Radio 24 -  Linea 24 - August 12, 2002

The restoration of the Shroud

(Listen to the interview in Italian in RealAudio format)

The restoration of the Holy Shroud, carried out by the Diocese of Turin, has just finished.  On our microphones Emanuela Marinelli, Shroud expert, and Marco Bonatti, director of "La Voce del Popolo", weekly magazine of the Curia of Turin.

Interviewer: The following pieces of news have become official by now:  the Shroud, that is to say, the most important antique-relic of the Christianity, because it is thought to be Jesus of Nazareth's burial sheet, has been restored.  The Diocese of Turin admits exactly this: the removal of thirty patches, sewn on the sheet after the1532 fire in the "Sainte Chapelle" of Chambéry, where in fact the Shroud was kept.  For those who may not know it, what is the Shroud exactly?  We ask it to Emanuela Marinelli, expert sindonologist, as Shroud scholars are called. Good morning!

Marinelli: Good morning!  The Shroud is a long piece of cloth, 4.37 meters to 1.11 meter, an ancient, valuable cloth, that bears the double frontal and dorsal figure of a man, a man who has got evident spots of blood, this blood has been analyzed and in fact is human blood.

Interviewer: …and the blood is thought to be blood, and the figure is thought to be Jesus of Nazareth's, if I am not wrong. This is scientifically proved by now.

Marinelli: Well, we say that the tradition has given us this sheet as Jesus' burial sheet, the scientists have said their word, finding, for example, pollens of plants that only grow in the Middle East, which, therefore, let us understand that this sheet comes from that zone; a seam identical to the one found on cloths in the archaeological excavations of Masada has also been discovered, therefore, there is no doubt it is the burial cloth of a man who was killed in a Judaic milieu. Then, of course, besides science, history is involved, and, therefore, the comparison with Gospels; so we can say that this sheet belonged to Jesus of Nazareth. If we compare what this man, whose traces we see here, has suffered, in fact, the Shroud image, with what the Gospels say to us, there is a perfect coincidence, but there are also details, which a forger, a counterfeiter could not have imagined, for  example, there is a little mould on the nose and the knees, that can be seen only through a  microscope, therefore, this testifies the falls along the way towards the place of the crucifixion;  and many others of these small traces, small elements that like a detective, like Sherlock Holmes, have been identified. Putting together all the scientific elements found, the probability that the man is Jesus is so high, that today saying the opposite is truly adventurous.

Interviewer:  This sheet has been shown to the public three times, called Exhibitions, in 1978, from August 27 to  October 8, as many of you remember, in 1998, 56 days of exhibition, and then the longest one in history, from August 12 to October 22, during the Jubilee of 2000.  Marco Bonatti, the director of "La Voce del Popolo," , good morning!

Bonatti:  Hello!

Interviewer: …that is the weekly magazine of the Curia, where the Shroud is kept.  What kind of interventions have been carried out on the Shroud recently, it seems until July 22, from June 20 to July 22.  Bonatti…

Bonatti: Yes, as to these pieces of news, we were ready, we will be ready to give them in a more complete way in September, when some technical aspects of the image printing have finished, etc.  The interventions have been restoration interventions, in fact, which have consisted in the patches removal and the cloth cleaning from a certain amount of impurities, which had accumulated in 400 years, because nobody had done any of these interventions anymore. In the meantime, new series of photographies have been taken just in order to document the carried out work and then make it available to scholars.

Interviewer: You have said properly: "there will be details in September"; what has happened, then, has there been an unintentional news leak from the Vatican and someone has been clever at carrying to the light, at finding this news of the operations that have happened on the Shroud?  I call them "operations", then, maybe, some more details will be given…

Bonatti: Yes, they have been operations.

Interviewer:  What has happened?

Bonatti: Well, these are not considerations we are interested in directly; about the Shroud, about  this operation there had been a confidentiality, that seems understandable to me, quite obvious, in these times of attacks, etc. Before starting these works, police authorities have been consulted and everybody agreed on the fact that the Shroud could be one of the targets of demonstrative gestures, therefore, there was just no reason, no need to let people know, before or during (the operation) things, that, however, would have been made public when due. This is the reason for the intervention confidentiality, a confidentiality, that, however, was a very relative one, because priests spoke about it quite freely, etc., therefore, there is no other reason of secrecy, as, instead, some newspapers have written.  In any case, these are not our problems, I mean, it has been made what  was right and necessary for being able to work in tranquility.

Interviewer: Listen, is it true that the so-called Holland cloth, sewn on the Shroud back in order to support it better, has been replaced?

Bonatti: Yes. It has been replaced by another cloth,  called "Holland cloth" as well, so there will be a confusion of terms. In fact, it has been decided not to reconstitute the patches, but simply to connect the Shroud cloth to the backing cloth below. Surely Dr Marinelli can say these things better than I can.

Interviewer: Dr Marinelli…

Marinelli: Well, I have not taken part in the operation.  What I can explain is that, in fact, the Holland cloth had been put by the Clare nuns in 1534; they had been entrusted with this restoration work, restoration that has been made with much skill and patience by these nuns,  who have even worked kneeling, praying and using golden needles out of respect.  Sure, the news of the removal of this 16th century restoration leaves us a bit abashed, because it was a precious historical thing itself  by now. So, there has been… yesterday in "Il Tempo" I read an article of Prof. Francesco Sisinni,  who also put this perplexity on the operation.  Sure, when we know...I knew from the newspapers, so I have not taken part in the operations, I could not say more.

