LAST YEAR at this time news was released of two significant advances in knowledge of the Turin Shroud, the linen cloth reputedly used to wrap the body of Jesus in the tomb.
From Zurich, the Swiss criminologist Dr Max Frei announced that analysis of pollen from the 14 ft Shroud showed that it had been kept not only in France and Italy, its undisputed historical locations, but also in Turkey and Palestine.
From Turin an official commission of experts appointed by Cardinal Pellegrino published findings which although inconclusive, provided a wealth of new data on the Shroud which inspired a whole new round of research.
The biggest surprise has been the interest of scientists in America, more than a score of whom pooled their findings recently at a conference on the Shroud in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A US Air Force assistant professor of physics, Dr John Jackson from Colorado,
demonstrated the Shroud image to have significant 3D characteristics.
A jet propulsion laboratory supervisor, Donald Lynn, from Pasedena, showed how computer enhancement techniques made it seem impossible that the image could have been painted.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the conference was its discussion of the latest methods for carbon-dating of the Shroud. A micro-analyst, Dr Walter McCrone, of Chicago, who four years ago proved the Vinland Map a forgery, explained that it would this year be possible to date the Shroud linen to an accuracy plus or minus 100 years using a sample as small as one centimetre square.
As pieces larger than this were cut from the Shroud for sampling purposes in November, 1973, the way seems open for an analysis of this kind to be allowed by Turin, particularly as King Umberto, the Shroud's owner, has recently expressed no objection to such work being carried out.
Turin's attitude is, however, intriguing. According to the Easter Sunday Times the Shroud's custodian, Mgr Caramello, has denied that such samples were removed.
One can only atrribute this to a lapse in communication as photographs of one of the samples are reproduced in the very report of the commission which Mgr Caramello chaired. For three years in the possession of Belgian textile expert Professor Raes, they were actually handled in Belgium by Dr McCrone.
For a short while there was hope that Professor Raes might have been able to release them to America for testing, but at the eleventh hour Turin requested their return. Professor Raes actually sent the samples back by post!
In May next year Turin plans to stage expositions of the Shroud to mark the 400th anniversary of the cloth's arrival in the city. A special congress is being held at which international scientists will be given the opportunity to examine the relic, and the question is still open whether McCrone will be allowed samples— and when.
It would greatly add to the significance of the congress if McCrone were allowed sufficient time beforehand — a minimum of three months — so as to be able to announce his results on the spot.
In the meantime continuing interest in Britain has given rise to a modest but definitive symposium on the Shroud to be held at the Institute of Christian Studies, Margaret Street, London, WI, on September 16 and 17 of this year. Dr McCrone will speak at this.
Some of the other American scientists and Dr Max Frei will also present papers, together with the Anglican theologian Dr John Robinson (of "Honest to God" fame), who has recently said that the burden of proof has now shifted in favour of the Shroud's authenticity.
The Shroud symposium is being organised by the Rev David Sox, from whom full details may be obtained. His address is 73 Chatsworth Court, Pembroke Road, London, W8.