Time maybe to re-think the received wisdom about the entire Shroud image being “highly superficial”?


Late addition (July 2019)

Please forgive this postscript, correction, “prescript”,  correction, intrusion, added many years later – based on some 350 and more postings here and elsewhere.

That’s including some 7 years of my hands-on investigation into image-forming techniques, chosen to be credible with simple, indeed crude, medieval (14th century) technology etc etc.

(Oh, and yes, I accept the radiocarbon dating, despite it being restricted to a single non-random corner sample, making all the oh-so-dismissive, oh-so-derogatory statistics-based sniping totally irrelevant – a ranging shot being just that me dears- a single ranging shot, albeit subdivided into three for Arizona, Oxford and Zurich).
Sindonology (i.e. the “science” , read pseudoscience – of the so-called “Shroud ” of Turin) can be simply summed up. It’s a re-branding exercise, one designed to pretend that the prized Turin possession is not just J of A’s “fine linen”, described in the biblical account as used to transport a crucified body from cross to tomb.

Oh no, it goes further, much further, way way beyond the biblical account. How? By making out that it was the SAME linen as that described in the Gospel of John, deployed as final “burial clothes”. Thus the description “Shroud” for the Turin Linen, usually with the addition “burial shroud”. Why the elision of two different linens, deployed for entirely different purposes (transport first, then final interment)? 
Go figure! Key words to consider are: authentic relic v manufactured medieval icon; mystique, peaceful death-repose, unlimited opportunity for proposing new and ever more improbable image-formation mechanisms etc. How much easier it is to attach the label “Holy” to Shroud if seen as final burial clothes, in final at-peace repose – prior to Resurrection- as distinct from a means of temporary swaying side-to-side transport in an improvised makeshift stretcher !
As I say, a rebranding exercise (transport to final burial shroud) and a very smart and subtle one at that . Not for nothing did that angry local Bishop of Troyes suddenly refer to a “sleight of hand” after allegedly accepting it when first displayed. Seems the script was altered, or as some might say, tampered with! It might also explain why there were two Lirey badges, not just one. Entire books could be written on which of the two came first… I think I know which, with its allusion (?) to the Veil of Veronica… yes, there are alternative views (the face above “SUAIRE” a visual link to the face-only display of the Linen as the “Image of Edessa” or as that on the then current “Shroud” per se.



Face shown  (left) on mid- 14th century Machy Mould (recently discovered variant of the Lirey Pilgrim Badge) above the word “SUAIRE” (allegedly meaning “shroud”). Inset image on the right: one version among many of the fabled “Veil of Veronica” image.  I say the two are related, and deliberately so, but this is not the time or place to go into detail.

No, NOT  a resurrectional selfie, but instead a full size version of, wait for it,  the legendary VEIL OF VERONICA , product of inital body contact – no air gaps- between body and fabric, but with one important difference. The Turin image was intended to look more realistic, less artistic.

How? By displaying a negative tone-reversed image implying IMPRINT (unless, that is, you’re a modern day sindonologist, in which case ‘resurrectional proto-photographic selfie” becomes the preferred, nay, vigorously proferred explanation assisted by unrestrained imagination, creation of endless pseudoscience etc etc, with resort to laser beams, corona discharges, nuclear physics, elementary particles, earthquakes etc etc – the list is seemingly endless! 
Welcome to modern day sindonology. 
Personally, I prefer no-nonsense feet-on-the-ground hypothesis-testing science, aided by lashings of, wait for it, plain down-to-earth common sense.

Start of original posting:




Stop press: this posting of mine, probably the last for a while, possibly the VERY LAST, unless or until the Shroudosphere sees a major significant new development,  has been described on The Other Site as a  “better posting, perhaps his best “.

I now feel the kind of elation that J.R.R. Tolkien might have felt on seeing “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”  hailed as one of his better books, perhaps his best. 😉


Reminder: the faint yellow/brown image of the Man on the Shroud is said to be incredibly superficial – confined to the outermost 2oonm of the fibres. That’s  just 1/50,000th of a millimetre.

Fair use, research purposes etc, and available elsewhere on internet in a pdf paper that uses it to make a case against the scorch hypothesis.

Fair use, research purposes etc, and available elsewhere on internet in a pdf paper that uses it  as part of  a case against the scorch hypothesis,.    (See my November posting for a 3-part rebuttal)

Can the Shroud image really be so superficial as we are led to believe – whether on the PCW or Rogers’ proposed encrustation with acquired impurities – one that is reportedly too thin to be resolved under the light microscope?  Read on.

