Michael Santo

Italian scientists say that the controversial Shroud of Turin, which many believe to be a forgery dating back to medieval times, cannot be anything but genuine. The reason: the only way they could reproduce the image themselves was by using lasers, meaning that the technology necessary to forge Jesus' image on the medieval cloth didn't exist at the time.

The authenticity of the Shroud of Turin has been long disputed, especially since radiocarbon dating of the material in the shroud, which was conducted by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona back in 1988, suggested the material of the shroud dated from between 1260 and 1390. That would be far "younger" than should be if the material had been used to wrap the body of Jesus Christ.

Those dating tests were disputed by those who said that they were contaminated with fibers used to repair the Shroud of Turin when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages.

What the Italian scientists have determined from their experiments, however, is that even if it were true that the cloth of the Shroud of Turin dated "only" to medieval times, no one then would have been able to create a forgery. That would also seem to mean, by extrapolation, that neither could the Shroud have been forged if it had been created around the time of Jesus.

The scientists said, "The results show a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can colour a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin." That could be a UV laser --- or a miracle --- the scientists said.

Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, who led the study, said: "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things such as miracles. But as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes. We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate."

Technology, or the lack thereof, aside, there's still plenty of room for debate about the Shroud of Turin. For one, the Jerusalem Shroud, the first known burial shroud, found in Jerusalem, dating from the time of the Crucifixion, has a simple two-way weave. On the other hand, the Shroud of Turin has a twill weave that was introduced more than 1,000 years after Christ's time.

The Vatican has never said if it believes the shroud to be authentic or not. Pope Benedict XVI has stated that image of a bearded man with nail wounds on his wrists and feet, which is imprinted on the cloth "reminds us always" of Christ's suffering. The shroud is owned by the Vatican, but is stored in a special protective chamber in a chapel in Turin Cathedral.