Turin on the Po

Turin sits on the River Po

There are a number of themes that could have shaped this post. I could have enthused, for example, about the architectural beauty of Turin and its spacious piazzas framed by tall classical buildings, palaces and magnificent churches. For here the Dukes of Savoy decided to construct a city that would be the envy of Europe and make it the seat of their enormous realm.   So they and their nobles built sumptuous palaces, homes and 18 kilometres of covered arcades so that the Dukes would never get caught in the rain.

Cristina square

Arcades 2

Just outside the city they built the Reggia di Venaria Reale one of the most important palaces in Italy, much likened to Versailles, and called it their hunting lodge.   I could have waxed lyrical about the cultural side of Turin because many of these palaces are now classical or contemporary art galleries and museums.   I know because I hit lots of them!

Reggia & time

The Reggia di Venaria Reale Palace

Reggia fountains

And the Palace’s musical fountains

What do you think

“What do you think of the Palace Gardens?”

Having spent a morning at the city’s jam-packed Museo del Risorgimento (meaning “The Resurrection”) I could have concentrated on the fascinating history of Italy’s unification and how the then Duke of Savoy, Vittorio Emanuele II, was made King of Italy when (most of) the provinces came together in 1861.   So for a while Turin was the capital of Italy.

Risorgimento palace

The Risorgimento Museum in The Palazzo Carignano

This could have been a foodie post as not only does Turin boast its regional dishes from Piedmont, including with white truffle ingredients, it is also the source of a more modern food venture as it is here that the Eataly company was born. Eataly’s are huge megastores of grocers’ shops, quality restaurants and cooking courses linked to the Slow Food Movement which grew up in nearby Bra. The first Eataly in Turin was created in a disused Vermouth factory (also invented in Turin!) – that’s how big the outlets are. Eataly’s have now opened all over the world, even in a former air terminal building.   Slow Food was a reaction to the growing popularity of fast-food outlets in the 1980’s and aimed to protect regional traditions, gastronomic pleasure and a slower way of life. It promoted biodiversity and environmentally-friendly cultivation. The idea spread and Slow Food has millions of members and thousands of projects in 160 countries. Its founder Carlo Petrini, a journalist, asserts “If you want to change the world don’t do it with sadness, do it with joy”, a message for us all.

There are also chocolate shops galore in Turin as it was evidently here that chocolate was solidified for the first time in 1802 – and I thought that was in Switzerland. Chocolate in liquid form is also a star of this city and its most renowned version is still served in Al Bicherin café where it was created in 1763 and where famous people such as Puccini, Dumas and Nietzsche as well as Savoy kings have sat and partaken of the drink. It is a mixture of chocolate, coffee and cream and I was instructed to by no means sweeten or stir it. Everyone in the tiny café drinks only this drink. As I sat at my table in the little piazza a long queue formed of twenty people prepared to wait a long time to taste it. Well it was delicious.


A drink fit for kings and kingfishers

I could have informed you about other things Turin is famous for – the T in Fiat stands for Torino. It is claimed that the Egyptian Museum’s collection is second only to Cairo (so there, British Museum).   The quirky Museo Nazionale del Cinema in the tall Mole Antonelliana tower charts Turin’s place as a pioneer in the early 20th century film industry too.

Some readers might have been interested in the magical myths about Turin, which I read about in a book my host loaned me.   Some say the city is built on an axis of good and evil, that fountains have cryptic symbols, and that the Holy Grail is buried under the San Madre di Dio Church. But I think these are modern myths made for tourists and spooky night time tours.

Fountain 1 (2)

Is the Fontana Angelica The Gateway to Infinity?

Grail & ne 3

A bejewelled ‘Grail’ in a gallery and I

I could have written about all of these topics but in fact what struck me most deeply about Turin is quite a cliché. I did NOT feel a strong interest in The Shroud, though I thought I would take a look at one of the copies on display, but as huge lines formed on the Liberation Day weekend outside the palaces and museums that I had previously walked into I turned away from the crowds and found the little Museo Della Sindone is a quiet area of town.   Here I was one of only five people all afternoon, and I think I spent about three hours there. The history of the Shroud (La Sindone) is like a detective story – Is this or is it not the face of Christ?

