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Photographs of the Shroud

Wojciech Kucewicz
AGH University of Science and Technology, Kraków, Poland

Jakub S. Prauzner-Bechcicki
Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland

It can be assumed that scientific research of the Shroud began when the first photograph of it was taken, which was done on 28 May 1898 by the lawyer and amateur photographer →Secondo Pia, during the public exhibition of the cloth. This event was preceded by efforts to obtain permission to take photographs from the then owner of the Shroud, King Humberto I of Italy. Secondo Pia took two photographs on glass plates measuring 51 × 63 cm. It turned out that the negative of the photograph taken showed a very clear, positive image of the man from the Shroud. In other words, the Shroud shows the image as observed on photographic film, whereas S. Pia saw the image as it is obtained on photographic paper.

This amazing discovery brought the Shroud to the attention of researchers. This was not an easy task, as accessibility to the cloth is very limited due to its unique nature. Until the Shroud was publicly exhibited again in 1931, research concentrated on analysing the image from photographs taken by S. Pia. In May 1931. →Giuseppe Enrie, a prominent Italian photographer, took a series of 12 photographs of the Shroud which, thanks to their high resolution and quality, are still used for research purposes today. They confirmed the discovery made by S. Pia. Further photographs were taken by Giovanni Battista Judica Cordiglia in 1969 as part of the work of the Commission of Experts appointed by Cardinal Michele Pellegrin (Fossati 1997). At that time, more than 600 photographs were taken in black and white, colour, and in the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum.

In the present century, in 2002, Giancarlo Durante took colour photographs of the entire Shroud with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch and, in addition, for the first time also photographs of its reverse side, after the reinforcing Dutch linen had been peeled away, which accompanied the conservation work carried out at the time (Fanti, Malfi 2020). In 2008, the Italian company Haltadefinizione took new photographs with even higher resolution (Fanti, Malfi 2020).

The analysis of the photographs of the Shroud made it possible, first of all, to characterise in detail the →anthropological features of the man whose image appears on it and the type of torture inflicted on him. Later, the colour photographs were also examined for chromatic analysis, i.e. the contribution of different colours to the different parts of the image. This made it possible to accurately distinguish traces of blood flowing from different types of wounds.

As mentioned, the image of the man on the Shroud, created centuries ago, has the character of a negative. It is therefore a phenomenon of sorts if one relates it to painting of all time. On the Shroud, convex elements (e.g. nose, moustache) are darker and concave elements (e.g. eyes) are lighter, the opposite of paintings and photographs.

The image on the Shroud is better visible from a greater distance (4–5 m), as at close range it is difficult to distinguish it from the background. This is due to the fact that the outline of the figure on the Shroud is very pale and generally has no sharp boundaries. The differences in the perception of the image are due to the perceptual properties of the human eye, which is able to enhance the contrast of the edges. When looking closely at a low-contrast image, slight differences in blackness between the image and the background cover the entire area of the visual field, so the eye is unable to detect the edges of the image. Only at a greater distance—when the changes in opacity are concentrated over a smaller area of the visual field—does the eye enhance the contrast of the edges. This observation leads to further conclusions. If the image on the Shroud were painted by an artist, he would have to do so from a short distance from the cloth without seeing what he was creating. He would only be able to observe the effect of his work by moving a few metres away.

The low contrast and blurred edges of the image drew the attention of scholars already in the early 20th century. Paul Vignon, a French biologist, analysing copies of S. Pia’s plates, noticed that the darkening in the image appeared to be inversely proportional to the distance of the body from the freely placed cloth. He drew attention to this in his 1902 paper (Vignon 1902), in which he also attempted to explain how the image of the figure on the cloth was created. The images he obtained in his experiments, however, did not have many of the characteristics of the image from the Shroud.

In 1974, American researchers led by John P. Jackson (Jackson, Jumper, Ercoline 1982) conducted an experiment to measure the distance between the human body and the shroud covering it. The results obtained were compared with readings from a VP8 image analyser measuring the degree of blackening of a photograph by G. Enrie’s 1931 photograph. From these two sets of data, a three-dimensional image of the figures on the Shroud was obtained using simple functions. It was possible, in a later analysis, to determine in which position the body was placed and how it was wrapped in linen (Devan, Miller 1982; Jackson, Jumper, Ercoline 1982; Ercoline, Downs, Jackson 1982; Jackson, Jumper, Ercoline 1984; Bevilacqua et al. 2018). The researchers also showed that by using the same technique to analyse photographs and painted images, a good quality three-dimensional image could not be obtained. The research leads to the conclusion that the image on the cloth has encoded three-dimensionality information. In other words, this means that the density of the image on the Shroud represents the distance between the body and the fabric.

