The first thing we saw were the news crews. There were trucks representing all the networks, even CNN. There were a number of reporters, photographers and cameramen milling around.
And then we realized that it was actually the first day that the exhibition was open to the public. The press was there to cover the event since this was the 5th time in a 100 years that the original artifact has been displayed. (A copy is permanently displayed at the Museum of the Holy Shroud nearby). The first group was set to enter at 6pm, and we had tickets for the 6.30pm group. I hadn't known this when I had reserved our tickets online a couple weeks earlier. There was a buzz of excitement in the air and Stefano even spotted one or two local celebrities.
Since it was still early, we decided to first take a walk and visit the city. We came back a few hours later and headed to the starting point where visitors were to congegrate. There was quite a crowd, but the timing was fairly punctual, with groups of people being let in at 15 minute intervals. Ok, there was a little bit of crowding at the entryway ala Italian style, but overall it was bearable.
The path took us through the gardens of Palazzo Reale gardens and at one point our group of probably about 300 ended up in a dark room where a short slide show explaining the Holy Shroud was shown.
The Shroud is a linen cloth that shows the imprint of a man that was crucified on a cross. Many believe it was used to wrapped the crucified body of Jesus. There has been many studies done but it seems that there is still no conclusive evidence as to whether this is true or not.
After the slideshow, what was moments before the excited chatter of the crowd around us became a quiet reverential silence. Which in itself a pretty amazing thing for a group of Italians. This silence continued as we continued on the path that finally led us into the Duomo. We filed into three levels that allowed everyone to have a good view of the shroud. There an Italian recording again explained the different markings on the cloth, the face, the feet, the nail wounds... and finally finished with a prayer.
Whether a believer or not, it was hard to ignore the distinct human imprint on the cloth. The markings of a human being who had suffered It was a touching moment, and an experience I will not forget.
The Holy Shroud can be viewed until May 23, 2010. Make a free reservation for your visit here. There are still slots available especially on weekdays.