image description

Forward: Judgement Day for the Turin Shroud

The Shroud of Turin is a uniquely challenging religious icon. It is considered by many to be the actual burial shroud of Christ, and by others to be a cloth whose history dates from 14th century.

Reconciliation of these views using scientific methods alone, is not difficult. The reconciliation is also readily made using faith alone. When faith/ however, requires scientific support the challenge of the Shroud is deeply felt and from this source a remarkable history of controversy has developed. The controversy has focused on the science, much more than on the faith and I am compelled at least briefly, to challenge the faith as well.

It is the business of science, along with its formal organization of human observation, to test beliefs — science can do this very well. It is not the purpose of science, however, to test faith. Science cannot test faith, although one’s faith, indeed, may be tested by it. Faith is tested continually, by the physical, psychological and spiritual influences of life, and for some, the scientific assessment of the Shroud of Turin is seen as an important test of or a threat to, their faith. The object of faith, of course, is not this cloth, nor the image that appears on it, but He who was (or wasn’t) buried in it. That is where the faith belongs. Leave your faith where it should be, and you are left with a human belief, a personal assessment, conceived of hopes and prejudices, information and opinions. You can now go back to science, and let it test (and become part of) this human belief.

I am a forensic scientist with academic training in chemistry, chemical microscopy, and forensic science. My experience includes working in a forensic science laboratory, directing an academic forensic science program, and working alongside Dr. McCrone as Director of the McCrone Research Institute. Although I have been familiar with Dr. McCrone’s scientific work on the Shroud for some time, this book is broader in scope, providing the scientific, political and personal context for his work. You will find it fascinating, regardless of your beliefs, and regardless of your personal combination of faith, belief and science.

Dr. McCrone is an honest and modest scientist who has become world renowned as a result of five decades of steady, selfless research and analytical work using the microscope. He graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D. in Chemical Microscopy and has spent his entire life practicing this efficient, illuminating and direct method of scientific investigation. Dr. McCrone’s scientific study on the Shroud of Turin was, taken in the context of his well established analytical approach, routine. Two things are remarkable about the work on the Shroud: the Shroud itself, as the subject matter for analysis, and the reaction, both scientifically and socially, to his scientific findings. These reactions to his findings have presented a much greater challenge to Dr. McCrone than any of the thousands of analytical problems he has met over the years.

This book makes three major contributions. Firstly, it provides a clear, easily understood description of the analytical methods that have been used on the Shroud. Secondly, it reviews the scientific debates surrounding these methods the analytical results obtained, and the interpretations made by the scientists. Thirdly, it serves as an excellent example of the scientific, personal and social issues that come into play when emotions, prejudices and perceptions of science interact with classical scientific methods and ethics. As one who has spent his entire professional life as a consulting analytical chemist and microscopist. Dr. McCrone has regularly seen differences in opinions arise among scientists, and, more importantly, seen objective scientists resolve these differences, professionally and honestly.

Dr. McCrone is an excellent, fair and objective writer. He presents his own work, and the work of others, in context and lets each scientist’s own work product provide the foundation for the reader’s interpretation. There has, over the years, been much that has been more freely written on this topic, by those less concerned with objectivity, modesty and fairness. This work provides a much needed, balanced view.

Of special interest to the reader will be the considerable correspondence between Dr. McCrone and Father Rinaldi (to whom the book was dedicated). The correspondence of these two respected and respectful men, is professional, emotional and instructive. It brings out first-hand the delicate interplay between science, faith and belief as the relationship develops, struggles and, ultimately survives, respect and faith intact.

For Father Rinaldi, the struggle begins as one between his faith in the Shroud and the scientific reality of its 14th century fabrication. Over the years, as his belief in the Shroud wavers and finally ends, this struggle becomes more complex as he maintains, publicly and privately, a defensive posture — this out of empathy with the many good people to whom the Shroud means so much and because many, if not most of his Church colleagues maintained their belief. Ultimately, in his 81st year “when the Master’s call cannot be far off,” Father Rinaldi apologizes to Dr. McCrone for not acknowledging his changing awareness of the Shroud as it is: a poignant artistic rendering of the passion of Christ.

For Dr. McCrone the struggle was to maintain patience and understanding over years of verbal opposition, slanderous pseudo-scientific criticisms and designation as “the adversary” — all for performing a straightforward and honest scientific analysis… and daring to tell about it. In passing this ordeal one can but admire the perseverance of Dr. McCrone. His frustration, over decades of near-blind opposition, slips only briefly into bitterness, and is overwhelmed by his dedication, forbearance, logic and humor.

Welcome to a thoroughly delightful book. Enjoy.

David A. Stoney
December 15, 1996