Shroud of Turin – Textile Witness

This post is part of a multi-part series investigating the evidence and arguments surrounding the Shroud of Turin. See the first post, Shoud of Turin, Could it Be Real?,  for an index.

Since 1578 the “sindon,” or Shroud, has been housed in a Turin, Italy, cathedral, hence the name, the Shroud of Turin.  It is believed by many to have wrapped the body of Jesus Christ after his death in Jerusalem, with the material itself provided by Joseph of Arimathea.  Over the course of years, the cloth has been decried as a hoax, forgery, and work of artist(s) by skeptics. Several studies have attempted to settle the debate.

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The Shroud is a linen cloth of flaxen woven in a 3-over-1 herringbone reversing twill pattern, and measures 14’3″ x 3’7″.  These dimensions correlate with ancient measurements of 8 cubits x 2 cubits – consistent with loom technology and whole measurements of the period.  There is piece called the sidestrip which is about 3½ inches wide running the length of the left-hand side and appears to be joined by a single seam. (Wilson pg. 9, 1979) The “fine linen” is consistent with the New Testament statement that the shroud was purchased by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy man.

The Shroud carries a number of patches and evidence of burns, reportedly from a fire at the convent at Chambery in 1532.  Beyond the image of a man, the Shroud has markings and water stains consistent with being wetted by the dousing of the fire.

The Shroud is made from flax which is a plant grown for the seed from which linseed oil is pressed and as well as the fiber for making linen yarn. Linen cloth is woven from yarn produced by spinning flax fibers together. Flax is among the oldest fiber crops in the world. The use of flax for the production of linen goes back at least 5000 years. It is stronger than cotton and does not stretch as much. There are different grades and colors of flax fibers used for linen fabrics, the finest quality is used in cloths as found in the Shroud of Turin. Lesser grades are used for string and rope.

“The flax fibrils contain entwisted cotton fibrils from a previous work of the loom. The cotton is Gossypium herbaceum, a Middle Eastern species not found in Europe”. (Raes, G.: La Sindone, 1976; Tyrer, J. Textile Horizons, Dec, 1981)

One textile historian, Mechthild Flury-Lemberg, has reported strong similarities between the Shroud’s fabric and fragments of fabrics produced in the Middle East about 2,000 years ago. She was surprised to find a peculiar stitching pattern in the seam of one long side of the Shroud, where a three-inch wide strip of the same original fabric was sewn onto a larger segment. The stitching pattern, which she says was the work of a professional, is quite similar to the hem of a cloth found in the tombs of the Jewish fortress of Masada. The Masada cloth dates to between 40 BC and 73 AD.  This kind of stitch has never been found in Medieval Europe.

Some concluding thoughts: the linen was made by hand, it did not originate from Europe, its characteristics can place it in 1st century, likely Syrian or Palestinian origin, and of a fine quality, consistent with the Biblical narrative.

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