This weekend marks the beginning of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his Good Friday crucifixion and death on the cross.

Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with 3.2 billion members – most believing that Easter or “Resurrection Sunday” commemorates the greatest event in human history. Millions of Christians around the globe also believe there exists physical proof of Christ’s resurrection – his burial shroud – commonly referred to as the Shroud of Turin.

Today, the Shroud is preserved in an underground vault in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, where it has resided since 1578 (except during the Second World War, 1939–1946, when the Shroud was hidden in Montevergine Abbey in southern Italy to thwart Hitler’s plans to steal it.)

(Left) Photo-negative face of

(Left) Photo-negative face of “man in Shroud” (Right) Digitally contrasted image of frontal Shroud body Credit: © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA. Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Shroud is a 14.5 feet by 3.5 feet fine linen cloth displaying the full body front and back image of a man with large spike wounds in his wrists and feet – evidence of crucifixion. Over 100 whip lashes appear on the man’s body, consistent with scourging. In fact, marks chronicling every torturous act committed against Jesus Christ as recorded by the four New Testament Gospel accounts are seen on the Shroud’s male image. Even forehead blood stains compatible with the crown of thorns are clearly visible.

Face of Shroud man as it appears on photographic negative with the bloodstains highlighted. © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA. Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Face of Shroud man as it appears on photographic negative with the bloodstains highlighted. © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA. Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Shroud of Turin is the most analyzed artifact in the world, yet its many mysteries continues to baffle scientists. In 1981, a STURP team (Shroud of Turin Research Project) of over 30 distinguished scientists, after given unprecedented access to the Shroud for 120 hours in 1978, issued their report. STURP famously concluded that the Shroud image was NOT the work of an artist because there was no visible trace of any artistic substance on the cloth to account for the image – no evidence of paint, ink, dye, pigment or stain. STURP also found remnants of human blood throughout the Shroud image.

The Shroud of Turin (vertical position) how it looks to the naked eye. Marks running the length of the Shroud on both sides of the image are from a fire in 1532 that almost destroyed the Shroud. Credit: © 1978 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA. Inc. All Rights Reserved

The Shroud of Turin (vertical position) how it looks to the naked eye. Marks running the length of the Shroud on both sides of the image are from a fire in 1532 that almost destroyed the Shroud. Credit: Giorgio Bracaglia / Holy Shroud Guild PPF

Furthermore, the Shroud image, when seen by the naked eye, is a faint rust-like color. But, when photographed and viewed as a negative, a realistic photo-like image depiction of a man emerges. This shocked Secondo Pia, who first photographed the Shroud in 1898.

Adding to the continuing mystery over how the male image was formed and the substance comprising that image was the discovery the Shroud contains 3D “distance information.”

To help us explain this unusual Shroud characteristic is Ray Downing, an Emmy award-winning graphic artist. Downing is known for incorporating the Shroud’s 3D distance information into life-like images of Jesus. Millions saw his work on the History Channel’s popular documentary called “The Real Face of Jesus?” that aired every Easter season from 2010 through 2016. Then in 2017, it was updated and re-named, “The Face of Jesus Uncovered?” Ray Downing was interviewed by Myra Adams who has written extensively about the Shroud of Turin and believes in its authenticity.

WND: What motivated you to undertake a portrait of Jesus based on the Shroud of Turin’s 3D information?

Ray Downing: As a 3D computer graphics artist, I had known about the 3D information encoded in the Shroud, and it seemed like a natural fit for me. Just prior to this undertaking I had gained some notoriety by creating the first photographs of Lincoln since his assassination and some video as well. That work appeared in a TV special and garnered me an Emmy for individual achievement in a craft. Then I got excited about the prospect of creating a portrait of Jesus from the Shroud’s 3D information and presented my work to a TV executive. The rest, you could say is “History.”

WND: How was the Shroud’s encoded 3D information discovered?

Downing: In 1902, French biologist Paul Vignon noted that the darkest areas of the body image on the Shroud cloth corresponded to those parts of the body which would be closest to the cloth. Apparently, the image records the cloth/body distance.

Then in 1978 as part of the STURP tests, Dr. John Jackson and Dr. Eric Jumper visualized this information in a dramatic way on a primitive analog computer (VP8 image analyzer). This new image revealed the body of a correctly proportioned human figure in low relief.

Using 3D computer graphics technology, Downing and his team extract 3D information from the Shroud of Turin. ©Ray Downing

Using 3D computer graphics technology, Downing and his team extract 3D information
from the Shroud of Turin. ©Ray Downing

WND: What is the difference between 2D and 3D information?

Downing: Remarkably, the image on the Shroud somehow falls between a flat picture (2D) and a statue (3D). A cloth, like the Shroud, is a 2D object because it’s flat. However, if you drape it over a body, it will assume the approximate shape of that body. When you remove the cloth from the body, it straightens out and doesn’t retain any of that 3D body shape information. Likewise, the Shroud does not retain the “draping cloth shape” information. However, what the Shroud mysteriously seems to retain is information about the distance the cloth was from parts of the body it presumably rested on, as well as parts of the body it was not in direct contact with.

A cloth draped body conceals the specifics of the individual's features. The Shroud's distance information shown in blue (far right image) can be used to restore some of those details. ©Ray Downing

A cloth draped body conceals the specifics of the individual’s features. The Shroud’s distance information shown in blue (far right image) can be used to restore some of those details. ©Ray Downing

WND: If only some of the man’s body came in contact with the cloth, how did the more recessed parts of the body manage to mark the cloth as well, although not as intensely?

