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Hitler 'plotted to steal Turin shroud'

NAZI dictator Adolf Hitler hatched a plot to steal the Shroud of Turin but was thwarted by a handful of plucky Benedictine monks, it was reported today.

Hitler dispatched aides to swipe the sacred relic - believed to have been used to wrap the dead body of Christ - after visiting Italy in 1938.

Vatican officials had it moved south from Turin to the Montevergine monastery in the country's Campania region, but the Fuhrer's henchmen eventually stumbled across the shroud's hiding place.

However they were unable to find it because of a group of brave monks who surrounded the altar in which the artifact was stashed and pretended to pray, Italian news agency ANSA reported today.

Their quick-thinking meant Hitler - who historians say was obsessed with religious symbols and the occult - was never able to get his hands on the linen relic, which has captivated the minds of worshipers and skeptics alike for more than 500 years.

In an interview published in Italian magazine Diva e Donna, Father Andrea Davide Cardin, the director of the Montevergine library, 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," the monk said.

"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."

The shroud remained hidden at the monastery until 1946 when it was returned to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin.

It bears a 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.

Experts have repeatedly questioned its authenticity but an estimated two million people from across the globe are expected to view the shroud when it goes on view to the public later this month for the first time since 2000.