Shroud's 2 Crowns of Thorns Show Crucifixion's Brutality

DURHAM, N.C. — Two researchers at Duke University Medical Center say they have perceived signs of a second object in the head area of the image of the Shroud of Turin.

Dr. Alan Whanger, professor emeritus of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and director of the Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin (, together with his wife, Mary, published their finding that high-grade enhanced photographs of the shroud reveal the image of a band of woven straw.

It perfectly matches the size and shape of the well-known Crown of Thorns now housed in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This circlet would have rested on the back of Jesus’ head, reaching down to the upper part of the neck.

The shroud, a sheet of fine linen some 14 feet long and 3.5 feet wide, contains the life-sized negative image, front and back, of a crucified man complete with nail prints and bloodstains. Even Pope John Paul II has venerated it as the shroud that Christ was buried in.

According to the Whangers, the newly perceived object is actually a second crown of thorns. And although Scripture has never been interpreted as mentioning two crowns, Whanger argues his discovery of a second crown is yet more proof that the man represented on the shroud is Jesus.

“Two crowns would be entirely consistent with what we know about the period,” he said. “If the shroud were actually a medieval forgery based only upon the Gospel accounts, as some scientists have claimed, they'd never have thought to include two separate crowns.”

Whanger, who is a Methodist, suggests that when Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged, the soldiers naturally decided to mock the supposed King of the Jews as a Roman emperor, complete with purple robe (which is mentioned in the Gospels) and an encircling crown on the back of the head. It would have been the work of a moment, he says, to twist a few bands of straw together, stick a few thorns and thistles through the band and then jam it on Christ's head.

Later, the soldiers must have been inspired to mock Jesus as a Jewish high priest, which led to construction of the larger, bonnetlike crown made from the Gundelia tournefortii thorn tree, as confirmed on the shroud by Avinoam Danin, professor of botany at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a world authority on the flora of the Near East.

The Gundelia tree possesses thorns so sharp and strong the maker would have been forced to wear leather gloves. The larger crown, first identified on the shroud by the Whangers several years ago, effectively mocked the multitiered crown worn by the Jewish high priest.

“The high priest's crown would have been well known to the soldiers,” Whanger said, “since it was kept locked in the Antonia Fortress and only released to the high priest for his use during official festivals.”

Finding a second crown on the shroud helps explain why the Crown of Thorns in Paris has no thorns. Because the thorns had merely been stuck through the straw bands to begin with, they either remained embedded in the crucified man's neck when the crown was removed, or they fell out later.

It also explains why the shroud image displays about 40 puncture wounds extending from the mid-forehead to the low back of the neck. The wounds on top would have come from the bonnetlike high priest's crown, while those on the neck would have come from the emperor's circlet.

Though impossible to authenticate to date, the shroud has been venerated since at least the 14th century but possibly as early as the second century as the actual winding sheet used at Jesus’ burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

But it has only been in the last 30 years that modern science has been able to uncover a number of clues, including pollen spores and microscopic grains of soils unique to Jerusalem and Palestine, that increase the probability the shroud once wrapped the Messiah's body.

Abiding Mystery

But the abiding mystery is how the images of a crucified man and crucifixion-related objects became imprinted on the shroud at all.

Canadian physicist Thaddeus Trenn, director of the science and religion program at the University of Toronto, has hypothesized that a massive influx of energy similar to a controlled nuclear event actually overcame the strong force that bound together the protons and neutrons in the body of the man lying in the shroud.

Such an instantaneous event would have released massive amounts of X-rays, leading to a rapid, but cool, dehydration of the cellulose fibers in the fabric that resulted in a negative image of the man and, due to the enormous amounts of energy present, a coronal discharge that led to imprints of other items buried with the body.

Trenn has noted that the dematerialization theory is supported by distortions in the shroud image that indicate it was collapsing in upon itself at the precise moment the image was being produced. And only dematerialization explains how the body could have been lifted away from the blood that had soaked into the fabric while leaving no trace of pulled fibrils on the fabric's surface.

Barrie Schwortz, the official documenting photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, the team that conducted the first in-depth scientific examination of the shroud in 1978, reports that he has been unable to confirm the images Whanger has discovered — including the two crowns, Roman coins over the eyes, the board upon which Pilate wrote “King of the Jews,” 24 varieties of flowers (all with geographical ranges known to only overlap within the vicinity of Jerusalem), the Roman spear that pierced Jesus’ side, the hammer that drove the nails and the dice with which the soldiers gambled for his robe.

But as an imaging consultant whose expertise has been sought by U.S. government agencies and both houses of Congress, Schwortz is equally certain the image of the bloody, crucified man is neither a painting nor a result of any other process known to man.

“As a Jew,” he said, “I don't believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but I believe the shroud wrapped Jesus.”

Donald DeMarco, professor of philosophy at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, (and a Register columnist), suggests that in a backhanded way the shroud serves to underline the importance of the Old Testament prohibition against graven images.

“Any image of God created by mankind would have been false,” he said. “But the shroud gives us the true image of God come in flesh.”

Thus the shroud became the basis for the early Church's interest in iconography. Many icons from earliest centuries, and even some Byzantine coins, provide facial images of Jesus that strongly resemble the face on the shroud. DeMarco believes the shroud helps to promote the Church's worldwide missionary mandate.

“Because our evangelism depends upon persuasion,” he said, “our truth claims have to be open to verification. After some of the most rigorous scientific studies imaginable, the shroud continues to confirm the Easter message that God's Son died and rose again.”

“Exactly,” said the Rev. Albert Dreisbach Jr., an Episcopal priest who from 1981 to 1987 managed the Turin Shroud Exhibit in Atlanta. “In a scientific age like ours the shroud provides intellectual respectability to the Christian message. Its message can create doubt in the doubter, a crack through which faith can enter.”

Dreisbach remembers watching a man who sobbed as he filled out a comment form after viewing the Atlanta shroud exhibit. Retrieving the form, Dreisbach read, “Till today I had never questioned my unbelief. But this is profoundly moving. My knees are still weak.”

Shafer Parker Jr. writes from Edmonton, Alberta.