The Shroud of Turin: the face of Jesus?

Owned by the Catholic Church and housed in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Turin, the Shroud is a linen cloth bearing the faint, supine image of a man in repose. The Shroud is venerated by many who believe it is the cloth used by Joseph of Arimathe'a to wrap Jesus' crucified body.

The most captivating aspect of the Shroud is its chiaroscuro effect, an illusion of depth and dimension created by light and shade, which allows the image to be recognised. A beard, moustache and shoulder-length hair are visible, and streams of a dark, blood-like substance trickle from small wounds around the forehead.

At least one wrist bears a large round wound; the other is hidden by the folding of the hands. Neither thumb is visible, consistent with the crucifixion theory - pressing firmly on the soft fibres below the wrist, where nails were driven, causes the thumb to curl inward. Linear wounds mar the torso and legs, apparently from scourging.

The Turin Shroud can be traced with certainty from 1355 when it was exhibited in a church in Lire, France.

It was subsequently denounced by bishops and monarchs prompting its concealment, but it resurfaced when submissions were granted for its display.

The Shroud travelled extensively across Europe from 1453, when it came under the guardianship of the Savoy's of France, until 1578 when it was transferred to Turin.

Upon his death in 1983, Umberto II of Savoy ceded the Shroud to the Holy See.

Historical documents prior to 1355 have linked the Shroud to the Image of Edessa.

Debate over the authenticity of the Shroud has intensified in recent decades.

A potent win for sceptics came in 1988 when scientists dated a sample of the Shroud to no earlier than 1260 AD.

But earlier this year, Californian scientist Raymond Rogers dismissed the 1988 tests as inaccurate claiming the sample was from a rewoven area of the Shroud.

Shroud-seekers visiting Turin may be disappointed by the experience. The shroud is encased in a casket and has only been displayed on a few commemorative occasions in recent decades.