S. Tomkins on the Shroud of Turin
S. Tomkins, "Wrapped in the shroud," for the BBC:
So, having been discredited by its apparently fatal blow from carbon-14, the shroud seems to be coming back from the dead. For many, these latest developments only confirm what they have believed all along.
There is a vast international Turin shroud culture and industry. It has its own ology - sindonology, the study of the shroud. Shroud.com lists 29 centres of sindonological research and information in the US alone. There are international conferences, journals and newsletters in several languages, and you can buy CDs and CD ROMs, books and videos, and framed prints up to life size. The Catholic church has prayers and liturgy for shroud-related worship, and it even has its own feast day, 4 May. Believers - not all Catholic by any means - point to many features of the mysterious linen that are hard for sceptics to explain: Why are the bloody nail prints on the wrists, when all medieval art depicted Jesus nailed to the cross by his hands? How did the 12th Century Hungarian `Pray Manuscript' come to depict Jesus being wrapped in the shroud - with authentic herringbone pattern and burn marks - 100 years before carbon-dating says the material originated? What would possess a 14th Century forger to design the fabricated face in negative - a fact that only emerged when it was first photographed in 1898? Doesn't the evidence for medieval repair of the cloth and sooty deposits from a 1532 fire challenge the carbon-dating? Shroud enthusiasts come from all walks of life, and all Christian denominations. Those who have written and lectured about its authenticity include professors of archeology, philosophy, history, chemistry, engineering, and surgery, though not sindonology. It is not surprising to find priests in their midst, but more surprising that believers included the controversial liberal Bishop of Woolwich John Robinson, of Honest To God fame. Of course there are conspiracy theorists and far-fetched mystics too, but they seem to be outnumbered by scientists. Judging by the three million who queued to see the linen when it was exhibited in 2000, it seems the average shroud fan is simply an ordinary Christian believer.