The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth, 14 feet long and three feet wide, that may be anywhere from 600 to about 2,000 years old. But what is unique and, for centuries, has remained mysterious is not how old it is, but the strange image somehow printed on its surface. The image appears to be of a crucified man -- and that man may be Jesus.
At least that's the belief of millions of Christians worldwide, who accept that the cloth is in fact the burial shroud of Jesus, placed over his body after he was taken down from the cross, as described in the books of the Bible's New Testament.
Dozens of scientists over the years and, perhaps more than ever, today, have tried to figure out how the image was created, and most importantly to establish whether the Shroud of Turin is indeed what its faithful believe it to be.
But not everyone accepts that researching the Shroud of Turin, at this point, is even a worthwhile endeavor.
"It's like Big Foot," says Pat Linse, who co-founded The Skeptics Society, a 22-year old nonprofit group dedicated to debunking what its members see as pseudoscience. "Every time someone comes up with a new theory or whatnot, it's gets a big flurry of attention."
Other prominent Skeptics Society members include Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye "The Science Guy," and about 55,000 more.
Linse says that science shows the Shroud of Turin to be "a highly stylized, somewhat amateur rubbing." While Linse is aware that numerous scientists and researchers have devoted considerable effort to demonstrate the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, for every hundred facts that would seem to support the authenticity of Shroud, he says, "we can counter with one million that show it's a fake."
During the Easter holiday season, a period for Christians that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus as described in the New Testament, interest in the Shroud of Turin always runs high, possibly because outside of the New Testament texts themselves, the Shroud is seen as the only tangible evidence that the events they described actually happened.
Linse says that skeptics such as himself do not intend to question the religious beliefs of others. His only point of contention is when believers invoke science -- falsely, say the skeptics -- as evidence that their beliefs are real.
"Europe is full of stories and tales about icons like this," says the Skeptics Society co-founder. "They've found enough crosses from the 'real' crucifix to build Noah's Ark."
Believers and skeptics worldwide will soon, much sooner than previously expected, get a chance to see for themselves. The Shroud of Turin has been allowed by the Vatican to go on public display very rarely. The last was in 2010.
But last December Pope Francis announced that the next scheduled Shroud of Turin exhibit would be pushed up by a decade, to next year. The Shroud goes on public view for three months starting April 19, 2015, at the Cathedral of St. John The Baptist in Turin, Italy.