The Great Holy Shroud Dating Fraud of 1988
- D. J. McDonnell
The following is a digest from reports compiled by a team of
investigators for a French traditionalist group called "The Catholic
Counter-Reformation of the Twentieth Century", and published in April
The Trouble with STURP...
Between 1974 and 1978, at the initiative of one John Jackson, an
American physicist of the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, a
group of some forty elite American research scientists formed a study
project called STURP: the Shroud of Turin Research Project.
In 1978 the entire STURP team, with seven tons of equipment,
journeyed to Turin where from midnight of Sunday 8 October to midnight
of Friday 13 October they spent a full 120 hours studying the Shroud,
experimenting, photographing and compiling data which they studied over
the next three years.
At a highly technical Symposium held at New London, Connecticut, on
10 and 11 October 1981, STURP published in detail their main
conclusions: not the least trace of paint had been detected on the
Shroud, but instead the cloth had been stained with real human blood
from a real human body which had suffered all the torments of Christ's
Passion. Nor could any human method be found to explain how the
markings composing the image came to be on the cloth in the first place.
They had been scorched onto the cloth in an instant of most intense heat
from a body which was, temporarily at least, weightless!
These findings were already being publicized in the Academy Award
winning 1978 documentary film "The Silent Witness", and in popular
articles such as that in the June 1980 edition of National Geographic.
But if the Shroud is demonstrably miraculous and is even a proof of
the Resurrection and hence divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, what does
this make of His Church? If scientific proof has been found for the
divinity of the Church's Founder, then this is bad news indeed for those
who hate the Church!
"Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" As we all know, every Christian
population in the world today labours under anti-Christian governments
and laws. So no reader need doubt that STURP's findings could only
arouse an angry determination among the West's immensely powerful and
wealthy anti-Christian forces that the Holy Shroud of Turin, at any
cost, must be discredited.
"Kill the Miracle!"
The trouble with STURP was that theirs was a healthy skepticism,
i.e. a properly scientific disbelief which was reasonable and could be
removed by sufficient evidence. What the Church's enemies needed were
scientists whose disbelief was rock-solid and unshakeable.
"What are we to do?...If we let Him go on like this everyone will
believe in Him...!" (Jn. 11:47, 48). So just as "Kill the
miracle-worker!" was the enemy's answer in 30 A.D., so "Kill the
miracle!" became their answer after 1978.
But how? Europe did not seem to be quite "post-Christian" enough as
yet to be ready to live happily with a simple sacking of the Chapel and
burning of the Shroud. Some alternative had to be found. Somehow the
Shroud had to be discredited, and it was decided that this would best be
done by giving it an "authoritative" Mediaeval radiocarbon dating.
(Forget what Max Frei the Swiss forensic Professor had said.
Professor Frei had told a Sindonology Conference that, on the basis of
the 48 classes of pollen he had found on the Shroud, "I can affirm,
without fear of being proven wrong, that this linen cloth dates back to
Palestine 2,000 years ago.")
With an "authoritative" Mediaeval radiocarbon dating, the Shroud
could be changed overnight from the glory of the Church into just
another scandal. All debate thereafter, it could then be hoped, would
be mere curiosity over "How did the Mediaeval forgers do it?"
The task then was twofold: first obtain the Church's consent to a
radiocarbon dating project on the Shroud, and then get control of that
project so that it gave the desired result. In July 1982 the Trustees
of the British Museum placed Dr. Michael Tite, Director of the Museum's
Research Laboratory, in charge of their campaign to "get" the Shroud.
This meant the finish for STURP. Even in 1978, STURP's days were
numbered. This had been decided at the Second International Congress of
Sindonology held at Turin on 7 and 8 October 1978 by another American
scientist, Harry Gove of the laboratory at Rochester. As he himself
wrote later, Gove had noticed in 1978 that "most of the STURP members
were and perhaps still are 'true believers' in the identity of this
remarkable piece of material with Christ's shroud...It was then, at this
Congress, that I decided that STURP would not play the least role in the
radiocarbon dating measurements if I could do anything to prevent it. I
am happy to say that in the end they played no role." (Archaeometry, 31,
2 (1989), p. 236.)
