Adolf Hitler wanted to steal the Turin Shroud during World War II, an Italian monk has claimed.
But the Vatican helped hide the cloth relic, on which is scorched the image of Christ’s face, in a rural monastery to keep it out of the clutches of the Fuhrer.
To protect the Shroud from Hitler, Vatican officials and the Italian royal family ordered that it be locked away in a southern Italian Benedictine monastery.
The linen sheet bearing the image of Christ has captivated the imagination of historians, church chiefs, sceptics and Catholics for more than 500 years.
The shroud will go on display this weekend for the first time in a decade. More than two million people - including Pope Benedict XVI - are due to see it on display in Turin Cathedral where it has been kept for the last 64 years.
The wartime revelation emerged in an interview Father Andrea Cardin, librarian of the Montevergine abbey, gave in the current issue of Italian magazine Diva e Donna.
He said: ‘The Holy Shroud was moved in secret to the sanctuary in the Campania region on the precise orders of the Royal House of Savoy (which owned it at the time) and the Vatican.
‘Officially this was to protect it from possible bombing in Turin. In reality, it was moved to hide it from Hitler who was apparently obsessed by it.
‘When he visited Italy in 1938, his top-ranking Nazi aides asked unusual and insistent questions about the Shroud.
‘Then in 1943 when German troops searched the Montevergine church, the monks there pretended to be in deep prayer before the altar inside which the relic was hidden.
‘This was the only reason it wasn’t discovered. Then in 1946 it was returned to Turin, as instructed by (Italy’s last king) Umberto II of Savoy, and remains preserve there in that city’s cathedral.’
Hitler was obsessed with the occult - the Nazi swastika has long been considered a black magic symbol while he was also devoted to German composer Richard Wagner who was said to be a Satanist.
During the war Hitler also ordered research into a spear that was said to have pierced Christ’s side at the Crucifixion and which was held in a Berlin museum.
He thought that be unlocking the ‘codes’ of the symbols carved into it he would obtain great powers and would be able to ‘read the minds of his enemies’.
The Shroud will go on display this Saturday until May 23.
It has only been seen in public five times in the last 100 years and during the six weeks it is on display visitors will have just three minutes to view it before being moved on.
The shroud bears the faint image of the front and back of a tall, long-haired, bearded man and appears to be stained by blood from wounds in his feet, wrists and side.
Whether it is genuine or an elaborate 500-year-old fake has remained one of the greatest mysteries of time.
Carbon-dating tests were conducted on the cloth in 1988 by scientists in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona, who were each given separate linen samples to work with. The tests dated the Shroud to between 1260 and 1390, suggesting that it was a brilliant Renaissance hoax.
But other scientists have since claimed that contamination over the ages, for example from water damage and fire, were not taken sufficiently into account and could have distorted the results.
In 1999 another group of experts put a seventh century date on it, following careful comparisons to an almost identical shroud in Valencia.
As a result of the controversy and the fact that dating techniques have improved significantly since the 1988 tests were done, there have been numerous calls for further testing but so far the Vatican has refused permission.
The Shroud is thought to have travelled widely before it was brought to France in the 14th century by a crusader. French Clarisse nuns kept it for many years in one of their convents, where it was damaged by fire in 1532.
The nuns sought to put this damage right two years later by sewing about 30 patches onto it.
The Shroud was given to the Turin archbishop in 1578 by the Duke of Savoy and has been kept in the Cathedral ever since. Until recently it was stored rolled up in a silver casket.
But at an international meeting in Turin in 2000 - the last time the Shroud was put on display - experts decided to store it flat in a transparent case filled with an inert gas.