Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Researcher John C. Iannone On the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin

by Karl Maurer


In this article Karl Maurer presents the latest research on the Shroud of Turin based on a recent lecture by John C. Iannone, who has been investigating the Shroud since the 1970s and is Vice President of the Holy Shroud Task Force, an organization working to preserve and protect the Shroud from environmental damage and to promote studies and testing of the famous relic.

Larger Work

Publisher & Date

Catholic Citizens of Illinois, La Grange, IL, May 10, 2009

For centuries the Shroud of Turin has inspired millions of Christians and is generally considered to be the most extraordinary relic in Christendom. The advances in science over the past 40 years have increased the profile of the holy Shroud, which has been submitted to highly technical analysis and scrutiny. For over 30 years, author, lecturer and movie producer John C. Iannone has been researching and writing about the Shroud of Turin, and his lecture on May 3, 2009 to the members of Catholic Citizens of Illinois was more exciting and intriguing than an episode of "CSI."

Mr. Iannone was motivated to study the Shroud when in 1978 he learned of the team of scientists who had been assembled to conduct the first detailed analysis of the relic. The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STRP) is credited with identifying some of the most compelling scientific proof that the Shroud is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth. "The Shroud is truly ecumenical," said Mr. Iannone. "People of all Christian denominations are amazed by the Shroud. It speaks to the heart and soul of our Christian message."

Modern scientific study of the Shroud began in the late 1800's when an amateur photographer took the first pictures. When converted to negatives, they showed a clear image of the body and face, bringing to view for the first time details never before seen. As a result, Turin became a popular destination for Christians and the Shroud became an international sensation.

Mr. Iannone's lecture focused on the results of experts in the areas of physics, botany, chemistry, photography, digital imaging, art, textiles, and other disciplines. The Shroud of Turin is a traditional Jewish burial cloth showing the front and back image of a man approximately six feet tall showing all the marks of a classic Roman crucifixion. The STRP team testing in 1978 consisted of 24 scientists who were allowed 5 days to examine and evaluate the Shroud. Dr. John Jackson headed the team, which was non-denominational.

The measurement of the Shroud is 14'3" by 3'7" and precisely 8 by 2 cubits, the customary size of a traditional Jewish burial cloth. It was sewn with a triple hearing bone weave, which would have been very expensive at the time. This is consistent with the biblical references to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who purchased the cloth and provided for the entombment of Jesus in a cave cut from the limestone hills outside of Jerusalem. Swiss textile expert Fleury Lemberg has discovered woven textiles identical to the Shroud in the ruins of Masada that date to the First Century A.D. A chemist on the STRP, Dr. Ray Rogers, noted the absence of Vanillin in the textile, which evaporates over time, supporting the case that it is an ancient cloth. The long cloth, the position of the body, the use of spices, face cloth, chin band and the presence of limestone dust on the back of the Shroud are consistent with ancient Jewish customs.

The initial STRP tests included a battery of infra-red and x-ray scans, as well as digital and quad-mosaic photography. While evaluating the results of these scans in areas around the nose, knee and foot areas of the Shroud, physicist Dr. Sam Pellicoir found evidence of microscopic dirt particles. If the Shroud were a hoax, it's doubtful there would be microscopic dirt on the cloth. The dirt was ultimately identified as Travertine Aragonite, a type of soil consistent with cave tombs in Israel.

Dr. Max Frei was a criminologist on the STRP who took sticky tape samples and found 58 different pollens that could be identified with four specific geographies. At least 28 were from around Jerusalem, a second group was from 400 miles to the north around Edessa, a third group was identified with Constantinople, and a fourth group of pollens was identified with northern Italy. The pollens support the traditionally accepted path of the Shroud from Jerusalem to Turin.

The earliest legends of the Shroud after the biblical accounts are found in the writings of Eusibius in the Fourth Century, who wrote of an ancient King Abgar of Edessa. King Abgar invited Jesus to Edessa to escape prosecution. Jesus is said to have declined the King's offer, sending word that he would send a disciple later with a gift for the King. The disciple Thaddeus is said to have presented the Shroud to Abgar for safekeeping. At the moment he received the Shroud, Abgar was cured of a critical illness.

