The mystery of the Shroud: “The famous shroud is not supernatural”

Luciano Sassi, one of the most respected restorers of ancient books: “I am sure: the image on the linen cloth is the result of an oxidation phenomenon produced by a human body”. He waited 24 years to say it: that’s why

Seneca called it “the cursed tree”. So cursed that when Julius Caesar ordered the crucifixion of some pirates in Pergamum, in 75 BC, he first had their throats cut, reports Suetonius, since the torture seemed to him an unacceptable ferinity. Hanging from 9 to 15 on that “cursed tree” on a hill in Jerusalem called Golgotha, which in Aramaic means skull, a man of about 36-40 years died. Freed from the nails with which they had pierced his hands and feet, he was wrapped in a linen cloth 437 centimeters long and 111 wide, finally enclosed in a tomb. It was roughly 4pm on April 7, year 30, or maybe April 3, year 33 – photo

Almost 40 hours later, the tomb was found empty. Only the sheet remained. The most complicated investigation that has ever touched Luciano Sassi, restorer of ancient books and documents on behalf of the State Archives of Milan and Mantua as well as of other important public and private clients. «In 1998 I went to Turin for work, in the State Archives. The director reminded me that the exposition of the Shroud was in progress in the Cathedral. I went to see her around 2 pm. I found myself alone in front of the sheet protected by the armored glass. I was very impressed. “Since then, for 24 years Sassi has continued to study, until reaching a conclusion, which he tells exclusively to Oggi:” I don’t know if that is the image of Jesus Christ, but I have the reasonable certainty that is the result of an absolutely natural oxidation phenomenon, which I observed every day especially in the sixteenth-century volumes, produced by a real human body.

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Professors Dominga Rogolino and Mauro Carcello, professors at the University of Parma in the Department of Chemical and Life Sciences, confirmed to me that my theory is objective and linear ». Graduated in industrial chemistry, Sassi, born in 1959 in Milan, came out of the Central Institute for Book Pathology in Rome. He has been in this profession for 42 years. Divorced, three children, since 1979 he has a home and laboratory in Isola Dovarese (Cremona), the town of his parents, both deceased.

I checked his references: excellent. In 2011 she discovered Leonardo da Vinci’s autograph signature. «The only one known. The genius attested to exist. For the rest, he dictated to the scribe. He affixed it in Milan on 25 April 1483 on the deed of the notary Antonio de ‘Capitani, with whom the painters Evangelista and Gian Ambrogio de’ Predis were commissioned the additional ornaments for the Virgin of the Rocks, now in the Louvre in Paris. It reads: “Io Lionardo da Vinci in testimony ut supra scripsi”. It was in a fund that I restored for the State Archives of Milan ».

He handled the seal of Federico Barbararossa. “The emperor didn’t get his hands dirty writing. With his index finger he touched the monogram on the parchment, reciting the formula “I did it” ».

The correspondence between Lucrezia Borgia and Isabella d’Este. «And the autograph of Matilde di Canossa on a donation of 1109, drawn in large in the shape of a cross. She now she couldn’t see anymore. She died six years later ».

Even that of Andrea Mantegna. “Thirteen letters. With Ludovico Gonzaga he complains about the neighbors who disturb him, demands wood for his daughter-in-law, even draws a sketch of land and asks the lord of Mantua to buy it for him. In the last, the painter, now dying, assures Francesco II Gonzaga that he has not “belittled that poho de ingenio that god”, written with a lowercase, “gave me” and recriminates because “nowhere for many months already I can’t have a quatrino “”.

What struck you most about the Shroud? «The vanishing figure. It suggests a powerful energy, out of the body, which marked the cloth ».

Nothing supernatural, however. «It is so. This is confirmed by a parallel with paper, which after the invention of printing was obtained from linen rags, the same material as the sacred sheet, washed in lime or ash. In the middle of the last millennium, paper mills began to be built near metal-polluted waterways. And the iron residues darken by oxidation ».

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Do you find images similar to the Shroud in books? “Yes, but that’s not the point. We assume that it is the Nazarene. We must first examine what the inks were like at that time and what was smeared on the corpse, because the oxidation on the sacred cloth is of protein origin, from organic material. From oil, in practice ».

A step at a time. Inks first. “Usually, they were a mixture of lampblack, the coal obtained by condensing the vapors of incomplete combustion, of linseed oil and rosin, or Greek pitch, obtained from the distillation of the resin of some conifers. It is the latter that interests us ».

