ROME, ITALY – What may be the most famous religious relic of them all, the Turin Shroud, will make a rare appearance on Easter Saturday — on Italians’ TV screens.
One of Benedict XVI’s last acts as pope, according to Vatican Radio, was to authorize the broadcast of video of the shroud from Turin Cathedral, where the mysterious Christian relic is kept, out of sight, in a bulletproof, climate-controlled glass case.
According to Vatican Radio, only once before have images of the centuries-old linen cloth been broadcast. That was in 1973, at the request of then-Pope Paul VI.
Some Christians believe the shroud, which appears to bear the imprint of a man’s body, to be Jesus Christ’s burial cloth. The body appears to have wounds that match those the Bible describes as having been suffered by Jesus on the cross.
Many scholars contest the shroud’s authenticity, saying it dates to the Middle Ages, when many purported biblical relics — like splinters from Jesus’ cross — surfaced across Europe.
Even the Roman Catholic Church does not insist the shroud was used to wrap the body of Jesus. Its official position is that the shroud is an important tool for faith regardless of its authenticity.
Archbishop of Turin Cesare Nosiglia will lead a service from the cathedral on Saturday afternoon during which the images of the shroud will be broadcast, according to Vatican Radio.
“I hope that this event can bring a little light and peace in these complex times, and give strength and hope to the many poor, the sick, and people in difficulty,” Nosiglia is quoted as saying.
To coincide with the television broadcast, a new Shroud 2.0 app was launched Friday. The app, released in several languages, allows users to scroll over a high-definition image of the shroud and find out more about its history and religious significance.
Giulio Fanti, a professor at Padua University in Italy and co-author of the book “The Mystery of the Shroud,” said the app will be “very useful” to the scientific community.
Until now, researchers have not had access to a digitalized picture of the shroud, he told CNN. Studies looking into the formation of the image have been based on macroscopic data.
“I hope the app will give us the chance of having microscopic data that will be very useful to confront different scientific research on the shroud, which, until now, is still a mystery,” he said.
Benedict prayed before the shroud in 2010, when it went on display for six weeks at Turin Cathedral, its first public showing since undergoing a major restoration in 2002. Before that, it was last on display in 2000.
The shroud — more than 14 feet long and 3 feet, 7 inches wide — was restored to remove a patchwork repair done by 16th century nuns after the cloth was damaged in a fire.
Carbon dating conducted in the 1990s suggested it dates from the Middle Ages. A new study released by Padua University disputes that, putting the date between 280 B.C. and 220 A.D.
Thirteen years ago, when Benedict was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote that the shroud was “a truly mysterious image, which no human artistry was capable of producing.”
The shroud is not scheduled to go on public view again for more than a decade, so the TV broadcast represents a a rare chance for the faithful to get a glimpse of the famous relic.
By Laura Smith-Spark and Livia Borghese
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