Italian scientists have found a matching image of a man’s face and possibly his hands on the back of the Turin shroud, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, one of the researchers said on Thursday.
The discovery that the ghostly image on the back of the linen cloth matches the face that adorns the front is likely to reignite debate over whether the shroud is genuine or a skillful medieval fraud.
“The fact that the image is two-sided makes any forgery difficult,” Professor Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua told Reuters.
The findings of Fanti and Roberto Maggiolo, both from the university’s department of mechanical engineering, were published this week by a journal of the Institute of Physics in London.
Fanti said the discovery would support those who maintain the cloth is genuine.
The shroud, one of Christianity’s most sacred but most disputed relics, is a piece of linen some 4.4 meters (14 feet) long and 1.1 meters (3 feet 7 inches) wide.
It first appeared in France in the 14th century and has been held in the Italian city of Turin since 1578.
Debate still rages on
For over 600 years the debate has raged over the origin of the image of a tall, bearded man bearing the marks of crucifixion that can be seen on the front of the shroud.
Experts over the years say they have found traces of blood, pollen or soil typical of Jerusalem, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified.
But 15 years ago three separate laboratories said carbon dating indicated the shroud was no older than the 13th or 14th century. Researchers concluded the shroud was a hoax created for the hugely profitable medieval pilgrimage business.
While the front of the shroud has been studied intensively over the years, the back had remained hidden under a piece of Holland cloth which was sewn by nuns to cover up damage caused by a fire.
That protective layer was removed in 2002 for restoration and the back of the cloth was photographed.
The two scientists said they studied these photographs and used mathematical and optical techniques to process the images.
They found that the face that can be seen on the reverse of the shroud matches that of the front.
“We can detect the presence of a nose, eyes, hair, beard and moustache on the back surface that correspond in place, form, position and scale to those of the front,” Fanti said.
Speculation has also grown over who created the image. One theory maintains it was the work of Leonardo da Vinci, who pioneered an early photographic technique and put his own face on the shroud.