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By Anatoly FESENKO, Dr. Sc. (Tech.), Director of the Institute of Criminology, Federal Security Service, Russia; Yuri TILKUNOV, Cand. Sc. (Chem.), Head of Department of the same Institute; Alexander BELYAKOV, Director of the Russian Center of the Turin Shroud; Tatyana MOSKVINA, Head of Department, Russian Ministry of Justice

It happened back in 1848. That year an Italian photographer, Secondo Pia, took the first ever picture of the famous Christian relic preserved at Turin since 1578. When he developed the negative he saw on the plate a positive image of the body of Christ. Since then experts and scholars have been writing articles and studies expressing their views on the puzzling phenomenon of the Holy Shroud- this sacred image "not made with hands". Can its appearance be explained in the conventional material terms of physics, chemistry and biology? In the article which follows several Russian experts are offering our readers their personal views on this subject.

Attempting to explain the mystery of the Turin Shroud experts have been studying its photographs and the fabric of the winding-sheet within and around the image. The most successful among such studies was the STURP Project carried out in the early 1980s by the combined efforts of specialists from different countries (mainly the United States and Italy) under the American physicist Dr. John Jackson. The comprehensive studies of the relic relied on a broad range of what specialists call non- destructive techniques and the findings were summed up in detailed reports and a monograph of the British scientist Dr. Ian Wilson "The Evidence of the Shroud" (London, 1985). Dr. Jackson and his colleagues carried out a range of studies of the optical parameters of the Shroud.

In 1988, three independent research labs (in Arizona, Oxford and Zurich) tried to determine the age of the Shroud by means of radiocarbon dating of the fabric. Their conclusion was a surprise-the cloth was manufactured not in the 1st century A.D. as

Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author.- Ed.

Pages. 79

expected, but much later-in the 14th century. This dating, however, has been proved erroneous by our own theoretical and experimental studies started in 1999. In our own view our foreign counterparts had failed to take into account some very important circumstances of the history of the relic. We believe that the following can be said about the famous Christian relic as a material object on the strength of the accumulated and scientifically corroborated facts*.

The Holy Shroud, preserved in the Turin Cathedral (of Giovanni Battista, 1683-1754) is a 4.3 x 1.1 m fabric bearing a yellowish-brown imprints of a male body (front and back), covered with dark spots which look like blood stains and drops of blood.

The fabric, with the density of 20-40 mg/cm 2 -is linen cloth, with rare cotton filaments, or fibers, was woven by hand and without any mechanical tools.

The yellowish-brown image of the body practically does not penetrate deep into the fabric and no dyes or substances which could be used to "paint" the image have been traced. Until now none of the suggested hypotheses of the making of the image has been confirmed by experimental evidence.

The stains and drops, which look like blood stains, are real blood stains and, as different from the body image, they reach deep into the fabric.

Photographs of the Shroud clearly show the face, the hair and the hands and feet. The image of the body is a negative, and the stains of blood-positives.

The negative imprint of the human body, the absence of any foreign substances on the fabric, the possibility of a reconstruction of a three-dimensional shape of the human body using different optical densities of sections of the image practically rule out the work of an artist, or painter.

Diagram of tissue contact with model relief.

Diagram of tissue contact with model relief when covered up with earth.

* In our list of evidence we have deliberately excluded data obtained by the radiocarbon dating of the fabric because of the well-founded objections as to their validity.- Ed .

Pages. 80

Pages. 81

A detailed analysis of the stigmata imprints upon the Shroud proves that the victim was flogged by lashes of the Roman type, crowned with thorns, that his wrists and feet were pierced with nails and there was a wound in his chest. All of these details match the Gospel descriptions of the sufferings and torture of Jesus of Nazareth.

Palino morphological analysis has revealed some microtraces proving that the linen cloth had been taken to France, Italy, Spain and countries of the Near East.

