The Shroud of Turin is an ancient artifact that many believe to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Kept as a religious relic in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, the Shroud is a bolt of cloth approximately 15 feet (4½ meters) long by 3½ feet (1 meter) wide. It is thought to be a burial shroud because it bears a faint image, barely discernible except in photographs, of a man's body. The image on the shroud shows a man who bears wounds consistent with death by crucifixion. There are two images, head to head, as if a body were laid on the cloth, feet at one edge, and the cloth was folded over the body.
The earliest provable appearance of the Shroud of Turin was in 1357, in France. It was claimed then to be Jesus' burial cloth, and earlier reports exist that might refer to the same cloth in various places on its journey to - eventually - Turin, but 1357 is the first appearance after which the location of the Shroud was continuously known.
There are numerous theories, miraculous and natural, to explain how the image came to be on the Shroud of Turin. The miraculous explanation is that the image formed at the moment that Jesus was resurrected, as a byproduct of the energy that was released. A more natural explanation is that it was a chemical interaction, similar to photography, between the cloth of the shroud and the gas released by a decomposing body. This explanation, if true, says nothing to the identity of the shroud's inhabitant.
Some scientists even entertain the possibility that the image on the shroud is a hoax perpetrated in the Middle Ages, perhaps by Leonardo da Vinci, known to love jokes and hoaxes of this sort. Others point to the fact that the image was visible before Leonardo's day. This doesn't mean it isn't a hoax, of course, but lessens the possibility that Leonardo was the culprit, although it is still possible that he augmented a chance resemblance to a man's face with a little artistic license.
In 1988, tiny fragments of the Shroud of Turin were collected for carbon-dating. Since the material being dated is destroyed in the test, the owners of the Shroud were reluctant to part with more than minute threads. The carbon-dating test, which can accurately tell the age of anything once living, such as the fibers that made up the cloth itself, put the fabric's age squarely in the Middle Ages. That is, if the carbon-dating was done correctly, the Shroud of Turin could not possibly be the burial shroud of Jesus, since the fabric came from plants that lived over a thousand years after his time.
Many people invested in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin claim that the carbon-dating of the shroud proves nothing. The chapel housing the shroud was damaged in a fire in the 1500s - the test might have simply dated particles of smoke or ash from that fire, they claim. The threads might also have been drawn from patches that were put on the shroud after this event. Whatever the case, no further samples have been made available for scientific dating. As a result, people who want to believe in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and people who want to believe it is a hoax or an artifact of the Middle Ages, are equally free to do so.