The Shroud of Turin is back.
Believers and skeptics alike have another chance to see the controversial Christian relic, which went on display in Turin, Italy, this Sunday, ending a five-year hiatus from the spotlight.
Some say the 14-foot piece of linen is Christ’s burial cloth. They point to what appears to be the imprinted image of a man bearing wounds from a crucifixion. Others say the whole thing is a medieval forgery. Regardless, the shroud has remained a wildly popular attraction for pilgrims from around the world.
Pope Francis will be among those making a pilgrimage to Turin to pray. He’s scheduled a private viewing with his Italian relatives on June 21, The Guardian reports.
In 1988, researchers from three universities conducted carbon-14 testing of the relic. The researchers dated fibers from the shroud to the years 1260 and 1390 -- more than 1,000 years after Christ’s crucifixion.
A decade after the researchers' carbon tests, Anastasio Alberto Ballestro, who had been Turin’s cardinal archbishop in 1988, called the results of these tests an “overseas Masonic plot” meant to discredit the Roman Catholic Church.
In a 2011 book, British scholar Charles Freeman suggested that the shroud was created for medieval Easter rituals. The earliest mention of the shroud he could find was in 1355, when the cloth was displayed at a chapel in Lirey, France.
“On Easter morning the gospel accounts of the resurrection would be re-enacted with ‘disciples’ acting out a presentation in which they would enter a makeshift tomb and bring out the grave clothes to show that Christ had indeed risen,” Freeman told The Guardian.
Italy’s former royal family, the House of Savoy, acquired the shroud in 1453. Freeman says the family “converted” the cloth “into a high-prestige relic” in order to bolster the kingdom’s reputation.
In spite of the skeptics, faith still plays an important role in how many people see the shroud today.
“Yes, I believe in it. I believe in it with my heart,” Marco Mazzoni, an Italian who is scheduled to see the shroud in May, told The Guardian. “It signifies the suffering of Christ and the sacrifice he made for everyone.”
The Catholic church doesn’t have an official stance on the shroud’s authenticity -- in fact, each of the past three popes has carefully skirted the subject, according to the Catholic-news site Crux. Instead, the popes have emphasized that the shroud is a reminder of Christ’s passion.
Benedict XVI called the shroud an icon that has a “full correspondence with what the Gospels tell us of Jesus.” In 1998, Pope John Paul II called for more study and analysis of the cloth.
Cesare Nosiglia, Turin’s current archbishop, believes that people of all faiths will be traveling to see the shroud this year.
"Even non-believers will come," Nosiglia told the Associated Press. "It's an occasion that brings everybody together and aims to give a precise response to the violence in this world. It tells us that the way to build a fairer world is not violence, but love."
The shroud will remain on display in a climate-controlled case in the Cathedral of Turin until June 24.