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N. D. Wilson

Father Brown Fakes the Shroud

Start with a piece of glass and some white oil paint


I am not an expert on the Shroud of Turin. But then what would it mean to be an expert on the Shroud? Spending months firing gamma rays at linen? Attempting the discoloration of linen through a controlled release of gases? I have not done these things, nor have I paid too much mind to those who have. I am not a scientist at all. I am not even an expert in hagiography and relics. I have not received a single grant or spent a dime on Shroud research that wasn't taken directly out of my wife's shopping budget. What I am, is an outlier. And, as luck would have it, I was reading the right collection of short stories at the right time. I am as unqualified to work on such a mysterious cloth as any medieval forger. And yet, like that unknown, unwashed villain of the past, I can place an image on linen using such sophisticated tools as glass and sunlight.


Sometime in 2000 I sat in a graduate school classroom at Liberty University and watched an amazing slide show on the Shroud. Dr. Gary Habermas presented what he knew about the sacred cloth—which was a lot. I would have liked to simply brush the issue of the Shroud aside, laugh and wonder why time was being wasted on the subject, but that was impossible. The Shroud was too complex, and there was too much weirdness surrounding it to be casually dismissed.

Habermas was careful to point out that he had not landed on one side or the other of the authenticity debate (nor did he think that he could). No one had ever shown how an image like this could be produced, and yet science had weighed in with carbon dating placing the Shroud firmly in the twelve to thirteen hundreds, a date overwhelmingly considered legitimate until very recently.

The image on the Shroud is of a man of moderate height. He is neither small nor large. The entirety of the man's front and back are shown on the same side of the cloth. The cloth is of a fine herringbone weave and is about 14 ft. 3 in. long by 3 ft. 7 in. wide. The man on the cloth has been crucified and the locations of his wounds are shown with a liberal use of human blood. He bears the stigmata, though the nail holes are not located in his iconic palms, but in his more anatomically correct wrists. His brow bears the blood resultant from the placement of a crown of thorns, there is a spear wound in his side, his face has been beaten, his nose broken (cartilage separated from the bone for Bible-believing Shroud proponents [John 19:36]), and his back has been mercilessly torn and beaten with a flail. The wounds from his whipping run all the way from his heels to the back of his scalp. He is bearded; his countenance is noble and looks much like many medieval icons of Christ.

These are all the details needed to convince some of the faithful. But scientists, never willing to take religion lying down, needed more than this to impress them.

In 1898 the House of Savoy of Italy put the Shroud on Exposition. They were then the owners of the relic, and they granted a lawyer named Secondo Pia permission to photograph it for the first time. What followed could only be called a buzz. It was found that the image on the Shroud was actually a photographic negative. Pia's negatives displayed the positive image of the man in the Shroud lying in death, a spooky white on a dark background. Of course, we were only just learning of the existence of photo negativity—surely no medieval forger would have been aware of such images, let alone been able to produce one on cloth. The existence of the Shroud officially became an affront to Science and has annoyed her ever since.

Pia had only been able to photograph the entire Shroud while it was framed beneath glass and hanging high on a wall. His plates were soon thought to be insufficient and a second photographer was allowed to work much more freely. But this did not happen until 1931.


Pollen in the cloth, bugs, burial aloes, human blood (type AB as allegedly determined in 1982), anatomical wound accuracy, but above all, the image of the man, somehow represented in photo negative on linen. … Dr. Habermas had firmly planted the splinter of the Shroud in my brain.

Not long after my first Shroud encounter I flew home from Virginia to visit my parents in Idaho. The Shroud traveled with me. It rankled. As it has for many people before me, it became a personal problem of my own. Not because its authenticity would overthrow my entire worldview, as it would for a secularist, but because it smelled false. The blood was wrong, somehow coagulated unnaturally. The face looked nothing like the pumpkin that we see in the Death Mask of Agamemmnon. Somehow the cloth would have to have been stretched flat to receive the three dimensional head on a two dimensional surface. Despite all of its complexity it felt very off. Impressive, inexplicable, but off.

I woke on my first morning back in Idaho and went and sat in my parent's living room. My mother was around, in and out of the room, talking to me. I don't think I was very responsive. The Shroud weighed on me. The centuries old puzzle sat there, staring me in the face, and, well, puzzled me. I responded to its challenge by achieving near motionlessness, a thoroughly shanghaied mind.


The second photographer chosen was Commander Giuseppe Enrie. Unlike Pia, he was given much freer rein with the cloth, but also unlike Pia, he had to deal with (it is said) hundreds of dignitaries, experts and scholars watching his every move. A special commission of photographers watched every stage of his work and issued a notarized statement affirming that his work was free of retouching. He eventually developed three photos of the entire Shroud, and nine details, the most famous of which is an image of the Man in the Shroud's face, which he was able to take close up, free of glass, and life-size while archbishop Cardinal Fossati smoothed the linen. The Shroud has been photographed many times since 1931, by professionals and otherwise, but in every case, the white, positive face emerges in the negative. It seemed far more reasonable to most people to assume (as it still does to many) that the Shroud was authentic than to think that some medieval relic forger could have created such a striking image, and one that would not even be visible to any man until some six or seven centuries later with the invention of photography. In 1898 two artists were commissioned to produce detailed reproductions of the Shroud. Reffo and Cussetti worked with the Shroud in front of them. The clunkiness of their productions affirms the impossibility of the forger's task. Photo negatives of their work bear no resemblance to reality.

