In an effort to solve the mystery shrouding one of the most controversial relics in Christendom, the Vatican confirmed that thirty triangular patches had been removed from the Shroud.
The patches were carefully sewn onto the cloth by nuns in 1534, after a fire had blackened parts of it. The modern operation, which also includes the replacing of the cloth's backing, was conducted by Swiss textile expert Mechtild Flury-Lemberg between June 20 to July 22.
"There is no mystery. The interventions and new tests on the Shroud
have been carried out in agreement with the Holy See," Marco Bonatti, spokesperson
for the Shroud's custodian, Severino Poletto, told reporters.
He added that the new tests were "non-invasive" and that the results, along with pictures, will be made public in mid-September.
Scientific interest in the 14-foot-long linen cloth, remarkable for its smudged outline of a body, began in 1898, when it was photographed by lawyer Secondo Pio. The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head.
In 1988, the Vatican approved carbon-dating tests. Three reputable laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Ariz., concluded that the shroud was a medieval fake, dating from 1260 to 1390, and not a burial cloth wrapped around the body of Christ.
But now many believe that the Vatican's unexpected and radical intervention on the cloth could be a prelude to important announcements.
"We are wondering if Flury-Lemberg is now doing secret C-14 testing,"
shroud scholar Sue Benford told Discovery News.
In collaboration with Joseph Marino, another renowned scholar, she has just published two scientific articles claiming that the 1988 carbon dating tests were altered by the presence of invisible patches dating back to the 16th century.
Independent tests carried out on some of the fragments used for the C-14 tests showed that 40 percent were 1st-century fibers and 60 percent were 16th-century material.
Their study has been supported by the research of Ray Rogers, a retired chemist from Los Alamos National Laboratories and former member of the STURP team of American scientists that examined the Shroud in 1978.
"There seems to be ample evidence that an anomalous area was sampled for the radiocarbon analysis. The reported age is almost certainly invalid for the date the cloth was produced," he writes in a scientific review of the methods applied to the Shroud.
"At this point, we definitely urge the Vatican to do more C-14 dating using the material they must have collected from beneath the 30 patches," said Benford.
The shroud has survived several blazes since its existence was first recorded in France in the 14th century, including a mysterious fire at Turin Cathedral in 1997.
Kept rolled up in a silver casket, it has been on display only five times in the past century. The next display will be in 2025.