Interviewer: Well, which perplexities are there?  Which are the perplexities?

Marinelli: Well, I have talked to many scientists, who, by the way, had also been invited to a convention behind closed doors in Villa Gualino in March 2000, and who are abashed as well,  because they have known it from the newspapers, too, so… These scientists, I know most of  them and I have already spoken to them in these days, expected, maybe, to be a little, say, consulted,  because they have been Shroud experts for many years, so, for example, there is Prof. Meacham, an archaeologist, or John Jackson, who has been the coordinator of the group of American scientists  who studied the Shroud in 1978, or Larry Schwalbe….in fact, I could make a long list. They are all rather perplexed, because this choice has been made by a very narrow group one of people, who enjoy the Cardinal's trust, therefore, I do not question this confidence or these people's value, but, being a narrow group, I say they have taken a big responsibility, because, perhaps, a wider consult was necessary, on account of the preciousness of this object. First of all, the perplexity is that by removing the backing cloth and the patches, those folds, that had to be studied in order to reconstruct if the Shroud had been really folded in Edessa and in Constantinople, as the historians said, have gone lost, and then, also this material, well, I hope they have sampled "in situ", spot by spot, the dust that was between the two cloths, because, in fact, even that dust could give some precious information.  I have read that all has been preserved, hasn't it?  But, well, surely such a dramatic removal of all that material leaves many perplexities, in fact, even on the necessity of doing an operation of the sort.  We are all quite abashed, you know. I have been interested in the Shroud for 25 years and one morning I open the newspaper and I read that the Shroud has been transformed in this way, well, one remains a little open-mouthed.  But this is not only my perplexity, but several other scientists' from all over the world, as well, so…

Interviewer: Bonatti, how do you answer to these perplexities?

Bonatti: Well, first of all, it seems to me that, mostly by an expert and a person who truly loves the Shroud, such as Dr Marinelli, is more than legitimate to express these opinions and I realize that there can be unpleasant things, when some people rather than others are chosen, these are problems which such situations take with them, but I must say this: the work made now is part of a series of criteria and proposals of intervention already defined by the commission for the conservation ten years ago and that have been put into effect gradually.  On the Shroud there have been interventions in 1998, in 2000 and now in 2002, always following a precise, explicit, declared, known criterion of interventions aiming at improving, at rendering the conservation conditions optimal, therefore, it is not a completely new fact and, what is the most important thing, the conservation does not have nothing to do with the scientific search, which is another issue. The symposium Dr Marinelli was referring to dealt with other things, not with this, with the conservation.

Interviewer: So, isn't there any mystery about this operation, about the Shroud?

Bonatti: On all the emergency reasons surely not, as far as I see.

Interviewer: Is there a total agreement by the Holy See on the type of operation carried out, naturally?

Bonatti:  I do not have any doubt on this. The Cardinal himself wanted  to declare it explicitly on "Avvenire" last Saturday, so it seems to me that reporting any doubt on this does not have much sense.

Interviewer:  Listen, have you seen the new Shroud, so to call it?

Bonatti:  This is a personal question.

Interviewer: No doubt it is a personal question!

Bonatti:  I have seen it...

Interviewer:  Which impression have you drawn from it?

Bonatti: An impression…I do not know if Dr Marinelli will like it…of cleanness. The image appears to me far more definite, so…now….I am…I do not have any scientific knowledge, nor do I want to have any…it seems to me that, when appropriate, in 2025, the Shroud will be exhibited, however, much earlier, from September the images could be available to anyone, I think that the image reading by the believer, the common observer will have improved.

Interviewer: Have you had an absolutely positive image of the new works, of the new Shroud?

Bonatti: Yes, but not thanks to my job, of course! Yes, yes, definitely, I would say, and the people who have operated the interventions, who I could speak to, who have explained things to me, have confirmed this impression of mine.

Interviewer: Listen, just one thing more. The intervention on the Shroud - many people have already asked you this, but I want you to repeat it, there may be some new things, are these interventions the prelude for another exhibition, and we want to translate this word, "exhibition," which, in fact, means to show the sheet, the Shroud to the public?

Bonatti: I want to say that I am not able to answer about…as far as the scientific researches are concerned, because, after the symposium of 2000, I know that all the material, which has been collected, is being examined, elaborated, confronted, etc.  As to the Exhibitions,  at the end of the 2000 Exhibition Cardinal Poletto said: "We are going to meet again in 2025, when presumably  next Holy Year takes place."

Interviewer: Well, but 25, 23 years are many, there has been this new intervention. Can we expect that the Shroud could be exhibited before, in your opinion?

Bonatti: I do not know, because the criteria of the exhibition can be the most various. The one of Holy Years is quite sure.  Saying beforehand… yes, I know that it is told about 2006, but it seems to me that this has no particular meaning for the moment.

Interviewer: The fact of mixing lay and religious with the Olympic Games of 2006...

Bonatti: Yes, in fact, I do not see at all…this does not seem to me a strong reason. I believe that we have to take also this into consideration: the exhibition, the exposition, as a typically religious event, just because an object is exhibited, you have called it relic, we do not use this term, just because there is a prudence by the Church, different, but, however, an object which recalls in such a  moving way the signs of the Passion, in which people go and seeks the Lord, anyway associating it to their questions, it is an extraordinary fact, it is an event that cannot become a constant, if it becomes a constant, then it becomes...we risk, in this way, to make it an object for a museum.

Interviewer: The object is no more…sure, the object is not extraordinary anymore, no doubt.