From the First to the Fifth Centuries AD, the image of Christ found in tombs and art is that of a young man with close cropped hair, who looks more like the Roman god Apollo than like a preacher. Early images presented Christ as a warrior, shepherd, or healer. At some point in the middle of the 5th Century this image changes. A plague strikes Edessa and the holy Shroud is taken out and displayed in public. Within the next 100 years, Jesus is universally depicted in Western and Eastern art as a bearded man, with a narrow face, long hair, in an image observed to have "16 points of congruence," all of which are, not coincidentally, consistent with the facial image on the Shroud.

For several centuries afterwards, the Shroud fell under the control of the Moslems, and was finally ransomed and removed to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor for protection at or around 940 AD. When Constantinople is sacked by the Crusaders in the Thirteenth Century, the Shroud disappears, then reappears during the 14th century in Europe, ultimately settling under the ownership of the House of Savoy, the royal family that ruled the mountain area around Turin.

Evaluation of the blood on the Shroud argues revealed that on the back side the blood soaked entirely through the cloth. Within the blood marked areas, the STRP could find no traces of paint. The image of the body is a thin, surface level imprint which is not created by a paint or other matter. Scientists have referred to it as a "surface phenomenon" that was created by an event that caused the image to be rapidly oxidized onto the top layer of the cloth and the top layer of the blood stains on the cloth. Attempts to replicate the image with heat and paint were unsuccessful.

Dr. Michael Boden, a medical examiner, noticed that the blood stains were a darker red than normal blood. Deeper red coloring is a result of higher levels of bilirubin the blood, which occurs when a body is in stress or in a state of shock. As a medical examiner, Dr. Boden concluded that the man who shed the blood on the Shroud died in a state of trauma and stress, which is consistent with the Christian tradition of Christ's scourging, crowning with thorns, carrying of his cross, and brutal crucifixion. Genetic testing determined that the blood type was A/B, a very rare occurrence found in only 3% to 5% of the world's population, primarily in the Middle East. DNA testing discovered X and Y chromosomes, confirming it was the blood of a man.

Observations by experts in human physiology have noted that the positioning of the hands and the absence of any image of thumbs support the tradition that Christ was nailed to the cross through his palms, not his wrists. The images of the feet demonstrate that the left foot was nailed over the right foot, and that the body was in an advanced state of rigor mortis at the time the image was created.

In 1982 a German physicist thought he saw a flower in one of the original images. Further analysis revealed the images of dozens of flowers, leading the scientific team to conclude that the body had covered with flowers when entombed. Scientists identified dozens of microscopic images of flowers like the Crown Chrysanthemum that were unique to First Century Jerusalem. Another was the Gudelea thistle bush, which grew thorns that were 2 to 3 inches long, and could have been woven into the crown of thorns the Romans mockingly placed upon Jesus after he was scourged. All of the flowers identified on the Shroud would have been in bloom during March and April, which matches the Passover calendar and the historical timing of Christ's crucifixion.

Pathologists identified evidence that the man on the image was violently scourged by two men, one on each side, and even concluded that one taller than the other. Jesus was beaten with the Roman flagrum, which had a wooden handle and three thin leather strips. At the end of each strip was an elongated piece of metal shaped like a bar-bell. Scientists observed that the contusions and gashes created by the whipping had solidified, then re-liquefied at death and transferred to the cloth.

Pathologists and criminologists also concurred that the man in the image has been severely beaten. Blood on the back of the head shows flows from right to left, up and down. Images of the face show lacerations and swelling on the right cheek and the nose. Cuts on the forehead are consistent with the crowning of thorns, showing deep gashes made by small pointed objects.

The biblical crucifixion narration is also consistent with the image on the Shroud. While it was common practice to crucify criminals in Roman times, there is no evidence other than the Shroud of a crucified man who was also crowned with thorns. Blasphemy was a religious offence in ancient Jerusalem, but not punishable by death. To get rid of Jesus once and for all, the Jewish priests had to position Jesus as an enemy of the Roman state, and thus brought Him before Pilate on charges of treason ("He claims to be a king!") Once found guilty of treason, the Roman soldiers beat Jesus then mock him as a traitor-king with a crown of thorns and a purple robe.

It was common practice for the victims of crucifixion to carry the crossbeam to their execution. Forensic examination of the image reveals abrasions on the shoulders consistent with carrying of a heavy piece of wood. Abrasions and dirt found on the face and knees of the cloth are consistent with falling repeatedly.

