The Shroud of Turin, the controversial piece of 14- by 4-foot linen that some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, will enter the 3D age when it goes on display for six weeks after Easter.
Special two-filter glasses, just like the 3D glasses that hit movie theaters with the recent releases of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, are set to make their way to the Turin Cathedral.
Sold by the Salesian religion from its Turin bookshop, the glasses are called "HI-Rex-1" and "HI-Rex-1L" — which are specially designed for nearsighted people — and cost 2 euros and 3 euros respectively.
According to Bruno Fabbiani, an expert at Turin Polytechnic in holograph technology and printed images, the glasses will enable pilgrims to scrutinize details invisible to the naked eye.
"They allow a three-level perception, although only two filters are employed. Viewers can first detect the blood traces, then the body outline. Finally, a third image, which integrates the previous two, emerges," Fabbiani told reporters.
Scientific interest in the cloth began in 1898, when it 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.
The cloth underwent carbon-14 dating in 1988. At that time, 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.
However, 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 public display, debates have also arisen around the idea of a three-dimensional cloth.
While Father Moreno Filipetto of the Salesian rejected any accusation of "commercialization," stressing the Salesian's interest in Fabbiani's research, the commission in charge of the shroud, which includes church and Turin officials, harshly condemned the initiative, remarking that the 3D glasses won't be sold at any official bookshop in the Cathedral.
"Experts in illumination have been engaged to ensure that pilgrims have the best view possible of the cloth and the image imprinted on it, which cannot be improved with artificial aids," the commission said in a statement.
Kept rolled up in a silver casket, the Turin linen has survived several blazes since its existence was first recorded in France in 1357, including a mysterious fire at Turin Cathedral in 1997.
Officials estimate that at least 2 million pilgrims will see the linen when it goes on display from April 10 to May 23, 2010.
Picture: A computer reconstruction of the body's outline is shown at left. To the right is a 3-D reconstruction.Courtesy of Giulio Fanti.