.

Gives access to the anglophone version of the site's homepage.

Gives access to the basic information of the site, to the history of the Shroud as well as to the study of the cloth.

Gives access to the images on the Shroud, their macroscopic analysis and, when necessary, complementary studies.

Gives the main conclusions that can be drawn from the study of the Shroud : the definite, the uncertain, the hypotheses.

Reconstruction of the Passion of Jesus in the light of the Gospels and of the observations derived from the study of the Shroud.

Anatomical graphs giving the name and place of the main anatomical points studied.

study of the traces of scorching visible on the Shroud

Some facts about the physiology and the physio-pathology of blood coagulation.

study of flogging under the Romans, of its pathological consequences and of the main traces of it on the Shroud

List of the main works on which this study is based and of the main internet sites which refer to the Shroud

Gives access to pages containing complementary information about the Shroud.

Brief critical study of Carbon dating and of its application to the Shroud.

Click on FAQ to access the frequently asked questions forum, and on MAJ to find the latest pages.

Gives access to crucifixion procedures in Roman times.

gives access to the Table of contents of the site, from which you can access each chapter.

Gives access to the physio-pathological effects of the ill treatments endured during the Passion.

gives a definition of the main terms used in this study and which deserve some additional explanations.

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History

The crucifixion

Normal crucifixion procedure
Causes of death on the cross

 

History :

                    It was, alas, a form of execution that was only too common at the time. The revolt of the slaves led by Spartacus ended with the crucifixion of 6 000 people. The Roman Emeror Nero had thousands of Christians of all ages crucified, and history says that a spectacle was made of it; their bodies were coated with resin and they were burnt like torches to light up the night.

                    For all who had ever seen or participated in this form of execution, the cross was an object of horror. This image lasted several centuries, until the Emperor Constantine banned crucifixion around 320 AD. It was probably this horror of the cross which explains why it appears so rarely as a Christian icon in the first centuries. It is not until the 5th century that the crucifix image appears, and then with Jesus placed upon it fully clothed. The more 'traditional' representation of Jesus on the Cross, as we know it today, did not appear until the middle ages.

                    The condemned carried their own cross to the place of their crucifixion. In fact what they normally carried was the cross beam to which their hands had sometimes already been nailed. This piece of wood was known in latin as the patibulum. At the crucifixion site this patibulum (with its victim attached) was fixed onto an upright stake whose lower part was embedded in the ground. This upright was the stipes. The word crux at first described what was just a simple stake planted in the earth. Little by little it came to mean the stipes, and finally it came to mean the complete wooden apparatus of crucifixion. The condemned carried the patibulum across their shoulders, their forearms attached to the wood by cords. The weight of the patibulum would be about 20 to 30 kilos. It was a crushing weight for the condemned whose body was already raw from the public beating and flogging that came before the execution.

                    The images on the shroud can be related directly to the carrying of a patibulum :

                    The outside part of the right shoulder shows a rectangular area, about 10 x 9 cms, (approx 4 x 4 inches), sloping at the bottom and indented. This can be interpreted as a mass of scratches superimposed on wounds caused by the flogging. A heavy rough object has pressed on this spot. The same images can be found on the interior part of the shoulder, along the line of the collarbone.

                    The point of the left shoulder blade carries the same marks.

                    The right knee seems more bruised than the left, and has many grazes as well as two round sores, 2 centimetres (about an inch) in diameter, on its outside, upper surface.

                    The left knee is less damaged but has more traces of flogging.

                    Wounds like this would have been produced by carrying the patibulum on the right shouder, and letting it rub the left shoulder blade; also by falls whilst carrying the cross. Study of the marks suggest first a fall on the right knee, then the beam fell backwards, grazing the right shoulder and the point of the left shoulder blade. The Gospels report the carrying of the cross, and tradition has perpetuated the memory of these three falls on the path to Calvary.

 

Normal crucifixion procedure :          To return to main

                    The Roman troops had considerable experience in this manner of execution. One has only to read of the huge number of crucifixions carried out in Roman times to see that it was a routine affair, a standard procedure that would have been carried out rapidly and efficiently. On arrival at the crucifixion site, the condemned was stripped of any remaining clothes. If not already nailed by the hands to the patibulum, the victim was probably pushed onto his back on the ground, with the patibulum beneath his head. His left arm was pulled along it, held in place, and the hand nailed to the wood. The right arm would then be pulled in the other direction and the right hand nailed in place. The condemned was then lifted to his feet, pushed towards his stipes, and the patibulum hoisted up on the stipes. One or two executioners then bent the victims knees, and forced his feet up a bit, whilst another executioner nailed them to the stipes. With an experienced execution squad, this part of their job would take only a few short minutes.