All of the aforesaid is clearly of tremendous scientific importance for providing the true answer as to the origin of one of the most puzzling and precious historic relics. On the other hand, they shed no light on the puzzling mystery of the Shroud of Turin. We still do not understand the nature of the image "not made with hands" of the person who had been wrapped up in this cloth before his burial.

As had been pointed out, all of the tested hypotheses of the making of the imprint upon the cloth, involving its irradiation at different wavelengths, or diffusion of chemical substances, have not been confirmed and it has been impossible to reproduce experimentally an image with some similar morphological features which would look like the one on the Shroud of Turin.

In our studies we did not attempt, like our predecessors, to verify any of the suggested hypotheses. We tried instead to provide some theoretical explanation and study experimentally the processes which take place in a linen cloth upon its contact with the body of a man who had been exposed to heavy physical strain or had been submitted to torture and then buried in accordance with the Judaic traditions.

Experimental data on the chemistry of body discharges under different emotional or physical stresses have been summed up in a monograph of the American researcher Dr. Yas Kuno "Human Perspiration" (Springfield, USA). Human diaphoresis and fatty discharges contain, apart from chlorides, lipids and urea, a considerable (up to 25 percent) amount of acids: higher and lower acids (linolic, palmitic, butyric, formic, valeric, caprylic, etc.); ascorbic, lactic and ether-sulphuric acids and also aromatic oxy-acids. And the pH level of body discharges can range from 3 to 6.

It should be pointed out that the most acidous sweat-and-fat discharges occur in people after heavy physical and emotional strains, and also several days after a bath, because the process of their oxidation is joined by the microflora of the skin which destroys lipids with the formation of volatile acids, above all isovaleric, butyric, etc.

And now let us try and recall the traditional burial procedure of a person crucified by the Romans in Palestine. According to the Jewish traditions, the body of a Jew killed by infidels had to be buried on the same day; it was not submitted to ablution or wrapped up in a shroud, but was placed instead with the remaining garments upon a

Pages. 82

long piece of linen cloth and covered up with a stretch of the same cloth. If time was running short (like on a Friday*) the body could be simply covered up with earth (in the conditions of Palestine-this was simply some sand mixed with clay and humus).

Thus it was not impossible that a bleeding body taken off from the cross, covered with sweat and fatty discharges with the pH value approaching 3, could be left for some 24 hours wrapped up into a length of linen cloth and covered up with earth. And it was reburied later on. And there could have been an earthquake (landslip) during that time which separated the body from the shroud. Hypothetically, one can assume the possibility of a resurrection-something that happened to Jesus Christ according to the Gospel. But for the appearance of a body image on the fabric it is absolutely unimportant what happened to the body and the burial cloth on the next day because they had be separated once and for all.

In any case the blood-stained shroud must have been preserved by the first Christians as a relic. In the conditions of harsh persecutions launched against them by the Romans (mass executions, including crucifixions), there could have been many burial shrouds preserved as vivid memorials of the martyrdom of the champions of the new faith. Under the circumstances, however, just one such relic has been preserved to this day-the Shroud of Turin.

Now, let us turn to the appearance of the image "not made with hands". The main components of any fabric made of plant fibers are cellulose and lignin. The chemical properties of the latter are such that under the effect of acids and heating it turns into a substance of a complex composition and structure (a mixture of polymers of different nature) with an appreciable number of carbonyl and carboxyl groups. Under the influence of temperature the practically colorless lignin turns yellowish-brown, and under strong heating it becomes dark-brown (incidentally, the impacts of the acidity and temperature factors can be appreciably separated in time, which does not alter the nature of the processes described). One can conduct such a test himself any time. All one has to do is put upon a light linen or cotton fabric some, even weak, solution of acid (lemon, ascorbic or malic acid) to say nothing of some stronger mineral ones. After some time the fabric should be heated by an iron or in a stove until its color becomes light yellow. The spots hit by drops of acid will become yellowish-brown. The same effect can be observed on low-quality paper containing large levels of lignin.

