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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Pope in visit to religious relic
Pope Benedict XVI receives a reproduction of the Veil of Veronic
The pope was presented with a copy of the holy icon
Pope Benedict XVI has become the first pontiff to visit the site of a holy icon thought to carry an imprint of the face of Christ - the Veil of Veronica.

The Pope prayed before the piece of cloth, which is guarded by Capuchin monks in Manoppello, Italy.

The veil is believed to have been used by a woman called Veronica to wipe the sweat from Christ's brow as he carried the cross from Jerusalem to Golgotha.

Displaying Vatican caution, the Pope did not mention the icon's origins.

But he spent several minutes keeling to pray before the relic, known as the "Sacred Visage".

He told those gathered that the reason for his visit was "so that together we can try to better know the face of our Lord, so that from it we can find strength in love and peace that can show us the path".

Summer retreat

Thousands turned out to greet Pope Benedict, who arrived by helicopter.

Crowds greet Pope Benedict XVI
Thousands turned out to greet the Pope

Pilgrims waved flags and greeted him with cries of "Long live the Pope!" and "Benedetto!"

In a show of appreciation, one of the Capuchin friars knelt to kiss his ring and gave him a reproduction of the veil in a jewelled frame.

Visitor numbers to the monastery are expected to soar following the visit by Pope Benedict, who has been spending time at his summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

The original cloth, which measures 17 by 24 cm (6.8 by 9.6 in) is housed in a heavy gold case and bears a striking resemblance to the Turin Shroud - believed to be Christ's burial cloth.

The veil has been held sacred by pilgrims in Italy since the 12th Century.

But sceptics say the image of Christ's face was painted onto the cloth.

They also say the name Veronica - which is a deformation of Greek and Latin words meaning "true image" - is too much of a coincidence.

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