SOILED LINEN by William Bennetta The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot-long piece of linen that

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SOILED LINEN by William Bennetta The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot-long piece of linen that bears two full-length images - one a front view, the other a rear view - of a man who seems to have been flogged and crucified. The two images lie head to head, separated by some six inches of bare cloth. There are no side-view images. The shroud belongs to the House of Savoy but is kept (at Turin, Italy) by functionaries of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has explicitly encouraged the veneration of the shroud and has palpably, if informally, promoted various beliefs about it. These include the idea that it is the cloth in which the corpse of Jesus was wrapped for burial, as well as the correlative idea that the images and the ostensible bloodstains on the shroud are direct impressions of that corpse. According to one vigorous advocate of those beliefs, the most recent public exposition of the shroud, held at Turin during the summer of 1978, drew some 3.5 million people. On 14 October 1988 the [New York Times] reported that the shroud had been discredited by radiocarbon dating: Tests had indicated that the linen was no more than 750 years old. The [Times] also recounted the tortuous statements by which the archbishop of Turin, in announcing the results of the tests, had tried to obfuscate the Church's promotion of the shroud and had given assurance that the shroud, even if bogus, had "produced miracles."(1) I was in Port Chester, New York, at the time, visiting members of my family. When I showed the [Times] to my brother, Bob, he said that the Corpus Christi church - one of several Catholic churches in Port Chester - had a shrine entirely devoted to the shroud. I suggested that we go over to the church to see how the shroud was being promoted to the faithful. As Joe Nickell relates in [Inquest on the Shroud of Turin], the shroud was condemned, very early in its strange history, as a fake. In 1389 the bishop of Troyes, in France, sent a report about the shroud to Pope Clement VII. It began:(2) The case, Holy Father, stands thus. Some time since in this diocese of Troyes, the Dean of a certain collegiate church . . . falsely and deceitfully, 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, . . . he falsely declaring and pretending that this was the actual shroud in which our Savior Jesus Christ was enfolded in the tomb. Pope Clement declined to suppress the shroud entirely, but in 1390 he imposed restrictions on any future exhibitions of it. There would be no ceremonies or candles or incense or guard of honor, he decreed, and each exposition would have to include the announcement that "it is not the true Shroud of Our Lord but a painting or picture made in the semblance or representation of the shroud." The Pope's prudent judgment, however, was soon eclipsed. The Savoys acquired the shroud in 1453, and they immediately began to exhibit it as Jesus's burial cloth and to attribute miraculous powers to it. Their enterprise succeeded, and the shroud became widely accepted, among Catholics, as an authentic relic. It enjoyed that status for the next 500 years or so, even though the Church's central administration remained conspicuously ambiguous. They repeatedly provided [de facto] endorsement of the folklore and superstitions that adhered to the shroud, but they never said definitively that the shroud was the thing that believers believed it to be. The most engaging episode in the shroud's history has come in our own century, as it has been subjected to scientific and pseudoscientific examinations. The proceedings have been odd, sometimes Byzantine, and often absurd, because they have included the repeated conflation of a real question with a purely theatrical one. The real question, arising from some puzzling visual and physical properties of the images, has been: How were the images formed? The theatrical one, promoted by some Church officials and other believers, has been: Is the shroud authentic? In the context of this latter question, some people - committed to finding that the shroud is genuine - have misrepresented their tests or their results and have tried to explain contrary results by inventing supernatural forces. The question of the authenticity of the shroud and its images is a nonsense because the shroud itself declares unequivocally that it is a work of art. The evidence can be plainly seen and does not require the intercession of microscopes, spectroscopes or any of the other devices that have been enlisted. Let me explain. The shroud's devotees imagine that the people who buried Jesus placed His body on a part of the shroud and then drew the rest of the up and over, so that it enfolded the head and entirely covered the body's front and sides. The part of the cloth that was under the body, they say, acquired the rear-view image; the part that was laid atop acquired the front-view image. This is consistent with the head-to-head orientation of the two images, but it is irreconcilable with the geometry of the images themselves. That geometry is so right that it is wrong: When the shroud is laid flat, the images are realistic and well proportioned; they are not the distorted images that you would see if you wrapped a three-dimensional corpse in a cloth, then somehow transferred an impression of the corpse's surface to the cloth, and then laid the cloth out in two dimensions. In other words, the images do not conform, even crudely, to the explanation by which believers purport to account for them. Nor