The Shroud of Turin, the linen cloth believed to have covered the crucified body of Jesus Christ, has been given to the Vatican by the late Umberto of Savoy, king of Italy for 26 days after World War II.
Umberto, who died in exile on March 18, left the shroud to the church in his will. A spokesman for the royal family in Rome said Umberto had decided to give the shroud as "an act of devotion."
The Rev. Romeo Panicrolli, the Vatican spokesman, said church officials had received news of the gift "with pleasure and gratitude."
Reportedly less pleased were some citizens of Turin, the northern Italian city where the shroud has been preserved since the 14th century. The Turin newspaper La Stampa said many people had voiced concern that the sacred cloth might be taken permanently to Rome, but it added that church officials considered such a move highly improbable.
The officials think that, at most, the shroud will travel to Rome for a brief period to be exhibited as part of the church celebration of 1983 as a holy year, according to the newspaper report.
The shroud bears marks that scientists say may be the imprint of the face and blood-stained body of Jesus Christ. It has belonged to the House of Savoy since the Middle Ages.
A three-centuries-old ban on Sunday sales dating back to the days of the Pilgrims ended last Sunday, Palm Sunday, in Massachusetts when a new state law went into effect. Merchants reported a heavy turnout of shoppers.
The Sunday blue laws in recent years had allowed small convenience food stores to open, but banned sales by major stores except between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The state legislature voted last December to abolish the ban on Sunday sales.
Roman Catholic Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond said Thursday he is considering legal action to stop a Virginia firm from advertising mail-order glass crucifixes filled with "blessed holy water" to help gamblers improve their luck.
Abner Harris, the president of the firm, House of Light in suburban Henrico County near Richmond, said yesterday that he has sold many to "orders of brothers, nuns, Catholic schools and all sorts of Catholic organizations."
"I've got thousands, not hundreds, of orders and reorders," said Harris, who the Pittsburgh Press reported is also president of a Richmond health and massage parlor, now called New Styles Inc.
Asked to identify the Catholic groups, Harris said, "My goodness, I can't remember all of them. I got a record of every one I ever sold." Some of the crucifixes were bought for fund-raising, but most were gifts, he said.
The firm is being investigated by the Better Business Bureau after complaints from Sullivan, who said the firm's ads were brought to his attention two years ago by a couple who saw its ads for lucky prayer cloths.
"I am not starting a Holy War on this thing," Sullivan said. "But if the ads keep popping up, then I'll really have to look into a legal suit." He called the ads "a colossal fake" and said that he objects to their implications of association with the Catholic Church.
"Wear it to the casino when you play the slot machines, crap games, card games, roulette or any other games of chance," the ads say. The ads say the crucifixes contain "blessed holy water" from Lourdes, France.
Thomas Gallagher, president of the Better Business Bureau of Central Virginia, said Thursday he is sending Harris a letter asking him to document the advertising claims.