Dr. August Accetta tests his belief in the shroud’s authenticity with nuclear medicine and showcases the results in his Fountain Valley museum.
SHROUD:Dr. August Accetta, a Huntington Beach urogynecologist, talks about the Shroud of Turin as he stands in front of a large photograph of it at The Shroud Center of Southern California in Fountain Valley, which he founded. The museum and research facility is dedicated to the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin, which is a linen cloth that was allegedly used to wrap the body of Jesus after his crucifixion
MARK RIGHTMIRE, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
FOUNTAIN VALLEY – Dr. August Accetta is the first to acknowledge his theory sounds preposterous.
The notion that an authentic image of Jesus’ crucified body is emblazoned on a church relic known as the Shroud of Turin defies logic and reason, even for a believer like Accetta.
But after more than a decade of scientific study on the origins of the tattered burial cloth, which many have derided as an artist’s creation, the Huntington Beach physician is convinced it’s no hoax.
"It’s absurd to think that God gave us this image of his Son on the shroud," said the 48-year-old urogynecological surgeon, who opened a Fountain Valley museum dedicated to the shroud 11 years ago. "But I believe there’s more evidence for the authenticity of the shroud than any other single artifact in history."
Since 1996, Accetta has written four research papers in support of the linen cloth’s authenticity, journeyed to Italy to view the shroud and injected himself with radioactive particles to test his theories of how the faint shroud image formed.
Even he is at a loss for words to explain his fascination – some might call it obsession – with the long, narrow, fire-damaged cloth, which is known to have existed since at least the 14th century and is kept at a Catholic church in the Italian city of Turin, the cloth’s namesake.
Skeptics and many mainstream scientists have called it a fake, perhaps the work of a Renaissance artist such as Leonardo DaVinci. Radiocarbon testing in the 1980s indicated it originated in the 13th or 14th century.
But Accetta has a rebuttal for all the evidence casting doubt on the shroud’s authenticity. He argues the carbon dating was inaccurate because nonoriginal parts of the fabric were tested. Or perhaps, he says, the test samples were contaminated with microbes on the shroud.
Accetta, a devout Catholic, isn’t content to accept the shroud’s dubious authenticity as an act of faith, either. He’s out to show through modern science that it cannot possibly be an artist’s creation, that it unquestionably covered a crucified man, and – perhaps most unconvincingly – that a miraculous event occurred in which a full-body image of Jesus was emblazoned on the shroud.
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After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven. … His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. … The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said." –Matthew 28:1-6
Although some of the shroud’s early skeptics have said the image must have been painted by a medieval artist, modern analysis indicates there are no traces of pigment on the cloth. Rather, it’s a substanceless change to the fabric, like a mark left on a shirt by a hot iron.
Accetta’s theory, supported by a handful of shroud researchers and religious scholars around the world, is that at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, the body in the tomb turned to light, emitting a radiance that created a head-to-toe likeness of Jesus on the shroud.
His theory is a stretch even by biblical accounts of the Resurrection. The Gospels never say the resurrected body changed physical form. However, as Accetta says, no one was in the tomb to see what happened.
The Catholic Church takes no official position on authenticity of the shroud.
In 1996, Accetta tried to re-create the image on the shroud using modern nuclear medical technology. He injected radioactive technetium into his bloodstream and aimed a gamma camera at his body, capturing photos in much the same way doctors use the common procedure to make an image of a patient’s internal organs.
What he found were striking similarities between his radioactive body image and the image on the shroud.
Accetta is reluctant to talk about how his personal beliefs fit into his scientific findings, but he acknowledges his faith in the shroud drives his work.
The husband and father of three young girls has been fascinated by the Shroud of Turin since medical school, when he hung up shroud photos in his bedroom because he thought they looked "cool."
His interest in the shroud peaked in 1992, when he heard a Duke University professor talking about its origins on Christian radio. Four years later, he founded the Shroud Center of Southern California, a three-room museum in a nondescript Fountain Valley office building that houses full-size shroud photos and displays of scientific research.
Quests like Accetta’s to explain religion through modern science are becoming more common, experts say.
"For many Christians today, there’s a search for the tangible – to see or experience something through the senses," said Esther Chung-Kim, assistant professor of church history at Claremont School of Theology. "We’ve come to prize empirical evidence."
Accetta’s tests don’t prove his radiance theory. The nuclear imaging simply shows how the image could have been created.
But Accetta is convinced the evidence is all there. The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the Transfiguration, a moment earlier in Jesus’ life when his body apparently turned briefly into light. Accetta says it may have foreshadowed what was to come.
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After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. –Matthew 17:1-2
Scientists have shown that when a high-resolution photograph of the shroud is run through computer analysis software, the computer can generate a 3-D image of the crucified body. The finding startles shroud researchers because if the image had been created by a medieval artist, as skeptics allege, it shouldn’t contain hidden 3-D information.
Accetta says only a miraculous event fully explains the image’s sophistication. He thinks that when Jesus’ body turned to light, the shroud that had been covering the body began falling through the body by gravity. As the cloth dropped, Accetta theorizes it picked up corresponding energy – and corresponding 3-D information.
Mainstream scientists, meanwhile, have never concluded how the image formed.
Accetta’s newest research, to be published next year, focuses on the roots of the teeth and a wound on the left cheek, areas of the body that appear in considerable detail on the shroud but that one would not expect to find on a two-dimensional artist’s rendering because the features are below the skin’s surface.
Accetta’s biggest hurdle is getting his research recognized. His speaking engagements are generally limited to shroud conferences – where few in the room need convincing – and he publishes his work in religious journals, not peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Accetta estimates he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his research and keeping his free shroud museum open. This year he opened a cosmetic laser medical center, Crystal Image in Huntington Beach, partly to help pay for the costly ventures, he said.
"For someone to have their faith hinge on the shroud – it’s misplaced," said Paul Levesque, an associate professor of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton. "Most believers would probably say they could have spent the money more wisely."
Although he is fighting an uphill battle in the public eye – both among believers and nonbelievers – he cannot help but be consumed by the shroud.
"As crazy as it all sounds, what kind of artist could have foreseen that if you wrapped a body in a sheet, you could have created characteristics that we can only see now with 20th-century technology?"
Shroud Center of Southern California
Location: 8840 Warner Ave., Suite 200, Fountain Valley
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: Free; $8 suggested donation
Information: 714-375-5723 or http://www.shroudcentersocal.com
About the Shroud
The Shroud of Turin is a long, narrow piece of linen with a full-body image of a bearded, crucified man. He has flogging marks across his naked body, wounds on his face and side, and nail holes in his wrists and feet.
Some believe the tattered, 14-foot-3-inch by 3-foot-7-inch cloth is Jesus’ burial cloth from his death around A.D. 30; skeptics think it is a medieval forgery or an artist’s creation.
Carbon testing in 1988 indicated the shroud dated to about the 14th century. It is unclear how the image formed on the cloth, as there are no traces of paint or other pigments.
The shroud is in a Catholic chapel in Turin, Italy, and was last exhibited to the public in 2000.