The production of a photo negative by an artist is so counter intuitive to our nature and experience that professional artists cannot even accurately make a copy of a negative that sits before them. It is on this fact that proponents of the Shroud's authenticity pitch their tents and camp. The carbon dating results cannot be accurate, they argue, until it can be shown that such an image could have been produced by medieval man.


My mother had recently given me a collection of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. She knew that I had begun reading the Catholic apologist and was thoroughly enjoying him. Reading him is more like eating sausage and drinking thick beer at a circus than it is like reading philosophy of religion—just how he wanted it. Chesterton disliked his Father Brown stories, though they are perhaps what he is best known for (in secular circles). So it always seems to go. A. A. Milne wanted to write mysteries, but is stuck with Christopher Robin going hoppity-hoppity-hop. I can understand why GKC deprecated his Father Brown stories. They are repetitive. His love of paradox repeats itself again and again, and the same themes run through every story. Taken individually each story can be enjoyable, but most people find them too homogenous to take in too many at one go. I had read his entire collection straight through—the literary equivalent of eating three packs of Oreos as an after-school snack—and somehow, still enjoyed them. They made me smarter, for the time being.

Fresh off my Chestertonian binge, the Shroud hijacked my thoughts, and my mind focused on picking at its mystery. This has to be much simpler than it seems, I thought. The complexity is deceptive. It may be complex now, but it must have been quite simply produced. The forger cannot have been aware of the completeness of his art. The situation was too tangled, too much to wade through. As is always the case, the facts, the data, the evidence, testimonies, witnesses, were all piling up. They would achieve critical mass and shift into Gordian knot status. Once there, all the complexity would simply get hacked through, suddenly falling away in the face of some new explanation. That is what always happens. Turns out the sun is at the center. All the planetary epicycles disappear. Easy enough. So where was the simple explanation hiding? Under which rock, and how was I going to find it?

I am not a scientist, but I am a writer, and Chesterton is predictable. I knew what wisdom he would give his gumshoe priest. Couldn't I just stick the whole thing into some Father Brown dialog and have him solve it for me? Let Chesterton's mind cut through the tangle. He's not a Protestant, so the pope will mind less.

True paradigm shifts involve a questioning of first assumptions. First assumptions are frequently so ingrained that we are unaware of their existence. They are the assumptions, in story after story, that only Father Brown identifies and doubts. Once doubt arises, a revolution is possible.

Thomas Kuhn (enter stage left).


The VP-8 Image Analyzer did not simplify things. In 1976 one of Enrie's photos was run through the Analyzer at Los Alamos National Laboratories. The VP-8 is an analog device originally designed in the 1960s to map portions of the moon through converting image density into three-dimensional relief. A normal two-dimensional photo will translate into a jumble when scanned thus (even if recognizable), as the lights and darks in a photo have no correspondence with the distance of the object from the camera. This is not what happened with a photo of the Shroud. Instead, what was produced has been called an accurate relief of a human body. A picture of a man in 3-D. This discovery has had the same effect as Pia's first photo negatives. The Las Vegas odds of this image on linen having been created by some unwashed medieval had gotten much longer. A man (the assumption is always male) with none of the technological advantages that we have, was able to do what we cannot. Without using any of our photo chemicals, he has placed a negative, three-dimensional image of a crucified Christ onto linen. And he can't have known that he did.

1969 saw the first scientists examining the cloth beneath microscopes. 1973 saw the first samples of the Shroud taken for microscopic ultrastructural and haematological research. Nine threads and six thread fragments were taken. In 1978, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), a team of scientists formed after the VP-8 find, began a barrage of tests involving x-rays, infrared, light spectrum, dust sampling, microscopic photography, etc. In 1981, traces of burial aloes were verified, and in 1982 blood type ab was announced.


The group, all summoned to the library, bent over the photo on the table. The small figure of the priest stood in the corner.

"Why do you believe the image has been placed on the cloth at all?" asked Father Brown quietly. "Why should you want to think that?"

"Well, what do you think?" asked the cheery John.

"I think," said Father Brown, "that it never was put on the cloth."

"Why," demanded Carver, "What's the good of talking in the air like that? We've all seen the thing before our very eyes."

"I've seen a good many things before my eyes that I didn't believe in," replied the priest. "So have you."

"Father Brown," said Devine, with a certain impatience in his tone, "will you tell us why you do not believe your eyes?"

"Yes, I will try to tell you," answered the priest. Then he said gently: "You know what I am and what we are. ..." Of course Chesterton always drags these things out a bit. Requirements of the medium, etc. There is the requisite confusion among the extras and a small homily of some sort before the priest gets to even the beginning of an explanation. "It's not that the image isn't there now. It is there quite emphatically. I did not say it wasn't there. I said I did not believe it had been placed there."

"Well, what then," asked Carver, completely out of patience.

"I do not believe it has been placed there," Father Brown repeated, "so much as everything else having been taken off." There would be more dialogue beyond this revelation. More confused questioning, more explanations, more moral lessons. But with only this much story, something has already happened: the first hack at the huge knot of complexities. With such questioning a second possible paradigm emerges. The mystery of the Shroud has always been the difficulty involved in imposing a photo-negative dark image on light linen. It now becomes (potentially), how to lighten linen in such a way that would leave only a dark image behind.

