04 April 2010

LIFE: Shroud of Turin

TURIN, Italy - The Shroud of Turin, arguably Italy’s most famous holy relic, will be on display from April 13 to May 23 at the Cathedral of Turin, in northern Italy. This will be the first public showing of the Shroud of Turin since it was restored in 2002.

As many as 2 million people are expected to view the Shroud over the 44 days it will be available. So far, almost 1 million requests have come in to reserve the three to five minutes each person will be allowed to admire the cloth that has fascinated pilgrims and scientists alike for centuries. 

According to tradition, the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus, but even with the use of special carbon dating techniques, experts have been hard pressed to date it much before the 14th century. Even though French crusader Robert of Clari mentions seeing the cloth in 1203 in Constantinople at the imperial palace, the first actual records trace it only to Lirey in France in 1354. 

There are historians who believe that the shroud was taken by French knights of the Fourth Crusade during the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. The basis of this belief comes from a letter written in 1205 to Pope Innocent II which says in part, “The Venetians partitioned the treasure of gold, silver and ivory, while the French did the same with the relics of saints and the most sacred of all, the linen in which our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped after His death and before the resurrection.” 

There is also some evidence that on August 15, 944 CE an image bearing cloth known as the Cloth of Edessa, was taken from Edessa to Constantinople (now Istanbul). It had been in Edessa since it was found hidden behind some stones above one of the city gates sometime in the middle of the 6th century. According to legend, the cloth, with a miraculous picture of Jesus, was brought to the King of Edessa sometime between 13 –50 CE by a disciple known as Thaddeus Jude, who claimed to have been sent by the apostle Thomas. 

If the Edessa Cloth is the Shroud of Turin, then written record of its existence goes back to the sixth century. But is it? The controversy continues. And while no new tests are officially scheduled, scientists at Oxford University, where the original tests were done, are taking another look at the data and methodology of the original tests to see if any mistakes were made and if the Shroud could actually date back to the time of Jesus. 

Groups dedicated to researching the relic argue that the shroud has been handled so many times that it could easily have been contaminated, altering the chemical makeup of the carbon in the linen which in turn would affect the results of the carbon dating. To avoid further contamination the Shroud is now kept in a covered, bulletproof, climate controlled case inside the Cathedral of Turin. 

If you are planning on going to Turin I can tell you from my own experiences to see the Shroud in 1998, the city is well organized and even though there are a lot of people, lines move quickly and you never feel lost in a sea of humanity. And if you do have a chance to go I strongly suggest staying a few extra days. Turin is one of the most historically interesting and architectually beautiful cities in Italy, albeit not traditionally Italian. It was the city of Italy's royal family, the French Savoy, and they turned the city into a spectacular European capital. Vale la pena, as they say. You won't be sorry you stayed. 

Reservations to see the Shroud of Turin can be made on the Internet (www.sindone.org) During the Exposition period there will also be a booking service for same day visits at the reception point that will be set up in Piazza Castello, near the Cathedral.

More Information is available on the following sites:

Photos: (1) Pilgrims viewing the Shroud of Turin 1998, (2) Cathedral of Turin, (3) Interior Cathedral of Turin

For more on Turin see Auntie Pasta: Italy's Dark (Chocolate) Secret published Feb. 10, 2010.

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