By Robert K. Wilcox:


                      The Shroud of Turin is one of the great science-religion mysteries – an ancient linen cloth with strange images of a crucified man believed by Christians and non-Christians (not without controversy) to be the burial cloth of Christ. Joe Marino is an insider who has studied the relic since 1977. He is a “shroudie,” as such researchers mostly call themselves, and knows the Byzantine machinations, often not pretty, of its owners in Italy, the Catholic Church, as well as those of his fellow researchers.


                      He’s also a former Benedictine monk who left the order to dedicate his life to shroud study (formally called “sindonology”) and married another sindonologist who, controversially, claimed to talk to Jesus. The intriguing thing is that what she says Jesus revealed led to she and Marino discovering a probable reason why the 1988 Carbon 14 tests declaring the shroud a Medieval fake were wrong. Unfortunately, his wife, Sue Benford, died shortly after their discovery, giving a tragic tinge to what is a sweet love story that led to important shroud information.


                      Marino has written a book that discusses these things. Wrapped up in the Shroud: Chronicle of a Passion is probably not for those who know little about the relic. There are no pictures of the shroud and its controversial images and few explanatory discussions of its basic and controversial details – as in so many first shroud efforts.

                      Rather, the book is mostly the personal story of how Marino, a young man at the time, became fascinated with the shroud, how the relic, years later, brought he and Sue Benford together, and then how, despite numerous obstacles, including scorn and disrespect from other shroudies, they finally were able to get scientists to take their research seriously. If they are right – and the consensus of the shroud-science community is that they are – their research will be chronicled with the rest of the epic shroud story as one of the most important developments in the 100-plus-years of scientific study of the relic since the first photographs of it in 1898 revealed the strange nature of it’s mysterious images.

                      What those first photos showed was that the depictions of the man-in-the-shroud on the 14-foot-long cloth are like photographic negatives. Lights and darks are reversed. The images of the man on the cloth itself (front and back as if it was wrapped head to toe over him) look stick-like and unreal. But when viewed in the photo negatives, they reveal what appears to be an authentic corpse in rigor mortis. The corpse has been whipped, crowned with thorns, and crucified, among other details coinciding with the Gospel accounts. Since the cloth can be proven through documents to be at least 600 years old, how such images were made is a mystery. Almost all scientists who have studied the images - literally hundreds – reject the idea that they are the result of painting.


                      In 1988 a small sample of the cloth was cut from one of its ends and subsequently dated by Carbon 14 analysis. The test produced a date of around the 1300s, which is approximately the date that the cloth first surfaced in France and began its recorded history. (It's prior history  is a matter of debate.) The testers thus pronounced the cloth a fake, although they could not explain how the images were made – which continues to be the case.

                      Enter Marino and Benford, a former nurse and cancer survivor. Benford said she was getting “insights” from Jesus. Predictably, she was ridiculed. But then she and Marino began publishing and giving talks at shroud conferences saying basically the following: They believed the small Carbon 14 test sample was unknowingly cut by authorities from a repair patch which was sewn into the shroud in the Middle Ages. That explained the medieval date. The patch, however, was not representative of the rest of the shroud which is much older. Eventually, through their persistence, scientists, taking note and testing, began to agree with them.

                      Most notable was Raymond N. Rogers, a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, who while first calling the two “lunatic fringe,” became an ardent backer. Rogers had fibers from the small sample area used in the 1988 testing and verified that they were not solid linen as was the rest of the shroud. He then found other strong indications that Marino and Benford were right. For instance, the presence of dye to simulate linen color. Subsequently, a battery of scientists at Los Alamos verified Rogers’ work.


                      All of this is explained in behind-the-scenes detail in Marino’s book. It is an exciting, at times emotion-provoking story about the relic that calls into question the competence of those controlling the shroud. How could they have made such a stupid mistake? It also indicts the Carbon 14 testers at universities in the US and Europe for rushing to judgment and not following standard pre-testing procedures that would have revealed that the sample was suspect.

                      And that is not all the authorities bungled, writes Marino. He and other shroud researchers are incensed that in 2002 the shroud’s Italian handlers performed a secret “restoration” of the relic during which they removed numerous patches on the venerated and historic relic thus changing it forever. Who knows what important discoveries about the relic were lost? The sacred shroud, Marino writes with sorrow, has been changed forever. Obviously, he is a believer in the relic’s authenticity.

                      If there is any criticism to be made of this book it is that like most shroud researchers who want to be regarded as objective, Marino too often quotes entire letters or other compositions rather than synthesizing them and adding his own interpretation. The result slows the narrative, leaving it with too much that is superfluous. But he is honest and heartfelt in relating his story which gives a revealing look at the politics of the shroud, defenders and detractors alike, and, most importantly, clarifies the important work he and Sue Benford did.