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November 8, 2023

The Shadow Shroud at NSA

N.D. Wilson, author of children’s fiction, is known for his love of stories and for talking about how stories shape our world. In 2005, before his first novel came out, N.D. Wilson was applying fiction to the real world. That is, Wilson read a Father Brown story by G.K. Chesterton, which offered a way of looking at the Shroud of Turin. Wilson took that idea from the fictional detective and formulated an experiment to see if he could reproduce the Shroud. 

The work that Wilson did for this Shroud experiment can be found on a website hosted by New Saint Andrews College: The Shadow Shroud. The website features pictures and documentation of Wilson’s experiment. Wilson graduated from NSA in 1999 and is currently a fellow at the college. 

The Shroud of Turin is an infamous cloth that features a picture of a bearded man with wounds on his head, hands, and feet. Some claim this is the burial shroud of Jesus. The image has amazed and confused many critics and supporters, particularly in the way that the image was made. Specifically, the Shroud features a photonegative image of a man three-dimensionally imprinted onto linen. The puzzle of how this kind of image was created has interested many over the years. 

Wilson explains in his own words the process he went through for this experiment in a Books and Culture article titled “Father Brown Fakes the Shroud.” 

According to the The Shadow Shroud website, the Shroud of Turin is an image that is “dark on a light background.” Scholars have proposed various methods for darkening the cloth, like chemicals, stains, or paints. The website says, “Wilson wondered if it would be possible to lighten the already dark linen, leaving only a dark image behind. The simplest means of lightening linen, available to all men throughout time, is to bleach it with sunlight.” 

Wilson had a friend paint a face on a piece of glass, and then he positioned the glass over a piece of linen so the sun could shine on the glass over multiple days. He did this for ten days. During that time, the sun bleached the background cloth, leaving a darkened image of the painting on the surface of the linen cloth. 

Wilson’s theory and experiment garnered national attention when the news broke in 2005. The story was featured on NBC News, Fox News, and the Discovery Channel.

Some have asked Wilson why he would work to debunk the Shroud of Turin. On The Shadow Shroud website, he says, “This is not only a permissible thing for a Christian to do, it is something that, in principle, every Christian should want to do. Christians should hate lies, but above all else, lies told within the Church at large. Religious fraud isn’t only a lie about a thing (a miraculous healing, contact with angels, a relic, etc.). Religious fraud is a lie about the Church and Christ Himself. It is just another way of taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

The shroud that Wilson made for the experiment is currently on display at NSA’s Sword and Shovel coffeehouse and bookstore in the newly renovated student lounge, The Cave of Adullam.