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Coins Depict Controversial Shroud of Turin
By Kerry Rodgers, Numismatic News
December 07, 2010

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The remarkable Sindone di Torino, aka Suaire de Turin, aka Shroud of Turin is on of the more controversial artifacts of Christendom. It is certainly one of the most studied. Many dismiss it as a hoax created in the Middle Ages, but millions of Christians venerate it as the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, believing it to bear the imprint of his crucified body. All four Gospels refer to Joseph of Arimathea wrapping the body of Jesus in a linen cloth before placing it in the tomb. Several pieces of cloth have been claimed to have been used in the burial, but none has gathered the religious following of the Shroud of Turin.

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In 2010, two countries with substantial Christian populations, République du Cameroun and Cook Islands, issued spectacular coins honoring the shroud. Cameroun’s coin is a sterling silver 1,000 francs, the Cook’s a rectangular gold $25. Both display the facial image of a man with a beard, moustache and shoulder-length hair as it appears on part of the shroud. On Cameroun’s $1,000, the face is displayed holographically. On Cook’s coin, the image is hidden and revealed under ultraviolet light, rather like as happens on the shroud itself.

The linen of the shroud always bore marks consistent with those of a burial cloth used to wrap a mutilated body. The markings, however, were somewhat indistinct but matters came to a head when photographer Secondo Pia took the first photographs of the shroud in 1898. The moment he examined his negative he realized he had something extraordinary. The negative impression of the body was much clearer than on the natural sepia image. It was not until 1931 that Pia’s work was confirmed by further conventional photographs and, subsequently, by a series of UV images taken in 1978.

The shroud is rectangular, measuring some 4.4 by 1.1 meters. The cloth is woven in a three-to-one herringbone twill composed of flax fibrils. Its shows faint but distinctive sepia images of the front and back of a naked man with his hands folded across his groin. The body is muscular and 1.70 to 1.88 meters, or about 5’2” to 6’2”, tall.

Reddish brown stains correspond to wounds consistent with crucifixion and the Biblical description of the death of Jesus. These wounds appear in detail on Pia’s negative. In 1902, Yves Delage, a French professor of anatomy, declared the image to be anatomically flawless; the features were consistent with rigor mortis, wounds and associated blood flows from a corpse. Subsequent medical studies between 1936 and 1981 agree with Delage but none had direct access to the shroud itself. That came in 1978 when full access was granted to an American scientific team.

Their detailed examination could find no evidence consistent with forgery, nor could they explain how the image had formed. One of the more controversial studies was undertaken in 1988, when small samples were dated using radiocarbon methods. These showed a date of 1260-1390 C.E.

Subsequently, it was demonstrated that the samples used were not representative of the original linen shroud but had been taken from patches used for small repairs in medieval times, somewhat akin to the major repairs undertaken by Poor Clare nuns after the shroud was damaged severely during a fire in 1532.

If the shroud is indeed a fake then whoever produced it was a genius. To date, science has been unable to replicate the methodology. Numismatists may be aware of reports from a 1978 NASA digital study when researchers claimed to have located images of coins above both eyes. On the right eye they identified a 2-lepton coin minted under Pilate in 29-30 C.E. The left eye had been covered by a 1-lepton coin made in 29 C.E.

Little reliable information is known of the shroud before the 15th century, beyond it being present in France in the 14th century. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded it to the House of Savoy, and in 1578 the then-Duke transferred it to Turin. In 1983 the Savoy heirs gave it to the Holy See, who had it restored in 2002. Today it is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin.

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