Mysterious Shroud of Turin on virtual display for coronavirus prayer

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Shroud of Turin, the mysterious linen some Christians believe is Jesus’ burial cloth, will go on virtual display on Saturday, an extraordinary showing to help the faithful worldwide pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia made the announcement on Saturday night, saying he had received “thousands and thousands” of requests to display the shroud now.

It will be displayed on April 11, Holy Saturday, when Christians believe Jesus was dead in a tomb the day before his resurrection. Nosiglia will pray before the shroud, and the event will be live-streamed and televised.

It is stored in a climate-controlled vault in the city’s cathedral and rarely shown because of its extremely fragile state. It was last shown very briefly in 2018 for a group of young people. Several million people viewed it in 2015, the last major showing.

More than 1,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in Piedmont, the region of which Turin is the capital. Piedmont borders with Lombardy, the hardest-hit region. More than 15,500 people have died countrywide.

The Catholic Church has not taken an official position on the shroud, which bears an image, reversed like a photographic negative, of a man with the wounds of a crucifixion.

It shows the back and front of a bearded man, his arms crossed on his chest. It is marked by what appear to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side.

Skeptics say it is a masterful medieval forgery and carbon dating tests in 1988 dated it to between 1260 and 1390. But some have challenged their accuracy, saying the cloth was corrupted by a 16th-century fire and restoration attempts.

The shroud will be displayed on Saturday without the public. Nosiglia said he would pray before the cloth starting at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) and invited the faithful to join from home.

It will be the latest extraordinary event held by the Catholic Church in the time of pandemic.

Last month, Pope Francis held a dramatic, solitary prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square, urging the world to see the crisis as a test of solidarity and a reminder of basic values..

The Vatican has moved a centuries-old wooden crucifix normally kept in a Rome church to St. Peter’s Basilica so that it can be seen during papal events.

According to tradition, a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets of the Italian capital for 16 days.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Pravin Char