Building (sand) castles in the air – and maybe clay ones too…


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:




Here’s a brief afterthought to yesterday’s posting. There  I suggested that a thin layer of  sand could have been used to give the Shroud image its fuzzy, ghost-like quality.  The sand was to act as a thermal buffer* between a hot bas relief template and linen (see post for details).

* buffer: something that lessens or moderates the impact of something:

Since then it’s occurred to me that not everyone has access to fine sand, especially if one is a medieval monk living a 5 day horse ride from the sea. Is there an alternative to sand, maybe one that has advantages over sand?

Yes, I believe there is – CLAY. It’s finer than sand, obviously, and while still acting as a thermal buffer would help to avoid a speckled scorch that might arise from using sand, even very fine sand. We all know that clay particles are much finer than sand.

But that raises all sorts of interesting possibilities. Clay comes in a variety of colours. There’s china clay, which is white, but most clay is orange or red – due to its iron content. So let’s imagine our medieval craftsman (no need to call him “forger” without knowing his objectives) placing a thin layer of dry powdered clay onto linen, then presses with the hot template. (It’s an experiment I shall try, but I am travelling at present, which is why it’s described here as a ‘thought experiment’). When the template is withdrawn, there is a faint scorch under the clay, with light/dark reversed image of that template (ring any bells?). But what about the clay? Can that simply be shaken or brushed off – assuming its job is done? Or does it not shake off? Are the clay particles bonded to the underlying scorch via pyrolysis products of scorched linen. What if they were, and what if that had been the artisan’s intention? In other words, the desired end product was a thermostencil, with a negative facsimile of the template in reddish clay against the white background of linen. The first cohort of viewers may not have been aware there was a scorch beneath the clay image. Now fast forward some years or decades – and the clay particles gradually drop off, and it’s now just a ghost image that remains,  i.e. the underlying scorch… Might not new cohorts, now primed with a revised  and more jaw-dropping narrative,  have looked at that with greater wonder than the clay original? Might not the originator of the Mark1 artefact  have thought, mmm, that technique has possibilities?

From memory, I seem to recall that there’s a lot of aluminium associated with the Shroud linen that has not been satisfactorily accounted for. The most common source of aluminium on the planet is (you guessed it)  clay – which comprising the several aluminosilicates of calcium, iron etc.  Might it be some adhering clay particles that are responsible for today’s aluminium, being assumed to be adventitious “dust” that has settled on it over the centuries? Maybe not. Maybe clay had a crucial role to play in the initial imprinting of the Shroud image, possibly to portray a man whose mortal remains had been transformed to mineral (“dust unto dust”) aided perhaps by a something that also left a faint underlying scorch (which the curator, adhering to his script,  would be keen to point out).

Next topic: Focus on Dr. John Jackson of the Shroud Center of Colorado,  his continuing, and,  to my way of thinking, inexplicable advocacy of radiation over contact scorching,  and his apparent blind spot for heat transfer of the third kind in that strange preoccupation of his with ‘cloth-body distance’.

Here’s a taster (or should that be teaser?):

John Jackson's  view of cloth-body distance when a sheet of linen is draped over a corpse with no applied  forces except those of gravity...Would it really do that between chin and chest?

John Jackson’s view of cloth-body distance when a sheet of linen is draped over a corpse with no applied forces except those of gravity…
Would it really do that between chin and chest? Did a side strip (“selvedge”) have to be snipped off  and used as a neck-encircling  binding to achieve that effect – and then later re-attached in the interests of archival  completeness?  (Occam’s razor?)


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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