Photographs of the lance wound on the side of the image is consistent with the position of the wound as represented in tradition, and consistent with the kind of wound that would be left by a 1 cm by 4 cm Roman lance. There are no historical references to lancing crucifixion victims expect in the case of Jesus. In most, if not all cases, the soldiers broke the legs of the victims so they would suffocate. The legs of the man in Shroud are not broken, another consistency with biblical tradition.

Anyone who has followed the Shroud story knows that in 1988 the Vatican allowed laboratories to conduct Carbon 14 testing on three samples taken from the edge of the Shroud. Prior requests to date the Shroud using these techniques had been turned down due to proven inconsistencies in the results of such tests. In spite of these protests, the tests were completed and with much fanfare, the results were released, dating the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390 AD. Those who were inclined to believe the Shroud was authentic dismissed the tests as inaccurate. Skeptics pointed to the results as being final proof that the Shroud was a hoax.

How could this have happened?

In 2002 scientists Joseph Moreno and Susan Bredford were evaluating the infra-red images, and noticed that the lower left corner of the Shroud (where the Carbon 14 samples came from) demonstrated a color spectrum more consistent with a cotton patch. Further investigation revealed that cotton patches had been woven into the original textile, and that this patching had been dyed to match the original cloth, with the dye fused to the cloth using aluminum. The Carbon 14 testing was limited to this patched area. In other words, the tested patch was contaminated. In spite of the inaccuracy of the Carbon 14 testing, the prevailing public view of the Shroud is that it has been scientifically found to be a hoax, a false impression the secular media has shown no interest in correcting.

Mr. Iannone also noted that during the Middle Ages, the Shroud was sewed to a red satin base, and rolled up for storage. Artists from all over Europe were allowed to paint replicas of the Shroud, and were allowed to lay their replicas over the Shroud to ensure accuracy. They also touched their rendition to the original to sanctify it as a religious relic. (A first class relic is touched to the human body of the holy subject; a second class relic is one touched to a first class relic.) Repeated exposure to the work of medieval artists resulted in traces of paint being found on the cloth, but these traces of paint do not represent the image itself, nor do they represent the obvious and scientifically confirmed blood stains.

Mr. Iannone closed his lecture with the ultimate "Crime Scene Investigation" question — what created the image on the Shroud? Scientists have been unable to explain any technology that could have created such an image during the First Century AD. Physicists have speculated that the image was set upon the cloth by a milli-burst of radiant energy emanating from the body, i.e. by an intense burst of radiated light.

Mr. Iannone reminded the audience that throughout the New Testament, there are references to Christ as light. The Transfiguration is most obvious event that anticipates the light force that could have created the image on the Shroud.

Mark, Chapter 9: "2. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them."

Matthew, Chapter 17: "1. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, 2. And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light."

Luke 9: "28. Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus* took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white."

The Transfiguration was a defining moment in the ministry of Christ. It was first instance that the apostles realized that Jesus was more than a holy man, more than a prophet, more than a healer, but that indeed, he was the son of God, as voice of the Father boomed out of the clouds. Just as Christ demonstrated His glory on the mountain top with His mystical light, it is reasonable to suspect the same mystical light fused Christ's image onto the bloody Shroud.

Why did Christ leave the Shroud? Consider the experience of John and Peter, the first to see the Shroud on Easter morning.

John 20: 3 "So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed."

What is it, Mr. Iannone asked, John saw that was so dramatic "He saw and he believed?" It must have been the Shroud, and the image upon it.

God does things for a reason. We live in an age where science and skepticism dominate society and challenge faith in God and Christian spirituality. As scientific proof of the Shroud's authenticity becomes ever harder and in some cases impossible to refute, perhaps God has decided that the Shroud's purpose is to give skeptics an opportunity to "see and believe" just as John did 2,000 years ago.


John C. Iannone is a former executive with Pan American Airways. He has been researching the Shroud since the 1970's. Mr. Iannone is a frequent lecturer on the Shroud. He has a masters degree in religion from the Catholic University of America and has studied theology at Fordham University and the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He is the Vice President of the Holy Shroud Task Force, an organization of scientists, scholars, writers and interested individuals working to preserve the Shroud from modern environmental damage and to promote continued studies and testing of this precious relic. Mr. Iannone is the author of "The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin" published by St. Paul / Alba House, and the producer of the video "The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: The Case for Authenticity".

© Catholic Citizens of Illinois

This item 8937 digitally provided courtesy of