Ian Wilson, former chairman of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, was on hand on November 22, 1973, when a televised exposition of the Shroud was to begin. He and others were allowed to view the Shroud prior to the exposition, without a glass barrier and with their own cameras. In his 1978 book, The Shroud of Turin, Wilson describes the Shroud more helpfully (in some ways) than a photograph can. "There, like a shadow cast on the cloth, is the faint imprint of the back and front of a powerfully built man with beard and long hair, laid out in the attitude of death. ... The astonishing aspect of seeing the Shroud itself rather than a photograph is discovering how pale and subtle the image appears. ... the closer one tries to examine it, the more it melts away like mist." The image on the Shroud has long been considered faint and superficial, though at least one recent study now contests this. I have heard the image described as no more than half a linen fiber deep, and if this is not completely accurate, it is at the very least faint to the human eye. Photography—with contrasts heightened in development—always accentuates.


Father Brown had asked the right question, successfully removed an old paradigm full of apparent complexities and provided room enough for a new theory. And Ian Wilson, without being aware of having done so, has named the theory better than I ever could have: the Shadow Theory "Like a shadow cast on the cloth."


Why do we assume that the image was placed on the cloth at all? Because that is the most immediately intuitive explanation available to our subconscious. But do we have any reason to believe that to be the case? All this paradigm gives us are complications and impossibilities. Perhaps the image is actually closer to the original color of the cloth and everything else has been removed. Would this way of seeing it simplify anything, or merely compound all preexisting complications?

On April 22, 1988 a sample of the Shroud was removed for the purposes of Carbon 14 dating. The piece, when fraying was removed, only measured about 7cm by 1cm. This was cut in half. One half was kept, the other half divided into thirds. There were seven universities under consideration, but the three selected were Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and Zurich Polytechnik. Each received little more than one square centimeter of the actual Shroud along with three anonymous samples of linen, which (every Shroud proponent will tell you) were very easy to tell apart. Michael Tite from the British Museum coordinated the tests.

Six months later, on October 13, Cardinal Anastasio Ballestero held a press conference in his official capacity of Archbishop of Turin and Pontifical Custodian of the Shroud. He read a statement to a packed room of journalists that placed the date of the cloth between 1260 and 1390. He was asked why the church had allowed science to speak on the Shroud. He is reported to have said, "To let science have its say seems to me to have been the Christian thing to do. ... The Church is calm, has been and remains firm in insisting that the cult of the Holy Shroud will go on and that veneration for this sacred linen will remain one of the treasures of our Church. ... Science must speak as it finds; it is all too clear that what it has said is far from being the last word about this enigmatic sheet which evokes the face of Christ."

Objections were very quickly raised against the three different institutions that performed the tests, but those objections have only just gained definite credibility. Raymond Rogers, a retired fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and an original member of the STURP team, published a study entitled "Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the Shroud of Turin" on January 20, 2005, seventeen years after the original carbon dating. In his study, which appeared in the journal Thermochimica Acta, Rogers persuasively argues that the three laboratories accurately dated the portions of the cloth submitted for testing, but that the samples had been cut from a rewoven portion of the Shroud and not the original. Flatly, the date range announced in 1988 by Cardinal Ballestero seems to have belonged to repair work and not to the original cloth. Rogers further argues that the original must be far older than previously estimated, a claim that will stand or fall with future testing.


The most immediate problems for me were the photo negativity of the image (and the impossibility of a medieval painting one) and the three-dimensionality of the image. First, the linen must have been of a darker color than we thought. It is not an issue of dark placed on light, but of light replacing dark. The most obvious method for lightening linen is the one housewives have used to bleach tablecloths for centuries and, more likely, millennia. Put the cloth outside beneath the sun.

If a face were painted onto a piece of glass, placed over the linen and left in the sun, the painting would cast a shadow on the cloth. Where the shadow lay, the cloth would remain dark. Everything else would bleach light.

The painting of a photo negative is obviously counterintuitive to any human. However, in this scenario, if a paint lighter in color than the linen were used, then what would be painted on the glass would be somewhat similar in appearance to the negative photos of the Shroud. In other words, if an artist were to paint a positive image of Christ on the glass using a white paint, the color of the linen would be used as shading. All the shadows would be free of paint while the lights had been painted over. This sort of painting would not be counterintuitive at all and would translate, through bleaching, into an apparent photo negative. Whatever had been painted white would remain dark beneath, while what had been left dark would bleach light.

If linen were placed beneath painted glass and bleached in the sun, the image produced would be three dimensional. The sun, in its course of rising and setting, would expose the linen beneath the glass from roughly 180 degrees. The edges would be softened and rounded and the image would achieve a depth not present in the two-dimensional original. In addition to this, the sun's course would also blur and spread all brush strokes and firm outlines—all small signs of an artist—leaving only a subtle combination of the painting's shadows throughout the days exposed.

Hypothesis: A medieval could readily place a three-dimensional photo negative on linen with nothing more than glass and some white paint.


