September 22, TURIN, Italy (AP) - Experts performed a top-secret restoration of the Shroud of Turin, removing centuries' old patches and a replacing a backing sewn centuries ago onto what some say was the burial cloth of Jesus, Church officials announced Saturday.

The restoration was carried out with explicit Vatican permission, and aimed only to protect and document the artifact.

The project consisted of three main elements: the removal of patches and a backing sewn onto the Shroud in the 16th century; a digital scan of both sides; and photo documentation.

The restoration was done June 20 to July 23 by Shroud expert Mechthild Flury Lemberg and restorer Irene Tomedi. Vague reports of the project leaked to the media in August, enraging other Shroud experts, who argued that the work should have involved less secrecy and more international collaboration.

Shroud custodians said Saturday that silence was needed because they feared after Sept. 11 that the cloth could become a target for attack as it was being restored.

The shroud, which is kept in the Turin cathedral, is a strip of linen about 14 feet long and 3 1/2-feet wide that is marked by an image of Jesus. Believers say the image was left by his body after being taken down from the cross.

A carbon-dating test ended in 1988 with a scientific team declaring that the shroud apparently came from medieval times. Disputes have flourished over that study and others, including one by researchers at The Hebrew University that concluded pollen and plant images on the shroud showed it originated around Jerusalem sometime before the eighth century.

The shroud is kept under tight security, with only a handful of people allowed access, among them Flury Lemberg, who was part of a commission established to study its conservation in 2000.

Flury Lemberg substituted the old backing with a fresh one ``in a way that made it possible at every point to verify the non-invasiveness of the intervention.''On the Net:Photos of Shroud: footage:

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