Public Domain (source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Shroud of Turin: modern photo of the face, positive left, negative right.
At least 200,000 people flocked to St. Peter's Square on Tuesday for the inauguration mass of Pope Francis. Pilgrims arrived in the first hours of the morning with welcome signs for the Argentine pope.
Known as "the Mass of the beginning of the Petrine ministry," the ceremony formally installed the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th pontiff in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Wearing his papal whites, Francis waved, smiled, kissed babies and gave an informal thumbs-up to the ecstatic crowds as he toured the sun-basked square.
Dozens of blue and white flags from Francis' native Argentina, as well as from countries all over the world fluttered above the crowd.
In a joyous atmosphere, pilgrims chanted the pope's name in Italian -- "Francesco, Francesco!" and cried "Viva il Papa" -- long live the pope.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was presented with the Fisherman's Ring and the pallium, a white wool stole embroidered with five silk crosses, symbols of his role and power as the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
The ring is made of gold-plated silver, in contrast with Benedict's chunky gold ring.
Pope Francis also chose his coat of arms -- the same that he used as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, but with the addition of the golden papal miter and the crossed keys that unlock the kingdom of God.
His motto will be “miserando atque eligendo” (Latin for “because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him”).
For the Mass, Francis wore plain white vestments, trimmed with gold and brown, and simple black shoes, in contrast to Benedict's hand made red loafers.
Among the multitude of pilgrims, 130 delegations from around the world, including six sovereigns and 31 heads of state, took their seats for the open-air service.
The guest list included U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (front row, at right), German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Religious leaders covered a broad range, and included 33 Christian churches, 16 Jewish leaders, and Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh leaders. The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, also participated. It's the first time the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians attend a papal inauguration since the Great Schism between western and eastern Christianity in 1054.
“Don't be afraid of tenderness,” Francis said in the homily.
Although he has been winning hearts with his humble, warm and direct style, Pope Francis will have to face big challenges.
The Shroud of Turin, the controversial piece of 14x4 foot linen that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, is to be shown on television for the first time in 40 years on Easter Saturday.
Authorized by Benedict XVI in one of his last acts as Pope, the 90-minute display will be broadcast worldwide at 12 noon (EDT) on the Italian RAI 1 state TV show "A sua Immagine" (In His Image).
The event marks the 40th anniversary of the shroud's first appearance on TV on November 23, 1973. At that time, the display was ordered by Pope Paul VI.
Three hundred ill people will be allowed to witness the event live in Turin Cathedral. The bulletproof, climate-controlled glass case where the relic is kept will be opened, and the linen lifted to be filmed.
Meanwhile, TV watchers will listen to a brief introduction by Pope Francis.
"It will be a message of intense spiritual scope, charged with positivity, which will help hope never to be lost," the Archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, was quoted as saying.
The first documented reference of the shroud dates to 1357, when the cloth was displayed in a church in Lirey, France. But scientific interest began much later, in 1898, when the linen was photographed by the lawyer Secondo Pia.
The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head.
In 1988, the Vatican authorized carbon-14 dating. The result was disappointing for believers. Three reputable laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Ariz., concluded that the linen was a medieval fake dating from 1260 to 1390, and not the burial cloth wrapped around the body of Christ.
Although the Catholic Church has remained agnostic on the authenticity of the shroud, making no official pronouncements, several shroud scholars, known as sindonologists, argued that no medieval forger could either have produced such an accurate fake or anticipated the invention of photography.
Speculation about the linen cloth, as well as debates over the validity of the carbon-14 tests, continues.
On the eve of the television display, a new study is claiming that the shroud is far older, dating to between 280 B.C. and 220 A.D.
Detailing their findings in a new book, "The Mystery of the Shroud," Giulio Fanti, associate professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, and journalist Saverio Gaeta, argue that chemical and mechanical single fiber tests place the relic within Christ's lifetime, with a margin of error of 250 years.
Moreover, "mineralogical investigations on dusts vacuumed from the shroud, revealed traces of limestone and clay minerals showing high iron content that is consistent with dust present in Palestine," Fanti said.
Displayed for six weeks at Turin Cathedral in 2010, the shroud won't go on public view again until 2025, making the television display a unique opportunity to believers.
And if going on TV is not enough, a digital opportunity is offered to investigate the controversial relic.
A Shroud 2.0 app, available for Apple's iPad/iPhone (soon for Android too), allows to zoom incredibly high-definition details of the linen.
Produced by Haltadefinizione, a company which specializes in art photography, the app originates from a 2008 project approved by Vatican officials.
At that time, the shroud was photographed and filmed for the first time in high definition, producing a huge 12.8 billion-pixel image.
Technicians from Haltadefinizione stitched together 1,649 shots, each the size of a credit card, to create a huge photo which is almost 1,300 times stronger than a picture taken with a 10 million pixel camera.
"The most detailed image of the Shroud ever achieved is now available to the whole world, thanks to a streaming system," the company said.
"Wherever you are, without any time or distance restriction, each detail of the cloth can be magnified and visualized in a way which would otherwise not be possible," Haltadefinizione said.