The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth 4.4m long by 1.1 wide. It has a geometrical pattern of burns and patches caused by a fire in 1532. It bears an image of a naked man who, according to forensic pathologists, has endured a Roman crucifixion. The image, though clearly perceptible to the eye, is revealed in much more clarity when reversed into a black and white negative. It is unique in both art and archaeology.

My Image

My Image

David Rolfe with cameramen David Crute (L) and Mark Lewis (R) filming the Shroud in 2009 for the film "Material Evidence" for the BBC. This is the only time the Turin authorities have allowed the Shroud to be filmed removed from its bomb-proof case.

What do we know?

The Shroud's history (in modern times) begins in 1355 but it has links with a much prized long-lost artefact of similar description stolen from Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. This had a viable provenance back to the 1st century and the Holy Lands.

If the Shroud is one and the same as this object then this would explain why it was kept underground until sufficient time had elapsed and why no explanation for its origins were forthcoming from the aristocratic (and crusader-linked) French family that first exhibited it.

There is no additive element such as paint or any other form of pigmentation that forms the image. It is simply a discolouration of the linen. Its graduated tones vary in density in correlation to the apparent distance a body would have been from the draping cloth. So much so that a realistic
3D image* can be generated from it using simple computer manipulation.

There are blood stains and wounds on the body that are consistent with a crucifixion but with key forensic details that had became unknown once that form of punishment was abandoned in the 4th century. This is evidenced by the countless depictions of the crucifixion in Christian art which, though convincing to look at, we now know to be technically impossible.

The weight of evidence that the Shroud of Turin was potentially an authentic - though unfathomable - depiction of Christ grew steadily from the moment it was first photographed in 1898 to 1978 when all the disparate scholarly and scientific research was collated into a single film and book which became an international best seller. The film was the BAFTA-winning
The Silent Witness of which I was the producer and director and the book - The Turin Shroud - was by the film script's co-writer, historian Ian Wilson. Both drew on the wealth of new evidence which revealed the 1204 connections, the 3D properties of the image, the forensic pathology of a crucifixion and new-found microscopic traces of the decay-resistant exine layer of pollens of Middle-Eastern, Turkish and Anatolian origin.

The clamour for a Carbon 14 test to underpin this body of evidence eventually became overwhelming and the Church's natural resistance to it was eventually eroded. But, if it were to be done then how could they guarantee that any such test would be conducted fairly and its result authoritative? They might have simply handed it over to the Pontifical Academy of Science which, in part, they did. However, to ensure a total guarantee of objectivity they placed the whole operation under the independent supervision of the British Museum. Surely, this would guarantee the most scrupulous, reliable and objective result whatever it may be? How wrong could they be!

The Museum appointed their then Head of Research, Dr Michael Tite to carry out the task. Dr Tite is now a professor at the Oxford Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art.

As reported by Dr Harry Gove in his book
"Relic, Icon or Hoax? Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud" (1996) it has now transpired that Professor Tite's personal independence was compromised. After his appointment and unknown to the British Museum, he was lined up to succeed Professor Edward Hall of the Oxford Radio Carbon Unit. This succession would be dependent on Tite selecting Oxford as one of the three labs to carry out the test from among the seven labs who were all vying for this prestigious and commercially valuable task. Oxford, also, would have to pronounce an unequivocal result if it was to prove the effectiveness of its dating technique. If all this fell into place then the investment Hall had secured to fund the future of the lab would be handed over and Tite's tenured professorship also funded.

I set out all the things that went wrong with the test and the announcement of the result in my film
"A Grave Injustice" which you can view below. I have also put these accusations to Professor Tite and to Dr. Hartwig Fischer, the current director of the British Museum, and asked for any comment or denial. So far, a very loud silence.

In the absence of any subsequent corroboration of Tite's and (the Late) Hall's verdict that the Shroud was simply a crude medieval forgery…
"someone just got a bit of line, faked it up and flogged it" …(see below) Tite has felt obliged, 30 years on, to disavow it. However, in order to avoid the possibility that the C14 date could be wrong he has come up with an explanation for the cloth's image so unscientific and unsustainable as to be laughable.

My Image

If you would like to ask Professor Tite for a comment or denial you can email him yourself.

David Rolfe is a filmmaker and also now editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter. The Society is in its fortieth year and open to all. It publishes a bi-annual Newsletter containing in-depth and well-researched articles and papers. It is now available by digital subscription at only £10 per annum and also, courtesy of Barrie Schwortz of, gives access to all past editions.

To subscribe to The British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter (£10 p.a.) click on the cover below.

My films are available on DVD from Ignatius Press in the USA and Canada. Click below for details.

*I am grateful to Thierry Castex for his 3D rendition extracted from the relative density data on the Shroud Image.

David Rolfe
Shroud Enigma
Town Hall