For 650 years the Shroud of Turin has been an object of religious admiration; it has been scientifically researched for 100 years. In the last 20 years the suspicion that it could be a forgery has been growing.
But as of today it has yet to unveil its central secrets. How was it made? Who made it? And lastly, why are we not able to answer these simple questions with all of the technology and science we have at hand in the twenty-first century?
Now it appears as though that mystery could be solved; a new thesis has been proposed: The Shroud of Turin, made in the Middle Ages on behalf of the church by highly specialized craftsmen in the "Holy Land" may be a hoax, unexplained for 650 years.
Here is a new, concise history of the shroud and its forerunners. It is also part of the history of photography, which began with a lie.
In the second half of the sixth century images appeared in the Byzantine Empire allegedly depicting the face of Jesus. They were designated "acheiropoieta" (Greek for "not made by human hands”) and "vera icon" (Latin/Greek for "true image"). Moreover, these images were claimed to be reproducible; under certain vaguely described circumstances, the image could copy itself on another piece of fabric upon contact.
These images were considered to be "made by God". They were valuable proof of God’s benevolence, used as flags in battles; wars were waged for their possession.
They were the forerunners and models of the later “Holy Icons”. Probably none of these “true images” has been preserved. We know approximately what they looked like because contemporary artists reproduced them on the so-called “Veronica images”.
(In the left column are four links leading to such paintings.)
The shroud can be regarded as having been inspired by these “true images”; actually it represents an advanced type of this "image principle".
Compared with other holy relics, the shroud holds a privileged position. The church divides relics in different classes: The physical remnants of saints are called “primary relics”; so called “secondary relics” are objects, which a saint had possessed or touched. The shroud is a secondary relic, though it shows traces of body contact with a God, making the shroud unique among the holy relics.
Therefore it was considered by many to be a miracle of God and the visible proof of the suffering of Jesus for 650 years. Those who still would like believe in that today run into the problem of scientific research.
One aspect of this research is that a radiocarbon dating of the shroud’s fibers in 1988 showed that the flax, from which the shroud was woven, had been harvested sometime between 1260 and 1390. Of that, there could be no doubt: the shroud must be a forgery.
After this radiocarbon dating a scientific advisor of the Vatican explained:
"The real problem of the shroud is not knowing whether it originates in the first century or the Middle Ages, but rather understanding how the image and the bloodstains on the cloth came about. (...) How could one generate an oxidation on each individual fiber with this typical distribution of intensity?” (01)
He clearly outlined the problem. Still today nobody can explain how the image on the shroud was made; it is believed to be a miracle. But the miracle ends as soon as someone can explain it plausibly.
The image on the shroud is an inverted depiction, which means that the values of light and dark appearing in the image are reversed. Those inverted depictions are actually only known from the photographic negative. The image on the shroud is not a contact reprint, but a projection. This we know only in drawing, painting or photography, but no examples of inverted paintings are available. Art experts and artists deny that such a thing is possible. From these facts one must conclude with high probability that the image on the shroud is based on a photographic effect.
Next the question arises, what did people living at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century know about photography? In order to take photographs one needs a camera and light-sensitive material.
Proving the existence of a camera in this period is not a problem. The “pinhole camera” was already well–known around 300 BC. Around the year 1000 early experiments with a lens camera could have been possible in the Middle East area. The problem of the light - sensitive material remains. Here is where all past explanation ended; light - sensitive material, which would be suitable for the production of photographic images, was unknown in the 13th or 14th century.
One of the most engaged researchers in this field is the South African Professor Nicholas Allen, who has been trying to reconstruct the making of the shroud with the use of light sensitive materials for approximately 20 years. But even if he is successful one day, three important questions still remain unanswered:
Why do we have no knowledge of the use of light-sensitive material in the Middle Ages?
Who had the knowledge to work with such materials at that time?
And: Why should such a forgery be made at all?
Now it looks as if these questions could be answered.
The answer reads:
About 1500 years before Christ a method of dyeing fabric was developed on the coast what is now Lebanon. It worked with secretions of sea snails. The resulting color flared from pink to dark blue and was very resilient. If it was used correctly, the color was "eternal". It would not fade in the sun or in hot water when washed. These were unique attributes at that time.
This craftsmanship was valued accordingly. The dyed fabric was incredibly expensive and the secret of production was carefully guarded. No one except the craftsmen knew the central secret of this process. The secretions of these sea snails were milky - white to yellowish. After it had been applied to the fabric, the cloth had to be exposed to the sun. Only the light of the sun made the color appear. Within a few minutes the secretions turned from white to a beautiful purple. Only when done in this way would the color develop and become resistant to all environmental influences.
