Today, as he greeted the pilgrims after the general audience catechesis and summaries in different languages, Pope Francis said, “I am pleased to announce that, God willing, next June 21 I will go on pilgrimage to Turin to venerate the Holy Shroud and to honor Saint John Bosco on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth.”

The Shroud, with its outline of a supine male figure is believed to be the burial cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus as he lay in the tomb following his crucifixion. It will be displayed for veneration by the faithful for just over two months, from April 19 to June 24, 2015 in Turin’s cathedral. The theme of the exposition is “The Greatest Love.”

The 14 foot 3 inch by 3 and a half-foot linen cloth in a fishbone weave shows the frontal and dorsal images of a crucified man, about 5 foot 10 inches in height, whose body shows signs of having been whipped and on whose head was placed a helmet-like crown of thorns. The burial cloth or Shroud has bloodstains as well as a parallel set of burn marks that run down the sides of the cloth. These appeared when the silver reliquary in which the Shroud was kept in a chapel in France was partially burned in a fire and molten silver fell onto the cloth that was folded eight times over – thus the symmetrical burn marks. It also shows watermarks from the water used to douse that fire on December 4, 1532. From April 14 to May 2, 1534 the Poor Clare Sisters of Chambery tried to mend the Shroud by sewing on triangular patches of fabric.

The 2015 viewing will be the 25th time since the Shroud was transferred from Chambery, France to Turin in 1578 by Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy. The Shroud was in the Savoy family until 1983 when King Umberto II, the last Duke of Savoy who was deposed in 1946 and died in 1983, bequeathed the linen to the Holy See but the Pope left the relic in the care of the Archbishop of Turin. It was on display in 1978 to mark the fourth centenary of its transfer to Turin, and again in 1998 on the occasions of the 500th anniversary of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Turin and the centennial of the first photograph of the Shroud taken in 1898 by Secondo Pia, a photograph whose negative revealed the front and dorsal blood-stained images of a crucified man who had been whipped and whose head was covered with a crown of thorns. In recent decades dozens of tests have been done on very small pieces or threads of the linen that the archbishop of Turin allowed to be taken from the Shroud. Carbon dating tests were done in 1988 but have basically proved inconclusive. Most of the evidence, including coins from a Roman era that cover the eyes of the Man of the Shroud, traces of many types of pollens, including one now extinct pollen found only in Palestine two millennia ago, that would bear out the linen’s journey from the Middle East through modern day Turkey and Syria to France and Italy, indicates this piece of linen is 2000 years old. It does not prove the Man was Jesus.

No Pope has ever made a definitive pronouncement about the Shroud. Pope Francis had expressed his desire to venerate the Shroud, and Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin said today in a press conference that the longer time frame was chosen to facilitate a visit by the Holy Father. Francis did say in the early days of his papacy that, “the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. ….(it is an image that) “speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love.”

In 2015 the diocese of Turin will also be marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Saint John Bosco, patron of Catholic schools.

Presenters at today’s press conference, according to a VIS report, noted that this will be the third time the Shroud has been displayed to the public during this millennium. The event will focus on two themes: the young, and those who suffer. It is precisely for this reason that the Pope has allowed the solemn exposition, which coincides with the Jubilee for the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco.

As on previous occasions, special attention will be paid to the sick who visit the Holy Shroud. The pastoral ministry for healthcare in Turin will make two reception centers available for pilgrims and carer-givers. In addition, with the collaboration of more than 3500 volunteers, moments of prayer will be held, and a confessional service in different languages will be available in locations in the area near the Cathedral.

The visit will be free of charge but booking is obligatory, to enable the effective management of the flow of pilgrims. Booking is online, at

I took the following photos on my 2010 visit to Turin:

The church was in almost total darkness and it took me about 10 minutes to acclimate myself. No flashes were allowed inside the church. The side aisles are closed off and people who come in to pray can only go half way up the center aisle – the rest is set off for visitors with reservations. However, no matter were you are in the church, you can see the Shroud – lit from behind, it is this white glowing object above the main altar.

TURIN - St. John cathedralTURIN - Shroud 1TURIN - Shroud 2Turin - Shroud 3

I spent quite some time in prayer, having promised many people I would pray for their special intentions. I spent quite some time in reflection, looking at the Shroud, thinking of what I had studied and learned about this 2000-year old piece of cloth, thinking of the Man whose body it wrapped.

Jesus asked His disciples: “And who do you say I am?”