Inquest on the Shroud of Turin

This is the name of a 1983 book by Joe Nickell which was updated in 1998.

Joe Nickell is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

In this books he examines the history of the Shroud of Turin and the scientific evidence that has been produced. He has clearly done a great deal of careful research on the issues. His conclusion is that it is a fourteenth-century artefact.

The first chapter details the history of the Shroud. It first came to public attention in the fourteenth century. This creates problems for people attracted to the theory that the Shroud was produced by Leonardo da Vinci, as this was a century before he was born.

Geoffroy de Charney was the person who presented the Shroud to the Dean in the French town of Troyes. It attracted great crowds. This was the first time the Shroud had ever been seen in public. If genuine, the greatest relic in Christendom had been hidden and secret for thirteen centuries before Geoffroy de Charney obtained it. The cloth is fourteen feet long. It is a huge piece of cloth to have survived intact for thirteen centuries before coming to light. Where could it have been for all that time?

De Charney was never able to explain how he had got the Shroud. In 1389 the Bishop of Troyes carefully investigated where the Shroud had come from and concluded that it was a fake - it had been 'cunningly painted' and this was 'attested by the artist who had painted it.'

The matter should have rested there. However, there are people who still claim that this was the cloth Jesus had been buried in, so Nickell devotes the rest of the book to investigating whether the cloth contained the body of Christ.

In chapter three, Nickell explains that the cloth, if genuine, shows that Jesus could not have been buried in the traditional Jewish way as John 19:40 states. Jewish burials would have used many cloths. The corpse would also have been washed, yet the cloth is supposed to show blood stains. John also makes no mention of any imprint of Jesus on the clothes found in the tomb.

Nickell shows in chapter five that there were many relics manufactured by Christians. He shows that many images of Christ were very like the image on the Shroud and that it would be quite natural for an artist to produce such an image. It would conform quite neatly to what people would have expected to see.

Anatomical difficulties with the image are the subject of chapter six. The image shows blood flows from the crown of thorns. However, blood flows from the scalp make the hair matted. They do not flow in neat rivulets. The blood is also red, when old blood turns black.

There are rather bigger anatomical difficulties. The right arm is longer than the left. The fingers are extremely long. The mouth is contorted.

On the Shroud, the beard is dark. If the image on the shroud is a photographic negative, then Jesus had a grey beard and moustache, unusual for a man of thirty-three.

If the image on the cloth was formed by the cloth being wrapped around the face, then we would expect gross distortion of the image when the cloth was removed and smoothed out. However, the image of the face is not very distorted.


Nickell quotes Dr. Baden. Baden was chairman of the forensic pathology panel of the US Congress' Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Baden is convinced that the shroud probably never contained a corpse. 'Human beings don't produce this kind of pattern.'

Nickell also looks at 'vapour' and 'radiation' theories. These are very unlikely. Vapours from anything would not form an image. They would be more like a fog. Radiation would also not form a definite image. How could the cloth focus the rays into an image the way that a camera would? What would act as a lens?

In chapter 9, Nickell looks at what techniques might have been available to medieval artists.

People were very familiar with the idea of a camera. The 'camera obscura' had been invented long before photography was thought of. People were also familiar with the idea of negative and positive. After all, people had been making seals and moulds for thousands of years.

Nickell describes his experiments with a 'rubbing' technique. This automatically produces negative images and the results Nickell obtained were very suggestive of the image on the Shroud.

In chapters ten to thirteen, Nickell recounts the scientific investigations which have been done on the shroud.

Max Frei, a Swiss criminologist who once said that Hitler's diaries were genuine, reported finding many pollens on the Shroud, which were pollens typical of Palestine. Nobody else has found such pollens on the shroud and they could well be examples of 'contamination' or even 'skullduggery'. Frei has been censured by the police in Switzerland and is not a credible witness.

The most important scientific investigation is the carbon-14 dating. Three independent laboratories have given fourteenth-century dates for the Shroud, confirming the Bishop's report that an artist had confessed to creating it in the fourteenth century.

Walter McCrone was the forensic microanalyst appointed to examine the Shroud. McCrone has extremely impressive credentials. His finds were that there was no blood on the shroud, but that there was iron oxide pigment. This might have been used by an artist to 'touch up' a real, but fading, image, but nevertheless traces of pigments used by artists were found on the Shroud by McCrone.


In the summation, Nickell concludes that the carbon dating and McCrone's analysis provide 'unequivocal proof that the shroud is a medieval forgery'. This was already known in the fourteenth century of course, but such is the power of belief that some people continue to think the Shroud is the burial cloth of Christ, miraculously preserved for two thousand years.

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