What is your take on the Shroud of Turin?
The Shroud of Turin is one of thousands of fake religious items which circulated in Europe in the late Middle Ages. I have heard estimates that if you added all the pieces of the "true" cross of Jesus which were in the churches in the late middle ages, it would be many times more than the weight of the actual cross. Of particular interest to the churches was supposed bones of the apostles.
This past summer my wife and I were in the cathedral in Santiago de Campostela in Spain where it is claimed the bones of the apostle James are interred. I cannot rule out the possibility that these are indeed actual bones of the apostle. Of course I am skeptical, but even if they are the actual bones of James, what is the importance to Christianity? Is there any real doubt that James was a real person? Do the bones have some miraculous power? Almost certainly not. Standing in the line to touch the statue of James I could not help feeling that the devotion to the idol in the cathedral amounts to superstition and perhaps even idolatry. You may be interested to know that a recent experiment on the remains found in the crypt in St. Peter’s in Rome showed that the remains there are of a male, about 60 years old from approximately the first century AD. It is fairly likely that these are the actual remains of the apostle Paul.
In the Middle Ages there was also a cottage industry for creating religious icons and other "sacred" items, of which the Shroud of Turin is the most famous. This was a very superstitious time, which goes a long way toward explaining the great number of faked objects. It is tempting to be very critical of the people who played on the people’s superstitions and gullibility, but one can look at it another way. We can see this industry as a sincere attempt by religious leaders to boost the faith of believers who were illiterate and needed some sort of physical "evidence" to support their faith. In the Middle Ages people did not have access to the kinds of evidence and apologetics we have today.
Anyway, about the Shroud, the Catholic Church generously allowed for it to be tested by the C-14 isotope dating technique in 1989. Four laboratories performed independent tests on samples from the Shrous. It turned out to be dated to about 680 +- 40 years, which means it was made using linen from about AD 1300–at the height of the sacred material industry. Does this end the question? Probably it does, but there are many thousand ardent "believers" in the authenticity of the Shroud. They have pointed to evidence such as the pollen grains found in the Shroud which are of a type which is supposedly from the Middle East, rather than Italy. There is the fact that there was a fire in the cathedral in Turin which damaged the cloth. Some have claimed this might have affected the C-14 result, although I have not heard of a good scientific explanation of why this would change the C-14 date. Many other arguments for the legitimacy for the Shroud have been made. Some have claimed that the amazing negative-like image on the Shroud would have required technology which simply did not exist in 1300, although others have given a believable response to this.
On balance, I believe the evidence, though not absolutely conclusive, points toward this being a very interesting and unique artifact which was created by religious people in a probably-sincere attempt to support the faith in the 13th or 14th century. This item has no real significance at all for Christian faith.