According to Sacred Scripture, after Jesus died on the Cross, Joseph of Arimethea, one of His secret followers and a member of the Sanhedrin, bought a linen shroud to bury His body: “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.” (Mark, 15:46)
In the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, there resides a linen cloth that bears the mysterious image of a man who was crucified, scourged, beaten, and had a crown of thorns placed around his head. This cloth is known to many as the Shroud of Turin and is believed to be one and the same cloth that once covered the body of Jesus in the Sepulcher. This mysterious image has yet to be explained thoroughly by science and if miraculous, never will.
The Shroud's history has been foggy at best. Many historians have tried to reconstruct its history in order to determine its authenticity. It is not the purpose of this essay to give a history lesson. Suffice it to say that for hundreds of years, the Shroud has had many devotees, including some of the great saints like St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. John Bosco, and more recently Pope St. John Paul II.
In 1988, however, a piece of the Shroud was tested using the carbon dating method and concluded that the Shroud was no older than the 14th century claiming it is a medieval forgery and not the authentic Shroud of Jesus Christ. Many sindonologists contended the date given by the C-14 test. For more information about the legitimacy of the C-14 test, I recommend reading Joseph G. Margino and Edward J. Prior's excellent comprehensive compilation on the numerous problems with the C-14 test: Chronological History of the Evidence for the Anomalous Nature of the C-14 Sample Area of the Shroud of Turin.
Recently, a new test has been made on a sample from the Shroud of Turin which places the date of the origin of the Shroud much nearer to the time of Christ than the C-14 test. The findings of the study, primarily conducted by Dr. Liberato de Caro and some of his colleagues, were published in the peer-reviewed journal Heritage. The new method Dr. De Caro and his team used is known as Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (hereafter WAXS). This method allows one to measure the natural aging of the cellulose of linen using X-rays to determine when it was made. From the studies done, the authors conclude that the WAXS “analysis presented here, for the natural aging of the cellulose in the linen of a TS [Turin Shroud] sample, allows us to conclude that it is very probable that the TS is a relic of about 20 centuries old, even if we only have European historical documentation for the last seven centuries.”
One of the problems with this new test is that the authors simply state that their sample from the Shroud of Turin came from the same area as that of the sample taken in 1988. They do not say from whom, or where they obtained such a sample. A clarification of this would help support their claims.
This new method of testing, however, is very new, not being more than 3 years old. Therefore, it must be developed and used more frequently in order for such tests on the Shroud to be accepted by skeptics and the scientific community at large. The WAXS method can also be very beneficial to studying the Shroud in particular because, unlike the C-14 testing, the sample used is not destroyed but can be tested again and again.
The authors also point out that this method could be used for blind testing with many different laboratories, unlike the C-14 sample writing that “many laboratories could repeat the X-ray dating on the same samples, and the procedure would also be blinded, because submillimetric or millimetric samples of linen fabric are indistinguishable, compared to the cm-sized samples needed for 14-C dating, which prevented a blind measurement protocol from being carried out in the 1988–1989 14-C study. Indeed, the particular TS weaving was clearly identifiable, invalidating the achievement of a blind analysis procedure.”
Overall, this new method must be further developed and used by sindonologists and scientists to help determine the authenticity of the mysterious Shroud of Turin. Regardless of whether the Shroud is proved to be real or a fake, people are still drawn to it as the most precious relic of the Church.