It was time to put my junior-high science fair skills to the test. I obtained a small piece of linen from the Needle Nook and an old window pane and pulled myself onto the roof of a friend's bookstore. I applied white oil paint and left it for ten days. The goal was to determine if a more serious batch of experiments would be worth while. Ten days later the answer was yes. But I needed an expert, someone with actual scientific credentials.

Dr. Scott Minnich is an Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Idaho, formerly of Tulane. He is a fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. He did postdoctoral research with Austin Newton at Princeton and Arthur Aronson at Purdue. His current research interests include Y. enterocolitica gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes. Which is all to say that his scientific experience surpasses my own work with the baking soda volcano. I had been meaning to call him to ask if he was willing to provide scientific oversight of my experiments, but instead of calling him, I ran into him at the tiny Moscow/Pullman Regional Airport in Eastern Washington.

Dr. Minnich was already more familiar with the issues of the Shroud than most, and, while we both waited for arrivals, he listened to my shadow theory. We met further and agreed that the first phase of the experiment would consist of eight different painted images placed over linen in the sun. Half would be aligned generally parallel to the sun's path, half generally perpendicular. One of each would be removed after five, ten, fifteen, and twenty days. An additional image would be placed as a control under a stationary sun lamp for ten days. Different thicknesses of paint application would also be used.


There are historical objections to any theory of Shroud forgery, as well as scientific difficulties. "A medieval forger would also need to have been the only human being between the time of the emperor Constantine and our own to have been completely conversant with the details of Roman crucifixion." This is from Thomas Cahill's Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and represents a problem that is typical of moderns, though not at all of Cahill. We love to patronize the past and men from it. It is all too easy to assume that men then were far less intelligent than men now simply because we use toasters.

This prejudice also reveals itself in discussions about the anatomical accuracy of the wounds on the man in the Shroud. Because the wounds appear to be highly accurate in their anatomy, and because no medieval could possibly understand the body and what bleeds where, the Shroud must be authentic. This sort of argument depends, for all of its weight, on the underlying assumption that medievals were all somewhere back in our mythical hunter/gatherer past. Of course they had nothing compared to our current technologies, but we have no reason to deny their practical intelligence. The kind of men who would be willing to fake this sort of artifact would have no difficulty discovering (if they didn't already know) the place in the side where a spear thrust would release both blood and water from a beaten and crucified man. It only requires a willingness to commit murder and a bit of poking around.

While the icons of Christ with palms pierced tell us that monks and artisans believed the nail wounds lay in the palms, the sort of relic forger willing to obtain and use a healthy amount of human blood in his forgery would surely have little difficulty discovering where they really belonged.

In 1930 Dr. Pierre Barbet, a surgeon in Paris at St. Joseph's Hospital, began experimenting with amputated arms and wrist nailing. He was surprised to find that a nail through the gap between the wrist bones did not actually cause any breakage and would soundly bear the weight of a crucifixion victim. He also discovered one other thing. When the nail was pounded through the wrist, the thumb contracted and pulled into the palm. He found that this was because he had come in contact with the median nerve. With surprise, he consulted a photo of the Shroud and discovered that no thumbs were visible. The man's hands have palms down toward the body and the thumbs are pulled in and out of view.

Many other forensic experiments and wound analyses have been performed. And no wound has been found that some expert has not declared "accurate." It is even said that the back of the man must have been whipped by two different men of two different heights because of the angle and directionality of the wounds. The shoulders bear what is believed to be damage caused by carrying the cross. The blood flows on the back of the head, caused by the punctures from the crown of thorns, run at different angles—apparently demonstrating that the head lolled while the blood was flowing. All these things merge with our low view of medieval intelligence and add to the already weighty negative and three dimensional difficulties of the image in the Shroud.

Medieval iconography has also been studied in reference to the Shroud. Such study has yielded the following fruitful conclusion: there is a great deal in common between icons predating the 13th century (the early end of the carbon-dated window for the creation of the Shroud) and the image in the Shroud itself. The beard is forked. The hair is parted in the middle. It is said the number of loose strands of hair on the forehead even correspond. And there are more. It is argued that these similarities imply the Shroud as a common inspiration for the icons. Such similarities could not be so universal and specific unless they were modeled on the Shroud. And of course, for the Shroud to have inspired them, the carbon-dating must be inaccurate.

I have no desire to defend the carbon-dating performed on the Shroud, particularly after Rogers' recent findings. Regardless, such artistic argumentation proves nothing. If men set about to fake an image of the Christ, they would no doubt model it on orthodox iconography. They would also be attempting to work within a school of realism. The result would be the strange hybrid that we have: bloody and accurate wounds scattered on an iconic face above long iconic fingers, etc. Artistic similarities can certainly lend weight to a belief that the icons and the Shroud belong on the same family tree, but there is nothing that can argue hierarchy—who sired whom or which spawned what.


Walter McCrone, a microanalyst, maintained (around 1980) that both the image on the Shroud and the blood had actually been painted on using iron oxide (fe2o3) suspended in a gelatinous medium and vermillion tempera paint. Of course it would be rather odd for red ocher to test as blood type AB. Shroud proponents generally admit that McCrone did in fact find the paint in his analyses. But the presence of paint on the Shroud does not surprise them, as many copies of the Shroud have been painted throughout the centuries and upon completion they would be lain upon the actual Shroud in the hopes that some holiness would rub off and be communicated. But the rubbing may have gone the other way. The STURP scientists are also considered (depending on who you are) to have demonstrated the impossibility of any painting theory through their own detailed examination of the portions of the cloth that were burned and doused with water. Where pigments would have reacted to extreme heat or water, the coloring of the image remains unaffected.

