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There's a new theory over the Turin Shroud

01:00 Mon 08th Apr 2002 |

A.Yes. Two academics believe that the face upon it is not of Jesus but of Jacques de Molay.< xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.Who's he

A.Leader of the Knights Templar, a religious military order established at the time of the early Crusades in the 12th Century.

Q.Who's behind this idea

A.Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, lecturers at Bradford University. 'The scientific facts leave me in no doubt,' said Dr Lomas, a physicist. Radiocarbon tests on the shroud a decade ago showed it was not 2,000 years old - to fit in with the Jesus theory - but medieval.

Q.Tell me more.

A.Nobody is sure how the image of a bearded man got on to the shroud, but it has been described as a series of tiny scorch marks. Lomas believes the image was created through a process known as the Volckringer effect, where heat, sweat, acids and oxygen-free radicals scorch the cloth.

Another academic - Dr A A Mills of Leicester University - appears to back this theory. He has written how extreme conditions, such as a body under torture, force oxygen atoms apart to give off pinpricks of atomic energy.

'In stable conditions, oxygen atoms are bonded in pairs,' Lomas said. 'But lactic acid being released from muscle tissue under extreme stress would cause an unstable reaction. The marks on the shroud are pixelated - thousands of dots scorched on the cloth.' This, he says, causes an image like a photographic negative.

Q.I still can't see how this fits in with de Molay.

A.Christopher Knight says the shroud would have been de Molay's. Templars had a personal shroud for carrying out symbolic death and resurrection ceremonies. When they were denounced as heretics by Pope Clement in 1307, hundreds of Templars were rounded up and tortured. (Click here for a feature on that)

'De Molay was accused of denying the divinity of Christ so it's logical that they would have subjected him to a re-enactment of the suffering of Christ - including a copycat crucifixion,' says Lomas. 'The final act of mockery would have been to use his own shroud.'

Q.Hmm. Interesting. What's the known history of the shroud

A.The shroud, of linen in a tight herringbone weave, is 437cm long and 111cm wide. It was first recorded as being in the possession of Geoffrey de Charny, a French soldier from near Troyes who died at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. Philip the Fair had executed a Knight Templar of the same name 40 years earlier.

It remained in Charny's family until 1453, when it passed to the dukes of Savoy, who moved it to Chambery where it was damaged by fire in 1532. After being mended, it was taken to Turin, attracting vast crowds in the Counter-Reformation period. Legal ownership passed to the Pope in 1983.

Q.And that radiocarbon dating

A.Three separate laboratories unanimously came up with a radiocarbon dating of 1260-1390. One investigator dismissed it as a medieval forgery with the words: 'Someone got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it.' But still the faithful flock to Turin to see the shroud on one of its rare public displays.

Q.Even if it's a forgery

A.It's still a mystery, either way. The ghostly image of an entire body, back and front, can be seen more easily than a negative photograph in normal light. How could any medieval forger have imagined, let alone produced, such a phenomenon

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Steve Cunningham

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