Pope sees Turin’s holy shroud as an ‘icon of love’

Gianluca Avagnina in Turin

Pope Francis prayed before the Holy Shroud of Turin last weekend, on his first official apostolic visit to the northern Italian region of Piedmont where the famous relic is venerated.

Accompanied by the Archbishop of Turin Ceasare Nosiglia, the Pope venerated the shroud for several minutes inside the cathedral of St John the Baptist. He then walked towards the protective glass and touched it with his right hand in silence.

Accompanying the Pope were some of his relatives from the nearby town of Portacomaro Stazione, from where his father emigrated to Argentina.

The Pope also stopped in front of tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a patron of young people, who is buried in an altar on the left aisle of the cathedral. Some members of Pier Giorgio’s family were also present.

The Pope’s visit coincides with one of the rare public exhibitions of the shroud, on display from April 19 until June 24.

More than one million people from across the world have seen the shroud since the opening of its exposition. It is one of Christianity’s most controversial relics: the results of different scientific tests carried on the cloth disagree with each other, but none of them have been able to give a definitive answer on how the image of a tortured man was impressed on the cloth.

The shroud measures 4.4 metres by 1.2 metres and it appears to show the back and front of a crucified man, with wounds around the wrists, feet and side areas.


Many Catholics believe that the shroud is the original cloth placed on the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, though the Church hasn’t recognised it officially.

Speaking about the shroud at the Mass held in Piazza Vittorio on Sunday, Pope Francis said that “the shroud attracts towards the face and the martyred body of Jesus and at the same time pushes us towards the face of those who suffer or are unjustly persecuted. It pushes us in the direction of the gift that is Jesus’ love”.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI visited the shroud on the occasion of its last universal public exhibition in 2010, and he described it as an “icon written with blood”. His predecessor St John Paul II viewed the shroud three times.

The shroud is usually conserved in a special, continuously monitored seal case in a chapel inside Turin Cathedral. There have been nine public exhibitions of the shroud over the last century, but the cloth was put on display very few times in the previous centuries.

St John Bosco

The two-day apostolic visit of Pope Francis to Turin also celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of St John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, who dedicated his whole life to young people, particularly young people in difficult situations.

Meeting the Salesians in Turin’s Basilica of Our Lady Help ofChristians on Sunday, the Pope stressed how the work of their order has become more and more important to face Italy’s 40% youth unemployment rates.

He encouraged all Salesians to make “risky decisions” and to offer “emergency education” to give young people a job and an opportunity so urgently needed.

The Pope also took some time to visit the Church of Santa Teresa in Turin, where his grandparents attended Mass and where his father was baptised. The Bergoglio surname and family originally comes from an area North of Asti (Robella, Cortiglione) in Piedmont.

During Sunday’s Mass the Pope called himself a ‘grandson’ of Turin and showed  his very strong links with Piedmont by quoting the Piedmontese poem Razza Nostrana by Nino Costa that, he said, he knows by heart.