The Great Holy Shroud Dating Fraud of 1988

Author: D.J. McDonnell

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 1991.

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 Museum.

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: (Emphases added.)

Dear Dr. Evin,

Thank you very much for your most helpful and encouraging letter of 8th February.

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 sample.

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 the Shroud.

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 hundred years.

5: There is no need for the sample to come from a well known piece of textile.

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 possible.

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 again dumb-struck.

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 dimensional effect.

"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."

-- Internet: Viva Cristo Rey !! Long Live Christ the King.

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