Here is "2.6. The other marks" (2): Poker holes," which is part 13 of my series, "The Shroud of Turin." The series was originally titled, "The Shroud of Jesus?" but I have retitled it "The Shroud of Turin" so that my posts in this series are more easily found using a search engine. The previous post in this series was part 12, "2.6. The other marks" (1): Burns and water stains ." See the Contents page (part 1) for more information about this series.
Note: The sub-title of this post originally was "Poker holes, dirt on foot and limestone," but I have expanded the `poker holes' section following my response to Jack Markwardt's comment under it. But then the post became too long, so I have extracted the "dirt on foot and limestone" part and will re-post that separately in my next post. I have therefore reduced the sub-title of this revised post to "Poker holes" only.
2. WHAT IS THE SHROUD OF TURIN?
2.6. THE OTHER MARKS (2): POKER HOLES
© Stephen E. Jones
`Poker holes' The so-called `poker holes' are four sets of holes on the Shroud. Two of these sets are on either side of the man's buttocks on the Shroud's dorsal side of the Shroud and two sets are on either side of the crossed hands on the frontal side.
[Right (click to enlarge): `Poker holes' (outlined in yellow): Shroud Scope: Durante 2002 Vertical: Overlays: Poker Holes]
Each set is a group of three main holes with black edges and varying numbers of smaller, black-edged holes. The edges of these holes are blacker than the fire damage of 1532 and a material resembling pitch has been detected around them. If the Shroud is folded in four, once lengthwise and once widthwise, all four sets of holes superimpose upon one another in the centre of the folded cloth, in a descending degree of damage.
[Above): The four sets of `poker holes' on the Shroud in a clockwise descending order of damage. First (dorsal left side) top left; second (dorsal right side) top right; third (frontal right side) bottom right; and fourth (frontal left side) bottom left: Shroud Scope: Durante 2002 Vertical. Note the steep rate of reduction of hole size between the first and fourth set of holes, even though each hole would have been only about 1.3 mm above its counterpart when the theorised "red hot poker" (Wilson) or "pitch soaked firebrand" (Markwardt) was thrust through all four layers of the folded-in-four Shroud (see below).]
That the damage was deliberate and not an accident is evidenced by the holes occur in the exact dead centre of the Shroud if it is folded in four once lengthwise and once widthwise.
There is no record when this `poker holes' damage to the Shroud occurred, but a painted copy of the Shroud dated 1516, held in the Church of St Gommaire, Lierre, Belgium, clearly shows them.
[Right: Copy of Shroud dated 1516, kept in the Church of St. Gommaire, Belgium, clearly depicting the four sets of `poker holes' on the Shroud of Turin]
Moreover the Pray Codex (1192-95) clearly depicts one of the L-shaped sets of holes on the Shroud, which means the `poker holes', and the Shroud itself, are earlier than 1192-95. This is well before the earliest 1260-1390 radiocarbon date of the Shroud and therefore (as we shall see in greater detail in "5. Art and the Shroud") is more evidence that the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud is wrong. It is also another problem for the forgery theory[§10] because it pushes further back the time of the claimed forgery from the already artistically backward 14th century.
[Left: Pray Codex (1192-95) depicting a set of L-shaped `poker holes' found on the Shroud.]
Various theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the `poker holes'. A Dominican scholar, Fr. Andre-M. Dubarle, theorised that the holes were caused by hot coals which dropped from a censer which was swung over the centre of the Shroud as it lay folded in quarters on an altar. But that does not explain the presence of pitch around the holes.
Another theory is that of historian Ian Wilson that the Shroud was subject to a 'trial by fire' in Jerusalem in about AD 680 by a Muslim ruler, Caliph Mu'awiyah, which involved the Shroud having been "folded in four and deliberately run through three times with something like a red-hot poker.". However, that 'trial by fire' is based on mere hearsay by St. Adamnan (c. 627–704), who was the abbot of a monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona, relating what a shipwrecked Bishop Arculf of Perigueux who had visited Jerusalem in about 677, had supposedly told him. According to Adamnan, Arculf had claimed to have seen the Shroud in Jerusalem and had "learned" (but did not personally witness) that it had recently been subjected to a `trial by fire' by Jerusalem's Saracen ruler (Caliph Mu'awiyah). But Arculf told Adamnan that the Shroud he saw was "about eight feet long" and evidently bore no image. Moreover, there is nothing in Arculf's account about a hot poker or firebrand being plunged into the Shroud, but rather Arculf described the Shroud as fluttering above the fire 'like a bird with outstretched wings'. Wilson himself had previously concluded that what Arculf saw "could not have been the ... Shroud of Turin" but was "almost certainly a so-called holy shroud of Compiegne, destroyed in the French Revolution".