                    What traces can be found on the Shroud that show evidence for a crucifixion ?

wound in the left forearm, at the level of the wrist, seen from the back and showing a hole left by the passage of a nail used in the crucifixion (shown in red in the drawing on the right). The flow of blood in the direction of the elbow along two main axes is separated by about twenty degrees ( in yellow in the drawing on the right). (8405 bytes) This image shows : in red, the trace of the nail, and in yellow, the trace of the blood flow. The image on the left is an enlargement of this part : the contrast has been boosted to show the details better. (3366 bytes) Anatomical drawing of the right wrist, seen from the back, showing the outlet of the Destot space ( highlighted by a pink circle). (6552 bytes) x rays taken by Doctor Pierre Barbet, after introducing, with two blows of the hammer, an 8 mm nail into the wrist of a corpse, through the Destot space , (6949 bytes)

(after Pierre Barbet)

 

                    The left wrist carries the mark of a wound. (The right wrist is hidden by the left hand). The fact that the wound is in the wrist will surprise many, because on crucifixes it is usually shown in the centre of the palm. Close examination of the shroud shows the wound to be in the centre of the carpus (see the pink circle in the diagram). This intrigued Barbet who carried out crucifixion tests on corpses. If he planted the nail in the middle of the palm of the hand, he found this area was not strong enough to support the weight of the body. The muscles, ligaments and the white fibrous sheets of tissue by which the muscles are attached to the bones tore as the weight of the body pulled against the nail, the hand pulled off the nail, and the body fell.

                    To get around this, it was necessary to plant the nail in something more solid, capable of resisting the large tension forces caused by the crucifixion. (Taking into account the angle of the arms, the forces acting on each wrist are the equivalent of the total weight of the condemned and not half of his weight as could be expected). There is however, one spot, situated between the palm and the wrist, which answers perfectly the needs of the crucifixion ( see X ray of a nail planted in this space by Doctor Willis). This spot is called the Destot Space (shown in the centre of the red circle in the skeletal diagram). The wound that shows on the Shroud corresponds exactly to this space. This shows that the executioners knew their job and planted the nails with precision. From this wound two trickles of blood (marked in yellow) run down to the elbow, a proof that the elbow was lower than the hand.

                    A detail which has escaped general attention over the centuries is that the Shroud does not show the thumbs, but only the four fingers of the hand, although artists who have made paintings of the Shroud have customarily, added the thumbs to their canvases. This apparent omission alas, can be explained by an additional torture that Barbet has shown to occur during crucifixion. At the moment when the nail is hammered through the Destot space, it tears but does not cut the middle nerve that controls the movement of the thumb. In reaction to this damage, the nerve forces the thumb towards the centre of the palm. Furthermore, and this is agonising for the victim, by damaging the nerve and not cutting off its sensitivity to pain, the crucified suffers in the hands, wrists and forearms, an excruciating nerve pain comparable to having the nerve of a tooth drilled without anaethetic by a dentist ; or the pain of sciatica. Each movement of the condemned on the cross intensifies this terrible pain ; and attempts by the condemned to relieve some of this pain is one of the reasons for the pattern of body movements that he will make on the cross before succumbing to death.

                    It was not until Barbet that this traumatism of the middle nerve became known . To him, this detail alone was sufficient to state categorically that the Shroud is authentic, and had wrapped a body executed by crucifixion.

Anatomical drawing of a right hand, showing the vasculo-nervous bundles. The Destot Space is highlighted by a blue dot. This naturally occurring space is "perfect" for the crucifixion nails, as it is surrounded by three supporting bones which need not be broken. In addition, the nail rests against the strong anterior annular ligament of the carpus. (20745 bytes)
The middle nerve is shown in yellow, and passes up the middle of the wrist. The Destot space is at the edge of the sketch, its position marked by a blue circle
X
                    On the rear face of the forearm (that we can see on the Shroud) one can easily see traces of blood running from the wrist to the elbow. At intervals these traces separate into two streams which descend vertically (i.e vertically considering the position of the arms when on the cross). This indicates that at times the condemned let all his weight hang from his wrists, and at other times he lifted himself by taking more of the weight on the nail through his feet. Each struggle upwards brought on further waves of agony in those torn middle nerves, but death on the cross came from asphyxia, the result of the forces acting on the chest due to hanging from the wrists, so as long as he had the strength and willpower to resist, the condemned had no choice but to lift himself higher, in order to breathe. On this dorsal drawing of a crucified victim, the blood flows from the wounds on the wrists can be seen clearly. The left arm is seen from the back, just as you see it on the Shroud when you look at the arms crossed on the pubis. In fact, in this position, it is the dorsal faces of the the forearms that are visible. This drawing shows the mechanism by which blood streaks were formed, the two streams which follow two different paths as the victim would first sink, and then haul himself upwards again in order to breath. (5269 bytes)

The angle of the arms during the agony on a cross (after Wilson)

 

                    Look at the image of the feet : they are crossed, the left in front of the right ; they are in hyperextension showing that they have been fixed flat on the stipes of the cross. We can clearly see in the sole of the right foot a mark that corresponds to an exit wound of a nail that could have nailed the feet to the cross. This space, situated in the rear of the 2nd space in the metatarsus, carries the name of the Doctor who studied it in detail, Doctor Merat.