Even if it were up to 3 times as thick, as some suggest, based on these figures being guesstimates, that’s still  amazingly thin. How can an image that has captivated people down the centuries (whichever one you take as your starting point) be so superficial? Or is it really as superficial as we have been led to believe,  based on some perfunctory tests with sticky tape and forceps (thinking of the STURP claim that one can strip off an image fibre with sticky tape, and then pull away a clean fibre leaving the image layer behind as a coloured  “ghost”, too thin, too superficial to be properly resolved under a light microscope, and thus presumed to be a few hundred nanometres  thick at most)?

But as pointed out a short while ago, that ultra-thinness hardly squares with the reports that image fibres on the Shroud can be stripped off more readily than non- image fibres. What’s more, image areas show broken fibres. Put those two observations together, and it seems clear that image  fibres are weaker and/or more brittle  than non-image fibres. How can that be, if the image is confined to the most superficial (outside) part of a fibre, which some see as representing the primary cell wall (PCW), a mere 50th or thereabouts of the diameter of a entire fibre, which is typically 10,000nm in thickness?  What price then the claim by STURP team leader Raymond N. Rogers (RIP) that the image was imprinted not on the fibre per se, but on an impurity coating, variously proposed as one or other 1st century AD  adjunct (e,g, starch, soapwort) said to  have been used routinely to facilitate weaving or bleaching.

For the entire fibre to be brittle, the internal structure of the fibre would have to have been weakened by the image-imprinting mechanism (although we are told it is uncoloured) . Is that possible? At first sight no, since the interior of the fibre, except for a narrow central lumen (a “hole”or “tunnel”  in which resided the initial living stuff of the cell) consists of tough cellulose fibrils which run the entire length of the highly elongated fibre cells. Those fibrils are said to resist being broken across their width, at least in untreated flax fibres, unlike the primary cell wall, which not surprisingly is easily fractured across its short width.

So here’s a photograph of a linen fibre that Hugh Farey sent me a couple of days ago, highly magnified (x1000). (See previous posting which included it).

Scorched linen fibre showing internal cellulose fibrils (a1000). Note the fractures.

Scorched linen fibre showing internal cellulose fibrils (x1000 mag.). Note the fractures.

What’s special about it? It shows those cellulose fibrils of the inner secondary cell wall. There’s a hint of their helical configuration (with the eye of faith, well, slight curvature). Notice anything? They are fractured!  Oh, but I have overlooked to mention  something important – the linen fibre was taken from a scorched thread.

See postscript for the reason why I have scored out the above caption and text. (As I have said on a number of occasions, this blog is by way of a work in progress, an honest account of  one man’s learning curve). I’ll supply a new caption in due course, or maybe delete the picture altogether.

Raymond N. Rogers argued against the Shroud image being a heat scorch, maintaining that anything hot enough to produce a heat scorch would affect the internal cellulose of the fibre, but there was no sign of that, he said, inasmuch as the cellulose of the Shroud linen showed normal birefringence (double refraction of polarised light) under the microscope, suggestive of  undisturbed crystallinity (debatable,  but let’s not go into that right now).

But let’s not forget one thing. The secondary cell wall is not 100% cellulose. As I pointed out in the last posting but one, the SCW is reckoned to contain non-cellulosic polysaccharides (NCPs) as well  (some 15% of total polysaccharides) which  are hemicelluloses, with a sizeable galactan content.  Hemicellulose may sound similar to cellulose but is entirely different, having  much less crystallinity, and lacking therefore the extraordinary physical strength and chemical resistance of pure cellulose. Being non-crystalline, and accompanied by pentose sugars, the hemicelluloses of the SCW (secondary cell wall) ,  AS WELL AS  THE PCW , may well be susceptible to scorching by conducted heat, weakening the fibrils, making them more prone to fracture across their width – not just separate longitudinally.  Maybe that scorching would not be highly visible, and  perhaps easy to overlook, if it were to be interspersed with white cellulose fibrils.   Rough-and-ready microscopy may not tell the whole story, especially on account of refraction artefacts etc.  Oh, and let’s not forget the nodes either (aka dislocations) of which there are reckoned to be hundreds per fibre cell. They too have been described as weak points in the flax and linen fibre.

