A new exhibition of the Turin Shroud, the alleged burial cloth of Jesus Christ, will kick off Sunday in northern Italian city Turin.
Millions of tourists and pilgrims are expected to flock to the city's cathedral to see the relic, which is made of herring-bone linen cloth and appears to carry the front and back impression of a bearded man with long hair.
The body imprinted on the 4.42-meter-long and 1.13-meter-wide shroud seems to bear numerous injuries consistent with crucifixion, plus a gash in its side.
Arguments about the relic's authenticity have been raging for decades. Carbon dating tests reported in 1998 in the prestigious research journal Nature showed that the cloth was made between 1260 and 1390, and therefore nothing more than a medieval hoax.
Shroud believers countered with claims that the researchers had mistakenly tested modern inserts on the cloth, and that other tests suggested it contained pollen grains from plants that could only be found in the Holy Land.
Yet the ongoing controversy has not stopped officials from praising the new exposition, which opens on April 19.
"It's a great event. ... Every time the Shroud is displayed we see an enormous participation -- from the public, the faithful and visitors," Turin Mayor Piero Fassino said, adding that Pope Francis is also expected to visit.
Fassino soon turned to what many would say was the real significance of the Shroud -- its commercial pulling power.
"So far we already have more than a million visitors booked to come to the city to see the Shroud. The display opens just days ahead of Expo 2015 so visitors in Italy will be able to see both events," he said.
Turin city officials calculate that Shroud day-trippers will contribute 121 euros a head to the city's economy, while those who stay over will spend 215 euros each day.
To ensure even more publicity for the Shroud, the archbishop of Turin will open the three-month-long display live on national broadcaster Rai TV, which will enable Rai to boost its advertising revenues and the city to fill its hotels and restaurants.