Local researcher uses modern science to seek truth of Shroud

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Research: LA resident is examining the Shroud of Turin

By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos resident Robert Villareal is not only on a mission of faith - but also science.


In April, he traveled to Valencia, Spain where he gave a presentation and talk as part of  the International Congress on the Holy Shroud. The shroud is said to have been the burial cloth of  Jesus Christ.

According to a pamphlet from the event, “the Spanish Centre of Sindonology was legalized in the national register center for associations in April 1987.” The CES officially opened on Dec. 18, 1987 and celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

“Over these 25 years, CES has convened three international congresses: The I and II on the Holy Sudarium of the Cathedral of Oviedo and the 1st on the Holy Chalice (Holy Grail) of the Cathedral of Valencia, as well as numerous workshops in various locations in Spain. However, an International Congress on the Shroud of Turin never took place in our country so far.”

As part of the congress, there were five sessions. The first session focused on the nature of the mark of the Shroud of Turin. The second session analyzed from the current point of view, the hypothetical historical trajectory of the Shroud.

During the third session, those in attendance reviewed what forensic medicine said about the man of the Shroud. The fourth session considered the analysis of radiocarbon dating of the Shroud and the difficulties of dating through this method. The fifth and final session was devoted to some of the consequences originated by the investigation of the Shroud.

During the congress, Villareal was featured in a movie, “The Night of the Shroud,” as a prominent figure in Shroud studies. The documentary was broadcast in Italy and eventually will be shown in the United States.

Villareal, a deacon at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, became involved with work on the Shroud near the end of research done by Sue Benford and Ray Rogers.

“In 1988, a Carbon 14 dating process was conducted to determine whether or not the age of the linen cloth, known as the Shroud of Turin, was compatible with the tradition which identified this cloth as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ,” Villareal said during his presentation in Valencia.

“This was conducted as a part of the major Shroud study by a team of top-notch scientists, The Shroud of Turin Research Project. The C-14 dating was conducted by three separate, highly regarded scientific laboratories, the University of Arizona in Tucson, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Oxford, each with capability to conduct C-14 dating with an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer in accordance with excellent procedures and reference standards. The results of the age dating measurements ranged from AD 1260 to 1390 and seemed appropriate for the type of samples analyzed.

“This range of dates places the age of the Shroud as a medieval relic rather than a cloth with a date near AD 33 and therefore ineligible to be the burial cloth of Jesus.”

“However, later research conducted primarily by Sue Benford and Ray Rogers strongly suggests a different conclusion. There seem to be significant problems with the age dating, not from the accelerator mass spectrometer precision, but with the overall accuracy of the results, particularly the location of the sample taken.

“The three samples submitted were taken adjacent to one another from the same corner of the Shroud and there is uncertainty that the sample corner was representative of the whole Shroud.”

Villareal went on to say to that a visual examination of the Shroud revealed several “anomalies between the body of the main cloth and this particular corner. Further scientific tests have significantly expanded the reasons for being suspicious of this location. The work initiated by Sue Benford centered on the fact that Sue believed that this corner was added to the main shroud cloth via ‘invisible stitching’ techniques perfected in Medieval times.”

Following their findings, Rogers asked Villareal for help in acquiring a hot alpha particle source, which he needed for one of his image formation experiments. At the time, Villareal was employed at LANL and was able to provide Rogers with the alpha source calibration needed.

“He began to suspect that this collaboration might have a greater use and asked if I had access to the full analytical potential of the laboratory,” Villareal said in his presentation.

“It happened that at that moment in time, I was in a unique position and did have that access. He first asked for an XPS analysis of a single piece of thread from the Raes area of the Shroud. We analyzed it and the results showed that the thread had different ratios of constituents along its length, especially at the two ends.

“Ray and Sue were quite excited with that result and he asked what other equipment I had quick access to. I provided him with a list of high technological equipment that I thought we could provide. Before he could look at the list, he passed away from cancer. Now I was living with a fiber from the Shroud of Turin.”

A year-and-a-half later, Barrie Schwortz called Villareal and asked if he knew where that particular fiber was.
Schwortz had championed early studies of the Shroud to Rogers. When Villareal told Schwortz that he was in possession of the fiber, Schwortz told him that he was the missing link. As a result, Villareal became directly involved with the analysis.

Schwortz and Villareal conducted X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy  and began a series of tests, which yielded results that suggest that the “radiocarbon sample area was not representative of the main Shroud cloth and was a poor choice to date the Shroud.”

Villareal continues work on the Shroud in hopes of solving the mystery once and for all, but also realizes that if what he believes to be correct is proven, it could change peoples’ outlook on the Shroud and what they believe in.

“A large number of people would rather the Shroud not be authenticated. (It) would make religions and denominations question a lot of what they’ve said about who Jesus is,” Villareal said.