do they conform to any other explanation but this: The images were devised by an artist who did what artists - graphic artists, at least - always have done. He represented his three-dimensional subject by making planar projections, and he omitted features that had no projections on the two planes that he had chosen. This explains two stark properties of the shroud for which, as far as I know, the believers have no explanation at all. It tells why there are no images of the corpse's sides, and it tells why the space between the two images - which, according to a believers' scenario, should have acquired an impression of the top of the corpse's head - is bare. For me, the naive geometry of the images has always been conclusive. Readers who want to learn about other impeachments of the shroud's authenticity will find an abundant supply in Joe Nickell's book. I cannot even begin to summarize them here, but I must mention the business of the "bloodstains." The shroud shows many red marks that represent blood from the wounds that Jesus incurred, during a period of many hours, as He was flogged, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, and stabbed with a lance. And like the images of the corpse, these "bloodstains" are much too good to be true. Nickell says: The "blood" stains on the shroud are suspiciously still red, whereas aged blood turns black. In addition they are "picturelike". . . . Other questions arise: How could some of the "clots" or "flows" which had [dried] (for example, those on the arms) have transferred to the cloth at all? As to blood flowing onto the cloth after the body was supposedly wrapped. . . , how could such [wet] blood have dried without causing the cloth to adhere to the body? And if such blood had not dried, how could it fail to smear when the body was removed? Among those "picturelike" stains, the ones that represent flows from wounds induced by the crown of thorns are especially notable. They depict blood arranged in rivulets, outside of Jesus's hair, but real blood from scalp wounds does not flow in that way; it spreads into the hair, sticking to it and matting it. Various examinations of the shroud's "blood stains" have failed to disclose corpuscles, hemoglobin or any other materials that are specific to blood, but they have given evidence of several substances that were used by medieval artists as pigments. The reason why the Corpus Christi church has a shrine devoted to the shroud is that Father Peter M. Rinaldi was the church's pastor from 1950 to 1977. Rinaldi was a believer if there ever was one, and he wrote several books about the shroud. Copies of his [I Saw the Holy Shroud] were displayed for sale in the church's vestibule when Bob and I got there, and I bought one.3 The text - credulous, sophistic and highly distortive - includes a brief, sterilized version of the shroud's history and some commensurably bogus invocations of science. As a whole, it is comparable to a creationist pamphlet. As Bob and I walked from the vestibule into the shrine, we met a full-sized, fully colored statue of Jesus on His cross. It was meant to be both clinical and horrific; the nearby placard said the statue had been made by a devotee of the shroud and that it reflected what the shroud told about Jesus's awful death. The statue captivated me for several minutes - not only because it was wonderfully garish but also because it did indeed resonate with the shroud. Jesus's body bore many spots and stripes of red paint, representing blood from the lacerations inflicted when He was flogged; and even though the flogging had been administered well before the crucifixion, this blood was no different in color from the fresh blood that was flowing from newer wounds. Nor had the spots and stripes been smeared or smudged; nor had they been blurred by the sweat that Jesus had shed during His considerable exertions on the way to His execution. The artist who had painted the statue had made errors like some of the ones that had been made, 600 years earlier, by the artist who had painted the shroud. The shrine itself was rather dark and physically unimpressive. Its principal resources comprised a reduced-scale photograph of the shroud, some other pictures, and a number of explanatory placards. The placards said outright that the shroud was the true, miraculous shroud of Jesus, asked rhetorically what else it could be, and told that scientists had affirmed that its authenticity had resisted all scientific challenges. The results of the radiocarbon dating of the shroud, along with the announcement of those results by the archbishop of Turin, have been reported widely and prominently by the popular media, including the daily newspaper that serves Port Chester. And I am sure that the current pastor of Corpus Christi - even if he has had no particular interest in the Shroud of Turin - knows, even now, that his shrine needs an overhauling. Just for fun, I intend to visit the church again to see if any changes have been made. I'll let you know what I find out. REFERENCES: 1. R. Suro. 14 October 1988. "Church says shroud of Turin isn't authentic". [New York Times]. 2. J. Nickell. 1983. [Inquest on the Shroud of Turin]. Prometheus Books. 3. P.M. Rinaldi. 1983. [I Saw the Holy Shroud:A Study of the Shroud of Christ]. Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, NY. (William Bennetta is an advisor to Bay Area Skeptics, a consulting biologist, and a professional editor, and has published many signifi- cant works on creationism.) -end- Copywrite (C) 1988 BAY AREA SKEPTICS 4030 Moraga San Francisco, CA 94122 Reproduced from the December, 1988 BASIS. 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