The Pope calls it “an icon written with blood”. I say it’s an elaborate medieval con, still being promoted for all its worth…

The Vatican states baldly that the Shroud is impossible to falsify (Dec 2011).

Daily Mail headline, UK, December 2011…

That  follows close on the heels of the sensationalist media reports of  the Italian ENSA  Star Wars research with light sabres  (“blinding flash”)  etc. (see above).

The black border is mine. Since when has it been the job of experimental scientists to open up theological debate- least of all ones employed by a Governmental research institute?

Pope Benedict pays homage to the Shroud, apparently with few if any reservations as to its authenticity – and seemingly contemptuous of the three laboratories that dated the fabric to the 13th/14th century.

Let’s not forget  either the views expressed trenchantly  by the current Pope who –  if not quite declaring the Shroud to be authentic – went out of his way to  give  his approval  and blessing to the Shroud as an “icon made in blood”,  without worrying himself unduly about the age or provenance of that blood.

From the Catholic News Service, 2010

The current Pope’s views on the Shroud, crystallized in a few, no doubt carefully-chosen words:

“An icon written with blood”. Couldn’t have put it better myself – but it might take a blog or two to deliberate  on when or where the blood  had originated…

For my part (see later) I think the blood was medieval, as indeed was the linen on which it was painted, and that it probably came from a well-fed medicinal leech, rather than straight from a vein, hugely improving its ability to be applied like oil paint. The latter is just a hypothesis, needless to say, but if a future test were to confirm that the blood had all or just some of the biochemical or immunological markers for leech (Hirudo medicinalis) then, regardless of age, the Shroud would be well on its way to being “falsified”. That would allow  little quarter for the “contamination/invisible reweaving” brigade to intone their dreary mantra (“now totally discredited blah blah”).

So how can the Vatican or anyone else claim that the Shroud is impossible to falsify, when one can without difficulty propose any number of hypotheses  (“hunches”) that, if verified, would falsify it?  In any case, since when has it been the job of the Vatican to decide what is, or what is not falsifiable? Is it not the job of scientists, rather than  theologians and spiritual leaders, to decide what is or is not a scientific proposition,  as judged by Karl Popper’s yardstick of falsifiabilty?

But we all know that the continuing Turin Shroud controversy, sustained  to this day with a steady drip-feed of  of pseudo-science –  sadly most of it from the once cradle of the Renaissance  that produced  Cannizarro, Fermi, Galilei, Golgi, Torricello, Volta etc  – has permitted the two – theology and science – to become shamelessly conflated.

(Is the Vatican aligning itself with those who claim that the radiocarbon dating was wrong, based on an “unrepresentative sample”  that had been “repaired” indeed “invisibly mended” (hardly the scientists’ fault one would have thought – more that of the Turin  custodians’ and Vatican’s so-called ‘science advisors’? )

Is the Vatican saying the same argument could be levelled against any future repeat result – “another unrepresentative sample” and so on ad infinitum? Is the Vatican saying that it will never be persuaded by any radiocarbon result (while  being in no hurry to release new samples for testing)? If so, the Shroud is not “unfalsifiable” It is more a case of its authenticity being made unfalsifiable though stonewalling and obstructionist tactics.

In short, the Vatican is playing a cat-and-mouse game with science, appearing to let scientists operate while in reality severely restricting their freedom of movement. At the risk of mixing animal metaphors, it’s like  a tethering a goat to a tree, then telling it to graze at will.

So no – neither the Vatican nor the Pope would be so crass as to claim that the radiocarbon dating was invalid – as do so many on Shroudie websites- but they may just as well have done so, for all the difference it makes.

Reminder: if the radiocarbon results are taken  at face value – and I see little reason to do otherwise – then they ALREADY falsify the Shroud’s authenticity, making the claim that it is “impossible to falsify” not just unscientific but a historic distortion of the truth  – one that should be condemned by all fair-minded people, regardless of religious persuasion.

Just the other day I was heavily criticizing a supposedly scientific paper that claimed to show the location of the coup de grace spear wound in Christ’s side on the Shroud, despite the fact that the “wounds” on the Shroud are without exception images that are of blood, not of torn flesh. What I  did not mention was the extraordinary appearance at the end of the paper of a section called “theological considerations”.  I kid thee not:

Is this a first? Do we see here the death knell of Western science?