Virtually everything about the Shroud is contested somewhere. But denial hasn't gotten either side very far. For years the faithful could not explain the carbon dating, but they still denied its credibility. Now that they have a strong case against it, the unbelievers will begin lining up their denials, which will in turn be denied by believers. After new tests are run, as they should be, somebody will be crying foul. And of course, the unbelievers cannot explain the negativity and three-dimensionality of the image, and so they deny or ignore it, as well as everything else that bothers them.

Faith, generally speaking, seems to be at the root of both sides. For the secularist, it is foundational to all that he holds to be true that the Shroud be false. And, unfortunately, while whether or not the Shroud is a fraud is completely irrelevant to Christendom, many Christian proponents use it to bolster their own faith and create faith in others. A faux-faith is easy when a photograph of Christ's resurrection can be stuck on the cover of Time.


My house was very cold last winter. My wife would wake me up to check on the temperature of my toddler son's feet. I did the normal things. I added insulation to the attic (the old house's walls had already been blown full). It really all came down to the windows. So, out with the old wood windows and in with warm, soulless vinyl. Clearly, there really was only one use for the old window panes leaned up against the side of my house: paint Shroud faces on them. I acquired brushes and white oil paint—latex was unavailable in the 13th century—and recruited Mark Beauchamp, an artist friend, and his brother David. We all sat around with window panes on our laps. David and I strove for perfection. Mark used up more glass than we did, but he doesn't really belong in the realist school and we considered his work scientifically unsuitable. I was rather pleased with mine. Nicely done, I thought. It doesn't really need to look like the Shroud since this experiment is about the image-making process, I lamely told myself.

That was only the beginning of a whole string of paintings, none of which were any good. The forgiving nature of the sun became an important part of the theory.

The Shroud windows were placed in the sun. Eight window panes, painted, with linen backing, were mounted along two sixteen foot long sawhorses. It would be five days before any were removed and ten before results were expected.


The Shroud has survived several fires as well as the sympathetic repairs of well-meaning nuns. In 1532, on the night of December 4th, a fire started in the Sainte Chapelle, Chambery, where the Shroud was kept. The fire quickly consumed the interior of the chapel, fueled by tapestries and furnishings, even melting a stained glass window of the Shroud itself. Phillip Lambert, aide to the duke of Savoy, and two priests grabbed the casket in which the Shroud was kept and carried it outside. However, a drop of silver from the casket melted in the heat and dropped onto the cloth inside. All of the few dozen folds were burned and scorched, and then stained with the water used to put out the flames. The image was generally unaffected, as the flames really only reached the folded edges. It remained in its burned and stained state for over a year until Cardinal Louis de Gorrevod sent it to the sisters of Poor Clares for repairs in April of 1534. Four nuns were set to the task by abbess Louise de Vargin. They stitched a backing cloth along the entire Shroud and twenty-two triangular altar cloth patches over the worst of the burns. The cloth was returned in May.

There had been an earlier and smaller fire. It is not documented, but small burn holes now visible on the Shroud are also seen in reproductions that predate the Chambery fire. It is, according to the faithful, practically miraculous that the Shroud has even survived in its current condition to this day.

The Shroud remained in Chambery until September 14 of 1578, when Duke Philibert transferred it to Turin to shorten the pilgrimage of Archbishop Charles Borromeo, who had sworn to march on foot all the way to the Shroud from Milan during the plague in 1576. The Shroud has remained there since. Duke Philibert dedicated his burial fund toward the construction of a chapel to house the Shroud. The work was begun in 1657, and the Shroud was finally housed in it on June 1, 1694.

In 1993, just under three hundred years after its installation in the chapel, the Shroud was removed temporarily while restoration work on the deteriorating facility was underway. It was stored in a nave of Turin Cathedral. Four years later, on a night in April, the Shroud survived its most recent fire. The cloth was stored in a bulletproof case and had it not been moved for the construction, it would have been completely destroyed. The flames reached Turin Cathedral as well and five firefighters entered in an attempt to recover the Shroud. Portions of the Cathedral were collapsing around them and they had no way to open the bulletproof case. One of the men, Mario Trematore, managed to break through the multiple layers of bulletproof glass with a mallet and successfully removed the Shroud from the Cathedral undamaged. He has appropriately been given medals


Perhaps the most surprisingly ignored aspect of the Shroud is its wrinkles. But then perhaps it is not surprising at all because they are very difficult to see. Not because they are invisible or faint. Quite the contrary. Rather, they slip through the grid of normal surface consciousness. Eyes process them; minds apparently refuse to notice. There is a lot going on in any picture of the Shroud that forces the viewer to remove distractions in order to truly see the image. There are water stains, scorch marks, and a strange dead face in a strange medium—all demanding attention.

