shroud-faces (Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli)

Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli tells me he has been getting lots of hate mail as well as emails of support since our Oct 5 story that he had reproduced the Shroud of Turin with material available in the Middle Ages, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ’s burial cloth is a medieval fake.

Given the controversy that has surrounded the Shroud, particularly since the 1988 carbon dating tests, this was hardly a surprise. One of Christianity’s most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year. The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

Until now, scientists have been at a loss to explain how the eery image like a photographic negative of a crucified man was left on the cloth.  Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, will present his findings at a conference in northern Italy this weekend.

shroud-bodies (Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) in full length next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)

No one expects this to be the last we hear of the Shroud. As Garlaschelli told me in our telephone interview, those who fervently believe the Shroud is real will continue to do so. Our main news website, www.reuters.com, gave a rough gauge of international interest in the Shroud in its “Most Popular” rankings. Over 24 hours after we ran the news, it was still the third most popular story out there, ahead of a host of important economic stories and the latest twists in the David Letterman sex scandal. That says something about how the Shroud still arouses passions — whether it is 2,000 years old or only 700.

What is your feeling on the Shroud and the controversy that has surrounded it. Does it make a difference to one’s faith if it is real or not?