New Light on the Shroud
An interview with Dr. Barbara Frale, the young historian whose discoveries on the linen cloth kept in Turin are revolutionising the way we see one of Christendomís most sacred relics
“AS A PROFESSIONAL historian I have been studying the Shroud of Turn for a number of years. I have analysed and scrutinised in a most meticulous manner troves of ancient documents, especially the ones that have surfaced recently, and I have come to the conclusion that the Shroud dates from the first century of our era. In actual fact there is a great deal of evidence that suggests that the Shroud originated in the first thirty years of that century.”
These words were spoken by Dr. Barbara Frale, a young and promising historian, who has become an authority on the Knights Templar and the Shroud.
“I know practically every facet of all the scientific examinations conducted on the Shroud in the last 20 years, including the famous Carbon-14 test which was used to proclaim to the world that the relic was nothing but a medieval forgery. I have also studied carefully the claims of those who have tried to reproduce a similar relic in their laboratories using the same means and equipment that a medieval scientist had at his disposal. They claim that the Shroud could easily have been produced in a medieval laboratory. I can confirm to you and your readers that these claims are outdated. The latest discoveries on the relic turn the tables on these sceptics, and reaffirm what tradition has always maintained, that is, that the famous linen cloth kept in Turin really did cover the body of a man who lived at the beginning of our era.”
Barbara Frale has committed her findings to a bulky, 392-page volume called La Sindone di Gesù Nazareno, which was recently published in Italy and which we hope will soon be translated into English.
Frale’s other great passion is the Knights Templar, and she has authored various publication on this mysterious Order of Christian warrior-monks which was brutally suppressed in the early 14th century. One of her writings on the Templars was published in English last year with the title The Templars: The Secret History Revealed.
Year of the Shroud
The Shroud is again in the news. We are, in fact, on the eve of a great event. From April 10 to May 23 there will be a solemn exposition of the relic at the Cathedral of Turin, where it has been kept since 1578. This is the ninth time it will be exhibited in over a century. The last time was in 2000, the Jubilee Year, when over a million pilgrims thronged to Turin, including our late Pope, John Paul II. And an even greater number are expected this year, with Pope Benedict XVI himself coming on May 2.
The Shroud is truly the most enigmatic relic in the world, and has baffled eminent forensic scientists for years. Top-ranking pathologists have established that the man who was covered in that linen-cloth died from crucifixion, that his body bore the marks of over 700 wounds, and that on his forehead the traces of the crown of thorns are clearly visible.
In 1988 a C-14 exam determined that the cloth was produced during the middle ages, but subsequent research has called these findings into doubt, so the exam must be repeated in the future with stricter controls and criteria.
The Church has made no comment on the Shroud for it is not a doctrinal matter, but it recognises its value to help us increase in our devotion in honouring the suffering that Our Lord underwent for his sacred Passion.
Vatican Secret Archives
New light on the Shroud arrived in 2008 with the publication of a book by Frale linking the relic with the Templars, I Templari e la sindone di Cristo. The book has not yet been translated into English. I therefore decided to interview Mrs Frale at her home near Viterbo in central Italy for the benefit of the readers of this magazine, who may have to wait years before reading a translation.
Barbara Frale is an engaging 39-year-old, fair-haired woman, and a highly qualified scientist. She is married to an engineer and has two very beautiful children. After graduating in Medieval Archaeology, she went on to specialise in Palaeography, Diplomatics and Archives Administration, and then in Greek Palaeography, and in 2000 obtained a PhD in Historical Research at the Ca’ Foscari University in Venice.
She has worked in important archives both in Italy and abroad, and for the last couple of years she is a historian on staff at the Vatican Secret Archives, where the world’s most important historical documents are kept.
Dr. Frale, who were the Knights Templars, and why were they exterminated at the beginning of the 14th century?
The Knights Templar was a powerful and very wealthy military and religious Order that had the mission of defending pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. At the beginning of the 14th century Phillip the Fair, the King of France, who was in the grips of a severe economic crisis, came upon the idea of laying his hands on all the riches accumulated by the Order, and orchestrated a vast smear campaign against them. The King’s cronies accused them of idolatry and heresy, and, under pressure from Phillip the Fair, Pope Clement V disbanded the Order in 1312. The French King was thus able to arrest the Templars in his kingdom and initiate legal proceedings against them. The Templars were subjected to the most horrible tortures, and in the end confessed to the charges brought against them, and ended up on the stake.
The principal crime levelled against them was that of idolatry. It was said that the Templars venerated a mysterious pagan divinity, the Baphomet. This was some sort of head of a man with a beard, moustache and long hair. However, from the documents I unearthed I was able to show that this accusation was totally groundless. My studies of the trials of the Knights Templar brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man,” and he instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.