As has been said before, under the local effect of acids on fabric made of vegetable fibers (linoleic acid contains 30-40 percent of lignin) there appears upon it a latent image in the shape of

* The Judaic laws strictly prohibit funerals on Saturday, but permit reburials of a dead person on a Sunday and the following weekdays.- Ed.

Pages. 83

IR-spectra of the dark and light sections of the image.

their contact zone. Invisible to the eye ("transpires" only at high temperatures of 150- 200C) it is preserved over periods of time and is resistant to various cleansing agents. This property of linen fabrics was noted during the studies of the Shroud of Turin by Italian researchers P. Vignon and S. Pellicori. They suggested the possibility of the image being produced upon it as a result of the contact of the fabric with the body, and they were but one step away from explaining this process.

All experts investigating the mechanism of image formation on the Shroud took into account only the effect of the body upon the fabric covering it, while practically fully ignoring the conditions when this factor comes into play (the contact of the relief- shaped original with the linen cloth, which was "used" for producing its two- dimensional copy). And it has a crucial role taking into account the old Judaic burial custom under which a dead body can be sprinkled over with a layer of earth. This radically alters the position of the shroud relative to the corpse creating conditions for an "imprint" appearing on the fabric.

In support of our views we have carried out numerous experiments on ways of producing images of various relief surfaces and parts of the human body by what we call this contact method. We applied to the mock-up the substance under investigation or a mixture of substances, then covered it up with linen or cotton cloth and poured upon it a layer of sand with a level 2-3 cm above the highest point of relief. The model was kept at a temperature of 20-30C for some time (from 1 to 24 hours). Then the cloth was removed and kept at room temperature for a period from one hour to one month. It was then placed into a heater where it was kept for several hours at 120- 180C until it turned yellow. As the experimental substances we took natural human sweat and fatty secretions and also some model mixtures of acids contained in them: lactic, palmitic, butyric, valeric and propionic. As a result we obtained negative images of various volumetric elements of a yellowish-brown color.

It should be pointed out that when low-volatility acids were used, the quality of the images appreciably deteriorated, primarily because of an inferior resolution of half- tones and their inferior reproduction. And that means that the mechanism of an image formation upon fabric is more likely not a simple contact one, but a contact-diffusion process. In other words, in order to obtain a clear imprint, it seems to better rely upon a mechanism of transition of the "dye" from the original to the "base" not by means of adhesion, but through evaporation, diffusion and the subsequent sorption (fixation) of its vapors.

We also carried out a comparative study of the darkened and light segments of the fabric on the images obtained by what we call non-destructive methods: optical microscopy, fluorescent analysis, spectroscopy in the ultraviolet visible and infrared bands of the spectrum. It was established that the image is formed by darkened flax fibers. The depth of penetration into the fabric is largely determined by the conditions of the experiment. Darkened patches differ from lighter ones by greater contents of carbonyl groups. The spectra of absorption and fluorescence of the imprint are practically no different from those of the Turin Shroud.

The main result of this study consists in the establishment of the mechanism of formation of the image "not made by hands" and its explanation in terms of natural causes submitted to the known laws of nature.

As for the identification of the image of Christ and the image on the Shroud, we must say that after years of studies of the "mystery" of the phenomenon such identification is practically impossible. Dr. Alan Adler, one of the active participants in the STRUP project has justly pointed out that it is impossible to either confirm or refute experimentally the hypothesis of whether or not this is Jesus Christ. In other words, since there exists no identification mark of Jesus Christ, it is impossible to either confirm or deny this in principle.

But the important thing for mankind in our view (including science in particular) is not whether the Shroud winded Christ or another person who died in the same manner. The main thing for us is that it brings from the depth of ages the evidence of not just the suffering and death, but of the eternal victory of the spirit over death and oblivion.

Illustrations provided by the authors.



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Anatoly FESENKO, Yuri TILKUNOV, Alexander BELYAKOV, Tatyana MOSKVINA, MYSTERY OF THE HOLY SHROUD // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 14.09.2018. URL: (date of access: 19.02.2019).

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