Yet another theory of the origin of the `poker holes' is is attorney Jack Markwardt's that "a pitch-soaked firebrand" was thrust through the folded-in-four Shroud's "dead center, four times" by the Edessans during the Persian siege of Edessa in AD 544, in a desperate attempt to have God cause the siege tower to catch fire, so the siege would be lifted [27, 28] (which actually happened). Markwardt bases his "pitch-soaked firebrand" theory of the origin of the `poker holes' on the late 6th century report by the Syrian historian, Evagrius. But Evagrius specifically stated that the Edessans "brought out the divinely made image not made by the hands of man ... and washed it over with water, they sprinkled some upon the timber ... [and] the timber immediately caught the flame ... and the fire spread in all directions.". There is no mention of the Edessans thrusting a burning "pitch-soaked firebrand" through the Shroud. Moreover in a comment under this post, Markwardt wrote of Wilson's `trial by fire theory': "I find it hard to accept that reverent Edessan or Byzantine Christians would ever have subjected such a sacred image to a trial by fire." But by the same token it is hard to believe that the Edessa Christians would have thrust a burning "pitch-soaked firebrand" through the Shroud, especially since they would have seen Jesus' image on it. Much more plausible (albeit miraculous) is Evagrius' account where the Edessans washed the Mandylion/Shroud with water and then sprinkled some of the same water on the timber and it caught fire. That there is the Biblical precedent in 1 Kings 18:31-39 where the prophet Elijah, in his contest with the false prophets of Baal, poured water on wood on an altar and "the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the...wood," adds to the plausibility of Evagrius' account that only water was poured on the Mandylion/Shroud.
In view of the above, I now consider that the `poker holes' were not caused by "hot coals" (Dubarle), or "a red-hot poker" (Wilson), or by "a pitch-soaked firebrand" (Markwardt), but by drops of hot pitch accidentally falling on the Shroud, possibly on more than one occasion, during an early Christian ritual when the Shroud was folded in four. My reasons include:
1. More damage would be expected to a thin linen cloth, "a little heavier than shirt cloth" , which the Shroud is, if a red hot poker, or especially a pitch-soaked burning firebrand, was thrust through it four times.
[Above: Map of the four sets of `poker holes' in descending degree of damage. The map corresponds to the Shroud being horizonal with the frontal side left and the dorsal side right.]
2. The holes would be expected to be fairly uniform in diameter if they were caused by four thrusts of the one burning firebrand or hot poker into the folded-in-four cloth in rapid succession. But the four holes in what was the topmost set, that on the Shroud's dorsal left-hand side, range from about 26 x 26 mm to 32 x 24 mm. All hole sizes were measured by me from a printed copy of the Shroud and multiplied by a scale factor (see comment below).
3. The area around this topmost set of holes, which unlike the other three sets, would have been directly exposed to the flame of the firebrand or radiant heat of the red hot poker, would be expected to exhibit a markedly greater degree of charring, but it doesn't.
4. The rate of progressive decline in the hole sizes is too steep for a pitch-soaked burning firebrand or red hot poker to have been the cause. The top and bottom hole sets' corresponding hole sizes are: 26 x 26 mm and 8 x 21 mm, 29 x 21 mm and 11 x 8 mm, 26 x 16 mm and 11 x 8 mm, 32 x 24 mm and 5 x 3 mm. As can be seen the largest hole on the topmost set (32 x 24 mm) is the smallest hole (5 x 3 mm) on the bottom set. But the Shroud is only "about one third of a millimetre" thick which means that if a burning pitch-soaked firebrand or red hot poker was thrust through the folded-in-four cloth it would compress the four layers so that each layer would be only about a third of a millimetre below the one above it. But then there would be no appreciable progressive reduction of the size of each burn hole from its counterpart immediately above it. There seems no way that a hole created by a red hot poker or pitch-soaked firebrand, thrust through a folded-in-four thin linen cloth, would within the space of about 1.3 mm, reduce in diameter from 32 x 24 mm to 5 x 3 mm.
