Does it matter if the Shroud of Turin is a fake?

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1. Shrouded in mystery

Tens of millions of pilgrims – including several popes - have visited the Shroud of Turin. This mysterious and celebrated cloth has provoked both controversy and devotion.

While devotees believe it is Jesus' burial cloth, others are convinced it's a medieval forgery. Whatever the truth behind their origins, why do some objects like the shroud generate such devotion and awe among believers?

2. How the shroud survived

The history of the Turin Shroud is disputed. Although numerous historical references to Christ's shroud exist, reliable sources for the one housed in Turin Cathedral only start in the mid-14th Century.

The Turin Shroud is first recorded in Lirey, France in 1357. It is shown to paying pilgrims who buy commemorative medals. It is owned by the de Charney family, which promotes it as Christ's burial cloth. A bishop at the time condemns it as a fake.

RMN-Grand Palais /Art Resource

RMN-Grand Palais /Art Resource

Sixty years later Marguerite de Charney removes the shroud from the chapel in Lirey. She fears it could be destroyed by English soldiers who are at war with the French. By 1464 she has given or sold it to the Duke of Savoy.

Topfoto

Topfoto

In 1502 the shroud is moved to a chapel in Chambery Castle. Four years later Pope Julius II authorises a feast day for it on 4 May. Then in 1532 disaster strikes as a fire damages the shroud. It is repaired by nuns from a nearby convent.

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Getty

The Duke of Savoy moves the shroud to Turin in 1578 - it has remained there to this day. In the 16th and 17th centuries public showings of the shroud draw tens of thousands of pilgrims.

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Getty

In 1694 the shroud is moved to its own chapel in Turin Cathedral. It is only exhibited a handful of times in the 18th and 19th centuries to mark noble marriages. In 1804 Pope Pius VII kisses the cloth on his way to Paris to crown Napoleon emperor.

Getty, Topfoto

Getty, Topfoto

In 1898 photographer Secondo Pia is invited to take pictures of the shroud. After taking the plates home to develop he nearly jumps 'out of his skin' when he sees the face emerge on the negative. The photos reawakens worldwide interest in the shroud.

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Getty

The Savoy family donates the Shroud to the Catholic Church in 1983. Five years later they allow three teams of scientists to carbon date samples from the shroud. This reignites speculation around the shroud's origins.

Topfoto

Topfoto

In 1997 a fire breaks out in the shroud's chapel in Turin Cathedral. Firefighter Mario Trematore uses an axe to smash a glass shield and pull the silver casket storing the shroud to safety.

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Getty

Papal visits keep the shroud in the headlines. In 1998 Pope John Paul II visits and describes the shroud as 'a mirror of the Gospel'. Pope Benedict XVI visits in 2010 and describes it as an icon 'written with the blood' of a crucified man.

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Getty

A mobile app called Shroud 2.0 is released on Good Friday in 2013. The digital scan is made up of 1,649 high-definition photographs and allows global users to explore the cloth in detail. It is downloaded 75,000 times in its week of release.

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Getty

3. INTERACTIVE: Under the microscope

The shroud has been a topic of hot debate among scientists and historians. Delve in to the arguments and decide for yourself.

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4. Religious relevance

The Catholic Church has long refused to rule on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. But whether it is actually the burial cloth of Jesus or not, it still has huge significance to many Christians.

A representation

The shroud depicts a man who has been crucified, with the marks on the body corresponding to the wounds Jesus suffered as described in the Gospels. Like any representation of Christ's suffering, it can act as a focus for prayer. It may also intensify a believer's connection to the Son of God. Christians believe Jesus laid down his life for the sins of mankind.

A reminder

The image also serves as a reminder of the pain and injustice suffered by so many around the world. Pope Francis said: "This disfigured face resembles all those faces of men and women marred... by war and violence which afflict the weakest." It urges those who gaze upon it to offer comfort and compassion to their neighbours.

A relic

Many do believe the shroud was Christ's burial cloth and therefore an authentic religious relic. Catholic teaching is that God works through relics, especially through healing. They point to the New Testament, which describes believers being cured after touching the hem of Christ's garments.

5. The reach of relics

Christians have gone on pilgrimages to relics for over 1,000 years. But what kind of objects do they venerate?

Bust

Conques Abbey, France

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Remains of 12-year-old saint

Saint Foy died for her faith in the 2nd Century and her remains are kept in a gold bust. Bodily parts of a saint or martyr are known as first-class relics.

Urn

Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, Italy

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Chains of St Peter

These chains are said to have once bound St Peter in prison. This would make it a second-class relic, which is something once owned or worn by a saint.

Crown

Notre-Dame de Paris, France

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Crown of thorns

This contains a crown of thorns bought by the king of France in 1239. It marked an explosion in the popularity of relics, especially to those related to Jesus.

Book

On tour

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Pope John Paul II's blood

This gold book contains a vial of Saint Pope John Paul II's blood. Relics like these are sent on global tours for those who can't travel to them.