Shroud face 1

This dark little underground museum, owned by the spooky-sounding 16th century Confraternitá (Brotherhood) of the Shroud and manned by devoted and assiduous volunteers, sets out the history and both sides of the spell-binding research conducted on this mysterious piece of cloth.

The blood-stained material was revered for centuries before technology allowed for it to be photographed in 1898 by a lawyer named Secondo Pia when the front and rear image of a man’s body was revealed and unleashed a maelstrom of interest. The museum possesses the actual equipment and all those and later photographic plates.

And here is where this post splits in two out of respect for my readers’ tastes. For those curious to know the details of The Shroud’s puzzle, scroll down to the addendum below. For the less so, here is my conclusion after my afternoon at the Museum of the Holy Shroud.

It was plain to me that the cloth was folded (lengthwise) over the body of a man who had been severely beaten before his death by crucifixion, so he died as Christ had died, and with the additional – quite singular similarities – that he was wearing something very like a crown of thorns and had a post mortem wound over his ribcage. The dynamics or process that created the image seem completely unexplained scientifically.

There was a moment however when the research froze in my mind and I thought instead about the man in the image himself, then suddenly it did not matter to me one jot if he was Christ or not. The Man in The Shroud had suffered terribly, time telescoped and I felt unexpectedly moved by his torture and death all those centuries ago.

In any case, it seemed to me that if you believe in Christ isn’t He in every man, or person? Isn’t He in some sense every one of us?  And so to me the man’s ‘lifetime’ identity is actually  immaterial.  An apt word.

I left the museum and by chance soon came across a busy church with wide steps which it so happened was San Giovanni Battista, where the REAL Shroud is on display in an inert gas-filled covered casket.   A prayer beside it included the words : “Help us to see Him in every person”.



Here follow some details that testing has revealed about the Shroud, I hope they do not cause distress. This information comes from the museum, I have done no internet search on this subject which would no doubt be endless, preferring to rely on my personal experience whilst there.

It can be determined that marks on the face are bruises over one eye and a broken nose. On the back and backs of the legs are many marks (more than 100) such as would have been made by a roman Flagrum – metal balls on the end of a leather thong – on a naked man kneeling and bending over. All showing the man was beaten and tortured before his death.

There are punctures on the one visible wrist which match the size and shape of a nail, and one through a foot indicating the man was crucified with the left foot over the right, and through the wrist, not the palm, as in most religious imagery. Rivulets of blood running from the wrist to the elbow flows in that direction indicating the man was hanging by the arms.

Microscopic dust fragments on the feet and knees show the man stumbled, and a rectangular shape on the man’s back looks like he was carrying a wooden object such as a cross.

Very recent research on the cloth shows it was made in a herringbone weave, on an ancient type of loom, and of an old weft size from the Middle East, and microscopic particles of pollen demonstrate that it passed through Palestine and the surrounding area.

So far the shroud could be from any man that the Romans crucified in the Jerusalem area. But the story gets more interesting.

There are drips of blood on the forehead, in the hair and on the neck running from small pointed punctures consistent with a crown of thorns.

There is a wound in between the 5 th and 6 th ribs from a sharp object piecing the body, the fluid emerging from the cut showing that it was made post mortem, just like the stab wound said to have been made by Longinus, the Roman soldier in the Bible story.

The image must have been made within three days of death as there are no traces of decomposition.

Research by US scientists in 1981 – 1984 stated that the body image was not pigment, dye or scorched tissue, but was made by a “still unknown radium energy”.

The image has been created in such a way that it contains a ‘third dimension’ unlike any photograph or painting and this can now be translated into a 3D image. Such a one is there in the museum and is quite remarkable and poignant.

Then, the story’s twist. In April 1988 a small piece of cloth was cut from the Shroud and sent for analysis in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson where carbon-dating indicated that it was aged from 1260 to 1390 AD. So, it’s a fake, you cry!    However, the controversy rages on with believers saying the sample was too small and was contaminated by all the people that had handled it over the ages.

So which side of the evidence persuades you? The scientific carbon-dating or the mysterious images of The Man in The Shroud?

Shroud 1

A copy of the Shroud with its burns from a fire in 1532

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