Faded, worn and so fragile it had to be stitched to a white lining to keep it from disintegrating, the Shroud of Turin was put on public display Saturday for the first time in 20 years.
Hung lengthwise over purple drapery high in the dark nave of the Turin Cathedral, the shroud bears the faint traces of a man's face, limbs and folded hands, visible even behind the bulletproof, hermetically sealed glass casing and steel frame.Millions of Christians believe that the 14-foot-3-inch by 3-foot-7-inch linen cloth, imprinted with the image of a man's face and tortured body, is the burial shroud of Jesus. It is one of the most famous and venerated religious objects in the Roman Catholic Church. Even for nonbelievers, questions about its provenance have kept the shroud the subject of intense debate.
"It is unique, there is no other," Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, the archbishop of Turin, said Saturday. "The word `relic' is incorrect and inadequate. It is an icon that speaks to us of the passion of Christ."
After carbon-14 dating tests in 1988 led a group of scientists to place the cloth's date between 1260 and 1390, and suggested it was most likely a medieval forgery, the Shroud of Turin lost some of its mystery but little of its fascination.
The shroud, which until now was kept rolled around a wooden stake and stored in a silver casket, became the reigning symbol of the clash between science and religious belief.
More than 3 million pilgrims and tourists are expected to travel to Turin to see the shroud, which will be on view until mid-June. The pope, who saw it in 1978 when he was the archbishop of Krakow and again in 1980 in a private viewing, also plans to make the pilgrimage, on May 24. But millions more will be able to click onto a live Internet hookup to the nave of the cathedral (http://sindone.torino.chiesacattolica.it/).