The 3Deity; FOUR MILLION PEOPLE WILL FLOCK TO SEE THE TURIN SHROUD THIS SPRING. GRAPHIC ARTISTS HAVE MADE A 3D IMAGE OF THE MAN IMPRINTED ON IT - BUT IS IT JESUS?
IT IS the must-see event of the year and is likely to draw a bigger audience than 3D movie Avatar on its opening weekend.
But the thing causing the global stir isn't a Hollywood phenomenon packed with the latest special effects. Far from it. What we're talking about is an old, stained rag - albeit a rag that, if you're a believer, is imprinted with the ghostly image of Jesus Christ.
For the first time in a decade, the Turin Shroud, an artefact many believe is the Son of God's burial cloth, is going on display to the public on April 10.
Over one million people have booked to see it. By the end of its six-week run, it is predicted that over four million will have made the pilgrimage.
That is not to say that its story is a triumph of the no-tech over the cuttingedge, however. In fact, as a History Channel special, The Real Face of Jesus?, will reveal on American TV tonight, the shroud has been the focus of some serious state-of-the-art investigation. The channel enlisted the help of computer graphics whiz Ray Downing to produce a 3D image of Christ.
In his year-long quest to do just that, Downing and his colleagues at Studio Macbeth, who had already created a moving model of US president Abraham Lincoln from photographs, visited the Colorado Turin Shroud Center, which was allowed to carry out a detailed examination of the shroud in 1978.
The centre had argued the cloth, a bloodstained linen sheet measuring about 14ft by 3.5ft, contained threedimensional information, such as difference in shading indicating the face's contours, which could be used to build a relief portrait.
Downing says the shroud was like a series of "instructions for building a sculpture set inside a picture".
The team realised the sheet would have been wrapped around the face, rather than simply laid on top, which explained any distortion in the image. This then gave what they argue is an accurate depiction of what many believe is the true image of Christ.
Downing explains: "We 'lifted' the blood and isolated it on the computer.
I have a lot of information about that face and my estimation is we're pretty darn close to what this man looked like."
And he says he has a theory for how the image ended up on the material: "I will reveal at the end of the show the type of event that must have occurred 2,000 years ago."
The shroud's unveiling will draw people from across the globe to Turin Cathedral in northern Italy. Although entry is free, pilgrims will pump millions of euros into the depressed local economy and merchandise will boost church coffers.
It is the sixth time the relic has been in the past 100 years and the first since its 2002 restoration. Visitors will be able to buy 3D glasses which will allow them to see extra details of the artefact, a gimmick some church officials have condemned.
But then the cloth has always been surrounded by controversy. While many believe the image on it - of a bearded man covered in injuries consistent with crucifixion - is that of Jesus, sceptics argue it is a medieval fake.
Attempts to date the relic have been inconclusive. A 1978 study found no evidence that the shroud was a fake and concluded it was "a mystery". But it was condemned as a forgery in 1988 after carbon-dating tests by researchers in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona, estimated it was made between 1260 and 1390.
In 1999, another group put a 7th century date on it. And in the same year a Jerusalem botanist reported that pollen grains on the shroud were from plants found only in the Holy Land.
In 2005, American chemist Dr Raymond Rogers, considered a shroud authority, claimed it was between 1,300 and 3,000 years old and argued earlier tests were inaccurate because they were carried out on patches of material added to the sheet by nuns in the Middle Ages.
The relic's history reads like the plot from a Dan Brown bestseller.
The first documented evidence of the artefact was in the mid-14th century when the French crusader Geoffroy de Charny claimed to have brought it back from the Middle East.
It was displayed in a French church before becoming the property of Duke Ludovico I of the House of Savoy. A few decades later, it was almost lost in a fire - the burns are evident today, despite the efforts of nuns to darn them. Historians also believe that at one point the secretive Knights Templar had possession of it.
In 1983, the former King Of Italy, Umberto II, bequeathed it to the late Pope John Paul. It narrowly escaped destruction again in 1997 when a fire ravaged the Guarini Chapel where it is held.
Today the shroud is owned by the Catholic Church, which has not officially endorsed its authenticity. Pope John Paul II stated in 1998: "The church entrusts to scientists the tasks of continuing to reach adequate answers to the questions connected to this shroud."
In 2000, when he was a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI came closest to authentidisplayed cating it when he wrote that it was "a truly mysterious image, which no human artistry was capable of producing".
Last year Vatican scholar Dr Barbara Frale claimed she had deciphered Christ's death certificate from words written on the sheet. Dr Frale, a researcher in the Holy See's archives, says she found the words "Jesus Nazarene" on the cloth.
Computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed a jumble of faint words written in Greek, Aramaic and Latin. But, according to Dr Frale's reconstruction, the inscription reads: "In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year."
Gian Maria Zaccone, scientific director of Turin's Shroud Museum, says whether it is real or not is irrelevant: "Scientists can't explain how the image was formed, and we should leave it at that. It's not important whether or not it's a fake - the important thing is it encourages faith."
No matter whether you believe the Turin Shroud is genuine or the greatest April Fool in history, one thing's for sure, this spring millions will queue to see it.
PILGRIMS' PROGRESS More than a million people visited the relic in 2000 THRONGED Scores of devoted believers crowd the steps of Turin Cathedral in 1998 to see the controversial 14ft linen shroud, right, HI-TECH FIGURE Contours encoded in the cloth are mapped on a computer STARTING POINT An X-ray of the shroud IMAGE The shroud would have been on face FACE EMERGES The real Jesus? SKIN DEEP Muscles and flesh are added to the recreation RAISING HIS PROFILE Distortions in the image were ironed out