Prof Nicholas Allen, the NWU’s director for global engagement, says his book, Turin Shroud: Testament to a Lost Technology, is the result of research that started in 1988. The book is published by Lambert Academic Publishing and is available through their website.


What is the Turin Shroud?


The Turin Shroud is a length of linen cloth kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. (Source: Wikipedia)


On the cloth is a faint negative image of both the front and back of a bearded man. Many Christians believe this image is that of Jesus Christ.


In 1898, a photographer, Secondo Pio, took a photograph of this cloth and was surprised to see in his negative image a positive, seemingly three-dimensional image of a crucified man.


Since the 19th century many failed attempts have been made to ascertain how this seemingly miraculous image was made. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church continues to accord divine status to this relic.

Book unshrouds the Turin mystery

To many devoted believers in the Christian faith, the Turin Shroud is the cloth in which Jesus was wrapped when he was buried after his crucifixion. However, a researcher of the NWU has recently published an updated version of his book that disputes this belief and identifies the shroud as the world’s oldest extant photograph.

The researcher, Prof Nicholas Allen, the NWU’s director for global engagement, says his book, Turin Shroud: Testament to a Lost Technology, is the result of research that started in 1988.


The Turin Shroud has always been the subject of heated debate among believers, researchers and historians. Believers regard it as authentic and cite the marks of the stigmata and details of the Passion, among others. Scientists and historians around the world have made cases for and against its claimed authenticity.


“It fascinates me and I believe my book — which is substantiated with thorough scientific research – successfully examines this product of medieval ingenuity. It is certainly not the cloth in which Christ was supposedly wrapped nearly 2 000 years ago.”


Primitive form of photography


Nicholas says scientific evidence dates the manufacture of the shroud at some time between 1260 and 1350.


“I am convinced that the shroud is in fact the oldest example we have of a very primitive form of photography.”This means that it predates what is widely considered to be the first photograph in 1799 by some 500 years.


“It was most definitely made by someone, about 500 years ago, who had first-hand knowledge of, among others, the camera obscura, lenses and even light-sensitive chemicals such as silver sulphate.”


But why, if this is in fact a photograph, is there such a large time lapse between it and the first documented photographs? Nicholas says that whoever experimented with photography and created the shroud, most probably took the knowledge with them to the grave.


“In those years people would have experimented, but it is likely that they would not have shared that knowledge to ensure that it was further developed since they worked in isolation. Centuries thereafter other people experimented with photography on their own and shared that knowledge to ensure that the art was further developed.”


First-hand examination of the shroud


Nicholas, who holds three doctorates and has studied various fields including fine arts, art history, history of technology, philosophy and Greek at various universities, has examined the shroud in Italy as part of his research.


He is convinced that it is a product of proto-Renaissance artistry. “It is quite possible that apart from religious reasons, the shroud was also created for monetary purposes because most of the relics of that era that have survived to the present day were made expressly for these reasons.”


Nicholas’s expertise on the subject has led to numerous interviews and his inclusion in various documentaries on the subject by the BBC and National Geographic, among others.

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What is the camera obscura?


The camera obscura is a darkened room with a small aperture (with or without a lens) that automatically allows whatever is visible outside the room (directly opposite the aperture) to become visible inside the room. It is the basis of the modern camera.


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