A group of Italian researchers have uncovered new information about the Shroud of Turin that adds even more mystery to what some Christians believe is the burial garment of Jesus Christ.
The scientists tested the DNA of pollen and dust on the linen cloth and found that it came from plants “all over Earth” — the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East, even the Americas.
Their research suggests that the shroud might have been made in India and then transported to Turin, Italy, later than the Medieval period.
The shroud appears to show a double image of a bearded man “who suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion after being beaten, scourged and crowned with thorns,” the researchers said.
“Here we report the main findings from the analysis of genomic DNA extracted from dust particles vacuumed from parts of the body image and the lateral edge used for radiocarbon dating,” said the paper’s co-author Gianni Barcaccia, a plant genetics and genomics professor at the University of Padova in Italy.
Scientists have spent decades trying to date the shroud; nothing has been conclusive so far. They’ve also tried to figure out how the image of the man became embedded in its fibers. Some Christians believe the image was transferred with the release of energy from Christ’s body upon his resurrection.
The Vatican has never officially pronounced that the shroud is authentic, though for centuries it has encouraged devotion to it.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Pius XII in 1936 called the shroud a “holy thing perhaps like nothing else.”
In April 1980, during a visit to Turin, John Paul II used the more weighty term “relic” to describe the shroud as a “distinguished relic linked to the mystery of our redemption.”
But eight years later science cast heavy doubt on the cloth’s authenticity.
In 1988 a group of researchers from Oxford, the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ran radiocarbon tests on samples from the cloth and concluded the fibers dated to between 1260 and 1390, more than a thousand years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
Another study in 2005, however, disputed those findings, saying that researchers had tested a patch on the shroud that was added in medieval times. The second study put the age of the shroud between 1,300 and 3,000 years old, which supported the possibility that it was used by Jesus Christ.
The shroud was placed on rare, public display in Turin this year from April through late June, when more than 2 million visitors from around the world saw it. It was the first exposition of the cloth since 2010. Public exposition of the shroud is set by popes.
The Shroud of Turin website notes that security for the viewings was at unprecedented levels, with cameras, drones and a large police presence surrounding it.
Pope Francis, who has referred to the shroud as an “icon of a man scourged and crucified,” prayed before the shroud during a two-day trip to Turin.
Vatican officials have said the pope does not plan to get into the dispute over the dating of the shroud, preferring to use it to make a spiritual point.
“The shroud attracts towards the face and the martyred body of Jesus and at the same time pushes us towards the face of those who suffer or are unjustly persecuted,” the pope said at a Mass after visiting the shroud in June. “It pushes us in the direction of the gift that is Jesus’ love.”