Take away message? At the risk of boring the pants off everyone with the same old refrain, I for one shan’t be  abandoning the scorch hypothesis  any time soon. It’s got too much going for it. Where there still exist unexplained discrepancies between model scorches and the TS image, e.g. colour distribution, fluorescence etc, they may well be due either to differences in the scorching methodology (there being numerous ways of ‘ringing the changes’)  or of age-related effects and/or ‘traumas’ experienced by the Shroud in its history (1532 fire etc).

This will be my last posting for a while, possibly for some weeks, since I  now have other matters to attend to interests to pursue.   I shall continue to complete and tidy up some previous postings, notably Rogers’ FAQs that generated an unexpected level of interest (and, I’m delighted to say,  surprisingly little by way of negative comment).  Comments will still be welcome, which I hope to respond to within 24 hours or so. Au revoir….

Postscript:  there is some ongoing discussion about that graphic of Hugh’s above – and what it represents: a linen fibre with internal fibrils, or a ‘technical fibre’, which is an association of fibres. It was I who suggested to Hugh the first of those two interpretations, given the very high magnification (x1000). Thibault Heimburger queried that magnification, but Hugh was adamant it was taken at x1000. Thibault for his part was equally adamant that the internal structures were fibres, not fibrils. I make no claim to be an expert in this area, having only recently become acquainted with it. But I do know how to use MS Paint, so have put Hugh’s x1000 picture alongside a x1000 SEM from another Frenchman by the name of C.Baley, judging by his institute (Lorient in Britanny) which clearly is a ”technical fibre’ made of fibres, each with a central lumen.

farey v baley x1000

There is some size discrepancy re the diameter of the fibres (NOT fibrils), roughly by a factor of 3,  probably due to it being a non like-for-like comparison (linen v flax, light v SEM microscopy, scorched v  unscorched). Nevertheless, despite the size discrepancy,  the  conclusion seems inescapable. I believe that on this occasion Thibault’s interpretation is the correct one, and my initial impression, put to Hugh in a comment, was incorrect.  The misidentification arose because Hugh’s photograph was, it would appear,  not a complete linen thread, but a so-called ‘technical fibre’ comprising a much smaller collection of fibres, and it’s been suggested there was enough un-retted pectin still around  to give a sheath-like appearance that seemed out of place for a thread, but could be (mis)interpreted as the PCW of a single isolated fibre.

Enough of excuses: Thibault got it right on this occasion. But that’s no reason for the entire Shroudosphere to  run away with the idea that Thibault is right about everything all the time. For example. I don’t think he was right about his rejection of the scorching hypothesis on the grounds that a heated bas-relief template  must always produce a scorched-on image with “excessive contrast”, not when his unsubtle choice of template virtually guaranteed that result! If folk are wondering what on earth I am talking about, it’s because another site that shall remain nameless chose to ignore completely my 3 part-riposte to Thibault’s assault on the scorch hypothesis, while continuing to this day to give his pdf prominence at the top right hand corner of its Home Page.

BRAIN TEASER added Thursday am

Can anyone explain why some  fibres  in Mark Evans’ close-up of Shroud body image ( indicated by the red arrows below) run horizontally when there’s the expected twist in the adjacent (and presumably underlying)  thread and elsewhere?

mark evans shroud close up mystery fibres                                                                      Click to enlarge

Note too how dark that band of horizontal fibres is relative to surrounding threads. Observe too the isolated broken fibres here and there that appear to be much darker than the general honey-colour of the image fibres. Some look dark brown. It is not inconceivable that centuries ago the the image fibres looked much browner and easier to see, and that there has been a process of attrition, with darker ones gradually snapping in one or more places and falling off  (or rubbed off) to leave the relatively less coloured fibres that give the current Shroud image its  homogeneous appearance. What price then the “half tone” idea – that differences in Shroud image intensity are not due to differences in colour between one fibre and another but, mysteriously, to differences in the number of (uniformly) coloured fibres per unit area? As orthodoxy goes, that’s a fascinating mantra to intone – that the Shroud image is not only vanishingly thin, but, as if  that alone were not sufficiently near-miraculous, it has a half-tone effect that anticipates modern newspaper printing technology. There again, one may simply be seeing the results of centuries of wear and tear – or rather wear and multiple fibre fracture. Wear and tear sounds more snappy (pun possibly intended).

