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Pope backs the Turin Shroud at viewing

Pope Benedict XVI all but gave an outright endorsement of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, calling the cloth that some believe is Christ's burial shroud an icon "written with the blood" of a crucified man.

During a visit to the shroud yesterday, Benedict did not raise the scientific questions that surround the linen and whether it might be a medi- eval forgery.

Instead, he delivered a powerful meditation on the faith that holds that the shroud is indeed Christ's burial cloth.

"This is a burial cloth that wrapped the remains of a crucified man in full correspondence with what the Gospels tell us of Jesus," Benedict said.

He said the relic -- one of the most important in Christianity -- should be seen as a photographic document of the "darkest mystery of faith", that of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

The 14ft-long, 3.5ft-wide cloth has gone on public display for the first time since the 2000 Millennium celebrations and a subsequent 2002 restoration.

Kept in a bulletproof, climate-controlled case in Turin's cathedral, it has drawn nearly two million reservations from pilgrims and tourists eager to spend three to five minutes viewing it.

The shroud bears the figure of a crucified man, complete with blood seeping from his hands and feet and believers say Christ's image was recorded on the linen's fibres at the time of his resurrection.