STURP meanwhile had taken the first steps (in 1979) towards gaining
authorization for a radiocarbon dating of the Holy Shroud. (On 18 March
1983, the Shroud's owner, Umberto II, the exiled King of Italy died,
bequeathing the Shroud to the Holy See. Pope John Paul II appointed the
Archbishop of Turin as the Shroud's Pontifical Custodian.)
On 16 October 1984 STURP presented their 177 page "Phase II" project
to the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Ballestrero, in which they proposed
a protocol for the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud. They never
received any reply. From 29 September to 1 October 1986 Cardinal
Ballestrero met representatives of seven laboratories and an 800 page
protocol was drawn up naming three controlling authorities: the
Pontifical Academy of Sciences, G. Colonetti" of Turin, and the British
Now eliminate the rivals. Too many supervising authorities and
laboratories involved in such a project, of course, would only make it
next to impossible to ensure that it obtained the desired result. But
Cardinal Ratzinger had been assured that the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences would not be excluded. Well too bad about them.
Cardinal Ballestrero was advised in May 1987 by the Vatican
Secretary of State, Cardinal Casaroli - who else for the job! - that
only the British Museum in the person of Dr. Michael Tite, was to be
the sole supervising institute - who else for the job, indeed!
Cardinal Ballestreo was also advised that only three laboratories
were to be kept in the project: those of Oxford, Zurich and Tucson in
Arizona. This order was passed on to these laboratories by Cardinal
Ballestrero on 10 October, 1987.
Finding a Suitable 14th Century Substitute Cloth.
Now that he was entirely freed from either supervision or "true
believers", Dr. Tite could now begin his search for a 14th century
cloth of a weave similar to that of the Shroud. Since no-one denies
that the Shroud of Turin was being venerated at Lirey in France in about
1355, however, Dr. Tite could not afford a Shroud dating too long after
1355. One Jacques Evin of the Radiocarbon Laboratory at Villeurbanne in
France heard of Dr. Tite's search and wrote offering to help. He
received the following reply dated 12 February 1988 from Dr. Tite:
Dear Dr. Evin,
Thank you very much for your most helpful and encouraging letter of
Certainly, limiting the number of laboratories involved in dating
the Shroud makes my task somewhat easier.
I would certainly very much welcome any assistance that you can give
in obtaining a mediaeval control sample, which is as similar as possible
in terms of weave and colour as the Shroud, since at present, I am not
certain whether the British Museum will be able to provide such a
Firstly, therefore, to answer your specific questions:
1: The total sample would need to be 6 sq. cms, (i.e. about 120 mg)
2: The material of the sample should be linen. I enclose a
photocopy of some photographs which give some indication of the weave of
3: We are looking for a sample which dates from the 13th or the 14th
century A.D., preferably the latter.
4: The historical precision should obviously be as good as possible,
but one would certainly consider samples with an age range of fifty to a
5: There is no need for the sample to come from a well known piece
6: I suppose that I could come to France to collect the sample. The
idea certainly appeals to me. But I do not really think this would be
necessary. It would probably be satisfactory to use the postal service.
7: I think that one would want to include the name of the museum
that provided the sample in the final publication, if this was at all
On the basis of these answers, it would seem that your third
suggestion as a source of possible material, that is the Cluny Museum in
Paris, would be most suitable. I have therefore written a letter to
Mme. Joubert-Caillet - copy enclosed - asking her if she would be able
and willing to help in this matter.
Again, thank you very much indeed for your kind offer of assistance,
which is very much appreciated. As you say, I hope that the project
will give us an opportunity to meet again.
With best wishes, Yours Sincerely, Signed: M. S. Tite.
The Cluny Museum was contacted but refused to be involved. "Ils ont
eu la trouille." ("They got scared") as Evin remarked later. So he and
one Gabriel Vial went along to the Basilica of Saint-Maximin at Var and
pulled some tufts out of the cope known to have been worn by St. Louis
d'Anjou (d. 1297). A postal strike intervened so Vial had to hurry to
Turin himself and hand his "control sample" to Tite himself on the very
day of the cutting of the sample from the Shroud: 21 April 1988.
