NHNE News Flash:
The Shroud of Turin Survives ANOTHER Fire!
Saturday, April 12, 1997
As many of you may have heard, a fire broke out in THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, in Turin, Italy, last night where the Shroud of Turin is presently located. What follows is a report by Barrie M. Schwortz that appears on his "Shroud of Turin Web Site." True to form, Barrie is presently covering all aspects of this monumental event and posting all developments on a special page he has created (http://www.shroud.com/spcrept1.htm). Along with current news, Barrie's special coverage also includes a series of pictures of the fire, the chapel, and rescue efforts.
With Love & Best Wishes,
SPECIAL REPORT ON THE 1997 FIRE
By Barrie M. Schwortz
THE FIRE AND RESCUE
For no less than the third time in its recorded history, the Shroud of Turin has faced a dangerous trial by fire and survived. This is an account of the event and its immediate aftermath, taken from a number of sources (see credits at bottom of this page).
At approximately 11:45 p.m., Friday, April 11, 1997, Father Francesco Barbero, parish priest of THE CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, called in the first alarm after being informed of the fire by a palace guard. The fire began in either the Dome of the Chapel, which was currently undergoing renovation for the upcoming public exhibitions, or in the west wing of the Royal Palace, which immediately adjoins the back area of the Chapel. In either case, the fire quickly spread to the Guarini Chapel, situated between the Cathedral and the Palace, and engulfed it in flames.
Palace custodian, Giuseppe Ivano said, "We smelled smoke, and then we saw the flames raging from the dome."
Fortunately, on February 24, 1993, the Shroud was moved from the altar of the Chapel to a safer place inside the Cathedral itself while the renovation was undertaken. Still sealed in the silver casket in which it is always stored, it was placed in a special case made of bulletproof glass to protect it. Authorities agree that if it had been in its normal resting place in the altar, it would have been completely consumed by the flames.
The Turin Fire Department responded almost immediately, and one fireman, Mario Trematore, knowing the important relic was at risk inside, grabbed a large sledge hammer and ran into the Cathedral to effect a rescue. He approached the bulletproof glass and began striking it with the hammer, eventually causing the 39mm thick material to shatter. At that moment, other fireman arrived to assist Trematore and actually helped smash the remaining glass with their gloved hands.
Then, the team grabbed the silver casket from the shattered case and quickly took it out the front of the Cathedral, where it was promptly taken to the apartment of Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, Archbishop of Turin and Custodian of the Shroud, for safekeeping. Although the flames had not yet reached the area of the Shroud, large pieces of the dome were breaking away and falling to the floor of the Cathedral, putting the firemen at great risk. (Pieces of glass and masonry from the dome and a shattered wall can be seen on top of the case in several of the photographs above). When asked where he found the strength to break the "bulletproof" glass, Trematore replied, "The bulletproof glass can stop bullets, but it cannot stop the strength of values represented by the symbol inside it. With only a hammer and our hands (still bleeding), we broke the glass. This is extraordinary!"
At 1:36 a.m., as the Shroud was carried from the Cathedral by the team of fireman, hundreds of onlookers applauded the rescue effort while many others wept at the sight of the seriously damaged dome. Around 200 firemen continued to fight the blaze for more than four hours, until 4:30 a.m., when it was finally brought under control.
As authorities sift through the ashes and rubble left behind by the fire, they must now try and determine the extent of the damages and the possible cause of the blaze. First reports indicate that the interior of the Cathedral and the neighboring Royal Palace, which contains valuable 18th and 19th century furniture and art, sustained extensive damage. The glass wall separating the cathedral and chapel was shattered. The altar, designed by the famous artist Bertola, sustained less damage than originally anticipated. Fortunately, it appears that the scaffolding in place for the renovation of the dome acted to protect the altar from flames and falling debris. However, the chapel seemed to sustain the most serious damage, with two thirds of its marble coating damaged by the heat. It is unclear how much structural damage occured to the building, but reports noted that the stone itself was damaged in places. The cathedral itself received little serious fire or structural damage, but water and smoke damage was evident.
The fire also reached the upper floor of the Royal Palace, where a tower collapsed in flames. Just shortly before the blaze was discovered, an affair attended by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini had just ended.
''I was struck by the tragic events in Turin last night that seriously damaged places that are dear to the nation's cultural heritage,'' Dini said in a message to Turin mayor Valentino Castellani, noting his ''relief'' that the shroud was saved. It was in this same area of the palace that part of the 1978 examination took place.
In the above photograph, taken in 1978, the Shroud is brought from the Chapel (through the doorway at right) into the west wing of the Royal Palace and down a long hallway to the rooms in which the examination took place. It is unknown at this moment if the actual rooms used by STURP in 1978 were damaged, but the area shown in the photo above was definitely destroyed. Reports say that the entire floor in this area is gone.
In an effort to provide the highest degree of protection and security for the Shroud and to allow for a thorough examination of the cloth for any new water or smoke damage, the cloth was moved on Saturday to a monastery near Turin, athough the exact location has not been disclosed. Only once before in its history has the cloth left the city, and that occured during World War II, when it was also moved to a monastery to protect it from possible damage from Allied bombing.
The Turin Chief of Police has formed a special commission to investigate the fire and determine its origin and a number of theories are being examined. Among them are the possibility that the chafing dishes set up in the "Swiss Hall" to heat the food for the U.N. Secretary-General's affair, overloaded the palace circuits and caused a short circuit leading to the fire. Another report stated that a burnt cigarette end was found that might have started the blaze. Saturday, experts from Turin and Rome were taking samples from the wreckage for further analysis. The site was off-limits to all except investigators, although personnel from the fine arts service inspected the dome to see if it was stable.
The best news to come out of this tragedy was a statement by Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, who said that he had received messages of support and thanks from the Pope and other Church leaders. "The 1998 exhibit of the Shroud would go on as planned", Saldarini said.
''These flames are a reminder that all of us need to protect and defend our religious, artistic and historical heritage,'' he said. ''The cathedral and the shroud, of which I am the custodian, have been saved from disaster. It's God's way of saying to all of us, 'Do not be afraid.'''
REBUILDING THE CHAPEL
NOTE: This portion of the article is still under construction and will be completed in a few hours (after I get some food in my empty stomach). Much more information is coming, including plans already underway to rebuild and repair the damaged chapel, cathedral and palace. Also, I will be adding several links to other websites with Shroud fire information and the list of my sources used as a basis for this article. Stay tuned....
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