Vatican scientists accused of destroying Turin Shroud particles
Microscopic particles that could have proved whether or not the Shroud of Turin could be dated to around the time of the death of Christ have been destroyed by Vatican scientists.
Scientists performed a secret restoration of the shroud - which supposedly wrapped the body of Jesus after his crucifixion - during which they cleaned and restored the burial cloth. This may have caused potentially important dust and pollen molecules to be lost forever.
It is feared the process could compromise the possibility of ever conclusively carbon-dating the shroud, which believers claim bears the image of Christ after his body was cut down from the cross.
The respected group of Shroud experts and academics, the Collegamento pro-Sidone, has written to Pope John Paul II protesting at the latest work and saying it caused the 'loss of precious material'. Vatican staff removed centuries-old patches and replaced a backing cloth sown onto the shroud. The restoration was carried out with explicit Vatican permission and was intended to protect the ancient artifact.
The Collegamento experts are outraged that the decision to tamper with the shroud was taken without consulting scientific associations. The group has now called on the Pope to personally take direct responsibility for the handling and conservation of relics through his Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.
The Vatican has said that the methods used in the restoration and clean-up operation had been 'non-invasive'. Cardinal Severino Poletto, of the Turin archdiocese, is to be quizzed about the risk to the shroud. He has played down fears that the processes damaged the shroud.
The Vatican experts say the Shroud's new backing is made of a cloth whose properties should prevent the formation of micro-organisms and therefore protect the relic. They also say the removal of accumulated dirt between the shroud and its old backing made the cloth 'more readable'.
Mechtild Flury-Lemberg, the Swiss textile expert who performed the restoration work in June and July said the work will 'aid the long-term conservation of the shroud'.
Flury-Lemberg's commission was a personal coup which enraged other shroud experts who say the work should have been an international effort - as has happened in the past. They have attacked her for removing more than 30 patches of cloth from the shroud and are angry at the the Shroud Preservation Commission for snubbing them.
Shroud custodians say the work had to be carried out in secret as the Vatican feared the relic could have become a target for attack in the wake of September 11.
The Shroud of Turin (official website, Archdiocese of Turin)
The Shroud of Turin Website
Sunday Herald (Edinburgh)
23 Sep 2002