The Shroud of Turin went on display for a special TV appearance amid new research disputing claims it’s a medieval fake and purporting to date the linen some say was Jesus’ burial cloth to around the time of his death.

Pope Francis sent a video message to the event in Turin’s cathedral, but made no claim that the image on the shroud of a man, with wounds similar to those suffered by Christ, was that of Jesus. He called the cloth an “icon”, not a relic — an important distinction.

“This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love,” he said.

“This disfigured face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest. And yet, at the same time, the face in the Shroud conveys a great peace; this tortured body expresses a sovereign majesty.”

Many experts stand by carbon-dating of scraps of the cloth that date it to the 13th or 14th century. However, some have suggested the dating results might have been skewed by contamination and have called for a larger sample to be analysed.

The 14-foot-long, 3.5-foot-wide cloth is kept in a bulletproof, climate-controlled case in Turin, but is only rarely open to the public. The last time was in 2010 when more than two million people lined up to pray .The display also coincided with the release of a book based on new scientific tests on the shroud that researchers say date the cloth to the first century.

The research in The Mystery of the Shroud, by Giulio Fanti of the University of Padua and journalist Saverio Gaeta, is based on chemical and mechanical tests on fibbers of material extracted for the carbon-dating research. An article with the findings is expected to be submitted for peer-review.

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