It was only recently that I noticed the wrinkles. But the wrinkles are important, and we need to see them for what they are: another paradigm problem. There are small wrinkles scattered across the cloth, and several largish ones including on the face. The wrinkles are dark. Darker even than most of the image. The Father Brown paradigm shift is the only thing that can explain these. Is it really possible that no one can have noticed these wrinkles, and if they have, how could they explain dark wrinkles showing up on a light cloth? At the moment of Christ's resurrection, the Spirit came upon Him and His glory emanated through the cloth (creating the image) and into all the wrinkles, darkening those even more? It makes sense that the pro-sindonists would ignore these. But had they been really noticed, it would seem that those convinced the Shroud is a forgery would have bayed loudly.

Would smoke from the fire creep its way through the folds of the cloth and darken wrinkles only? Does linen age to a different color inside a wrinkle? I have a photo of what purports to be a full length rendition of how the Shroud would look without damage. All smoke stains had been removed. The patches are gone, no water stains and, oddly enough, no wrinkles. Or at least mostly no wrinkles. There are still a few wrinkle constellations. One on the face through the beard, its correspondent on the back of the head and one on the back of the knee. Beyond that no others are immediately visible.

There is some blood from the head in the large wrinkle on the face. This explains why it could not be removed in the cleaned-up photo. The wrinkle had to predate the formation of the image and application of the blood. I believe the color of the wrinkles to be close to the color of the original (with the possible addition of some smoke and water staining). The men who originally faked the Shroud did not notice, or were not able to remove, the wrinkles in the cloth before they placed it under the painted glass. (This confirms the common assumption that any forgers were most likely men.) When placed under glass in the sunlight, the original color of the cloth would be preserved within the wrinkles, protected from the light of the sun, even more so than the cloth beneath the paint, which allows more penetration. The conventional paradigm of the Shroud, in which the dark image was placed on the cloth, makes these wrinkles almost invisible to the mind viewing them. They are seen, they can be discussed, but their logical difficulty is not brought to bear, or even noticed.


The superficiality of the image would seem to be a problem with the Shadow Theory. If the dark image was the original color of the cloth, and the rest was bleached out, then the back of the cloth should be the same darker color. Or, if the cloth was left in the sun long enough to bleach through, the dark shaded image would also be present on the back. But when scientists removed the backing stitched on by the sisters of Poor Clares, they found that neither of these scenarios was the case. The back is as light as the front and bears no image.

In my preliminary experiment on the roof of the bookstore I used finer cloth and, at the end of ten days, the reverse side had lightened and bore a dark image too. My later experiments were all done with a heavier, coarser cloth, and the reverse side lightened very little, if at all, and bore no image. However, my later experiments were not only conducted with coarser cloth, they were also conducted at the end of summer and ran into early fall, while my preliminary cloth sat outside through the dog days.

If the original cloth did not bleach completely through, but retained a dark reverse side, the forgers would no doubt see this as slightly discrediting. The only thing necessary to remedy this problem would be to reverse the cloth beneath the sun, and remove the glass. The back of the cloth would bleach evenly, matching the color of the front and could, if exposed long enough, completely remove the image on the front. It could also leave an image of only superficial depth on the front of the cloth.


Every five days I climbed up onto the New St. Andrews College roof and took down whichever of the painted windows I felt was least promising. At the first interval, I broke the design of my experiment, removing only one linen exposed for five days, leaving the second for more bleach time. I did this because I am not a scientist, and the more exposure I got my various cloths, the better chance I felt I had of discovering the sort of painting that could successfully shadow-produce an image like that on the Shroud. There was very little to see after only five days.

Another five days later I was grateful that I had not removed the second of my first round of linens. What would have been my five-day, sun-parallel cloth, came down after ten days and bore enough contrast in a photo negative face to be easily visible to the eye. It had been painted by David Beauchamp, and I had almost refrained from putting it up, as I had no hopes for it. David had the same opinion. But then none of our paintings were any good. I fully expected my remaining six faces to produce one or two superior specimens. I shouldn't have. Early on, I had learned that the thinly painted faces allowed too much solar penetration to leave anything more than a smudge on the cloth. My hopes were with all those scraps of coarse linen bleaching beneath thick paint. The problem was that most of them were mine, and I had some difficulty with proportion. They were negatives all right, and demonstrated the principle of the thing. But at best, they looked to be the Burial Shroud of Disney's Beast. All snout. While science might think herself above such things as rhetoric, it seemed that whatever I produced in developing my theory ought to look at least semi-human for it to be convincing. As surprising as it was, when all the linen was down the most apparently human image remained David's, the first to be removed after ten days. And so the second phase of my experiments began.

David's painting would now become the common stencil for three different images. Since it had already produced after ten days generally parallel to the sun's path, it went back onto the roof to birth the image of fifteen days perpendicular to the sun's path. These were a long fifteen days, spent whenever the sun was out and occasionally hiding (off the clock) under a tarp during days of rain. When this was finally complete, David's window went down into my basement to work on yet another cloth underneath a stationary, single-bulb sunlamp for roughly one hundred and forty hours.

