The burial cloth many believe shrouded Jesus Christ survived its second brush with fire in 465 years - but officials said Saturday the gorgeous Baroque chapel that housed it suffered incalculable damage.
Authorities were still assessing the impact of Friday’s late-night fire at the San Giovanni Cathedral in Turin and its Guarini Chapel, home of the Shroud of Turin.
The shroud in its silver urn was snatched from the flaming chapel by firefighters who hammered their way through four layers of bulletproof glass. But the flames devastated the shroud’s marble-faced chapel, the wooden dome of the cathedral and much of the Royal Palace nearby.
Radio Vatican called it “an apocalypse” and recalled that the shroud had been saved from another fire in Chambery, France, more than 450 years ago. “For the shroud, history repeats itself,” it said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.
The shroud was Crusader booty taken from Constantinople to France in 1353. After it was scorched in the 1532 fire, it was taken to Turin. Its chapel, with its dramatic black marble interior, was added to the cathedral 300 years ago.
The chapel “is one of the foremost buildings of Italian architecture and it will be impossible to restore it the way it was before,” said Pasquale Mallara, director of restoration work at the cathedral.
The restoration was in preparation for a rare public showing of the shroud scheduled for next year as part of the buildup to the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ.
Mallara said the five-hour fire did millions of dollars in damage.
It left the roof of the palace gaping open to the skies, scorched the chapel’s ornate dome and badly damaged the altar. Windows and a glass wall between the chapel and the cathedral shattered. A tower in the Royal Palace collapsed.
Residents of Turin watched, weeping as the landmark burned.
Archbishop Giovanni Saldarini, the keeper of the shroud, confirmed Saturday the cloth was intact and said the church would go ahead with the public viewing next year.
The Roman Catholic Church has never claimed the cloth as a holy relic, but treats it with reverence.
The Vatican has allowed scientists to do radiocarbon tests on the shroud and several have concluded that the linen cloth is a crude medieval fake.
But for many Christians, the shroud is a visible, moving and faith-inspiring reminder of the crucifixion.
The 14-foot cloth bears the faint yellowish negative image of the front and back of a man with thorn marks on the head, lacerations on the back and bruises on the shoulders.