For what reason? «Because the linen sheet placed on the body of Jesus came into contact with odorous ointments of similar origin. The Gospel of John narrates that Nicodemus “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe of about one hundred pounds” and adds that the body was treated “with aromatic oils, as is the custom to bury for the Jews”. We are talking about a new towel. He was laid out in the tomb and they laid the corpse on it. The remaining part of the piece, which protruded from the head, was folded over the dead man to cover his feet. It was a rather stiff fabric. In three days, with the humidity of the cave, it collapsed a little and absorbed, but not too much, the perfumed fatty substances with which the deceased was sprinkled ».

Was it impregnated with oils similar to the inks used in the sixteenth century? “Exactly. The disciples took the sheet. Since then, it can be assumed that it has always remained closed in a box. Certainly it was on December 4, 1532, when the wooden and silver reliquary that contained it caught fire in the Sainte Chapelle of Chambéry and the Shroud, guarded by the Savoy, burned ».

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Is this an important detail? “Much. Over time the fatty substances oxidize and become hazel in color. And here the features of the Man of the Shroud appear on the linen. In the books closed on the shelves the same thing happens: elements appear that were not seen before ».

After how long? “It depends: 10, 30, even 50 years”.

Didn’t the examination with carbon 14 show that the Shroud dates back to the 13th or 14th century? “The final effect would not change. But in 1260 did they know that over time the fatty substances on linen oxidize to the point of returning a sort of photographic negative, a soft-focus image? Certainly not”.

Why didn’t the same happen to the mummies? “Those are bandaged with strips of fabric that adhere totally to the body, while the Shroud remained suspended on the sloping anatomical parts”.

Could the Church not replicate the phenomenon, perhaps on the body of a clergyman, given that three days’ contact with a corpse is enough? “Yes, if he knew about oxidation, but he can’t. You are the first person, apart from the Rogolino and Carcello chemistry teachers, with whom I speak ».

Why did you wait 24 years? «The subject is very delicate. You have to find someone who is willing to listen to you and believe you. You know, there are so many myth addicts around ».

However, she does not think that the man of the Shroud represents the figure of Jesus Christ crucified. “I do not know. The only certainty is that a corpse can be seen, with badly washed wounds, perhaps due to the haste of the burial, from which bodily fluids came out ».

Professor Pierluigi Baima Bollone told me: «I was allowed to take from the Shroud six pairs of threads, weft plus warp, and to analyze them. It turned out to be real human blood, group AB. ‘ «Mine is not the truth, but only a proposal for reading. I don’t take the Gospels, written 70 to 100 years after Christ’s death, as police records. I limit myself to observing that attempts to replicate the image by ultraviolet irradiation have failed. Baima Bollone himself explains that it has no directionality, what would happen if it were the work of a painter, so it was impressed by a three-dimensional structure, such as that of a corpse. The scholar found human cells, red blood cells and epidermal cells in the linen corresponding to the lesions and blood spots ».

Had it ever happened to you, while restoring ancient documents, to have something to do with blood? «Oh yes, with that of the patriot Silvio Pellico. Who, arrested with Pietro Maroncelli, affiliated like him to the Carboneria, pierced his hand in his cell and dipped a splinter of wood in his blood, to write a message to his friend. He threw the shred of paper in the courtyard to an inmate, crumpled up “in the shape of a hazelnut” as the report says, so that he could pass it on to Maroncelli. But the maneuver was discovered by the “arrested custodian Angelo Calvi”. He happened on October 17, 1820 in Milan. The find was entrusted to me for restoration by the State Archives ».

Can you explain how a fake can be made from real human blood? «No, also because in the Shroud the image, similar to a stamp, is given not only by the wounds but also by the whole body, sprinkled with ointments that have oxidized in the linen. Almost a fingerprint ».

Are you a believer? “So…”. (He hesitates). “Yes, but sparingly. Yet I spent two years in the Certosa di Pavia alongside Father Sisto, born Vincenzo Giacomini, who taught me all the secrets of ancient books ».

The name of the rose hinges on doubt. “Science cares. It takes away the transcendent. Faith is a fortune between itself and something else. A gift”.

Stefano Lorenzetto


The mystery of the Shroud: “The famous shroud is not supernatural”