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Coloradans give shroud relic a new dimension

Electa Draper
the denver post
Turin research, including the local Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, because this is the year of the artifact's exhibition in Italy (first time in 10 years). Two new books and a documentary are out this year as this unique and intriguing artifact continues to be the most famous and controversial religious artifact in history. Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post
ALL | THE DENVER POST

For centuries, the faithful and skeptics have continued to hope, doubt, wonder and probe whether the image of Christ was left on the burial cloth his body was wrapped in on Good Friday, which many believe is the Shroud of Turin.

The widely held alternative is that the shroud is a medieval hoax so ingenious it seems almost miraculous in itself.

“Whatever put this image on the cloth is a radical event that is still outside what is easily understood through chemistry and physics,” said physicist John Jackson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Turin Shroud Center of Colorado. “The more you look at the image structure, the idea that a hypothetical someone in the 14th century was able to do this seems like a real stretch.”

Colorado-based researchers, including Jackson, have been key players in the decades-long burial-cloth controversy and remain active in what they call “the shroud world.”

The shroud, among the most controversial and enigmatic religious artifacts of all time, is a linen sheet measuring about 14 feet by 3.3 feet, bloodstained and discolored.

The brownish discoloration on the shroud forms the full-body image of a naked man bearing the wounds of an apparent crucifixion and other injuries that the Gospels say Jesus of Nazareth endured.

The ordinary world soon will get a look at it for the first time in 10 years. The shroud is usually locked away from view in a special preservation chamber. But a rare public exhibition begins April 10 and runs through May 23 at Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, the object’s home since 1528.

The shroud has been the subject of many documentaries, most recently a History Channel feature, “The Real Face of Jesus?” that premiered Tuesday and repeats Saturday evening.

In the film, a team of graphic artists, relying heavily on Jackson’s work, used cutting-edge computer technology to create an animated, moving three-dimensional image from the shroud.

The shroud’s 3-D properties set it apart from any other painting or artwork, according to the documentary’s computer-generated imagery artist, Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth in New York.

“There is the story of the shroud, which artistically and scientifically is the story of the transition from two dimensional to three dimensional,” Downing said, “but there is, as well, the story of the man in the shroud, and a record of his transformation from death to life.”

Despite claims to the contrary, no modern scientist or artisan has reproduced an image that manifests all the shroud’s characteristics, say Jackson and a second Coloradan long connected with the shroud, photographer Barrie Schwortz of Florissant.

Both men were part of a team of scientists given unprecedented access to the artifact in 1978. Working around the clock for five straight days, they gathered data that has been analyzed for decades.

Jackson led the 30-person Shroud of Turin Research Project that ultimately concluded the apparent bloodstains were real and very old. They also found no evidence of paint, dye, stains or any known artist’s media that could have created the discolorations that form the image.

The shroud image looks like a photographic negative. In other words, only when photography was developed did the world see a vivid positive image of the shroud. And Jackson, working in 1976 with scientists at Sandia National Laboratories, made another astonishing discovery fully explored by the latest documentary.

Computer analysis of its light and dark areas revealed an encoded topography, or three-dimensional information, that assisted the graphic artists in rendering what many believe to be the face of Jesus.

Skeptics point out that carbon-14 dating studies by three world-class laboratories in the late 1980s indicated the shroud was made between A.D. 1260 and 1390, or about 1,300 years too late to be Jesus’ burial cloth.

However, Ray Rogers, a STURP member and Los Alamos National Laboratory fellow until his death in 2005, found in 2004 that the test sample used for the carbon dating was taken from a rewoven area – skillfully mended with different materials – that was virtually invisible under normal lighting conditions.

Rogers used ultraviolet photography and a battery of chemical tests to conclude that the tested section was this medieval patch and that the carbon dating, while correct, didn’t apply to most of the shroud.

When Schwortz, 63, also a photographic consultant for Los Alamos National Laboratory, was asked to work on the shroud project, he was beyond skeptical, he said.

“I saw it as a free trip to Rome but otherwise a waste of time,” said Schwortz, who is Jewish. “It took 18 years for the evidence to convince me. The Shroud of Turin restored my own faith in God. Nobody was more surprised than I was.”

What the physical, chemical, archaeological and historical evidence tells Schwortz, now the editor of the Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association, is that the shroud image is unique and formed by an interaction, still not perfectly understood, of cloth and body, and that body belonged to the historical Jesus.

“I can’t take it any further than that,” Schwortz said. “I don’t know if Jesus was the messiah or Son of God.”

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com

John Jackson and his wife, Rebecca, above, whose research focuses on Jewish cultural and anthropological aspects of the shroud, are co-founders of the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado. Last summer, the center moved to a new location in Colorado Springs that the Jacksons keep secret for security reasons. Visitors must make appointments to see the exhibit, which doesn’t have regular hours. Information: 719-593-2375

“The Real Face of Jesus?” airs Saturday on the History Channel; Comcast 36 at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.; DirecTV 269, 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dish Network 120, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.


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