Quite what a Buddhist or Muslim scientist would have made of it, given it was predominantly Roman Catholic theology that was in the frame is anyone’s guess. Things have really reached a sorry pass when a supposedly scientific paper, restricted to investigate only that which is  “falsifiable” ( the special remit of science) diverts to an area that almost by definition is non-falsifiable. (If anyone has been able to falsify the claimed existence (or non-existence) of God, perhaps they could supply a link – but please make it  no longer than one or two  sides of A4).

In fact it was that “miraculous flash of light” paper by the ENSA scientists that reawakened my interest in the Shroud. That was  after a lapse of some 20 years (since the C-14 dating),  which prompted me to make currently close on 100 postings, detailing my studies and research, some 68 of which are on this, my main site.

Today’s posting is an attempt to summarise the main conclusions that this retired science bod has reached so far. Yes, adding this ‘nuts and bolts’ section will make it long, and indeed this will be my longest blog posting ever. But that’s what I do: I write blogs, unsensational ones for the most part, which are completely free of charge , instead of over-hyped generally over-priced  books that, for the most part, sensationalize – deliberately so – since that is what sells books. My blog today will be shorter than any book, or even a cut-price Kindle download, so won’t cost you, dear imposed-upon reader, a penny to read.

 Yup, take a deep breath. Here’s a round-up of my views after some 7 months of study and research…

# I have no reason to doubt the carbon dating. Much, indeed most of the so-called damning criticism that is said to “invalidate” it is scarcely credible. That would include all of Rogers’ microscopy claiming end-to-end splicing and dyeing, and/or the suggestion that there could have been invisible reweaving (in an inconspicuous corner, when there were so many burn holes and crude repair patches in more prominent locations).

“Obviously” an end-to-end splice? Er, yeah, right … with the help of a binocular microscope… and micromanipulation tools?

More about Rogers later – someone I regard as gifted, but of highly questionable objectivity. (Clever people venturing into Shroud research without strict objectivity is like proceeding under full sail without a rudder or anchor, and probably with a faulty compass too. One either ends up at the wrong destination in double-quick time – or gets lost at sea).

# The base image was created by scorching from a life-size template, or assembly of templates probably metal or ceramic. The heated template may have been pressed into linen overlying a bed of material, e.g. sand designed to give good contact. The template was probably bas-relief, although a fully-rounded figure is possible with just a half, or less-than-half circumference impression… (See my  blog banner above).

#Scorching offers an immediate and obvious explanation for the negative nature of the image, with extremities like the nose dark, and eye hollows light etc. Referring to the Shroud image as a negative ‘photograph’ is wrong, if as I belive  it was heat not light that produced the image.  A better term would be thermograph.

The reversal of light/dark regions to make a more life-like image is crucial, as first discovered by Secondo Pia in 1898, and will be discussed last. The enduring impact of that finding deserves a blog all to itself, given that the iconic positive is routinely displayed as if it were the ‘real’ Man in the Shroud, of which the sepia imprint is a negative. The latter can be considered a pseudo-negative, but certainly not a photographic one, any more than a brand on the hide of cattle is a photograph of the heated branding iron.

That  is emphatically not the case, anymore than, say,  is a photographic negative of a  white luminous Eiffel tower against a black background is a “real” portrayal of the subject depicted, simply because some might find it more alluring or romantic, appealing to higher aesthetic senses..

I know which of the two images  I prefer aesthetically – and it’s not the real world “positive”… An example of ‘serenification’ (see below) that even works with iconic but inaminate objects…

Which of these is the more aesthetically pleasing – the real image (left) or the enhanced negative (right)? Compare with the Eiffel Tower analogy above.  See any aesthetic parallels? Is the Man in the Shroud (Secondo Pia style “restored”) more about subjective aesthetics than meaningful image-processing?  More ‘serenification’ at work…

Question on Yahoo site: 

Is the serenity of the man’s face in the end the most striking thing about the Shroud of Turin?

 My answer: YES! That’s exactly what it is about – the ‘serenification’ of an otherwise unattractive image that is achievable simply by photographic light/dark reversal.

# The arguments that Ray Rogers levelled against the image being thermally imprinted were strangely ad hoc for someone who made a career for himself as a careful thermochemist (he had to be careful, working as he did with ‘energetic chemicals’ – aka high explosives). He said the bloodstains would not have produced the hydroxyproline (HP) signal that he saw on pyrolysis mass spectrometry . But how was he able to make such a claim, given there is scarcely any HP in blood, it being a marker for collagen and connective tissue?  (I have my own theory for why he found a strong signal for HP – see later comment re leeches as a source of blood)

Rogers also said that heat would have disturbed the crystallinity of cellulose, throwing in a free lesson on Arrhenius activation energy for good measure, but he omitted to mention that there are polysaccharides in linen that are more superficial AND more susceptible to pyrolysis than cellulose, namely the hemicelluloses (chemically reactive xyloglucans etc) of the primary cell wall.