Meanwhile Dr. Tite had acquired from the Victoria and Albert Museum
a 10 mm. by 70 mm. strip of 14th century cloth which he had cut into
three equal pieces. These he placed in each "Sample 3" cylinder - to be
switched later with each "Sample 1" cylinder containing the Shroud
piece. ("Sample 3" was nominally from the mummy of an Egyptian child
buried during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian (r. 117 to 138 A.D.).)
Turin, 21 April 1988.
On 21 April 1988 in the sacristy of Turin Cathedral "The shroud was
separated from the backing cloth along its bottom left-hand edge and a
strip (- 10 mm by 70 mm) was cut...from a single site on the main body
of the shroud away from any patches or charred areas." (To quote from p.
2 of the 4 page report published in Nature magazine of 16 February 1989,
the sole official report of this whole project.)
Indeed at Turin on 21 April Dr. Tite had ordered a strip of that
size to be cut from the Shroud. But the cutter, Giovanni Riggi, had in
fact cut a strip 16 mm by 81 mm which he then cut into two pieces which
were weighed by Prof. Franco Testore at 158.5 and 144.8 mg. The
smaller piece was kept as a "reserve" by Riggi while the larger was cut
into 4 pieces weighing 14.1, 39.6, 52.8 and 52.0 mg.
(These details were provided by Prof. Testore at a Symposium held
in Paris on 7 September 1989. Neither Testore nor Riggi were among the
21 official signatories of the official report published in Nature.)
The two smallest pieces were placed together in the "Sample 1"
cylinder for Tucson. A photograph of them next to their cylinder and
with the Archbishop's official seal in the background was later supplied
by the Tucson laboratory's representatives present at the cutting in
Turin: Profs. P.E. Damon and D.J. Donahue. This photograph verifies
Riggi's contradiction of the official Nature report.
The Shroud pieces were wrapped in aluminium foil and placed in three
small cylinders as "Sample 1" for the three laboratories. Each
laboratory also received a small cylinder containing "Sample 2": a piece
of Nubian tomb linen dated from the 11th century A.D.; and another small
cylinder containing "Sample 3" - supposedly a piece of linen supplied by
the British Museum from the mummy of an eleven year old named Cleopatra
who had been buried in Thebes in Egypt during the reign of the Emperor
Hadrian - but which was in fact Dr. Tite's 14th century cloth.
Confronted with the importunities of an excited Vial, the
imperturbable Tite divided his offering into three parts which he placed
not in cylinders but in envelopes for the three laboratories as an
apparently unexpected but later very useful "Sample 4" - threads from
the cope of St. Louis d'Anjou (d. 1297).
"Fixing" the Test Results.
In the Turin Cathedral sacristy all was conducted ceremoniously and
before photographers and video cameras, but later in each laboratory
someone switched the "Sample 1" (the Shroud piece) with "Sample 3".
The Americans arrived back in Tucson on 23 April and officially
opened their cylinders on 25 April. All the standard cleaning and
burning procedures according to the AMS (Accelerated Mass Spectronomy)
method were followed and dating measurements got under way on 6 May and
continued until they were completed on 8 June. The results were then
immediately forwarded to Dr. Tite.
The doctor however was not impressed. His substitute cloth was
turning out to be too young! Tucson's datings for the new "Sample 1" had
"peaked" twice: between 1267 and 1313, then between 1350 and 1407! Since
no-one denied that the Shroud was in existence at Lirey in the 1350's
the latter dates were simply impossible!
What to do? The Zurich laboratory's director, Dr. Woelfli, has
refused to give the dates on which his laboratory's sample burning and
tests were carried out. Anyway he was able to come up with more
"believable" datings for "Sample 1", although these too had "peaked"
twice: 1271 to 1301, and 1363 to 1374.
At last Oxford could proceed, burning its samples on 13 July, and
hurriedly conducting all its tests in only two days, 20 and 21 July (!)
Its dates for "Sample 1" were all safely in the 13th century, and in
fact, and suspiciously, almost identical with those for "Sample 4", the
threads from the Cope of St. Louis d'Anjou. Oxford dated "Sample 1" at
1229 to 1280, and "Sample 4" at 1227 to 1279.
Thus did Oxford locate safely in the 13th Century what Tucson had
located in the 14th and 15th centuries! Never mind. None of the dates
are anywhere near the dreaded First Century ... except those of
"Cleopatra's mummy" (in fact the Shroud) which, as "Sample 3", was dated
with good concordance of datings by the three laboratories, at 9 B.C.
to 78 A.D.