Plinius (the Elder) and other scholars described this craft, but none of them seemed to know about the secret of the light sensitivity of the sea snails’ secretions. This secret was lost in 1453 with the fall of the Byzantine Empire. A Scottish natural scientist noticed the light - sensitivity of the secretions of these snails in 1687 and wrote a discourse about it asking himself whether he had rediscovered the secret of the Byzantine purple dye.
His discovery was not received with interest; other cheaper dyeing methods had been developed. Around the year 1900 there was a certain interest in this purple dye again, but it was only historically based. Then Aniline dyeing was discovered and in the 20th century purple dyeing was completely forgotten.
On the basis of these facts, it is inaccurate to presume that there was no light - sensitive material available in the Middle Ages. At the time in which the radiocarbon dating places the shroud, the art of purple dyeing was about 2700 years old.
I accidentally encountered this when I was composing a lecture about the cultural significance of photography. The "discovery" that there was highly light - sensitive material available in the Middle Ages and, in addition, craftsmen who had been working with it for such a long time haunted me as well as the theory that the shroud could be the result of early photographic technology. This led me to raise some dozens of these snails and start experimenting with the secretions. The central question was:
Is it possible to get results that correspond to the “true images” and the image on the shroud by using the technique of purple - dyeing?
I can answer this question after approximately two years of experimenting with this snail secretion and a detailed source study.
It is indeed possible to obtain dyeing results like those of acheiropoieta (graduated brown tones) with the purple dyeing technique. Furthermore, it is possible to cause those changes in color on the surface of the fibers as the scientists of the STURB - Team described them on the shroud by using murex snail-secretions under exposure to sunlight. Beyond that, all difficulties that occur in the scientific explanation of the shroud vanish if we assume that the shroud is a result of an early photographic process using snail secretions as light sensitive material. No pigments or other materials remain on the cloth after the exposure; only the surfaces of the fibers are partly discolored in a yellowish tone. This conforms to the results of the scientific investigations of the shroud.
The negative problem, the mystery of why no image traces can be found under the bloodstains, the crown problem, and the pollen on the cloth is easily explainable if we assume purple dyeing material and a photographic process created the image.
Even the “Veil of Manoppello” easily goes along with these theories. Paul Badde writes in his book “Das Muschelseidentuch”, that after being viewed by an expert, the veil apperas to be woven from byssus, sea-silk, a spider web like fiber, that is spun by a big salt - water mussel. The only color accepted by this material is purple dye. Now it is certainly possible to recreate the color on the veil with the murex snail secretions. In addition, purple - dyed byssus can be found on the commercial lists of the purple dyeing craftsmen in the “Holy Land”.
Regarding the date that scientists have given the shroud, the need for a "relic" like the shroud can be explained easily. In 1291 the “Holy Land” was threatened by an enormous army of Egyptian Mamluks. In fact, there are examples of using relics to defend besieged cites in the past. The first “Vera Icon” was used for that purpose in 544, when a Persian Army attacked Edessa, and a “Holy Lance” was used the same way in Antiochia, in the year 1098. Both occasions proved a great success.
In the year 544 a new type of image was introduced, the “Vera Icon”. These "true images" were characterized by the church as autographical and documentary. Thus the principle of photography was described 1300 years before its actual invention. Our relationship to documentary images could be based on a construct of faith.
The Shroud of Turin is a cunningly forged relic. It was manufactured between 1260 and 1291 by purple dyeing craftsmen, in or around Tyros, in the "Holy Land". They used a simple photographic technique and highly light-sensitive gland secretions of the sea snail Murex brandaris. Similarly, the forerunners of the shroud and the holy icons, the “true images”, were produced in 544. The “Veil of Manopello” can also be easily explained with these procedures. The reason and motivation behind the forgery of the shroud may have been the threat to the "holy land" from Egyptian Mamluk forces and Europe’s indifferent attitude to this.
Andreas Lobe, August 2004 to May 2008
The starting point of the examination
To explain the Shroud of Turin comprehensibly thoroughly and logically, we must first seriously consider the past scientific discoveries. Essentially, these are as follows: it is an inverted image; the illustration is not a print, but a projection and the age of the fibers was established to be sometime between 1260 and 1390 by three independent institutes. This, plus the fact that there was light-sensitive material available at this time as well as specialized craftsmen in the Near East, led me to three investigative approaches.
