TURIN, Italy — A thin white cloth draped over the glass–covered Shroud of Turin was pulled down and billowed to the floor, marking the official opening of the venerated icon’s exposition to the public.
The unveiling came during a Mass held in the city’s cathedral of St. John the Baptist today in the presence of a small group of dignitaries, religious and lay faithful.
“We have put ourselves in the wake of generations of pilgrims” who come to contemplate the shroud and “it will do us good to feel like we are drops in the river that has run through the centuries of a humanity in need of God,” Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, papal custodian of the shroud, said in his homily.
As it was for countless pilgrims over the centuries, the shroud continues to be an invitation to reflect on Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, he said, which in turn inspires and calls people to reach out to others in need. “The shroud invites us to never let ourselves be beaten down by evil, but to overcome it with good,” he said.
As people gaze at the image, may they no longer feel alone or afraid as soon they can discover “it is not we who are looking at that image,” but it is Christ who is gazing back at them, he said.
The shroud, believed by many Christians to have wrapped the crucified body of Christ, will be on public display through June 24. More than 2 million people were expected to visit, and, before the official opening in mid-April, 1 million people had already pre-booked their visit through the archdiocese’s free, but mandatory online andon-site reservation process.
One couple from Paris with their two small children stood disappointed on the flagstone street alongside the long metal barricades that kept them and scores of other visiting foreigners and locals from attending the invitation-only Mass.
The couple, who identified themselves only by their first names, Constance and Hubert, said they were heading to southern France from the Italian Alps and came through Turin as a shortcut.
“I saw on the Internet that today is the first day the shroud is being shown, so we came to see, but we won’t have the possibility,” Constance said, since they hadn’t booked ahead and had family waiting for them.
She said she remembered seeing the shroud as a young girl with her parents and “I have memories of it being like a ‘shock’ when you see it,” trying to find the right word in English for the impact and amazement she felt. She said she wanted her kids and husband to experience the shroud for the first time, too.
Media outlets were given an exclusive preview yesterday when Archbishop Nosiglia had the shroud unveiled for reporters.
Flanked by uniformed members of the Italian military and police forces, the shroud’s high-tech protective case was positioned upright like a large landscape portrait, surrounded by large red velvet drapes and with a smallbox of green ivy and white tulips below.
At least 100 journalists were perched on a winding three-tiered platform pilgrims would later have as their viewing stand. They had cameras, mobile devices and eyes focused on the shadowy photonegative image of a man’s bearded face, crossed hands and long body on the 14-foot by 4-foot linen cloth.
The man in the image bears all the signs of the wounds corresponding to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death. Scientists have determined the dark stains around the head, hands, feet and right side are human blood, type AB.
The church supports scientific research concerning the shroud and its possible age and origins, which continues to see heated debate, but it has itself never officially ruled on the shroud’s authenticity.
Instead, the church invites the faithful to reflect on shroud’s image as a way to grasp the kind of suffering Jesus endured during his passion and death, and the love for humanity that sacrifice entailed.