So what the Templars were actually venerating was none other than the Shroud. They had managed to save the relic from destruction during the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. They had taken it to Europe where it was jealously guarded as a highly prized relic. It had been folded in such a way as to make only the face visible. The Templars, therefore, were not guilty of idolatry, they were devoted to that ‘sacred linen cloth’ where the image of Christ crucified was impressed.
Your book also criticises the results of the 1988 C-14 tests. On what grounds?
The scientists who conducted that Radiocarbon test on certain specimen of the Shroud concluded that the relic could not have originated prior to 1260, but the documents I unearthed showed that the relic was in existence at least 60 years before that date.
For the same reason, the same documents also disprove those who maintain that the Shroud was produced by Leonardo Da Vinci, because Leonardo was born centuries later, in 1452.
Your book also deals with certain inscriptions on the linen cloth. What do they reveal?
The inscriptions are found around the face of the man of the Shroud. They cannot be seen through highly sophisticated equipment. The inscriptions are highly reminiscent of graffiti found in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, and in papyri from the era of Tiberius, the man who was emperor of Rome when Jesus was crucified.
Those inscriptions are called ‘traces of transferred writing’, that is, traces of writing impressed on an object (in our case the Shroud) that has been in contact with a written text. The writing is in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic. Thanks to computerised reading systems, those traces have been deciphered.
Back in 1978 Piero Ugolotti, a chemist, had noted that on the negative of a photo of the Shroud strange signs could be seen that looked like letters. He turned to an expert in ancient languages, Aldo Marastoni, a renowned Latinist, and Marastoni confirmed the existence of Greek and Latin inscriptions all around the face on the Shroud. They are words of the type: ‘Nazarènos’ and ‘in nece (m)’, a Latin expression meaning ‘to death’. On the forehead there are the letters IBEP, which suggests the Greek word for Tiberius (TIBEPIO), as well as other words in Hebrew.
These findings have generated great enthusiasm among Shroud scholars, but then the C-14 test dealt the death-blow to all this promising research. In those days, the C-14 test was regarded as practically infallible, much like a DNA test nowadays. The Shroud was dismissed as a fake, and to study it was regarded as a waste of time.
I have read that the inscriptions were examined by computers using special software. Is that so?
Yes, it is. In 1994 research on the Shroud was taken up again as the shortcomings of the C-14 test came to light. Some French scientists stared examining the inscriptions discovered by Piero Ugolotti. Professor André Marion, who teaches at the Institut Superieur d’Optique d’Orsay in Paris, examined the Shroud with the aid of specific software capable of detecting old or ancient writings that are no longer visible to the naked eye. Now, right under the face he found the Greek word ‘HOY’ which could be interpreted as ‘IHOY’. This is the Greek translation of the Semitic original ‘Yeshua’, which stands for ‘Jesus’. This word, when placed next to the one deciphered by Marastoni, forms ‘IHOY NAZAPHNO’ that is ‘Jesus Nazarene’. Professor Marion also found other signs in Greek and Latin placed around the face, and published these findings on a scientific magazine. He then consulted with other specialists from the Sorbona University, who concluded that the inscriptions were from the first Christian centuries, perhaps even from before the third century after Christ.
Professor Marion’s studies were continued by other scientists, in particular by the French analyst Professor Thierry Castex, who was able to discern the fragment of a text with a central phrase, which could be translated as ‘we found’ or as ‘because found’. These words bring to mind the accusation which members of the Sanhedrin levelled against Jesus in the presence of Pontius Pilate, “We found this man perverting our nation…” (Luke 23:2).
Professor Castex sent me these words and asked for my opinion. I examined them carefully and then sough out the opinion of two renowned scholars of Hebrew. These inscriptions, along with the ones found by Professor Marion, really do give the impression of being the trace of an original document regarding the burial of a person called Jesus of Nazareth, which in the local idiom was ‘Yeshua Nazarani’.
My book is a long, detailed and meticulous study of those writings, and I have come to the conclusion that they lead us back to Jerusalem at the time of Emperor Tiberius, who reigned from AD 13 to 37. The inscriptions regard the burial of a man called Yeshua Nazarani. So my conclusion is that, from a historical point of view, there is a plethora of facts connecting the Shroud of Turin to the first thirty years of our era.
Are you therefore telling us that the Shroud of Turin really is the original linen cloth that covered the body of Jesus?
I am a scientist; it is not my task to determine if that linen cloth actually enveloped the body of the Son of God, if the blood stains on it really are those of the God-Man. My task is to study all the documents regarding the Shroud, to interpret them, to arrange them in systematic order, and then to draw logical conclusions from them.
On the Shroud of Turin there are words. If we find a tombstone on which the words Minucio Felice are inscribed, we say that that is the tombstone of Minucio Felice. On the Shroud we have found the words ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, so we are authorised, from a historical point of view, to conclude that that is the shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, to determine if the Jesus of Nazareth that was enveloped in that Shroud is the same individual of whom the Gospels speak is beyond my task and competence as a historical scientist.
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