The Shroud of Turin, the controversial piece of 14x4 foot linen that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, is to be shown on television for the first time in 40 years on Easter Saturday.
Authorized by Benedict XVI in one of his last acts as Pope, the 90-minute display will be broadcast worldwide at 12 noon (EDT) on the Italian RAI 1 state TV show "A sua Immagine" (In His Image).
The event marks the 40th anniversary of the shroud's first appearance on TV on November 23, 1973. At that time, the display was ordered by Pope Paul VI.
Three hundred ill people will be allowed to witness the event live in Turin Cathedral. The bulletproof, climate-controlled glass case where the relic is kept will be opened, and the linen lifted to be filmed.
Meanwhile, TV watchers will listen to a brief introduction by Pope Francis.
"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, was quoted as saying.
The first documented reference of the shroud dates to 1357, when the cloth was displayed in a church in Lirey, France. But scientific interest began much later, in 1898, when the linen was photographed by the lawyer Secondo Pia.
The negatives revealed the image of a bearded man with pierced wrists and feet and a bloodstained head.
In 1988, the Vatican authorized carbon-14 dating. The result was disappointing for believers. Three reputable laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Ariz., concluded that the linen was a medieval fake dating from 1260 to 1390, and not the burial cloth wrapped around the body of Christ.
Although the Catholic Church has remained agnostic on the authenticity of the shroud, making no official pronouncements, several shroud scholars, known as sindonologists, argued that no medieval forger could either have produced such an accurate fake or anticipated the invention of photography.
Speculation about the linen cloth, as well as debates over the validity of the carbon-14 tests, continues.
On the eve of the television display, a new study is claiming that the shroud is far older, dating to between 280 B.C. and 220 A.D.
Detailing their findings in a new book, "The Mystery of the Shroud," Giulio Fanti, associate professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at Padua University, and journalist Saverio Gaeta, argue that chemical and mechanical single fiber tests place the relic within Christ's lifetime, with a margin of error of 250 years.
Moreover, "mineralogical investigations on dusts vacuumed from the shroud, revealed traces of limestone and clay minerals showing high iron content that is consistent with dust present in Palestine," Fanti said.