Pope agrees to scientific test on cross headboard
Pope John Paul II is expected to allow the first scientific test on a piece of walnut wood that for centuries has been venerated as the headboard of the cross on which Christ was crucified.
The fragment, displayed in the church of Santa Croce in the Rome suburb of Gerusalemme, is most likely to undergo testing for pollen in an attempt to map its original location.
A similar test on the Turin Shroud found pollen from a plant that grows only in the Near East, and could have been used to weave the crown of thorns. Carbon dating of the shroud, however, suggested it was a medieval forgery.
Tests on the headboard, or title, of the cross would be conducted under the supervision of Professor Carsten Peter Thiede, a German New Testament historian and papyrologist.
"We are also negotiating with the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, which advises the Pope, to carry out other tests, including taking minute slivers of the wood to analyse its origin and try to date it, much like you can tell the age of a tree from the rings in the trunk," said Thiede.
A headboard is mentioned in all four gospels. St John says Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, had the phrase "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" inscribed. "And it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin."