Mr. John Long has been a Maryland Parole and Probation Agent for 35 years. He has a 30 year interest in the Shroud and is past president of the Holy Shroud Task Force, a professional group devoted to research and education on the Shroud of Turin.
With “95% confidence,” the three C-14 labs concluded that the cloth was manufactured between 1260 and 1390, over a thousand years too late to have been Christ’s burial shroud (Damon, 1989:114). However, those who had followed closely Shroud research in the 20th century realized there were too many reasons from science, history, art history and medicine to accept those results at face value. Especially strange was the wide divergence of dates for Shroud samples among the labs (each lab ran numerous tests on the sample they received), so wide that the results could not pass a standard statistical analysis called the Chi Square test (Marino and Benford, 2000:4). Such an inordinate spread did not occur among the other three cloths tested as controls. Something was not right, but what? In the 17 years since then many theories have been proposed (for brief descriptions and analyses, see Chapters 18 and 19 of Frederick Zugibe’s The Crucifixion of Jesus – A Forensic Inquiry), but until recently scientific testing of those theories has not produced much promise.
Joe Marino was an agnostic working as a government clerk in 1977 when he read of the work being done by the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) scientists. “It changed my life,” he admitted, and “brought me back to the Scriptures and prayer” (Shroud News, 1997:56). Marino went on to collect a world-class library on the subject and publish the newsletter Shroud Sources, and is an example of how an informed, persistent layman can make a major contribution. Skeptical as many were of the 1988 C-14 results, Marino and co-researcher M. Sue Benford noticed how some experts had warned that the area selected for the 1988 C-14 sample showed signs of textile repair. The scientist who actually cut the 8 square centimeter sample remarked that he had to remove 1 cm of material from it due to fibers of an origin different from the Shroud (Marino and Benford, 2000:2). STURP chemist Dr. Alan Adler produced a peer reviewed paper in 1996 demonstrating that the area adjacent to the C-14 sample had significantly different chemical characteristics from the rest of the cloth (Adler, 1996). He also complained in an earlier interview:
You have no way of knowing if the area you took the C-14 sample from represents the whole cloth. That’s an area which has obviously been repaired. There’s cloth missing there. It’s been rewoven on the edge. The simplest explanation why the date may be off is that it’s rewoven cloth there. And that’s not been tested (Case: 73).
Benford and Marino decided to test. From pictures of the C-14 samples they found differences in thread size and weave patterns. They showed C-14 sample pictures to three textile companies in blind tests and were told that one side was different from the other, “touched up to prevent unraveling” and “it is definitely a patch” (Marino and Benford, 2000:7). The two researchers also noticed that radiographs of the Shroud changed as they approached the sample area, indicating different chemical/physical characteristics.
Finally, they identified a seam running through the sample apparently dividing the original Shroud material from what they believed to be a 16th century patch. Because this seam ran diagonally through the C-14 sample, each lab received either more or less of the patch and original Shroud textile, explaining the labs’ divergent dates and Chi Square test failure. As the C-14 sample appeared to represent 60% of new material (patch) and 40% of original Shroud, Benford and Marino learned from the firm Beta Analytic (the world’s largest C-14 dating service) that such a ratio would produce a date very similar to the 1988 results (Marino and Benford, 2000:7). Their paper, “Evidence for the Skewing of the C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin Due to Repairs,” was introduced at a conference in Italy in August, 2000, and soon was to receive strong support from an unlikely source.
Dr. Ray Rogers was a renowned chemist and former STURP scientist who had made major contributions to understanding the images on the Shroud. He also was weary of Christians involved in Shroud science, believing that they were prone to want to see “miracles” where science could find natural explanations. When he read Benford and Marino’s paper he was skeptical of their conclusions, but soon changed his mind. Having acquired Shroud material both adjacent to the C-14 site and threads from the sample area, he was surprised to find “colored encrustations (or coatings) on their surfaces” that were present nowhere in the main body of the cloth. After considerable testing he concluded, “the color and distribution of the coating implies that repairs were made at an unknown time with foreign linen dyed to match the older material.” He also opined, “The radiocarbon sample was thus not part of the original cloth and is invalid for determining the age of the shroud” (Rogers, 2005:191,193). Just before he died in March, 2005 these findings were reported in a scientific paper, which also disclosed one more major revelation. Nowhere on the main part of Shroud could he detect vanillin, a compound in linen which slowly dissipates over great periods of time. No ancient linens contained vanillin, and the only place he could find it on the Shroud was in an area adjacent to the C-14 sample, again consistent with Benford and Marino’s patch theory. Calculating the likely loss rate of vanillin suggested to him that the Shroud actually was somewhere between 1300 and 3000 years old (Rogers, 2005:190-193).
