Torino has always been a city imbued with a mystical atmosphere which, even now, can be breathed during the exposition of the Holy Shroud, the sacred linen in which the body of Christ was wrapped, now held in the renaissance building of St John Cathedral.
What is the Holy Shroud? A linen cloth in herringbone weave measuring about 4.41x1.13m, containing the double image of the head of a corpse of a man who died after torture, culminating with a crucifixion. This image is surrounded by two singed black lines and a number of parts missing due to a fire at Chambéry in 1532. According to tradition not yet definitively proven it is the cloth mentioned in the Gospels that wrapped the body of Jesus in the tomb.
The first certain documentary evidence goes back to the mid 14th century when the knight Geoffroy de Charny laid the sheet in the church he founded in 1353 at Lirey in France. In the first half of the 1400s, during the Hundred Years War, Marguerite de Charny took it with her in her on her travels through Europe until it was received at Chambéry by the Dukes of Savoy who became its owners in 1453 and held it at the Sainte-Chapelle du Saint-Suaire: on 4 December 1532, this chapel was damaged by a fire which caused considerable damage to the Holy Shroud as well, subsequently repaired by the nuns of the Order of Saint Clare in the city. In 1578 Emmanuel Philibert had the relic transferred to Torino in order to offer to Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milano, the opportunity to venerate it, sparing him part of the long journey he would have had to undertake to reach Chambéry. And here it has remained permanently.
On the night of 11 and 12 April 1997, a raging fire destroyed the 17th century Chapel of the Shroud by Guarino Guarini, even spreading to the north-west tower of Royal Palace at a temperature of over 1,000°C. Fortunately the Holy Shroud was not affected since it had been removed to the Cathedral in 1993 while the Chapel was being restored. However, for safety reasons, it was decided to break the bullet-proof glass case protecting it and to transfer it to the Archbishop’s Palace to avoid the risk of collapse and of possible water damage from the fire hydrants used by the fire brigade.
Over the many years, the tension from the 16th century sewing had made increasingly deep folds in the cloth while organic residues were risk factors for its preservation, and so restoration was undertaken in 2002: the flaps of burnt cloth and the patches by the nuns were removed and, at the same time, studies and investigations were carried out using specially made instruments.
Today the Shroud is kept lying flat and horizontal in a sealed display case - with the internal air replaced by inert gas - made by Alenia Spazio and Microtecnica applying the latest technologies from the aerospace sector, while the upper surface is made up of a multilayer safety glass. The display case is, in turn, protected in a "sarcophagus" of several layers able to ensure considerable mechanical strength and good protection from fire. A computerised system keeps the parameters of the display case under constant control as well as those of the Chapel where it is located (in the left transept of the Cathedral).
The last ostentions of the holy shroud took place in 1978, 1998, 2000, 2010 and 2015.