Note the loosely-packed, superficial lacy hemicelluloses of the primary cell wall – something Raymond N.Rogers appears to have overlooked…

What’s more their pyrolysis is said to be exothermic (more typically endothermic for cellulose). Rogers, despite being a thermochemist, seems to have forgotten there are thermodynamic as well as kinetic factors to consider when assessing the weakest most heat-labile components in a fibre. (Reminder: thermodynamics is about how far, kinetics are about how fast). The same might be said of his advocacy for low-temperature Maillard reactions  producing yellow or brown products that mimic the effects of scorching.

# The discovery that the Shroud image has “encoded 3D information”, first displayed in a VP8 image-analyser, and initially endowed with much mystique, is also an aspect where there has been much misunderstanding.  Any planar image in which there is a density distribution that conveys an impression of 3D contours can have those same 3D impressions enhanced, merely by creating a third z axis dimension of height, and plotting the image density as height above the xy plane to get a topological relief map,  i.e. ‘hills and valleys’.

See the green semi-3D image top right of this blog banner – produced from the thermal imprint (centre) from the bas-relief trinket.

It is not rocket science. Indeed, it is not any kind of science. It is merely a computer-aided mathematical transformation in which the degree of 3D-ness is decided by the knob-twiddling observer on the basis of individual preference.  It is therefore at least partially subjective, even if guided by experience of the real world, i.e. people don’t generally have Pinnochio noses, some Shroudologists who shall remain nameless being a notable exception.

No comment

# Pushing the hot template into linen can account for the otherwise mysterious crease marks in the linen below the chin and above the temple, given they are not mere folds, but have a scorched-in appearance. Their fine structure, with a pale region between two dark tracks, is consistent with a crease protecting an invaginated area of linen.

# The lack of fluorescence of the Shroud image cannot be used as an argument against scorching, merely because the margins of the 1532 burn marks fluoresce under uv light. In contrast, charring at high temperatures (much higher than those required for light scorching) is likely to produce  aromatic ring structures with conjugated double bonds that do show intense uv fluorescence.

# The response from  Paolo Di Lazzaro to my scorch theory that contact heating would always progress beyond superficial scorching runs counter to commonsense. A scorch can be as superficial as one wishes, through control of temperature, contact time etc.

A scorch image can be as intense or as faint as one wishes,merely by controlling temperature etc (my own experiment with heated templates (aluminium pencil-sharpener, top left, Ghana trinket, bottom right).

Dr. Di Lazzaro’s attempts to prove his point used a coin heated to 230 degrees C,  the only temperature tested, which he attempted to justify by saying that was 10 degrees hotter than the onset of pyrolysis for hemicelluloses.

But 220 degrees C  was a literature value for pyrolysis onset as measured by weight loss (gases, vapours), not by yellowing the latter being  almost certainly achievable at lower temperatures.  In fact it was I who provided the reference. It was Di Lazzaro and his ENSA colleagues who (apparently working out of hours) brought us the wacky and hugely over-reported idea ( at least in the UK) that one had to resort to uv excimer laser beams to reproduce all the subtleties of the Shroud image – without ever producing an image (a yellow or brown mark on linen does not qualify as an image).

# To address that odd, non-commonsensical claim that a scorch cannot be confined to the most superficial layers of linen, I performed and reported an experiment in which I stripped off layers of onion epidermis from the near-colourless inner scale leaves of onions – just one cell thick – dried them overnight, and spread out on top of linen. Using a hot metal template  (hot enough to scorch linen) it was possible to produce an intense red-brown scorch onto the onion epidermis without any appreciable effect on the underlying linen.

Note scorched onion epidermis (just one cell thick) with no appreciable scorching of the underlying lien. Conducted (atom-to-atom) heat transfer can have highly localised action, contrary to claims of Paolo Di Lazzaro and his ENEA colleagues.

In other words, a single layer of cells is all that is needed to protect underlying cells. The idea that scorching is some kind of all-or-nothing phenomenon that cannot be confined to the most superficial layers is just plain nonsense.

# The idea that one has to invoke radiation – indeed high energy radiation – to explain the Shroud image is not just misguided. It reveals a blind spot for one of the most crucial observations re the Shroud body image, namely that it is confined almost entirely to the crowns of the weave, i.e. the high points where one thread loops over another.