Benford and Marino’s theory is becoming the favored explanation for the C-14 dating results among many Shroud watchers, but still has its critics. Some complained that the textile specialists present at the sample cutting would have recognized a patch. One radiocarbon expert also claimed that the percentages of patch and original Shroud would have produced a date of AD 665 and not the 13th century date Benford and Marino claimed. In a 2002 paper they answered their critics with evidence from other knowledgeable authorities (Benford and Marino, 2002a). In a second paper in 2002, they discussed the expertise of 16th century European weavers and the motives of the Shroud’s owners, the rich Savoy family (and future kings of Italy), for making “Invisible Repairs” to textiles like the Shroud (Benford and Marino, 2000b).
When in 2005 textile expert M. Flury-Lemberg continued to insist that such reweaving did not exist and that the patch would be recognizable on the reverse side, Benford and Marino produced a fourth paper. In it they quoted the owner of a textile repair business, Mr. Michael Ehrlich, stating that “French Weaving [a textile repair practiced in Late Medieval and Renaissance periods] involves a tedious thread-by-thread restoration that is undetectable” and therefore invisible from both sides (Benford and Marino, 2005:2). The paper then went on to discuss the Shroud’s historical circumstances in the early 16th century that may have led to repairs at the cloth’s corner that was later to be radiocarbon dated.
William Meacham is a professional archaeologist who has followed Shroud research since 1981 and was involved in some of the planning for the 1988 radiocarbon tests. In his new book, The Rape of the Turin Shroud, he concludes: “...reweaving is the scenario best supported by the data” to explain the 1988 test results (Meacham, 2005:137). He and Rogers used it as part of a request made to Shroud custodian Cardinal Poletto for a new C-14 test. However, he still has serious reservations. Meacham agrees (in this instance) with Flury-Lemberg that any patched area ought to have been identified by trained textile specialists. He also wonders whether ancient weaving wouldn’t produce the changes in weave pattern and thread size to be seen in the C-14 sample.
Nevertheless, he finds Rogers’ chemical work supporting the Benford-Marino theory to be very strong (Meacham, 2005:138). His own historical research on Shroud repairs turned up two 19th century books documenting the work of the Venerable Sebastiano Valfre (1650 – 1718), known to have made repairs on the cloth. Valfre spent “many hours” in his work and specifically “...near the edges of the cloth certain areas were unraveling … Valfre repaired the unravellings between the border and the cloth of the Shroud” (Meacham, 2005:137-138). This is a fair description of the area where the C-14 sample was taken.
Presently a committee working for the Catholic Church has finished a five-year review of various proposals for more Shroud testing. Recommendations will go to the Vatican and, at some unspecified date, new tests (not necessarily C-14) will be conducted. Benford and Marino also have learned recently that Professor Piero Savarino, Cardinal Polleto’s current scientific adviser, had co-authored a booklet in 1998 declaring that “invisible mending” had been used on the Shroud in the past. The booklet admitted that if the C-14 sample came from such a mended area, the 1988 results would be invalid (Benford and Marino, 2005:2-3). The force of the patch theory appears strong and continues to attract support.
“Test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).
Recommended Resources for Further Study
Adler, Alan 1996 Updating Recent Studies on the Shroud of Turin. Pp. 223-228 in M.V. Orna (ed.), Archaeological Chemistry: Organic, Inorganic and Biochemical Analysis. ACS Symposium Series, vol. 625. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society.
Benford, M.S. and Marino, J.G. 2002a Textile Evidence Supports skewed Radiocarbon Date of Shroud of Turin. http://www.www.shroud.com.com/pdfs/textevid.pdf.
Benford, M.S. and Marino, J.G. 2000b Historical Support of a 16th Century Restoration in the Shroud C-14 Sample Area. http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/histupt.pdf.
Benford, M.S. and Marino, J.G. 2005 New Historical Evidence Explaining the “Invisible Patch” in the 1988 C-14 Sample Area of the Turin Shroud. http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/benfordmarino.pdf
Case, T.W. 1996 The Shroud of Turin And The C-14 Dating Fiasco: A Scientific Detective Story. Cincinnati: White Horse Press. Also quoted at Marino and Benford 2000:3.
Damon, P.E. et al. 1989 “Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin.” Nature, vol. 337 (16 February):611-615. Also available at http://www.shroud.com/nature.htm.
Marino, J.G. and Benford, M.S. 2000 Evidence for the Skewing of the C-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin Due to Repairs. Worldwide Congress “Sindone 2000” in Orvieto, Italy, Aug. 28, 2000. Also available at http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/marben.pdf
Meacham, William 2005 The Rape of the Turin Shroud: How Christianity’s Most Precious Relic Was Wrongly Condemned, and Violated. LULU.COM.
Rogers, R.N. 2005 Studies on the Radiocarbon Sample of the Shroud of Turin. Thermochimica Acta, Vol. 425, No. 1 / 2, 20 January 2005; 189-194.
Shroud News, Feb. 1997, No. 100; Reprint of an article originally written by Charlene Scott for The Catholic Herald, Aug. 7, 1996.