"The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin, has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining ... is impossible to obtain in a laboratory," concluded experts from Italy's National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development.
The scientists set out to "identify the physical and chemical processes capable of generating a colour similar to that of the image on the Shroud." They concluded that the exact shade, texture and depth of the imprints on the cloth could only be produced with the aid of ultraviolet lasers – technology that was clearly not available in medieval times.
The scientists used extremely brief pulses of ultraviolet light to replicate the kind of marks found on the burial cloth.
They concluded that the iconic image of the bearded man must therefore have been created by "some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)." Although they stopped short of offering a non-scientific explanation for the phenomenon, their findings will be embraced by those who believe that the marks on the shroud were miraculously created at the moment of Christ's Resurrection.
"We are not at the conclusion, we are composing pieces of a fascinating and complex scientific puzzle," the team wrote in their report.
Prof Paolo Di Lazzaro, the head of the team, said: "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection." "But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals."
The article contains a good summary of earlier scholarship both for an against the Shroud's authenticity, and notes that the “Vatican has never said whether it believes the shroud to be authentic or not, although Pope Benedict XVI has said that the enigmatic image imprinted on the cloth "reminds us always" of Christ's suffering.”
It would be amazing if the Shroud could be shown to be authentic, and it would be undeniably disappointing if it were shown to be a forgery. But as the pope has suggested, whether this is what it seems to be or not, it's a great reminder of Christ and His Suffering regardless of authenticity. In the Catholic Information Center, where I go for daily Mass, there's a picture of the Shroud, with the words “Your Face, O LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). Amen.