It needs careful observation, but the body image on the Shroud is confined largely to thread crowns – another way of saying it is highly superficial not just in terms of thickness, but placement too…

That is immediately explicable in terms of contact scorching, where the tiniest air gap is sufficient to prevent heat transfer by contact and conduction. It does not fit with radiation that has been transmitted for some finite and sizable distance, the height differences between threads in the target weave being a negligible proportion of the distance the radiation has travelled. In any case, radiation cannot produce an image unless the rays are focused in some way. Without a lens or other focusing system it is pointless to entertain radiation hypotheses, even if one is prepared to envisage “miraculous flashes of radiation”.

#We are told that there is no body image UNDER the bloodstains, based on a spot test with proteolytic enzyme, that the blood arrived first on the linen, making it difficult for the Shroud to have been forged.  I personally doubt that blood is under the image. My own Shroud Scope studies, concentrating on areas where blood appears to have flaked off,  do not support that view, and indeed suggest that body image is under blood.

Body image is superimposed on (above or below) blood image, seen best in places where most of the latter has flaked off. With the eye of faith, there seems to be body image BELOW the flaked-off blood. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

Independent corroboration by some completely independent  third method is required, and is indeed a high priority before the “blood first” dogma becomes established as fact.

#The bloodstains look too “good” to be real blood transferred from a bloodied corpse, especially one where there was ample time for the blood to have clotted. Almost any Shroud Scope image of a bloodstain makes that painfully obvious. There is almost an artistic quality to the bloodstains, especially the chain-like patterns on the forearms and small of the back.

Could clotted blood really have produced this image – regardless of any scenario one dreams up of “fibrinolysis”, “clot-retraction/serum exudation” etc? There are times when gut-feeling is the best guide to the real world…

The various theories offered – clot retraction and serum exudation, post mortem re-bleeding from major wounds, so-called “fibrinolysis” of moist clots that causes them to dissolve, re-bleeding from washed body etc etc  all strike me as desperate and scarcely-credible attempts to evade a more realistic scenario – that the blood was simply dabbed or painted on – and an unnaturally thick and viscous source of blood too.

Shroud blood (left); fresh blood on linen (right). Note the concentration of red pigment on the ribs of the Shroud weave that goes unremarked in Shroudie literature (and contested in emails I receive!). Real fresh blood does not congregate on the ribs, but runs into the furrows…
Conclusion: the blood applied to the Shroud was far too thick and viscous to have been blood straight from a vein or capillary blood vessels. It was concentrated in some fashion (a medicinal leech’s gut?)

# The tests for blood are OK as far as they go, but do/did not go far enough. An allegedly  positive test for albumin is hardly definitive when all one is measuring is the ability to disperse a green dye, which is merely a function of the ability of albumin to bind organic anions, synthetic dyes included,  in a non-specific manner. A proper test for albumin would require amino acid composition and sequence. Likewise a proper test for porphyrin would require glc/mass spec and not rely purely on uv/visible spectra, even if ones sees a strong  410nm Soret band.

#  Thinking of which (thickness and viscosity) the blood for painting on may have been the gut contents of a medicinal leech –  fed on human blood- which is prevented from clotting by a powerful anticoagulant called hirudin. It also contains natural preservatives etc – it’s hard to think of a better medium in which to paint with human (-derived) blood that will not clot on one, or later turn mouldy.

#  there is ample evidence that can be cited that while numerous blood markers were found, the absence of at least one, notably potassium ions, to say nothing of the absence of blood cells, indicates that the stains are and never were typical WHOLE blood.

The use of leech digesta might account for that discrepancy.  It might explain the thickness and viscosity, as deduced from the fact that the major plum-coloured pigmentation in my Shroud Scope images is on the ribs of the weave (fresh blood soaks quickly into linen without congregating on high points).

(graphic later)

#  Re the claims that the blood is the rare AB blood group (prevalent in Jewish people):   any conventional test for ABO blood groups is based on agglutination of intact red cells. But Adler and Heller failed to observe any cells in blood stains (thus their clot-retraction/serum exudation theory that might charitably be described as pushing the envelope). So what price a test that depends on membrane intactness where there is neither intactness or indeed any membrane fragments worth speaking of after centuries of lipid peroxidation etc?   Or if there is membrane it is probably in tiny microspheres,  degraded microspheres,  instead of whole red blood cells. There is a credibility gap, at least where conventional agglutination tests are concerned (those with fluorescent tags are another matter that can be discussed another day).