John P. Jackson continued his investigations by analysing later photographs of the Shroud taken in different ranges of the radiation spectrum. These studies, too, confirmed that the image on the Shroud has three-dimensional properties.

This is one of the many, yet very important, conditions that experiments attempting to explain the mechanism of the image on the Shroud must meet (Fanti 2014). The authors themselves failed to explain how the image was created. This surprising discovery became the subject of much discussion and even more scientific interest in this remarkable fabric. Within a few months after J.P. Jackson’s discovery, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (→STURP) was initiated, which carried out the first ever in-depth, experimental scientific study of the Shroud of Turin in 1978.

Other scholars also analysed images of the relic. Giovanni Tamburelli of the University of Turin, using digital image processing analysis, reproduced a cleaner and richer image of the face on which traces of wounds had been removed [10–11]. Theologian and Jesuit →Francis Filas [11], a professor at Loyola University of Chicago, has also studied images of the Shroud. His Shroud of Turin programme on Chicago TV was shown from Good Friday 1951 onwards.

On the basis of his study of G. Enrie’s copies of the films, as well as his analysis of a later three-dimensional image obtained by J.P. Jackson, he claimed to have identified imprints on the right eyelid of the face from the Shroud, very similar to those found on the obverse of the dilepton lituus coin used at the time of Pontius Pilate (most likely from the year 29 BC) (Le monete 2021; Filas 1982).

Andreé Marion, together with Anne Laure Courage of the Orsay Institute of Theoretical and Applied Optics, also digitally processed images of the Shroud (Marion 1998; Marion, Courage 2000). They searched for inscriptions on the Shroud. Through the use of microdensitometric examination of a copy of G. Enrie’s film and digital filtering, they were able to detect inscriptions, mainly around the image of the face, that are not visible to the naked eye. They discovered a number of letters forming words or parts of words, including ΨΣ ΚΙΑ, which is part of the Greek words ΩΨ ΣΚΙΑ—shadow of the face; INNECE, which could be read as the Latin words IN NECEM IBIS—you will go to your death; and NAZAPENOΣ, which would mean Nazarene in Greek. However, linguist Mark Guscin (Guscin 1999) was quite critical of this discovery, pointing out the linguistic inconsistencies in the interpretation of some of the inscriptions.

It is important to realise that the analysis of low-contrast images can lead to misleading results when using digital processing techniques. The human brain’s ability to assemble coherent images from ambiguous shapes is also not insignificant. This can lead to incorrect image perception. This was perfectly described by Paolo Di Lazzaro and his team (Lazzaro, Murra, Schwortz 2013), who, by analysing, among other things, photographs of the Shroud, showed how easily misleading observations can be pursued. Therefore, one should approach the discoveries of F. Filas and A. Marion.


Bevilacqua M. et al., Rigor Mortis and News Obtained by the Body’s Scientific Reconstruction of the Turin Shroud Man, “Forensic Science Today” 2018, 4(1), pp. 001–008, http://dx.doi.org/10.17352/pjfst.000010.

Devan D., Miller V., Quantitative Photography of the Shroud of Turin, [in:] IEEE Proceedings of the International Conference on Cybernetics and Society, 1982, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/Quantitative%20Photography%20Devan%20Miller%201982%20OCRsm.pdf – 17 VII 2022.

Ercoline W.R., Downs Jr. R.C., Jackson J.P., Examination of the Turin Shroud for Image Distortions, [in:] IEEE Proceedings of the International Conference on Cybernetics and Society, 1982, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/Examination%20for%20Image%20Distortions%20Ercoline%201982%20OCR.pdf – 17 VII 2022.

Fanti G., Hypotheses Regarding the Formation of the Body Image on the Turin Shroud: A Critical Compendium, “Journal of Imaging Science and Technology” 2014, Vol. 55, No. 6, pp. 1–14, https://doi.org/10.2352/J.ImagingSci.Technol.2011.55.6.060507.

Fanti G., Malfi P., The Shroud of Turin, First Century after Christ, 2nd ed., Singapore 2020, pp. 77, 290, https://doi.org/10.1201/9780429468124.