Oh, and here’s a handy diagram, discovered by searching “flax fibril” in image files. It  shows what might be described as four levels of organization, starting with macro-scale (flax stem) and ending with nano-scale –  multi-layered cellulose(70%), hemicellulose (15%) and pectins (2%). The progression goes anti-clockwise note.

flax 4 levels of organization

What it does not show is how there can be a progression of stages in retting, depending on how far the individual elementary fibres are separated by loss of the pectin cement. One presumes that a ‘technical fibre’ is an intermediate stage, with two or  more associated fibres, but fewer than the full complement that exists in the flax stem bundle. But as I say, I am no expert in these matters. Does anyone know if the quality of linen is affected by the presence of ‘technical fibres’, i.e. the greater the proportion of associated as distinct from entirely separate (uncemented) fibres, the lower the quality? What about the Shroud linen? Free fibres, or lots of ‘price-competitive’  technical fibre?

Eureka!  Here’s another handy graphic  I’ve just discovered that plugs the gap above, showing the intermediate role of that so-called ‘technical fibre’. Don’t ask me why it’s called that. Is it because it’s the right size to be used in modern composites, with advantages over fibre glass  in particular applications – as distinct from being a standard feature of linen, whether of 1st, 13th or 21st century origin?technical fibre_________________________________________________________________


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.
This entry was posted in Shroud of Turin and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Time maybe to re-think the received wisdom about the entire Shroud image being “highly superficial”?

  1. Thibault HEIMBURGER says:

    Sorry Colin,

    The above photo from Hugh is NOT a fibre. It is a so-called” technical fibre”, i.e. a bundle of fibers;
    I have just written an email to Hugh about that.

    You wrote in the caption: “Scorched linen fibre showing internal cellulose fibrils (x1000 mag.). Note the fractures.”
    Not at all. What you see is a bundle of several fibers (easily recognizable) still embedded in the rests of the middle lamella (mostly pectin).

    Therefore, all your above comments have nothing to do with the question.
    I have not the time to comment that right now;but Hugh is free to quote my email (and the attached picture)

    More later, as usual …


    • colinsberry says:

      Hey, guess what Thibault? On this occasion I agree with you ;-).
      That’s after doing a side-by-side comparison of Hugh’s picture with another x1000 photograph from one your compatriots (Christophe Baley). See the new section I have just this minute added onto to my posting.

  2. Hugh Farey says:

    If my fibres are technical fibres (which I happily accept), then so, presumably, are the fibres of the shroud, but I don’t think I have ever seen one photographed or heard one mentioned. In three other photos I have emailed to Thibault, indisputable fibres, indisputably charred on the outside, are clearly uncoloured in the middle (just like the shroud fibres), as you can see the coloured ‘sheaths’ peeling or broken away from the core, presumably the SCW. Thibault thinks this coloured exterior may be the pectin glue which cements the fibres together in the living plant, and I wonder if it is this glue which is actually the ‘impurity layer’ we hear so much about. Either way, the fact that a scorched fibre can have the same characteristics as a shroud image fibre I believe is demonstrated.

  3. Hugh Farey says:

    More investigation with threads, fibres and technicalities on its way.
    Meanwhile – SNOW!!
    And guess what? A real disappointment. My lovely Bhutanese dragon, heated for twenty minutes over a Bunsen Burner and plunged immediately onto a piece of linen atop a 20cm bed of snow, and then pressed down with tongs and… Nothing. Nothing at all. Not a scorch, not a char, not a UV fluorescent patch, just pure unadulterated cloth, as pristine as before it was tested. Oh well..

  4. colinsberry says:

    Amazing – the finding with the snow that is. Is it telling us something profound we did not know about linen – like maybe the thermal conductivity of its threads is much greater than one might have imagined? Maybe the heat is rapidly conducted to the snow, which melts, and then liquid water is quickly wicked away to the top surface where it then prevents scorching? Or maybe it is steam initially driven from the linen (8% moisture) that quickly melts the snow, or just expanded hot air.

    I seem to recall speculating once that snow could have been used as an underlay to prevent excessive scorching. RIP idea that snow could have been used as an underlay etc etc…

  5. Hugh Farey says:

    Yes you did; that’s why I tried it. I’ll have another go tomorrow to find out how repeatable it is.
    Brain Teaser: There appears to be a similar unconformity (unless its a disconformity or a nonconformity) in the thread above the one you indicate, a double warp thread three threads down, and a strange tuft of broken fibres sticking out vertically below the thread below that. Is it all something to do with one reel of thread running out and another one being threaded in beside it to continue the weave. There are several references to this happening with weft thread, but I suppose, on a continuous weave loom, it must happen with the warp as well.

