Saturday, August 10, 2002, pag. 3

Shroud, a mysterious restoration
Eliminated the 16th century darns made by the Clare Nuns after the fire in Chambéry.
The operation most secretly led by a Swiss scholar. Do the fire damages surface again?

Between June 20 and July 22, the thirty patches put in 1534 on the Shroud by the Clare Nuns of Chambéry, after a fire, two years before, had damaged what is considered Jesus Christ’s burial cloth, were eliminated. The intervention was carried out in Turin Cathedral’s sacristy  in an atmosphere of absolute secrecy. “No mystery, the works and the new analyses on the Shroud have been led in agreement with the Holy See and on the basis of the indications emerged from the  March 2000 world-wide symposium of experts.” That was the Turin Curia’s specification on the news, which appeared on yesterday’s Il Messaggero. In fact, the operation, carried out by Mechtild Flury-Lemberg, a Swiss textile expert, has involved, besides the substitution of the Holland cloth backing, also new scientific “non invasive” tests, that is, without damaging the cloth, as had happened, instead, for the radiocarbon test in 1988. “The results will be made known and even photographically documented in mid-September,” has further specified Cardinal Severino Poletto’s spokesman. At the moment, Cardinal Poletto is being engaged in spiritual exercises outside Turin. He is the Shroud Custodian on behalf of the Holy See, who was given it by the Savoy family. Until mid-September, however, there will be a mystery to be solved: if the patches have been eliminated, does this mean that the Shroud is holed?

Now the Shroud is without patches

A job for tailors with the halo. Only the Clare nuns of Chambéry, in 1534, had dared to mend the Shroud after that a fire in 1532 had damaged the sacred sheet, at that time kept in the cathedral of what was the dukedom of Savoy’s capital town. This time, instead, the operation has been led by a  Swiss textile expert Metchild Flury-Lemberg. A fairy’s hands, or, better, a saint’s hands. But rather than a real darn, the Helvetic scientist has eliminated the thirty patches the French “sisters”  had applied in order to restore the sacred linen. In order to complete all, nearly a month was necessary, from last June 20 to July 22, a work in complete secrecy in the Cathedral sacristy, a room equipped with instruments worthy of a time machine. During all this period, the entrance to the room has been barred to anyone not authorized by the leaders of the sub-alpine Curia. Now there is no trace anymore of the thirty patches sewn by the Clare nuns. A clean sweep has been made, even of the Holland cloth, the textile backing put on the back of the Shroud. The Turinese Curia has not given further details, which will be made public in mid-September, together with a photographic report realized during the intervention. The spokesman of the Turin archbishop, cardinal Severino Poletto, who is the icon caretaker and now engaged in spiritual exercises outside Turin, has referred to that date. Until the end of the summer, however, there will still be a mystery to be solved. What have the Clare nuns’ thirty patches been replaced with? And if they have not been replaced, does this mean that there are visible holes in the sheet? These questions have had no official answer for the moment. We know for sure that, in place of the so-called Holland cloth, now there is a cloth belonging to the Swiss scientist, and that the Clare nuns’ patches have been put in a bomb-proof container. But we cannot know if, after the darns elimination, the Shroud is “holed” or  has remained whole.

In order to carry out the clean sweep, scientists and clergy, equipped with delicacy and patience, made the move inside the Cathedral. The sacred linen, then, was taken out of its watertight case,  under the royal stand, on the left of the central altar of Piazza San Giovanni Cathedral, and taken to the “operating-theatre” next to the central altar.
Professor Pier Luigi Baima Bollone, one of the relic leading experts, does not want to comment the news, published yesterday by the daily paper Il Messaggero (The Messenger), nor does Mgr  Giuseppe Ghiberti, Poletto’s main collaborator on the Shroud issues, let slip one word.

In March 2000, at the end of the international symposium before the exhibition, the archbishop had stated that the Church is not afraid of science, but of improvisation. The research work has never  stopped, in spite of stalemates and controversies. During this restoration, in fact, the Shroud has been newly analyzed in the attempt to understand its secret: the image formation of the man who, according to the tradition, is Jesus Christ.

It is a many-century-old challenge, in which various disciplines interweave: from forensic medicine to computer science, from nuclear physics to chemistry. Several scientists-sindonologists have questioned the result of the radiocarbon test, which had dated the linen to the medieval age, between 1260 and 1390. The samples examined by Oxford, Tucson and Zurich laboratories may have been contaminated just by the later interventions with medieval cloths. Moreover, in 1995 the Russian scholar Dmitri Kouznetsov reached the conclusion that the 1532 fire had modified the amount of radioactive carbon in the Shroud., altering its dating. The efforts to understand the mechanism of the image fixation on the linen date back to the end of the 19th century. A matter  between science and faith, that has fed a series of excellent photographic services. Even now, when both the patches and the Holland cloth have been eliminated, many pictures were taken of this relic-symbol of the Christian religion. For the first photographer of the Shroud, however, it was necessary to wait for the 1898 exhibition, when the lawyer Secondo Pia was the first person to make a photographic reportage of the sheet, realized through the case glass, while in 1931 it was  Giuseppe Enrie who took the icon images without the crystal protection. Then, after  the radiocarbon dating, carried out in the late 80s, Professors Giovanni Tamburelli in 1978, and Nello Balossino (Department of Computer Science of Turin) in 1990, realized a three-dimensional processing of the Shroud, using the Vrml technology, which made it possible to create a silvery metal copy of the sheet, which, in this way, became accessible even for the blind.

THE CONS - A useless restoration. The sheet has been damaged.

An invasive intervention the Holy See has given its authorization to, “holding its nose.” On the  patches-operation there is a controversy. Some scholars of the icon, who find room in the ample report on the restoration in yesterday’s Il Messaggero, state that, however much delicacy and cure may have been used to eliminate the thirty patches, the damages to the sheet will be irreparable in any case. In other words, the sacred linen may not be anymore the one exhibited in 2000 during the Jubilee. It could be considered an attack against Christianity, were it not that the Vatican has granted the authorization to proceed. Nevertheless, it seems that the job has been carried out keeping the leading experts in the field in the dark, like Professor Pier Luigi Baima Bollone, police doctor, author of various tests on the subject, while there may have been other scholars, like Professor Bruno Barberis, who have made explicit requests of this kind. Moreover, the restoration made by the Swiss scientist may have never been favored in any of the many Shroud conferences, held all over the world every year.

THE PROS - Some folds eliminated in agreement with the Holy See

“No mystery, the interventions and the new analyses on the Shroud have been led in agreement with the Holy See and on the basis of the indications emerged from the March 2000 world-wide symposium of experts.” This is the Turin Curia’s specification on the news, which appeared on yesterday’s Roman daily paper, of the elimination of the old darns from the linen, which, according to tradition, wrapped Jesus Christ’s body. The restoration may have been the result of a series of plans presented at the international Symposium in March 2000, before the Sheet Jubilee exhibition. In the Congress Proceedings, edited by Silvano Scannerini and Pietro Savarino, there may be the reasons for the work, carried out between June and July. The Turinese Curia, then, denies whichever tension with the Holy See. To make restorations on the Shroud there is no formal procedure: nobody asks for letters or registered letters. On the contrary, the protocol provides the substantial acceptance. The Shroud custodian is the archbishop of Turin, cardinal Severino Poletto, the representative for the interventions. According to some indiscretions, the Holy See has never said no to the requests of the various custodians of the icon.