Italian scientists have conducted a series of advanced experiments which, they claim, show that the marks on the shroud – purportedly left by the imprint of Christ's body – could not possibly have been faked with technology that was available in the medieval period.While the study doesn't claim that it was the burial cloth of Christ. Eliminating the argument that it was a medieval forgery eliminates a significant opposing argument.
The research will be an early Christmas present for shroud believers, but is likely to be greeted with scepticism by those who doubt that the sepia-coloured, 14ft-long cloth dates from Christ's crucifixion 2,000 years ago.
Sceptics have long claimed that the shroud is a medieval forgery, and radiocarbon testing conducted by laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona in 1988 appeared to back up the theory, suggesting that it dated from between 1260 and 1390.
But those tests were in turn disputed on the basis that they were skewed by contamination by fibres from cloth that was used to repair the relic when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages.
The new study is the latest intriguing piece of a puzzle which has baffled scientists for centuries and spawned an entire industry of research, books and documentaries.
"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining ... is impossible to obtain in a laboratory," concluded experts from Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development.
The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times.
Some skeptics will continue to argue against the idea that it was Christ's burial cloth because they don't believe Jesus is who He said He is. But for those open and/or struggling with doubts it offers interesting evidence in support of Christ's humanity.
The Vatican has never said whether it believes the shroud to be authentic or not, although Pope Benedict XVI has said that the enigmatic image imprinted on the cloth "reminds us always" of Christ's suffering.