    • colinsberry says:

      Have just spotted your comment on TOS, Hugh, i.e. “The 3D quality of the image is a more long term goal, as my software is currently not up to it.”. Is that because your laptop will not run ImageJ? Yes, it’s certainly heavy on RAM and processors- it can have my cooling fans running at top speed.

      You might be interested to know that I put your dragon imprint into ImageJ a few days ago. There was a little 3D effect, as one would expect of a scorch, but nothing to write home about (or post!). But I seem to recall that you draped cloth over template, right? Might I suggest that you try doing it my way – lay the linen over a soft underlay, then press the template in from above, the idea being to get as sharp an imprint as possible under heavier contact pressure between linen and cloth. I could then put the result into ImageJ – and/or tell you what keys I pressed.

      I’m busy right now, planning (or thinking about planning) a new site. It will pick up on a previous interest, briefly addressed back in 2006 on a long-abandoned blog – namely the contribution that the Anglo-Saxons made to our ancestry. Major or minor? In what sense? Language, genetic, physiognomy, social organization?


      PS: Thibault has just posted this to The Other site:

      “Colin has now a microscope.
      Why does he not write a paper about his observations at fabric, thread and fiber level?”

      There is much that could be learned from microscopy, even light microscopy, despite the ever-present risk of artefacts that Thibault has himself warned against. Maybe light microscopy needs to be done in parallel with scanning electron microscopy at the same levels of magnification, and with transverse as well as longitudinal sections to guard against the artefacts in each. But that’s for research institutes, not for the likes of me.

      The most immediate priority is to have more close-up pictures of the weave in image-areas and blood-stained areas. Thibault used 4 such (copyrighted) pictures from the Mark Evans/STERA archive for his anti-scorching pdf. Could he not use his contacts to get the entire archive of those pictures released into the public domain? (Why are they not available anyway?)

      Again, I have just deleted a large section on the issue of copyrighted Shroud photographs that already exist, but few have seen.

      • Thibault HEIMBURGER says:

        Dear Colin,

        Regarding microscopy you are right. There are many risks of misinterpretation mainly at fiber level. However, I would like to see some photographs of your own scorch experiments at fabric and thread level through your microscope. I guess you will see what I have described in my “paper” on the other site.
        That’s why I did not answer to your rebuttal.
        I was and I’m still waiting for a rebuttal based on your own observations.

        Regarding the ME/STERA photographs, I can say that you have already seen the most interesting photographs.
        If you want the entire collection, you just have to ask to the owner.
        Is it so difficult ?


        • colinsberry says:

          There is a term for people like you, Thibault, and it is none too flattering – “control freak”. You have no right to demand results that I may or may not have, making it sound as if I am withholding something. As far as I’m concerned there was little in your photographs of model scorches that aroused my interest (see below). If there had been, I would have said so in my 3-part rebuttal. It is what I choose to publish that you should respond to – not what you imagine (mistakenly) I have chosen defensively to withhold. (Oh, and let’s not forget that I have displayed pictures of my scorched linen fibres , stressing the difficulty of focusing).

          Oh, and if you want to get me interested in YOUR scorches, then choose a proper bas relief template – with a detailed relief pattern- not some bit of old metal from your toolbox or scrap yard.

          • Thibault HEIMBURGER says:

            “freak” = “anormal, taré” (Harrap’s dictionary).
            So, it seems to be an insult (in French).

            And “I have no right to demand results”.
            Yes I have.

            A light scorch is a light scorch. A very light scorch is a very light scorch.. Whatever the template.
            I must conclude that you are unable to demonstrate your hypothesis and that you failed to use your microscope even at fabric and thread level.
            In fact you don’t want to provide your observations on your own samples at fabric and thread level through your microscope.

          • colinsberry says:

            As I have said, Thibault, you must content yourself with what I have chosen to research and publish. It is not for you to dictate what I research or publish, especially as you have failed to respond to my 3-part rebuttal of your paper, published last November. One thing at a time…

  6. colinsberry says:

    I’ve decided to delete my original comment here – not for anything that you said, Hugh. I had strayed yet again onto matters to do with copyright – but have decided on reflection to keep my thoughts to myself.

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