Introduction to the Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is believed by many to have been used to inter Jesus Christ. It is made of linen, is essentially rectangular (4.3 by 1.1 meter) and bears the front and back images of a human body. It is named Shroud of Turin since it is currently (2012) kept in Turin, that is Torino, a city in the North of Italy, not very far from France. You can see the cathedral of Turin via this webcam. The Shroud is securely stored in the cathedral, in a protective sealed reliquary, fully unrolled on a flat surface. The reliquary is filled with an inactive gas to reduce oxidation of the linen of the Shroud. The Shroud itself is not visible to visitors although a copy can be seen near the reliquary.
The linen cloth is a fine rare weave: a 3-1 herringbone. Its average thickness is less than half a millimeter, around 0.25 mm. It is shown only on rare occasions, most recently in 1998 (celebrating the 100 years anniversary of the first photography of the Shroud), 2000 (the new millennium), and in the Spring of 2010.
The history of the Shroud is complex and we will only make a cursory exposition of it.
Note: The whereabouts of the Shroud before 1357 is not known with very strong certainty. Some would say that the Shroud did not exist before the 13th century, which, of course, would imply that the actual Turin Shroud is not authentic. But multiple evidences support that the Shroud existed before 1357. Some of the following statements about the history of the Shroud, prior to 1357, are considered controversial. The most obscure periods are the first three centuries and the years 1204 to 1356.
Edessa and Constantinople (-1204)
For almost a thousand years, the Shroud appears to have been kept in the city of Edessa, now known as Şanliurfa in Turkey, near the Syrian boarder. The Shroud would have been the Image of Edessa. This theory was first proposed by Ian Wilson.
It is most likely that only the reliquary containing the Image of Edessa was displayed to the public and artistic copies of the face only was shown to the public.
Byzantine Emperors most likely used the Shroud in many of their ceremonies and as a true representation of Christ for their icons, coins, paintings, and other artistic renditions.
In 944, the Image of Edessa was transferred to Constantinople, Turkey (known as Istanbul since 1930).
It was last seen, in the Eastern world, in Constantinople in 1203, before its reappearance in Lirey, France in 1357. In 1203, Robert de Clari, a Knight of the Fourth Crusade, reported to have seen a public display, in Constantinople, of a shroud similar to the Turin Shroud. This would be coherent with the many statements, made after 1204, that the French Crusaders had "stolen" the Shroud during or after the sack of Constantinople in 1204.
Constantinople to Lirey (1204 - 1357)
Historians have proposed three different scenarios for the transfer of the Shroud from Constantinople to France, its next well documented location.
Lirey, France (1357-1452)
The Shroud makes its entry in the Western world in France. We have
strong historical records of its existence in 1357 at Lirey, France, a
small city about 200 km south east of Paris. For example, a medallion reproducing the Shroud
was found in 1855 in the Seine river (see A Souvenir From Lirey). The
medallion clearly depicts the Turin Shroud and it holds the
ecussons of de Charny family and de Vergy family (14th
century), his spouse. This is corroborated with a report from the same period
that a shroud of Christ was on display at Lirey in 1357 at the collegiate founded by Geoffroy I de Charny.
In 1453, Marguerite de Charny, daughter of Geoffroy II de Charny, exchange the Shroud
to the Duke Louis de Savoie, in Chambéry, France, for a small
fief. This fief will actually turned out to be worthless for Marguerite de Charny.
In 1983, the Shroud was given to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope.
The Shroud was never in America or in the far Eastern World.
A lengthy introduction to the Shroud of Turin can be found at Wikipedia, Shroud of Turin. You can even study the series of editing that took place between believers and non-believers of the authenticity of the Shroud.
I invite the reader to read a short paper written by the professional photographer Aldo Guerreschi at The Turin Shroud: from the photo to the three-dimensional. In this paper, Aldo presents a personal experience of examining the Turin Shroud after the 1997 fire. I think that this personal introduction to the Shroud will give you a sense of the exceptional image inscribed on it. I quote from this paper:
While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from it remains the same, with the Shroud itself that is not the case.