Shrouded in mystery

Technology developed in Lawrence helped researchers study alleged burial cloth of Jesus in Olympic city

As the world turns its attention to Turin, Italy, for the Winter Olympics, Pete Schumacher has been thinking about Turin for other reasons.

In 1976, Schumacher found himself in the middle of one of the greatest mysteries and debates of the Christian faith.

Equipment he helped develop for a company in Lawrence was used to examine the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloths of Jesus Christ. The research led to the most exhaustive scientific study on the shroud as well as a documentary about it.

“That was all quite an event,” Schumacher says. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

At the time, Schumacher was working for Interpretation Systems Inc., a company created from Kansas University research that employed around 35 people at its peak. It developed the VP-8 image analyzer, which converts lights and darks in photographs into a vertical relief “map” that shows shadows and highlights.

The equipment was designed to map geographic and geological formations, such as the moon’s surface.

But a pair of researchers affiliated with Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, working on an independent study on the Shroud of Turin, wanted to see how the VP-8 image analyzer would treat the shroud. They thought the analyzer would be able to distinguish between shades on different parts of the sepia-toned shroud, giving a better picture of the imprint on the 3-by-14-foot piece of cloth.

The shroud is kept at a Catholic church in Turin. As new technology has developed, scientists have attempted to provide new insight into the controversy over whether the shroud, in fact, was used to bury Jesus.

New interest

The Los Alamos researchers – John Jackson and Eric Jumper – called Interpretation Systems to request use of a VP-8 analyzer. It was Schumacher’s job to deliver the system to where they were working in Colorado Springs, Colo.

He expected to spend a few hours training Jumper and Jackson and leave them to their work. But what Schumacher saw when the researchers put a slide of the shroud under the image analyzer changed his life.

Instead of the usual two-dimensional reading, the shroud produced a three-dimensional view that looked something like a mask of a bearded man. Despite multiple attempts through the years to reproduce the results using other images, Schumacher says the results haven’t been duplicated with anything other than the shroud.

“It’s like if you start your car and instead of the engine running, it starts making chocolate chip cookies,” he says. “Obviously the input was different. Nobody has ever figured that out, why it did that.”

He doesn’t call that moment a conversion point in his Christian faith. Rather, it was the start of his involvement with the shroud, and he’s been a consultant on research projects since then. The sum of those experiences, he says, has strengthened his faith.

“My personal belief, when I look at the Shroud of Turin, is I’m looking at a picture of Jesus Christ,” he says. “I wouldn’t have thought that before. My life changed after that.”

The evidence

The results from the shroud and the VP-8 didn’t change life much at Interpretation Systems, Schumacher says. But the results did spark new interest in the shroud.

Partly because of the VP-8 images, a team of scientists got permission to spend five days with the shroud in 1978, a trip that’s since been dubbed the Shroud of Turin Research Project. The documentary “The Silent Witness” was made about the researchers.

“It was an instant-gratification kind of device,” says Barrie Schwortz, editor of, a Web site dedicated to research on the Shroud of Turin. “You could dial it up on the screen and, bingo, you have an image of a human. It was a dramatic visualization of what had been proposed in the past.”

Schwortz, a photographer, was among those who examined the Shroud of Turin in 1978. He’s Jewish, but he’s now convinced the shroud did, in fact, bury the historical Jesus. Whether Jesus was the son of God, Schwortz says, is up for the individual to decide.

His key pieces of evidence in supporting his claim:

¢The way the VP-8 analyzer treats the shroud.

¢Blood and other stains on the cloth support that the man was crucified.

¢The shroud couldn’t have been wrapped around the man for long, considering the appearance of a body that is intact and not decaying. That would support the biblical assertion that Jesus was only in his tomb for three days.

¢Someone had to think of the shroud as important enough to keep it for this many years, especially considering no other artifacts of its type are known.

“I can’t point to one or two things, because there are so many,” Schwortz says. “Some are very small things. But it’s the cumulative of all of the above that have convinced me.”

For Schumacher, who lived here from 1972 to 1978, he had no idea a simple trip to Colorado Springs would spark a new interest – and a new commitment to his faith.

“It’s one of the ways God spoke to me,” he says. “He put something in my path.”