A viewing of the The Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, will reportedly be televised Saturday on Italian State TV in what is said to be former Pope Benedict XVI's parting gift to the Catholic Church.
The televised viewing of the shroud on Holy Saturday will be the first in 40 years, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper.
The centuries-old linen cloth - one of the world's most famous relics - contains a faint impression of the front and back of a human body, along with blood, dirt and water stains from age. Many Roman Catholics believe the impressions were left by the body of Jesus after his crucifixion.
"There was no portrait made of Jesus so, really, the shroud still remains the best single thing that we have," said Russ Breault, president of the Shroud of Turin Education Project Inc., an organization "dedicated to raising awareness and understanding" of the shroud, according to its website.
The shroud's authenticity, however, has long been a subject of deep debate.
Skeptics believe the 14-foot cloth was faked during medieval times. Scientists have used various methods, including carbon dating, to test the authenticity of the fabric, and some results have supported the belief that the cloth is a medieval forgery. But there might be new evidence to support the view that the shroud is real.
Scientists at the University of Padua in Northern Italy have conducted experiments that show the shroud dates back to around the time of Christ's life, according to an article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The researchers used infra-red light to analyze fibers from the shroud. Their analysis was published in the new book, "Il Mistero della Sindone" (The Mystery of the Shroud") by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the university, and Saverio Gaeta, a journalist, the Telegraph also reported.
"When you consider that there are no substances on the cloth that were conceivably used by an artist, and the fact that the blood on the cloth is human blood, it would suggest that the cloth is probably authentic," Breault said.
"The shroud can never replace faith," he added. "I don't think we can ever know for sure whether the shroud is absolutely authentic because we don't have the DNA of Jesus to match it up with something that we might extract from the shroud itself."
The shroud is owned by the Vatican, although the Catholic church has never taken an official position on the cloth's authenticity.
The shroud is kept in a special climate-controlled casket in Turin. The shroud was last on public display in Italy in 2010, and its last televised appearance was in 1973.
The special 90-minute broadcast of the shroud will be broadcast from Turin Cathedral and will be introduced by the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, according to the Guardian.
"It will be a message of intense spiritual scope, charged with positivity, which will help hope never to be lost," the archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, told the paper.
- Religion & Beliefs