THE TIMES - Wednesday, August 21, 2002, page 11

Italy - Experts attack latest tests on Turin Shroud
Richard OWEN

A FRESH attempt by Catholic officials to prove that the Turin Shroud is genuine and not a medieval fake has provoked a row after experts said that the tests could damage the cloth.

The shroud, preserved in Turin Cathedral, is held by many Christians to be the cloth in which Jesus Christ was wrapped after the Crucifixion. Venerated for centuries as the Holy Shroud, it preserves the image of a tall man with
crucifixion marks which only came to light when the 4.37m-by-1.11m (14ft4in-by-3ft7in) cloth was first photographed at the end of the 19th century.

Carbon-dating tests conducted in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona, in 1988 indicated that the shroud was a forgery and had been made between 1260 and 1390.

Two years ago Vatican officials said that there would be no further tests in the foreseeable future. However, members of the official Committee for the Conservation of the Holy Shroud have disclosed that testing has begun again.

They said that the cloth's backing and around thirty triangular patches used to mend the shroud in the 16th century after it was damaged by fire, had been removed in a "secret experiment". They added that the committee as a
whole had not been consulted and instead the testing had been authorised by a small number of church "insiders".

Officials in Turin confirmed that the shroud had been removed from its case and would not be on display while the experiment was in progress. They said that the operation was being conducted by the Swiss textile expert, Mechtild

Supporters of the latest move said that there was a "plausible theory" that the 1988 tests on tiny fragments taken from the shroud had been "skewed" by the possible fusion of the original 1st-century cloth with the fibres of
later additions, giving a "confused and inaccurate" carbon dating. Removing the patches would enable scientists to test the original cloth with less likelihood of contamination.

Two American shroud scholars or "sindonologists", Sue Benford and Joseph Marino, told Il Messaggero, the Rome daily, that independent tests conducted on some of the fragments of cloth used in the 1988 carbon dating showed that 40 per cent were 1st-century fibres and 60 per cent were 16th-century material. That would have produced a "median date" of around the 13th
century, they said.

Emmanuela Marinelli, a leading expert on the shroud, is angry about the decision to remove the patches and the cloth's backing. "This is bound to cause damage of some kind. It is at odds with the great prudence with which it has always been handled until now."

The existence of a Holy Shroud was first recorded at Edessa (now Urfa in modern Turkey) in the 2nd century and again at Constantinople in the 10th century.

In the 14th century the "burial cloth of Christ" was allegedly brought to France by Crusader knights. A linen cloth purported to be the shroud was later entrusted to an order of nuns in Chambery, who repaired it after a fire in 1532.