Scientific tests have shown that the Shroud of Turin, revered by many Christians as Christ's burial cloth, is a medieval fake, Turin Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero said on Thursday.
Ballestrero told a press conference that carbon-14 dating tests, carried out by laboratories in England, the United States and Switzerland, showed with 95 percent certainty that the cloth dated from between 1260 and 1390.The yellowing cloth, which shows the image of a bearded man who suffered the same type of wounds as those inflicted on Christ during his crucifixion, has defied scientific explanation.
Small pieces were cut from the edge of the cloth last April and given to the three laboratories for carbon-dating tests. They were also given control specimens of cloth known to be from the first, 11th and 14th centuries but neither they nor the shroud pieces were identified.
There has never been any firm historical evidence that the shroud existed before the 14th century - an age when forgery of religious relics was rife in Europe and the Holy Land.
Scientists had been clamoring for years to carbon-date the shroud but church custodians had hesitated until technological advances reduced the amount of material needed for the tests.
Surrounded for centuries by passionate scientific, historical and religious debate, the 14.5-foot-by-3.5-foot shroud is kept in a silver casket in the chapel of Turin cathedral.
Professor Luigi Gonella, scientific adviser to Turin's Cardinal Ballestrero, said he was satisfied with the results of the analysis.
"Carbon-14 is state-of-the-art technology and functions fairly well," Gonella told the news conference.
However, Cardinal Ballestrero, the official custodian of the shroud, said the results did not solve the mystery of how the clear image of a man with crucifixion wounds had appeared on the cloth.
"The problems of the origin of the image and its conservation are still left mostly unsolved and will need further research and further study," he said.
Ballestrero said the shroud would remain in the custody of the Turin diocese, adding:
"While leaving to science the evaluation of these results, the church reaffirms its respect and veneration for this venerable icon of Christ which remains an object of worship for the faithful."
Ballestrero said the Catholic Church would show toward further studies on the shroud "the same open mind, inspired by the love for truth that it showed by allowing the radio carbon dating as soon as a reasonable operational program on the matter was submitted."
The vice president of a religious group known as the Holy Shroud Guild, Father Peter Rinaldi, said the carbon dating tests were not the last word on the issue.
"Valid or not, the results of the carbon-14 test in no way solve the mystery of Christ's image on that cloth. The test has not said the last word on the shroud.
"This is unquestionably the most impressive visual representation of Christ's sufferings, the only one of its kind in fact known to exist," Rinaldi said in a statement.