Downing: That is the central mystery of the Shroud of Turin. No one knows the answer, and it’s not for lack of trying. This phenomenon is called “action at a distance.” A signal must travel from the body vertically through the intervening space to affect the cloth and diminish in intensity as it does so. There are many potential candidates for this signal: electromagnetic radiation, heat, vapors, physical pressure, and even particle radiation have been suggested. But to date, no one has successfully replicated the mechanism of action that caused the image to appear on this linen cloth.

Ray Downing

Ray Downing

WND: Are you suggesting a miracle?

Downing: Certainly not, but there is no shortage of people who do suggest a miracle.

What I am saying is that we don’t know what kind of event this cloth witnessed which resulted in an image being encoded onto its fibers. We don’t know if that event was a natural phenomenon or one instigated by a person as a work of art or an attempt at forging a relic. In any event, the presence of this 3D information makes it difficult to dismiss the Shroud as ordinary. The mystery is there whether the Shroud proves to be authentic or not.

WND: Ray, as you know I have long believed that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial Shroud of Jesus. To me that is the only explanation that solves the mystery of the 3D encoding along with the Shroud appearing as a photo negative when photographed. Furthermore, no image was found under the human blood stains, meaning the blood appeared first on the Shroud (Good Friday) followed by the Resurrection (Easter). And those three reasons are on a long list of the Shroud’s miraculous mysteries. Therefore, I am baffled by your “certainly not” answer to the question, “Are you suggesting a miracle?” Please explain.

Downing: Wow! That is a long question, but easy to answer. Photo negatives, information encoding and the sequential ordering of stains in a cloth do not require supernatural explanations. The Shroud’s obvious pictorial reference to the person of Jesus and his death and resurrection in Palestine 2,000 years ago is the reason the miraculous is suggested. The problem is that we have no concrete indisputable findings that place the Shroud in that place at that time.

The 3D computer graphics model created by Downing and his team allows for a vast variety of portraits to be generated using the same information set. ©Ray Downing

The 3D computer graphics model created by Downing and his team allows for a vast variety of portraits to be generated using the same information set. ©Ray Downing

WND: For the sake of brevity, let’s “agree to disagree” on a supernatural explanation for the Shroud, with its confirmed history starting in 1353. Prior to 1353, the Shroud’s travels are not fully documented but a “significant historical trail” allows for reconstruction of the cloth’s early history.

As seen on the History Channel, your portrait of Jesus is fully dimensional. Please explain the process you used given that the information in the Shroud only produces a low relief image, as you previously mentioned.

Downing: The scientists who visualized the Shroud’s 3D information on an analog computer in 1978 (and since on digital computers) did something very different from what I did. They displayed the 3D distance information as a vertical relief from a flat plane. The Shroud, however, was apparently not flat when the image was encoded. It was draping over a body. Therefore, what we did was to approximate the shape of a cloth draping over a body and constructed it in 3D on our computers. Then, rather than add the Shroud depth information on top of that shape, we subtracted from it. The resulting model gave us a more dimensional representation of the man in the Shroud.

To make an analogy, if one were to loosely drape plastic cling wrap over one’s face, then inhale, the plastic wrap would no longer drape but it would cling tightly to the face. In a fanciful sense, we used the Shroud’s 3D information to make the man in the Shroud “inhale” and reveal the underlying anatomy.

WND: What other work was needed to visualize the face of the “man in the Shroud?”

Downing: To begin with, the image on the Shroud does not show color. The hair, beard and skin are all the same, they are just distance information. We provided hair color and skin textures, eyebrows and eyelashes. We used our expertise to refine the features and were lucky that the hair and beard covered all but about a 5×7-inch area of the face.

This recent portrait in which Jesus makes direct eye contact with the viewer has become Downing's most inspirational portrait to date. ©Ray Downing

This recent portrait in which Jesus makes direct eye contact with the viewer has become Downing’s most inspirational portrait to date. ©Ray Downing

WND: For the record, do you believe the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Christ?

Downing: It is not a matter of belief for me and shouldn’t be for anyone else, for that matter. The Shroud of Turin is a physical object which exists, and it is either the actual burial cloth of Jesus or it is not. I don’t deny that there are any number of people who gladly express their views, pro or con, as to its authenticity. They are, however, misguided. We simply don’t know enough at present to make that call.

WND: Have you anything new in the works?

Downing: Yes. We are currently working on a Christmas film. The film is a feature length animation with a very strong Christian theme with scientific underpinnings. We are excited about this project because it’s quite unique. Then “not so new” is a series of portraits using our Jesus model inspired by quotes from the New Testament. We have also produced a short video Easter meditation covering the time period from the Last Supper to the Ascension.

WND: Ray, on behalf of WND readers, thank you for your time, and I wish you continued success especially with projects involving the “man in the Shroud.”

For more information about Ray Downing check out his website.

Note to WND readers from Myra Adams:

This year celebrates the 40th anniversary of the STURP team’s 1978 scientific study of the Shroud of Turin, which famously concluded in its 1981 report that the Shroud WAS NOT the work of an “artist.” Forty years have passed, but the Vatican has yet to authorize another comprehensive scientific study. Given the vast technological advancement in research and instruments since 1978, this author vehemently disagrees with that decision.

Moreover, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the 1988 carbon-14 dating that dated the Shroud between 1260 and 1390. In the ensuing decades, the carbon dating has been continually debunked with its findings hotly contested by scientists and Shroud researchers, as often reported in the mainstream media.

In 2018 the mystery of the Shroud of Turin continues to baffle scientists and fascinate millions of Christians who believe that the Shroud is proof of Christ’s resurrection.

Happy Holy Week everyone!

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.