Turin shroud
Pope Francis said the shroud "conveys a great peace", adding, "The power of the Lord defeats all."

Pope Francis I has delivered an Easter message in which he invoked the face on the Turin Shroud as an emblem of the mystery of religious experience.

The pope sent a video message on Saturday 30 March, when Italian television broadcast a programme focusing on the authenticity of the shroud.

He referred to the 14-foot long strip of sepia fabric, which is imprinted with the face and body of a bearded man, as "the Holy Shroud".

Pope Francis said: "This disfigured face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest.

"And yet, at the same time, the face in the shroud conveys a great peace. This tortured body expresses a sovereign majesty.

"It lets a pure and calm energy shine through and it seems to say to us: 'Trust and don't to lose hope. The power of the Lord defeats all.' "

However, his observations only served to rekindle the debate over the shroud's authenticity.

In the video message, Pope Francis called the cloth an "icon" and said: "It speaks to our heart."

Catholics noted that his use of the word "icon" fell short of the church's claim that the shroud is a "relic" of the crucifixion.

Italy's Rai TV for the first time broadcast images of the linen cloth, which bears a faint image of what appears to be a man's face.

A smartphone app was also created to show digital images of the cloth.

The pontiff, who was elected earlier this month, presided over a vigil at St Peter's Basilica on Saturday evening - ahead of the main Easter Sunday celebrations.

Radiocarbon dating indicates the shroud is between 700 and 800 years old, rather than from the time of Christ.

The only previously known TV broadcast of the shroud was in 1973. It was last shown to the general public three years ago, when Pope Benedict travelled to Turin to view it.