templar, had spirited it away from Constantinople.
Geoffroy's widow, Margherite of Austria, gave the linen to Ludovico II of Savoy, Italy's royal house, and in 1532, it was conserved in the Chapel of Chambery which was later destroyed in a fire. By 1578, the Savoys had transferred the cloth to their royal seat of Turin.
The church would become the official owner 405 years later in 1983 when Italy's exiled King Umberto died in Portugal leaving the linen to Pope John Paul II in his will.
For Professor Baima Bollone, any investigation of the history of such an heirloom demands the efforts of all fields of science and not just dating procedures.
"The date would have been the icing on the cake. But we can do without the icing", he says. For the cake is rich enough.