# Attempts to explain why bloodstains are still reportedly bright red after centuries in terms of a novel complex between oxidised haemoglobin and bilirubin, both supposedly over-produced in vivo while the Man was still alive as a result of trauma etc etc come under the category of “wacky ideas, best forgotten”.  Bilirubin never stabilised anything. Bilirubin is itself prone to oxidation, a process accelerated by light and aided by oxygen. It does not want to form associations with other molecules either, using its hydrogen-bonding groups to fold up on itself (thus its notoriously low solubility in aqueous buffers, which is why it has to be transported in blood attached to plasma albumin)

Bilirubin is a bit of a loner as molecules go, thanks to its intramolecular hydrogen bonding. It prefers to bond with itself rather than others. Think of it as the Greta Garbo of the molecular world…

#  The idea that the image is not on the linen but on a coating of starch and soap wort (Saponaria officinalis) sugar might be entertained if substantial evidence for the presence of those had been produced. One desultory spot test for “starch”  and no soap wort test that I am aware of does not constitute substantial evidence.

In any case, the reaction mechanism proposed requires a reducing sugar as one of the reactants. Starch is not a reducing sugar, and minimal amounts of reducing sugar are produced when starch degrades (just one reducing aldehyde group sugar per broken bond/per fragment). The other reactant required (we are told) is gaseous ammonia or a volatile amine – both nitrogen-containing – that reacts with reducing sugar to form a  yellow or brown Maillard product. No evidence has been adduced that the body image on the Shroud has elevated nitrogen, and Maillard reactions typically require elevated temperatures to proceed at an appreciable rate. The highest temperature proposed is 42 degrees, in the immediate aftermath of death, the result we are told of post-mortem thermogenesis (I and possibly you too dear reader thought that corpses went cold, not warm). 42 degrees is not the kind of temperature at which Maillard browning reactions occur, unless one is willing to wait days or even weeks for a colour change).

# The alleged “wounds” are not wounds at all. They are bloodstains that are said to mark the site of wounds. It is totally misleading to refer to “wounds” on the Shroud as if they were part of the body image. They are not.  The scourge marks are a subset of bloodstains. They too are not visible wounds, at least not obviously so under Shroud Scope. The claim that one can detect a time sequence in the acquisition of scourge marks is what is technically known in scientific circles as plain bunkum.

# One sees frequent attempts to explain away this or that peculiarity in the body image e.g. absence of neck, length discrepancies due to “foreshortening” (at least in radiation models with that mysterious some might say magical ‘orthogonal projection of collimated rays ’)  in terms of rigor mortis.

Wait a few more hours and the corpse will lie flat…

It is extremely rare in Shroud literature to see any mention of the temporary nature of rigor mortis.

Rigor mortis generally disappears within 48 hours after death

  Summary: this blog is long, so I shall keep the summary short. As I write this, I have not as yet composed it, or even thought about it, but by way of  self-discipline (and boy, do scientists – real ones that is – need self discipline – in bucketsful) I shall restrict myself to a maximum of a short paragraph or two three. Here goes:

The Shroud is NOT an enduring mystery. It is an enduring con trick – and the present Pope and Vatican have done nothing AT ALL to put a stop to the continuing farcical and devious prostitution of science that attempts to give the Shroud “authenticity”, indeed magical properties, Instead, they have begun to actively encourage it.

In so doing they have, by default,  cast a slur on the results of C-14 testing by the three independent laboratories – to say nothing of the competence and integrity of the scientists involved, appearing to make them seem culpable of the scurrilous charges that one routinely sees on debunking  and indeed defamatory Shroudie internet sites and elsewhere.

The very least the Vatican and/or Turin custodians can do, by way of restitution, is to commission without further delay a second round of radiocarbon testing of the fabric – and of the blood too if technically-feasible.

Colin Berry PhD, retired science bod/general interest science blogger, August 23rd 2012


About Colin Berry

Retired science bod, previous research interests: phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, membrane influences on microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, defective bilirubin and xenobiotic conjugation and hepatic excretion, dietary fibre and resistant starch.
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2 Responses to The Pope calls it “an icon written with blood”. I say it’s an elaborate medieval con, still being promoted for all its worth…

  1. Pingback: Shroudie-Alert: Day 12: time now to write that long-overdue letter to the Royal Society… | The Turin Shroud: medieval scorch? Separating the science from the pseudo-science…

  2. Pingback: Dear Royal Society. Time maybe to take a hard line on those who peddle Turin Shroud pseudoscience? | The Turin Shroud: medieval scorch? Separating the science from the pseudo-science…

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