 

Causes of death on the cross :          To return to main

                    There are some indirect causes : shock, and the important loss of vitality due to flogging and the haemorrages that follow, the lack of food and especially of drink which leads rapidly to dehydration with its accompanying overwhelming fatigue and headache, often intense.

                    But the usual direct cause of death is asphyxia, caused by two factors :

                    Firstly, a mechanical blocking of the normal respiratory expansions of the thoracic cage, caused by the position of the arms, extended and raised, and accentuated by the weight of the body pulling on the arms.

                    Secondly, repiratory paralysis due to cramps in the respiratory muscles : mainly the diaphram, but also in the pectorals, and sterno-cleido-mastoidiens, intercostals, etc. The paralysis of these muscles brings on a dilation of the thoracic cage with projection of the sternum and hollowing of the epigastrium, the forcing of the intestines downwards by the diaphram causing the lower part of the abdomen to bulge.

                    The asphyxia has two consequences. The oxygen level in the blood is reduced, and the carbon dioxide level goes up. This increases the acidity of the blood causing heavy sweating (aggravating dehydratation) and bringing on muscular cramps.

                    One can see on the Shroud certain attitudes suggesting rigidity : head pointed slightly forward, knees slightly bent... This too can be explained. Normally rigor mortis begins to set in about 6 hours after death. It then reaches its maximum after 18 hours, and stops after about 36 hours. However, when a person dies during prolonged and intense physical exercise, the rigidity starts to set in immediately. e.g. various reports of battlefield experience mention that when the fighting has been long and tiring, exhausting in the real sense of the term, rigor mortis has frequently started immediately a soldier is killed.

                    You may want to ask how, when crucifixion has not been practised since about 320AD, we know so well the mechanisms of death on the cross, Well! we have two sources of information. The first comes from descriptions of deaths from acute asthma attacks in former times when we did not have the benefit of today's medicines. The second is the statements of witnesses who have assisted in punishments during the first world war, or at the executions at Dachau, which even if not on a cross, report on hanging by the hands. Barbet, quoting from these reports, writes, "One sees the patient, stomache distended, presenting all the symptoms of asphyxia. The face going red, and purple, a heavy sweat pours from the face and from the whole surface of the body. If you don't want the unfortunate person to die you have to take him down".

                    The victim being crucified had to chose between two positions. Either he allowed himself to slump, hanging all his weight on the nails through his wrists, whereupon he soon started asphyxiating. Or, at the cost of intense and exhausting effort, he lifted himself up by pulling on his arms and pushing down on the nails through his feet, raising himself by those few centimetres necessary to draw breath. At the same time, everything was accompanied by intense, unending pain originating in the median nerves of the wrist, by the nail through the feet, by constant cramps in all his muscles, by the pain caused by the blows during the flogging, and by intense thirst.... When you consider the barbarity and suffering in a crucixion one cannot help but feel nauseous. Sometimes the executioners, either through pity for the victim, or boredom with the slow speed of death, broke the victim's legs with blows from an iron bar. The victim could then no longer push himself up to breath and soon died of asphyxiation. The gospels tell us that this happened to the two thieves who were crucified at the same time as Christ, but that when the executioners reached Jesus, they found he had already expired. Thus they did not break his legs, but one of them speared him in the side with a lance. St John, who was present, adds 'At once blood and water came out'

                    We have seen on the shroud all the marks of agony caused by crucixion, the dilated chest, the contracted pectorals, the epigastric hollow deepened... We can also see an oval wound, measuring 4.5 by 1.5 cms, in the right hand side of the chest

Even if Charles Villandre was perfectly aware of the nudity of Jesus on the cross, he did not dare leave off the traditional loincloth that all artists before him had prudently placed. (6398 bytes)

This crucifix was made by Doctor Charles Villandre, surgeon in Saint Joseph's hospital in Paris, whose artistic abilities were as good as his medical knowledge. He sculpted this, according to the advice of Doctor Pierre Barbet. It represents as precisely as possible the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth

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