Science & Technology
October Fri 09, 2009
Documentary filmmaker and history buff David Rolfe works for the English film company Performancefilms for which he has produced hundreds of feature films. In 1976, he produced The Silent Witness, a documentary that had as its subject the Sacred Shroud of Turin, for which he was awarded the British Academy Award.t In 2008, he produced a new documentary for the BBC that called into question the 1988 conclusions reached by the commissions studying the relic. Ilsussidiario.net interviewed him about statements made by some members of CICAP ( Italian Committee for the Control of Paranormal Statements) in an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica who claim to be able to demonstrate that the Shroud is nothing but a medieval fake.
Dr. Rolfe, what brought you to make a documentary on the Shroud for the BBC?
Since my early youth, I have had a deep interest in everything that surrounds the Sacred Shroud, an interest that was translated into the work that I produced in 1976, when I completed my first documentary on the subject. It was seen as a work with global impact for which I won the British Academy Award. My passion for research on the Shroud has never ceased. After contacting the leaders of the International Center of Studies on the Shroud, I had the permission and the good fortune to make a second documentary which the BBC itself was very happy to air.
In Italy, an article in one of the major national newspapers which questions the authenticity of the Shroud, calling it a medieval artifact, has caused a stir. As it stands now, can one say such a thing?
Here in England, I have also had a chance to look at the article, and I must say that the claim of those scientists to have discovered a possible method used by medievals to create a fake is absolutely wrong. I would say two things about it. In the first place, since it was made famous with the C14 tests, many have been satisfied to consider the most diverse assumptions about the creation of the Shroud. Over time, many people were supported in their conviction that it is a medieval artifact. In fact, with the C14 test, there were many possibilities to be in front of a relic of the Middle Ages. But as my film shows, there are many historical inconsistencies and strong evidence of the Shroud from earlier than the reported examination date.
The second observation is that the same professor, Christopher Bronk Ramsey of Oxford University, who conducted the carbon-14 test two decades ago, said that the subject must be reviewed because of the many chemical and physical factors that may have influenced the test results.
The method used by Professor Garlaschelli of CICAP consisted of using a linen fabric in a herringbone pattern, with a volunteer lying on it with ocher stain covering the more protruding parts of his body. For the face, they used a bas-relief of plaster. For aging, the flax fabric was heated for three hours at a temperature of 250 ° C and washed in the washing machine with water only. Does this method seem convincing?
Even Professor Garlaschelli unwittingly demonstrated how the procedure cannot be reliably used for the reproduction of the image of the Shroud. To be able to do something convincing, you have to make an artificial relic that has all the same features of the image of the Shroud. If you read carefully the article you note that Garlaschelli says "the signs by flogging and stains of blood have been then added with liquid tempera." Do you see? After reproducing the image, the blood was added.
Evidently, Garlaschelli was unaware that in 1978 it was discovered unequivocally that the blood on the Shroud had been shed before the image was created.
It is very easy, once you have an image of a body on a cloth, to add the blood in the right places, but it is very difficult – if you shed the blood before - to make an image of that type match. So the professor who had the pretense to claim to have created an image with the same characteristics as the Shroud has made an incorrect claim because there are features in the Shroud that his reproduction does not have.
Why do you think the scientific approach to the Shroud is often characterized by a negative prejudice?
The method that science pursues very often proceeds from negative evidence; it is rare that science leads to positive proofs. And this is also right, because otherwise there is the danger of dogmatic assertions. When the Shroud is presented in a scientific perspective, it brings with it countless number tests in favor of its authenticity. Then legions of scientists are offered with the opportunity to deny them one by one. But it is a fact. Those who support such a hypothesis, or want to start a study with such a method, do not consider all the factors relating to the Shroud. The Shroud, to be fully studied and understood, needs the support of many other contributions from various fields of human knowledge. At stake is history, geography, art history, chemistry, physics and much more. So I think it is very difficult for someone who has all this really in-depth knowledge to disprove the authenticity of the Shroud. While it is extremely likely that whoever approaches the Shroud with little knowledge and many prejudices, if he tries to find a reason or an excuse to deny its scientific validity, can. But you will not find anyone who has studied the Shroud to the depth who has this attitude at the same time.
After the completion of your documentary, you went on to investigate the mystery of the Shroud?
I am very happy to say that we have in hand another project that we hope can be completed before the exposition of 2010. This is a feature film that will conclude the work we started in the last documentary and which will provide an explanation of the fact that the C14 examination needs to be repeated. It is the thing I'm working hardest on now.
(Raffaele Castagna, Gabriele Ferré)
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