The three cloths were very different. The first (parallel) remained the smoothest, and the most human. The second bore much harder vertical lines than belong on a man's face, and the two are easily distinguishable by someone who has spent too much time getting to know them. The third came out as expected: a smudgy, splatter of brush strokes lacking any sort of depth. It could easily fit in with any number of fake shrouds in its clumsiness, but it is helpful in that it demonstrates the vital role of the sun's path. A sun held still would produce a lone shadow, with depth and contrast variation depending solely on the thickness of paint. Even brush strokes could be preserved. But when the sun travels, it creates a composite of countless shadows. The sun is sculpting the color of the cloth with its shade, passing over repeatedly until the final composite of the painting's shadows is removed from beneath the glass.


My scientific expert left me. Dr. Scott Minnich, knowing what he does about very small and nasty things, ended up on the phone with officials connected to the Defense Department. Then he went off to learn how to wear a flak jacket, flip u-turns in a jeep, and fire an M-4 (a weapon he felt was thoroughly dated). Beyond that lay Iraq and one of the most important jobs in President Bush's reelection campaign: the quest for Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Before he left, he caught a glimpse of my results on a bad printout of a digital snapshot. He seemed thoroughly surprised by the white face that looked at him from the paper. This made me wonder if he had only been humoring me up until then. If such was the case, he had concealed his disbelief well.


VP-8 analysis, or whatever computer equivalent I could find, was the next test. But before that, the cloths went to the studio to be photographed. The prints came back beautifully glossy and assuring. I spilled milk on them in an incident involving my toddler, and the prints returned to the studio. They rearrived, telling the gospel story through the new life given them, and the quest for 3-D began.

The first computer trial was a complete failure. All sorts of stalagmites could be rendered out of the shading of my cloth, but none of them in the least bit helpful. The lunar landscape before me looked nothing much like a face. The only reassurance I had came when an image of the real Shroud flunked as well.

I returned to my own computer to read more on VP-8 analysis. I thought that I had understood it, but things were fishy. I had left my computer friend behind me, entirely cynical about the superior three-dimensionality of any image. Hogwash pretty much summed up his views on shroud faces popping out at you. But to be fair, it was frustration talking. Also to be fair, it is interesting to note that many Shroud experts will claim the VP-8 scans are highly accurate anatomically. When I look at their scans, I do see the lunar landscape of a human face and body, but it is still a lunar landscape. One book that I have otherwise appreciated in its photo-tour simplicity (The Shroud: A Guide, by Gino Morettor) shows me a picture of the VP-8 scan, all pocked and eroded with meteor showers, and then adds a second picture described as the man's face "with wounds removed." The removal of wounds apparently consisted of digitally doctoring an entirely new face with generally the same dimensions. Cynicism is contagious, and I had known pro-Shroud folks to more than slightly overstate their case before. So I began to reread up on VP-8 scanning, expecting to find some logical difficulty that would reveal a hoax.

There is no hoax. I had understood the concept the first time. VP-8 imaging will interpret depth based on image density (which is another way of saying lights and darks). Those things which are lightest will be raised above a given plane, while the darks will be left behind. With an image like the Shroud, the face climbs out of the cloth, three dimensionally. In a normal photograph lights and darks do not necessarily have anything to do with the distance or depth of an object from the camera lens. But in a VP-8 rendering of a man wearing a black tuxedo, his jacket and tie would be interpreted as further away than his white shirt. His skin could be interpreted as further away than his teeth and the whites of his eyes. As far as the anatomical accuracy of the Shroud's three-dimensional mountain range is concerned, there is much room for skepticism.

I acquired two different programs myself, and began attempting to understand them. Oddly enough, both of them worked, at least to some extent. One is a simple photo manipulation program; the other, designed specifically for three-dimensional rendering, was well beyond me. The first program will read a photo topographically. A two-dimensional image simply protrudes as a plateau while both the ancient and my more recently produced shrouds gain depth. But a topography command in a paint-shop program is hardly calling in the analytic cavalry. So I had to try to understand the more complex of the two.

With a very rudimentary understanding of the program came my own lunar landscapes. I rendered three-dimensional images from the Turin Shroud and my own, and both over-spiked into barely recognizable faces. When the source photos of both were slightly blurred to reduce the spiking, they became easier to compare. Both images were three-dimensional, though differences were easy to spot as mine was far rougher.


Sitting and looking at photos of my own faux shrouds lying next to photos of the original, it is obvious, to my eyes at least, that my production is far inferior. Mine is a photo negative. It is a photo negative that looks vaguely human. But it lacks some of the finesse of the original. Of course this does not surprise me. It confirms that the original required more ability and work than went into the 45-minute David Beauchamp production. The Beauchamp may have improved had we turned off the music videos and stand-up comedy. Such is hindsight. But the principle has been demonstrated. A painting on glass produces a photo negative. No gamma rays, no gas diffusion. Just paint on glass. And the sun forgave much. The linen's image surpasses the subtlety of the window's painting with no contest.

The three-dimensional rendering of my linen appears to have been much more brutally beaten than the rendering of the original. Most likely with chains, in the hands of two different men, of two different weights, of two different ethnicities, judging from the different technique. Most likely interior decorators going for a shabby-chic antiqued look. In fact, judging from the decay of the two images, mine looks much older and generally worse for wear. I might be able to make a case that mine is actually the original.

Despite inadequacies, again, the principle has been demonstrated. The sun in its course does in fact create a three-dimensionally registered composite of shadows cast throughout the day. The painting casting the shadows will ultimately determine how realistic the three-dimensional rendering is. I have a three-dimensional rendering of David Beauchamp's painting. And it looks, unfortunately, like a three-dimensional rendering of David Beauchamp's painting. My paintings are far worse than the original. But they are all three-dimensionally coded on cloth, at least as much so (though less skillfully) as the Shroud itself.


