TURIN, Italy (AP) – A bit of advice for English-speaking visitors to this city who want to find the Shroud of Turin: Don’t try asking locals, “Where can I find the Shroud of Turin?”
I gave it a shot during a recent trip. I speak Italian, but I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t. My quest began at a coffee bar on the portico-lined Piazza Castello, the heavily trafficked central square that will host some medal ceremonies and concerts during the Feb. 10-26 Winter Olympics.
It also happens to be about three blocks from Piazza San Giovanni, site of Turin’s main cathedral, where the Holy Shroud – the linen some believe is Jesus’ burial cloth – has been housed since the 1500s.
Approaching the woman at the register, I asked: “Does anyone here speak English?”
She called downstairs, summoning the cafe’s designated English speaker.
“Hi. I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian. Do you speak English?” I asked.
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“Yes. A little,” he said, smiling.
I started by ordering a coffee, which drew under-the-breath muttering and an admonishment to his co-workers to never again disturb him merely for that.
Then I asked: “Can you tell me where I can find the Shroud?”
Him: “The what?”
Me: “The Shroud. The Holy Shroud. The Shroud of Turin.”
Him: “I don’t know what that is. Sorry.”
And so it went.
I stopped two police officers who were strolling down an adjacent store-lined street. They looked as though they might have been window shopping.
Me: “Do you speak English?”
Cop 1: “O, Dio.” (Translation: “Oh, God.”)
Cop 2: “Yes. A little.”
Me: “Can you tell me where I can find the Shroud of Turin?”
Cop 2: (Blank stare.)
I tried a store that sells jerseys and other merchandise from Juventus, the Turin soccer club that is the Italian equivalent of the New York Yankees. Again, the designated English speaker was summoned and had no idea what I was talking about when I used the word “shroud.”
The same scenario unfolded at a pizza joint on Via XX Settembre, the street that leads to the piazza where the Shroud is, and when I asked the nun at the counter of a shop selling religious items a half-block from Piazza San Giovanni.
The reason, of course, that Italians aren’t familiar with the word “shroud” is that it’s, well, English. Italians call it “La Santa Sindone.”
The city set up English classes for police officers, taxi drivers and others who might regularly interact with the million-plus visitors expected during the Olympics. Some said they found it helpful, and for every pair of police officers I encountered, one spoke pretty impressive English.
Some, though, said the classes weren’t all that useful.
“I was lost,” taxi driver Antonino Nicolo said. “The teachers weren’t very prepared to teach a class with people who hadn’t had any schooling in English.”
I also stopped at a newspaper stand near Piazza Vittorio, steps from the main Olympic merchandise store, and asked the vendor if she spoke English.
The response came in Italian: “My son speaks English, but I don’t.”
Me (in English): “Do you know where I can find the Shroud? The Shroud of Turin?”
Her (in Italian): “No. I’m sorry.”
And then, I hit upon the secret formula, using these words in English: “Jesus” and “religious.” Perhaps because those are pronounced quite similarly in Italian – “Gesu” and “religioso” – she understood.
“Aaah, La Santa Sindone,” she said, nodding excitedly, and pulled out a map to show me the way.
Here’s some more advice: Don’t expect to actually see the Sindone.
About 4 1/2 metres long and one metre wide, the linen has an image that believers say was left by Jesus’ body when he was wrapped in it after being taken down from the cross.
When you enter the cathedral, to the left of the pews, there’s a photographic replica of the Shroud, about two-thirds the size of the original. There are pamphlets in several languages, and helpful guides who aim their red laser pens at the copy as they describe it.
The Shroud itself? It’s in its own chapel in the back left corner of the cathedral, enclosed in a box behind bulletproof glass. It was last brought out for public viewing in 2000, and is not scheduled to go on display again until 2025.
There was speculation the Shroud might be open to viewing during the Olympics. But Turin Cardinal Severino Poletto, the Shroud’s custodian, announced in December it would remain closed.