"It's a Fake!" Dr. Tite's Triumph...and Tribulations.
On 13 October 1988 - in fact the tenth anniversary of the close of
the five days of tests by STURP - Cardinal Ballestrero announced that
the Shroud had been shown by radiocarbon dating to be Mediaeval, hence a
forgery. Tut tut! On the following day Dr. Tite gave a press
conference at the British Museum to make the same triumphal
announcement, doing this in front of a blackboard on which he had
written "1260 - 1390!".
Not a whisper of protest or even of criticism has been heard from
our "shepherds" in the face of this latest "scientific" mockery and
anti-Christian farce, this latest lark from the proud home for 40 years
of "Piltdown Man". Where once the Church Militant would have taken up
cudgels, our new "Church Talking" has once again had nothing worthwhile
to say. True to their form since Vatican II, our "shepherds" have
remained, when it came to defending the faithful and their Faith, yet
As for the Shroud itself, ever since its Feast Day on 4 May 1990, it
has been treated as a thing of shame, and its Holy Chapel in Turin has
been closed to all access sine die, and is now falling into neglect.
Meanwhile the "True Unbelievers" could get to work. The Shroud
Unmasked by David Sox was published in 1988. Then came a life-size
photograph of the Shroud as the centre-piece of an exhibition held at
the British Museum entitled "Fake? The Art of Deception" from 9 March to
2 September 1990. Such Museum exhibitions take two years to prepare.
Lest anyone miss the special point of this exhibition, on the back cover
of the Museum's official Catalogue for the exhibition came the
questions: "What is a fake, and why are they fabricated? Did the forgers
of the Turin Shroud and of the Piltdown Man have the same motives?"
The Church's authorities were dumb, but scientists' and Christian
protests came thick and fast. Finally the editor of the Catalogue, Dr.
Mark Jones (Dr. Tite's successor as Director of the British Museum
Research Laboratory) apologised for having written this "blurb". It
disappeared from the Catalogue's second printing.
Even Dr. Tite was "feeling the heat". His letter expressing regret
at having used the word "fake" in reference to the Holy Shroud of Turin
appeared in the Catholic Herald of 12 January 1990.
Dr. Tite's unrepentance however remained clear enough at a
conference entitled "Fake" which he gave for the Museum Society of
Haselmere, a small town in Surrey, on 10 March 1990. To quote from a
report of this conference by a Mr. David Boyce:
"In the course of his talk, he (Dr. Tite) admitted the mysterious
nature of this image: the fact that not a trace of pigment is to be
found on this cloth and that the image is coded to produce a three
"He then completely disorientated us by projecting onto the screen
the mathematical tables which figure in the Nature report, the value of
which no one was able to judge, and launched into hair brained
explanations for the origin of the image on the Holy Shroud, whilst
those in the audience seemed to have suspended their critical faculties,
bemused no doubt by this display of "higher mathematics". He began by
quoting the "evidence" of Pierre d'Arcis, bishop of Troyes, who claimed
to have known the artist who painted the image on the cloth.
Fortunately someone in the audience immediately remarked: "But you've
already said there is no pigment on the cloth."
"He then put forward the grotesque hypothesis of a Crusader
crucified by the Saracens in the 14th century, whose decomposing body
vapours would have left an imprint on the cloth in which it was buried.
Either he knows nothing of the work of the American STURP team, who have
proved the inanity of this hypothesis, or he holds their work in
contempt. At this point I intervened to say that the vapour theory is
incompatible with the image we see, for a cloth wrapped round a body
would inevitably distort any image produced; furthermore the light and
dark shades of the Shroud are a function of the distance between cloth
and body, which produces the three dimensional effect.
"He had to yield before both objections and ended by saying that
there remained a lot of research to be done into the formation of the
image, but that he would never accept the hypothesis whereby the surface
of the cloth was scorched by the flash of the Resurrection."
Viva Cristo Rey !! Long Live Christ the King.
Paddy Spencer ---------------------------------------------
email: email@example.com phone: +358 0 566 2432
Sollicitae tu causa, pecunia, vitae.