The photo-technical approach: All past scientific investigations suggest that some kind of photographic effect must have been responsible for the image on the shroud. The question is whether that technical background existed, and if it did, where and when?
This technical background was available in the Near East and particularly after the year 1000.
The historical approach: Here two questions arise: Were there craftsmen between 1260 and 1390 who would have been able to make the shroud?
Yes, purple- dyeing craftsman in the Near East region would have been able to manufacture things like the shroud.
And: Was there a reason to produce such a forgery at that time and place?
The reason lay in the political significance of such a relic, which could have been decisive for the fate of the “Holy Land” in the years 1290 and 1291. There are also historical examples for the use of relics in this conclusion.
The chemical approach: Here the question is whether it is possible to produce something like this image on the shroud through light - exposure by using the purple dyeing technique.
This is possible through the color changing effect of purple- dye under the influence of light and the simultaneous development of hydrogen bromine acid.
In addition to this I have compiled a catalog of specifics questions that emerged, if we want to explain the shroud scientifically. The following is an excerpt from this catalog.
Why do we find these special traces of pollen on the shroud? If we assume the shroud was manufactured somewhere around Tyros or Akkon and then transported by land to Smyrna and then to France, there is no problem explaining these traces.
How did the shroud get to Europe? The first owner of the shroud had taken part in a conquest of Smyrna (today: Izmir) ten years before he first exposed it.
Why are the crucifixion marks on the shroud so authentic? Because at this time there was a lot of experience with this method of execution in the Near East, contrary to Europe.
Why did the crucified person on the cloth obviously wear a hood-crown? Because the shroud was made not in Europe, but in the region of the Eastern Church. There a crown was usually hood shaped, contrary to Europe.
Why is the use of the shroud as a burial cloth not consistent with any historically traditional use? Because this use was the only way to convincingly depict the front and back image of the crucified person on the shroud by using a photographic technology, considering the statement, the cloth was used as a burial cloth.
Why are there no image marks to be found under the bloodstains? Because blood, especially old blood, reflects very little light and because of that no substantial exposure traces remains. If we assume, that after the exposure the forgers added bloodstains to the spots were the blood was on the original, this question is answered.
Why do we find these straw yellow discolorations only on the surface of the fibers and no other traces of a light - sensitive layer on the shroud at all? Because this light sensitive layer was removed after the exposure. Only traces of corrosion, caused by hydrogen bromine acid, remained visible; this develops with the exposure of the snail - secretions.
How is it possible that the substantial characteristics of photography were described 1300 years before their invention? Because the “true images” from the year 544 had already been made using a simple kind of photography.
The following information will provide you with an overview of the content of the German pages on this site.
The pages Startseite, Purpur and Hintergrundinfos contain the same as this English summary.
On the sub-page Die Bilder I describe the history of the “Vera Icon” images, the shroud, and what I found out about it. It also contains a short history of the shroud and the scientific research on it.
On the sub-page Untersuchungen I wrote about my chemical and physical experiments with the gland secretions of the sea snail Murex brandaris.
The sub-page Historisches contains background material about the historical and political situation in the “Holy Land” at the end of the 13th century, as well as how the church handles these relics today.
Back on the Main-Menu you will find the page Rekonstruktion. After completing my research I started to write a text about how I imagine the production of the shroud considering the historical, social, and political situation during the fall of the “Holy Land” in the year 1291. It is not a novel and it is certainly not a documentary report; - it is something in between. I call it a “Scenic Reconstruction”. On this page you will find a short excerpt of about 10 pages from this text. The whole text comprises about 300 pages and I am still working on it.
On the page Aktuelles I will write a chronicle about what is going on with my project.
The page Impressum contains the Guest Book, information about me, and the disclaimer.
Thanks for your interest.
About the Author:
Andreas Lobe, born in 1955, artisan education in photography. 30 years as a freelancer in the field of press photography for newspapers and magazines. My work is centered on people in their social surroundings, environmental themes, and architecture.
13 trips to the war zones of Bosnia from 1992 to 1996.
Member of the “Atomic Photographers Guild”. Guest of the “Peace Culture Foundation” of Hiroshima in August 1994, on the 49th anniversary of the A-bomb drop.
Initiator and head of the “Symposium für Dokumentarfotografie” from 1999 to 2004.
Associate member of the German agency “Zeitenspiegel Reportagen”.
Exhibitions in Germany, Europe, Japan, and the USA.