Turin Shroud goes on display for first time in 10 years
The Turin Shroud, which is believed by some Christians to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, has gone on display for the first time in 10 years.
The shroud is expected to draw some two million visitors to the northern Italian city over the next few weeks.
The cloth shows the faint image of a bearded man with stains of blood on his hands and feet.
Tests in 1988 suggested it dated from the medieval period but those carbon dating findings are contested.
Measuring just over 4m x 1m (14ft x 3.5ft), the frail linen sheet shows an image of a man's body complete with bloodstains and what appear to be wounds from crucifixion.
Millions of Christians believe the cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus.
In 1988, special tests dated it to between 1260 and 1390, suggesting it was a medieval forgery.
But since then, other scientists have cast doubt on those findings and appealed to the Vatican to allow new tests using more modern techniques.
Some two million people are expected to visit Turin Cathedral to see the shroud, which will be on public view for six weeks, kept in a bullet-proof and climate-controlled case.
Pope Benedict XVI is due to fly to Turin on 2 May to pray before the shroud.







Unshrouding the science of the Shroud
The exact history of Turin shroud, which has gone on display for the first time in 10 years, is hotly disputed. So what do we know about its authenticity?

It's perhaps the most controversial religious artefact in the world. The Shroud of Turin cloth that supposedly wrapped Jesus's body after the crucifixion and became imprinted with his image, has intrigued millions of believers and sceptics alike. Having gone on public display for the first time in a decade, the debate over its authenticity is set to resume.

Numerous historical references to Christ's shroud exist but the only reliable records for the one today housed in Turin Cathedral begin in the 16th Century. The herringbone woven cloth measuring 1.21m by 4.42m (4ftx14ft), is stained with human blood and appears to show the imprint of a crucified man. The most iconic aspect - the apparent image of Jesus's bearded face - is not easily distinguishable to the naked eye, and was only noticed at the end of the 19th Century in an amateur photograph.

But in 1988 the subject seemed to be closed. Carbon dating experts from universities in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona "proved" that the shroud originated in the 14th Century and thus could not be an imprint of Jesus.

And yet many now argue that process was flawed.

Ian Wilson, a historian who has written a number of books on the subject, believes the shroud could indeed be genuine.

"Through no fault of the labs the 1988 sample was taken from the most inadvisable place - the top left hand corner," he says. "Before 1840 the normal process of display was to have the cloth loose and held up by at least three bishops so the corners would have been contaminated."

Another doubt raised was that the sample may have been repaired with cotton strands. "A further problem was that the shroud was in a serious fire in 1532 and smoke introduces a lot of contaminants. All of these factors are ways that the carbon dating could have been skewed as it's not infallible," he argues.

Holes in wrists

Mr Wilson believes the type of weave used is more consistent with ancient than medieval times and that the medical evidence is compelling.

"It's true that thousands of people were crucified at the time of Jesus. But one singular thing about the crucifixion of Christ is the crown of thorns and on the shroud there are a whole series of puncture wounds where the scalp has bled."

And whereas every artist imagined Jesus crucified through the palms, the shroud indicates it was through the wrist, which is the only plausible way the body would have remained on the cross, he says.

But how to explain the photographic negative like print of Jesus's face?

"It is something very peculiar. The shroud is some kind of negative of the body it's wrapped up. So you can ask 'Was that the moment of resurrection?' That has to be speculation."

The Catholic church has always refused to take a position on the shroud's authenticity but it expects between 1.5 and two million people to visit and the Pope is due to attend on 2 May. Before it went on display, the Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Severino Poletto, who is responsible for the shroud, signalled the symbolic importance it attaches to the object: "The Holy Shroud Exhibition is a spiritual and religious event, it is neither touristic nor commercial."

For his part Bruno Barberis, director of the International Centre of Sindonology in Turin, which is dedicated to the study of the Shroud, suspects the cloth is genuine.

"A lot of studies have proved that it's human blood for example - so it's not just done by a painter," he says. "It really is an image left by a real corpse. I think the probability is very high that it's genuine."

Map of cloth

The centre plans to produce "an accurate map of the cloth" to discern whether it was made from the same cloth or contains repairs. Once that has been completed the carbon dating will be repeated, he says.
Small samples taken from object and cleaned of contaminants
Material is then burnt to produce carbon dioxide
CO2 is converted into pure carbon, which is put through machine that measures trace amounts of carbon-14, an unstable isotope
All living organisms contain carbon-14 and when they die the isotope begins to deteriorate at given rate
This gives raw radiocarbon age which can be translated into a calendar age
Entire process takes at least two weeks Image shows phials and silver foil packet containing sample of the Turin Shroud for radiocarbon dating
Scientists take a different view though. Prof Gordon Cook, at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, rejects the idea that the sample may have been irrevocably damaged by human hands.

"Pre-treatment methods should get rid of the contamination," says Dr Cook, a professor of environmental geochemistry and a carbon dating expert. "The measurements were done by three really good radiocarbon labs so I've no doubt what they measured is the correct age."

The only question relates to whether the sample contained repairs rather than original material, he says.

Most of the scientists at the 1988 test have either died or retired. But one key witness remains - Dr Hans Arno Synal, who remembers the excitement well. At the time, a 30 year-old PhD student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he now heads up the university's ion beam physics laboratory, and believes that the mystery was solved back then.

"We applied very rigid procedures. If you'd had human contamination then you would have seen a difference between the different degrees of cleaning we did."

But there was no difference, he says. On the question of cotton repairs, he is sure that the textile experts would have picked up any discrepancy in material.

"I don't doubt that the sample has the same structure as the rest of the shroud. So much effort was put into the sample taking procedure."

In short, he is convinced that the object dates from the 14th Century. And yet that doesn't take away from the shroud's power to move people, he adds.

"This is something very special, a historical object whether it originated 2000 or 700 years ago. So I have no bad feelings about people going to see it. Maybe I'll go too. Why not? It's a very historical thing."

He has his own view about why some people are unwilling to accept the science. "It's clear the fibre can't be from Jesus's time. But the debate has not been stopped and maybe it never will. It goes beyond the science. There'll always be some who believe it's true."

Interestingly, it is not the Catholic church that insists the shroud is genuine but people outside it, he says. "Maybe some people want to have proof for the existence of God. But I don't think that's what this is about."

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