5. There are many smaller burn holes in the same area, indicating that drops of hot pitch had fallen on the Shroud at different times.
[Above: Topmost (dorsal left) set of `poker holes': Shroud Scope: Durante 2002 Vertical:. Note the many smaller holes, indicating that other drops of hot pitch had fallen on the same central area of the Shroud at different times, while it was folded in four the same way, presumably as part of an early Christian ceremony.]
I will be interested to hear if these problems with the "red hot poker" and "pitch soaked firebrand" theories of the origin of the `poker holes' have occurred to anyone else (pro- or anti- Shroud authenticity). For convenience I will continue to refer to them as `poker holes' but I now will think of them as hot pitch burn holes, unless someone can come up with a better explanation that fits the facts above.
1. Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, p.66. [return]
2. Wilson, 1998, p.66. [return]
3. Wilson, 1998, p.66. [return]
4. Oxley, M., 2010, "The Challenge of the Shroud: History, Science and the Shroud of Turin," AuthorHouse: Milton Keynes UK, p.4. [return]
5. Schwalbe, L.A. & Rogers, R.N., 1982, "Physics and Chemistry of the Shroud of Turin: Summary of the 1978 Investigation," Reprinted from Analytica Chimica Acta, Vol. 135, No. 1, pp.3-49, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Co: Amsterdam, 1982, p.47. [return]
6. Oxley, 2010, p.4. [return]
7. Wilson, 1998, p.66. [return]
8. Wilson, 1986, p.78. [return]
9. Wilson, 1986, p.70. [return]
10. Moretto, G., 1999, "The Shroud: A Guide," Paulist Press: Mahwah NJ, p.18. [return]
11. Wilson, I. & Schwortz, B., 2000, "The Turin Shroud: The Illustrated Evidence," Michael O'Mara Books: London, p.115. [return]
12. Maloney, P.C.1998, "Researching the Shroud of Turin: 1898 to the Present: A Brief Survey of Findings and Views," in Minor, M., Adler, A.D. & Piczek, I., eds., 2002, "The Shroud of Turin: Unraveling the Mystery: Proceedings of the 1998 Dallas Symposium," Alexander Books: Alexander NC, p.32. [return]
13. Damon, P.E., et al., 1989, "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February, pp.611-615. [return]
14. De Wesselow, T., 2012, "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection," Viking: London, p.183. [return]
15. Wilson, 1998, p.8. [return]
16. Berkovits, I., 1969, "Illuminated Manuscripts in Hungary, XI-XVI Centuries," Irish University Press: Shannon, Ireland, plate IV. [return]
17. Maloney, P.C., 1990, "The Current Status of Pollen Research and Prospects for the Future," ASSIST Newsletter, Vol. 2., No. 1, June, pp.5-6. [return]
18. Wilson, I., 2010, "The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved," Bantam Press: London, p.184. [return]
19. Wilson, I. & Miller, V., 1986, "The Evidence of the Shroud," Guild Publishing: London, p.4. [return]
20. Wilson, I., 1979, "The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ?," Image Books: New York NY, Revised edition, p.94. [return]
21. Wilson, 1979, p.94. [return]
22. Wilson, 1979, p.94. [return]
23. Wilson, 2010, p.148. [return]
24. Wilson, 1979, p.94. [return]
25. Wilson & Miller, 1986, p.103. [return]
26. Markwardt, J., 1998, "The Fire and the Portrait," Shroud.com. [return]
27. Markwardt, 1998. [return]
28. Markwardt, J., 1999, "Antioch and the Shroud," Shroud.com. [return]
29. Markwardt, 1998. [return]
30. Evagrius, "Ecclesiastical History," in Wilson, 1979, p.137. [return]
31. Wilson & Miller, 1986, p.2. [return]
32. Wilson, 1998, p.66. [return]
33. Wilson, 1998, p.66. [return]
34. Petrosillo, O. & Marinelli, E., 1996, "The Enigma of the Shroud: A Challenge to Science," Publishers Enterprises Group: Malta, p.161. [return]
§10. To be further examined under "9. Problems of the forgery theory". [return]
To be continued in part 14, "2.6. The other marks (3): Dirt on foot and limestone."
Last updated: 25 October, 2015.