The long linen with the faded image of a bearded man is the object of centuries-old fascination and wonderment, and closely kept under wrap. Starting Saturday, and for six weeks, both the curious and those convinced the Turin Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ can have a brief look.
By late Friday, 1.5 million people had reserved their three-to-five-minute chance to gaze at the cloth, which is kept in a bulletproof, climate-controlled case. Organisers said earlier this year they hoped some two million pilgrims and tourists would see the linen during the special viewing from April 10 to May 23. Traditionally, the public gets a peek at the 4.3-metre-long, one-metre-wide cloth only once every 25 years. But recent decades have seen much shorter intervals.
The shroud went on display in 1998 after a 20-year-wait and then in 2000 during Millennium celebrations. “A challenge to the intelligence” is how John Paul II defined the cloth in 1998 when he journeyed to Turin to view it. In a major papal pronouncement about the shroud, the late Pope asked experts to study it without preconceptions using “scientific methodology” while keeping in mind the “sensibility of the faithful.”
A Vatican researcher said late last year that faint writing on the linen, which she studied through computer-enhanced images, proves the cloth was used to wrap Jesus' body after his crucifixion.
But experts stand by carbon-dating of scraps of the cloth that determine the linen was made in the 13th or 14th century in a kind of medieval forgery. That testing did not explain how the image of the shroud — of a man with wounds similar to those suffered by Christ — was formed.