For 16 days Turin buzzes with life. But, outside of the Olympic venues, the city also has a mysterious, magical allure. It is home of the Turin Shroud — a relic said by devout Catholics to be the cloth Christ was wrapped and placed in a tomb in — and runs along the axis’s of both black and white magic.
While pilgrims pay homage to the artifact, and some scientists debunk its origins, many tourists are simply curious. Meantime, victorious athletes are awarded their medals at the heart of ‘white’ Turin — now known as Medals Plaza — which also sits in front of the shroud’s former home.
“If you see it you know it hasn’t been painted,” said Romanin Loris, a volunteer at the Cathedral of Turin, where the shroud is kept, but is only put on display every 25 years — the last time being in 2000.
“It looks like a man who’s been raised from the dead; it would almost take an atomic explosion to leave those marks on the cloth,” he said, speaking of the impression of a majestic face and body allegedly stained with blood from wounds caused by thorns, nails, and lashings.
While unable to see the real cloth, a new exhibit features a series of videos on Jesus’ last days and explains the shroud’s origins, with its first mention being in 544 in what’s now Urfa, in Turkey, and its first confirmed appearance in France in the 14th century. It was later given to the House of Savoy and recognized by the pope. When the Savoys moved their capital from Chamberay to Turin in the mid-16th century, the shroud, being a symbol of divine approval of their rule, moved with them.
In 1898, a photographer found that the image showed up far more clearly in photographic negatives than in real life — a fact that the museum says proves its veracity as the images were impressed on it centuries before the difference between negative and positive images were discovered. A copy of a life-size negative is on exhibit.
“I am a faithful Catholic and so I do believe,” Loris said.
However, while taking a university course on the scientific history of the cloth, “I asked my professor if we could compute an act of faith and know that this was Jesus Christ, but he rebuked me, saying that until 1400 no one knows what path the cloth took, and so we cannot know,” he said.
In contrast to the believers, a chemist belonging to the Italian Committee to Investigate Claims of the Paranormal had a different take on when and how the shroud was made.
“A real body would leave a print on a cloth that is completely different from the Shroud image, because of the unavoidable wrap-around geometrical distortion of a round object wrapped within a flat cloth,” Luigi Garlascelli wrote in an e-mail interview.
A similar distortion is seen when a globe is flattened into a map and countries such as Sweden and Greenland appear much larger than they really are.
Garlascelli carried out an experiment to prove his theory by painting a volunteer with red paint and wrapping him in a sheet. The volunteer’s facial features were distorted, whereas those in Turin shroud appear picture perfect.
“For the body, the faker used either a large bas relief, or a real body, but carefully rubbing just those areas necessary to have no distortions.”
In addition, Garlaschelli, who is a professor at the University of Pavia, said that tests have shown the presence of red ochre on the cloth, and that a bishop and the artist himself came forward to say it was faked. For centuries, even the church claimed the shroud to be an “icon” and not a “relic,” he wrote.
Meantime, others believe that the shroud’s former presence in the royal palace in Piazza Castello – known as the Olympic Medals Plaza — has contributed to the levels of white magic in the area. (The city is said to be part of the “black magic” triangle with San Francisco and London and part of the “white magic” triangle with Lyon, France, and Prague, in the Czech Republic.)
The shroud is believed to harbor the four elements: earth (as it began as a flax plant), water and wind (as it was blown over the sea from the Holy Land to Europe), and fire (which failed to destroy it in 1532 and 1997).
Asked if he believed it was the shroud of Jesus Christ, 67-year-old Turin resident Agostino Candela said: “It is a mystery. Everyone wants to know, not only the Catholics. But it’s a mystery."