Turin Shroud shown live on Italy TV

The BBC's David Willey says Pope Francis was careful not to refer to the shroud as a relic

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The Turin Shroud - which is revered by many Christians as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ - has made its debut on modern media platforms.

Italy's Rai TV broadcast for the first time images of the linen cloth bearing a faint brownish image of what appears to be a man's body.

A smartphone app was also created to show digital images of the cloth.

Pope Francis contributed a message to the broadcast, shortly before he was to celebrate his first Easter vigil.

The Argentine pontiff, who was elected earlier this month, will preside over a vigil at St Peter's Basilica on Saturday evening - ahead of the main Easter Sunday celebrations.

Thousands of people from all over the world are expected at Sunday's Mass.

'Icon'

Viewers were able to watch live images of the 1.21x4.42m Turin Shroud in a 90-minute programme on Rai TV from Turin Cathedral.

The images were also streamed on various websites.

In a video message ahead of the exhibition, Pope Francis said: "It speaks to our heart."

A screen displaying The Turin Shroud with the Shroud 2.0 app. Photo: 30 March 2013 An app has been created to show digital images of the cloth

The pontiff described the cloth as an "icon" or an image but was careful not to authenticate as a genuine relic, the BBC's David Willey in Rome reports.

Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, also recorded a video message.

The shroud has never been officially recognised as authentic by the Vatican, our correspondent says.

Rigorous scientific testing seems to indicate that it was woven between 700 and 800 years ago.

But diehard believers say other tests prove that it could have been made at the time of the crucifixion - give or take a couple of hundred years, our correspondent says.

The only previous - recorded - TV broadcast of the shroud was in 1973. It was last shown to the general public three years ago when Pope Benedict travelled to Turin to view it.

The Shroud has been kept in the northern Italian city for more than four centuries.

It was taken there by members of the former Italian and French royal house of Savoy who originally acquired it in France in the belief that it had been brought to Europe by returning Crusaders.

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