The story is not hard to imagine. There was never a time when more lying, Christian scoundrels were roaming the Middle East than in the punctuated periods of crusading throughout the Middle Ages. Men with every degree of callused conscience were looking for any way to sell cedar chips as pieces of the true cross, any old bone as the femur of St. Peter, or bottles of ditch water as the tears of Christ over Jerusalem.

I do not find it at all hard to believe that some cloth recovered from Palestine (complete with Palestinian pollen) fell into the hands of an ingenious (or lucky) forger. Such a convincing forgery would open palace doors and command an excellent price or reward as the case may have been. Or the cloth could have originated anywhere and merely been bleached by a Middle Eastern sun beneath a painting by Templar artists. Many of them were eventually killed by Phillip the Fair for allegedly participating in sorcery or, as some say, worshiping the bearded image of a man. Baphomet, the image has been called.

The imagination is still not stretched to incredulity at the prospect of Templars beating and crucifying a Jew for a model, the stability of the wrists quickly discovered, along with the contraction of the thumb, and a spear feeling around for a release of blood and water. There is nothing in me that disbelieves that such scoundrels existed and adventured for holy profit in the holy land. Every history of the Crusades argues for their existence. Such men lived by the sword and what it did to the pieces of the enemy in front of them. We cannot retrospectively assume a patronizing tone, insisting that they had no understanding of the anatomy of a wound or a crucifixion. I sincerely hope my modern anatomical experience never matches that of a crusader.

They must have merely happened on the process. Some church looted, some stack of valuables in a courtyard beneath the sun; it would only take one crudely stained glass left on cloth to create such an idea. No knowledge of negativity is required. No knowledge of three-dimensionality. They may even have been disappointed at their inability to produce a positive image. All that is needed is linen, glass, paint, and a soft bristle brush.

Two men standing in two different positions may have painted the wounds or applied the blood to the cloth. Or one man may have done all the work from two different positions. The burial aloes may be present because of the mysticism of many of the Templars or because of a simple desire to do a job right. The cloth itself may have been stolen from a tomb. If Rogers is right and the cloth is much older than scientists told us seventeen years ago, something like that would have to be the case. Medieval forgers would have been working with an already ancient cloth.The dirt on the cloth around the area of the feet may be explained by the Christ being laid upon it. Or by a Templar lying down to measure out and match the heights of the two images. Or from the body of some poor fellow who thought he would be wearing the cloth in his grave forever but hadn't been counting on Templars coming for a visit. Or from a crucified Jew laid out as a model. There are red dyes in the cloth. But is there any reason that forgers could not have used dyed cloth in such a process? There is blood. There is a very strange image.

Somewhere in this lies a very intriguing story, and there remains much to be done to fill in its gaps, and problems remain to be explained. But this image-making process accounts for the greatest of them. Templars or otherwise, the technological simplicity of the method is beyond no one. The original forgers had no idea of the completeness of their art, but our blindness has complicated the riddle. They were men, and they did not notice the wrinkles.


In one of my touristy books, there is a collection of quotes on the Shroud from various popes. Most are simply statements on the impressiveness of the image, but there is one that is particularly surprising. It is attributed to Pope Pius XI and was reportedly made in 1936 while handing out photos of the Shroud to some Catholic youth.

"These are not pictures of the Blessed Virgin, it is true, but pictures that remind us of her as no other can. Since they are pictures of her Divine Son, and so, we can truly say, the most moving, loveliest, dearest ones that we can imagine."

I have been asked why a baptized Christian would want to undermine claims to the Shroud's authenticity. The answer is simple. Christians are to abhor falsehood. And at the top of the list of falsehoods to abhor should be religious lies and all other forms of Christian hypocrisy. When I first read Pius XI on the Shroud I felt something deep in my spiritual genes speak up under the name of Martin Luther. In certain Shroud circles claims about the unimportance of the Shroud's authenticity are tossed around. "Whether it is genuine or simply the work of an artist does not matter. It is a beautiful and inspiring icon." My hackles will always stand up. If it is not genuine, it is most believably the product of a murder. But even then I pity the forgers. They did not mean their work to be an icon for Mary.


I have not proved much. Or, I do not think that I have. Men and women who have believed in the Shroud will continue to believe. There is a fireman somewhere in Italy who risked his life to save the Shroud. I have a great deal of respect for that man. Perhaps I've given those who disbelieve more reason for noses lifted in the air, but I have not proved that the Shroud was faked. What I have done is crudely demonstrate that such an image could easily be produced in a matter of weeks by wicked men with no scruples, a little imagination, and a little more skill. The fact that it could have been faked does not mean that it was, though I believe it to have been. What I have done is close another door on the case for the Shroud. "Modern science has been unable to produce such an image" remains true enough, as I am no scientist. But no longer can it be said, "No one has ever shown how it could have been done."

N.D. Wilson (www.shadowshroud.com) is the managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine and a Fellow of Literature at New St. Andrews College, where he listens to the speeches and poetry of freshmen, who are dear to his heart.

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