A Nun, a Bun, & the Shroud

Most of what has lived on earth
has left behind no record at all.
~ Bill Bryson

If you are a fan of Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, you know the series heads to Piemonte on the May 8 episode. Mike and I spent a few days in Torino (Turin), the region’s capital, in 2013, just as my citizenship journey was beginning. At that time, I didn’t speak Italian and was just beginning to understand the regional nuances.

While we weren’t in Torino long, a few things live in my memories—carne crudo, bicerin, and the Shroud of Turin. Each is a story unto itself, and combining will not do them justice. Instead, let’s take a look at the Shroud first and move to the others over the next two days.


Located on the Po River, Torino sits in the shadow of the Western Italian Alps and Torino Hill. Home to the House of Savoy, Torino was a political and cultural powerhouse. It was capital of Italy from 1861-1865 and remains the capital of the Piemonte region today.

Torino is the third corner of Italy’s industrial triangle, Milano and Genova being the other two. Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo have headquarters there, and banking and IT are important to the economy of the area. While you may not realize it, Torino is home to Juventus, the world-famous football (aka soccer) club and is a big exporter of confections (NUTELLA!). More on the chocolate connection later, but let’s look at Torino’s biggest “resident”—the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud

We stopped in Torino in 2013 because I wanted to see the Shroud of Turin.

The whole shroud. Courtesy WikiCommons

“We probably won’t see it,” Mike cautioned me while we discussed it on our train ride to Torino.

“What do you mean?” I asked him. “You mean like I couldn’t see Mother Theresa in the cinnamon bun?”  I was serious. We lived in Nashville when a local coffee shop, Bongo Java, became famous for having baked a cinnamon bun that supposedly bore an eery resemblance to Mother Theresa. The “NunBun” brought them so much attention that they started selling items with the image on them. Mother Theresa’s lawyers (Who knew the nun had lawyers?) eventually wrote and asked BJ to stop making money from the bun. (It’s a long story.)  I saw photos of the thing and eventually saw it in person, but I never could see Mother Theresa in it. Maybe it’s because I was not a believer, if you get my drift.

I digress.

Mike replied, “No.  I mean the shroud is probably so faded you won’t be able to see it.”

“Well, I still want to go.” I wasn’t sure why I was so intent on seeing it, but it was important to me. 

Th Shroud, if you don’t know, is a 14.5-by-3.7-foot piece of linen that bears the image of a man. Many believe that the man is Jesus of Nazareth and that the linen was his burial shroud. Because the shroud is sepia in color, the images are less visible in person than in photos taken of it.

The History

Cattedrale San Giovanni Bautista ©ChrisCutler

While there were reports of the existence of Jesus’s burial shroud for years, the first authentic mention of the shroud dates back to the mid-14th century in France. A 1390 memorandum from a French bishop to Clement VII (antipope) states that the shroud is a forgery and that the artist had confessed to faking it. The House of Savoy took possession in the 15th century, brought it to Torino at the end of the 15th century, and it has remained there since. In 1983, Umberto II, a member of the House of Savoy, deeded the shroud to the Vatican which has attempted to repair damage done to the shroud over the years.

In recent years, universities in the UK, USA, and Switzerland have done tests on the material. Carbon dating shows that the shroud’s fabric dates to somewhere between 1260 and 1390, so that it is unlikely that is was Christ’s burial shroud. The Church stops short of authenticating the shroud, but it does encourage its faithful to contemplate the meaning behind it.

Main altar, San Giovanni ©ChrisCutler

Unfortunately, due to the shroud’s very advanced age and fragile condition, the Church keeps it under lock and key except for special events.  The last time it was on display was a two-month period in 2015. A “faux” representative of the shroud sits behind glass in a chapel in the duomo in Turin.

Our Visit

Since the shroud moved to Torino in the 15th century, its home has been the Cattedrale San Giovanni Battista. We headed there knowing that our chances of seeing the actual shroud were zero-to-none since it hadn’t been on display for some time. Fortunately, though, there were few tourists in the duomo, so we were able to sit uninterrupted and watch a little film about the shroud. We went to the side altar where a very obviously faux shroud was on display.

The Faux Shroud ©ChrisCutler

If I hadn’t known the linen on display was fake before I saw it, I would have known immediately once I laid eyes on it. Instead of a 14-foot piece of linen showing the entire body, the faux shroud was probably three-feet in length and had only the head of a man on it. I felt a bit scammed.

Nonetheless, I sat across from the shroud and studied it a bit. I took a photo (above). A few moments later, I lifted my camera to take a second one. A man ran towards me.

“No, signora. No.”  A guard waved his hand at me. “No foto. No foto.”

“Oops. Sorry. Excuse me.” I apologized.  “Sorry.”

We sat a few more minutes, the guard glaring at me the entire time. I glared back at him until we walked out of the cathedral…right past a kiosk selling holy cards and photos of, you guessed it, the shroud.

“Did that guy just stop me from taking a non-flash photo of a fake shroud?” I asked Mike as we walked down the duomo steps.  “Am I missing something here?

“I didn’t get it.” Mike was as confused as I.  “It wasn’t even the whole thing or the right size or anything.”

“He didn’t say anything when I took the first one.”

“He didn’t see you.”

“Not my fault.  He should have been more vigilant.”

“I bet they wanted to make sure we bought a postcard or holy card or poster with the image. ”  I shook my head. “Typical.”

We headed off to dinner which was an adventure in its own right.


By the way…. Someone broke into Bongo Java a few years after the Nun Bun discovery and kidnapped it. There was no ransom demand, so to this day, she remains missing.

Tomorrow: Will Stanley Be Eating This Stuff?

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