Filas F.L., The Dating of the Shroud of Turin from Coins of Pontius Pilate, 2nd ed., Chicago 1982, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/FilascoinsJune1982.pdf – 20 X 2021.

Filas F.L., S.J., Papers, [on-line:] https://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/archives/pdfs/filas.pdf – 20 X 2021.

Fossati L., Considerazioni sulle relazioni degli esperti che anno esaminato la Sacra Sindone nel 1969 e nel 1973, [in:] Osservazioni alle perizie ufficiali sulla Santa Sindone 1969-1976, Turin 1977, pp. 31–65.

Guscin M., The Inscriptions on the Shroud, November 1999 issue of the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/guscin2.pdf – 20 X 2021.

Jackson J.P., Jumper E.J., Ercoline W.R., Three-Dimensional Characteristic of the Shroud Image, [in:] IEEE Proceedings of the International Conference on Cybernetics and Society, 1982, [on-line:] https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/3D%20Characteristic%20Jackson%20Jumper%201982%20OCR.pdf – 20 X 2021.

Jackson J.P., Jumper E.J., Ercoline W.R., Correlation of Image Intensity on the Turin Shroud with the 3-D Structure of a Human Body Shape, “Applied Optics” 1984, Vol. 23, No. 14, 2244, https://doi.org/10.1364/ao.23.002244.

Lazzaro P., Murra D., Schwortz B., Pattern Recognition After Image Processing of Low-Contrast Images, the Case of the Shroud of Turin, “Pattern Recognition” 2013, Vol. 46, No. 7, pp. 1964–1970, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patcog.2012.12.010.

Marion A., Discovery of Inscriptions on the Shroud of Turin by Digital Image Processing, “Optical Engineering” 1998, Vol. 37, No. 8, https://doi.org/10.1117/1.601752.

Marion A., Courage A-L., Całun Turyński. Nowe odkrycia nauki, przeł. P. Murzański, Kraków 2000.

Santa Sindone, Le monete, https://www.sindone.org/it/le-monete/ – 20 X 2021.

Tamburelli G., La Sindone dopo l’elaborazione tridimensionale, “L’Osservatore Romano” 1979, p. 6.

Tamburelli G., Garibotto G., Nuovi sviluppi nell’elaborazione dell’immagine sindonica, [in:] La Sindone e la Scienza, a cura di P. Coero-Borga, Torino 1978, pp. 173–184, 354–362.

Vignon P., Le Linceul du Christ, étude scientifique par Paul Vignon…, 2e éd., Paris 1902.

Sources of Images

1. Collection and ownership of the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow

2. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shroudofturin.jpg (public domain)

3. Sindonology.org, Shroud Scope, http://www.sindonology.org/shroudScope/shroudScope.shtml (copyright: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Turin; educational use)

4.–6. Kim jest Człowiek z Całunu? [exhibition brochure], Kraków 2012

7. Own elaboration of the authors. Collection and ownership of the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow

Wojciech Kucewicz

Researcher staff member at the Faculty of Computer Science, Electronics and Telecommunications at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow. He is a specialist in the field of silicon detectors of ionizing radiation, which he has been involved in since they first appeared in applications for physical experiments in counter-rotating beam accelerators. He participated in the pioneering work of building silicon apex detectors at the European Organization for Nuclear Research—CERN in Switzerland. He participated in the construction of silicon detectors for several high-energy physics experiments. Since 2000, he has also been involved in the development of measurement systems based on silicon photomultipliers. He has worked and lectured for many years at universities abroad: University of Milan, University of Ferrara, Insubria University of Como (Italy), University of Strasbourg (France), University of Illinois at Chicago (USA) and University of Karlsruhe (Germany). He has been the director or principal investigator of seven national grants and five European grants. His scientific output includes more than 700 publications and three international patents. He was a member of the Council of the National Science Centre (2016–2020) and a member of ministerial advisory panels on several occasions. He is an associate of the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow.

Jakub S. Prauzner-Bechcicki

Professor of the Jagiellonian University, physicist, graduate of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, independent employee of the Department of Physics of Nanostructures and Nanotechnology of the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science of the Jagiellonian University, co-author of several dozen scientific articles on processes in strong laser fields, microscopy of close interactions, polymerization on metal oxide surfaces, formation of organic nanostructures and surface functionalization, application of physics to the needs of conservation and restoration of works of art, quantum information technology. Author of several popular science articles.

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