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Magis CenterMay 27, 20195 min read

How Did the Shroud of Turin Get Its Image? (Hint: Think Radiation.)

The image on the Shroud of Turin continues to perplex the world. With no other artifact like it, there is no definitive explanation of how this anatomically perfect image came into existence.

There are five puzzling enigmas regarding the image on the Shroud (please note this list of enigmas is not exhaustive, but provides a sample):

  1. The image is only on the uppermost surface of the fibrils, thus it could not have been formed by chemicals.
  2. The image shows the whole body, however not all areas of the cloth came into contact with the whole body.
  3. The image was not produced by vapors from chemicals or vapors from the corpse itself.
  4. There is a double image on both the front of the cloth and on the back, but no image in the middle of the cloth, implying that the cloth collapsed into a mechanically transparent body.
  5. You can see inside the body, like an x-ray.

The 1978 Sturp investigation, and the later research of John Jackson and Paolo DiLazzaro, provide a plausible explanation for the first three enigmas, but the last two still have no physical explanation. Thus, most conclude that these two effects belong to the realm of miracles.

Shroud of Turin Fact Sheet preview

Image Formation and Enigmas 1, 2, and 3 Explained

How did the image form on the Shroud?

“According to Jackson, an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation produced a discoloration on the uppermost surface of the Shroud’s fibrils (without scorching it), which gave rise to a perfect three-dimensional negative image of both the frontal and dorsal parts of the body wrapped in it.” -Fr. Robert Spitzer

We currently do not know of any natural cause for a human corpse producing ultraviolet radiation like this. Thus one must like Jackson, come to a conclusion through a process of disproving other possible hypotheses, i.e. the above enigmas 1-3.

Enigma 1: The Image is Only on the Uppermost Surface of the Fibrils

If the image formation came about through chemicals, then it would not explain how the image only appears on the uppermost surface of the fibrils. By their makeup, chemicals penetrate beyond the surface of fabric.  

Enigma 2: The Image Shows the Whole Body

Chemicals cannot explain how a perfect 3-dimensional image became evenly distributed on the cloth—especially on parts that did not come into contact with the corpse. Thus, something other than chemicals must be the cause of the image on the Shroud.

Enigma 3: The Image Was Not Produced by Vapors

Vapors from chemicals, or from the corpse itself, do not explain how the image is present on parts of the body where the cloth cleary did not touch the body (i.e. areas on either side of Christ’s projected nose).

More on the Image and Radiation

Jackson deduced that vacuum UV radiation is the only possible explanation for the image’s formation. First, in order to turn linen into a perfectly photographically sensitive material you need light radiation. However, it must be without any accompanying heat radiation.

The formation of the Shroud’s image would take several billion watts of light radiation, which exceeds the maximum output of any source of UV radiation known today. If the accompanying heat energy had been present, the cloth would have vaporized in less than 1/40 billionth of a second.

Jackson’s theory was validated in 2010 by Paoli DiLazzaro and his team who concluded,

“In particular, vacuum ultraviolet photons account for the very thin coloration depth, the hue of color and the presence of image in linen parts not in contact with the body. Obviously, it does not mean the image was produced by a laser. Rather, the laser is a powerful tool to test and obtain the light parameters suitable for a shroud-like coloration.”


The Realm of Miracles: Enigmas 4 and 5 Explained

Enigmas 4 and 5 may fall into the realm of miracles.

Enigma 4: The Double Image

The startling discovery of an image on both the front and back of the cloth implies that the cloth collapsed into and through the body.

There is no scientific explanation of how this could have happened unless the body became mechanically transparent, causing the cloth to collapse into it. If the cloth did collapse into the body, then the ultraviolet light would have completely surrounded the body. This would produce a double image on both the front and the back of the cloth, but nothing on the fibers in the middle.  

Enigma 5: You Can See Inside the Body, Like an X-ray

The last enigma concerns the bones of the hand which appear visible—as if they were encased in flesh. The process that formed the image recorded both the inside of the hand (the skeleton) and the outside of the hand (the flesh surrounding the skeleton) at the same time.

This again implies that somehow the body covered with the Shroud became mechanically transparent, and that the cloth collapsed into and through this body. If it had not done so, the image would only be of the outside of the body.  

Fr. Spitzer concludes:

“Currently, the known laws of physics cannot explain how a decomposing body can emit an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation. Furthermore, they cannot explain how such a body could become mechanically transparent and emit light from every three dimensional point within it.”

While it cannot be scientifically proved, it is reasonable to infer that there is some transphysical cause for the emission of this kind of radiation. After all, Jesus was not just raised from the dead, His body changed from a physical one to a glorified transphysical one. Remember, He was able to pass through solid doors, but He was not a ghost; the apostles touched Him, and He ate with them.


Learn More About the Shroud of Turin

If you would like to learn more about the Shroud of Turin, see the 5 other articles in this series:



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The mission of the Magis Center is to create content that helps people find higher purpose in life, an awareness of their transcendent dignity, a sense of the transcendent providential power who guides them, and a determination to live ethically responsible lives. To that end, the Magis Center produces and distributes media that provides contemporary commentary on timeless topics.