The mystery of the Shroud of Turin has always been a source of fascination for me. Is it really the imprint of the crucified Christ? Is it a medieval hoax? How did the imprint come to be manifested on this ancient sheet? How can we tell how old the sheet really is?
Ian Wilson intends to answer these questions in his book The Blood and The Shroud. Personally, I don't have a dog in this fight because it's not important to me whether the shroud is authentic or not, but I do consider it a significant piece of history, even if it does only date back to the Middle Ages.
According to a scientific team headed by British Museum scientific director, Michael Tate, radiocarbon 14 testing resulted in the shroud being dated to the years of the 13th century. This also corroborates with a letter by a Bishop of that time who insisted that the shroud was a hoax. It is also true that the 13th century was the height of relics of all sorts being peddled and revered.
Wilson attempts to debunk this claim in his book as well as other arguments: that the shroud image is a painting, medieval photograph -perhaps even a self portrait made by Leonardo da Vinci- or simply a blood image made by someone wrapping a dead person, albeit crucified, in the shroud, just not Christ.
Frankly, Wilson writes as though he does have a dog in this fight. Like many scientists I believe that he became enamored with his project and is not being perfectly objective. While I found his arguments interesting, he seemed to make quite a few leaps from fact to fact, inserting formulations and speculations that I did not find altogether persuasive.
I will admit that I thought the biggest argument against the shroud's authenticity was the simple act of wrapping a crucified body in a sheet and making the same imprints. Of all of his explanations, his reason for why this can't have happened seems plausible. He asserts that the distribution of blood and how it was imprinted onto the sheet could not be contrived to such a degree of accuracy. This gives me pause to think.
Another persuasive argument comes from another source. In 1978 a team of American scientists known as STURPA made a 3D image of the shroud as well as conducted a number of tests on the matter that was on the shroud. Their final conclusion was that they could not trace the photographic image to human origins-even though they are quick to point out that they don't know what caused it.
None of that really matters to me because it is still an excellently written book and Wilson is exhaustive in his background research, tracing the shroud as far back as possible and giving an interesting and informative history of the families and leaders who owned the shroud all the way back to the middle ages, which is as far back as it can be traced.
Not that Wilson doesn't try to reach farther back in time. We receive a good historical account of the times between Christ's time and the 13th century and how it was possible for the shroud to survive all those years as well as who might have been holding onto it during that time. It's just by this time, Wilson is purely speculating as even he admits.
The shroud will be on exhibit next year. It is only allowed out of its vault every so many years. I wish I could be in Turin to see it. Not because I know for a fact it is the shroud of Jesus Christ but because it is still an ancient relic of bygone days. Even the 13th century is a long time ago.