The Crucifixion

Image of Crucifixion by Bartolomeo BulgariniAs every Christian knows, Jesus died for our sins.

After the Fall of Man, the gates to heaven were closed, and there was distance placed between God and Man. That distance could only be closed through a sacrifice by someone who was more than just a man, and Jesus, was fully-God and fully-man.

Every Christian also knows that Jesus suffered, was crucified, died and was buried…and on the third day, rose again. The extent of suffering may be less well-known, but the depths of suffering that Jesus willingly endured for us–all of us–really show us the depths of His love.

That suffering is revealed in the remarkable study of His Passion by Pierre Barbet, a physician at the Hôpital Saint-Joseph in Paris, which is detailed in the book, A Doctor at Calvary (Roman Catholic Books, 1953).

Having examined the details of the Gospel record from a scientific perspective, Barbet reconstructed the events of the Passion in horrific detail. We learn, for instance, that the “sweating of blood,” or hæmatidrosis, which Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest, contributed to His relatively rapid death on the Cross (in about three hours). According to Barbet, this abnormal condition renders the skin “tender and painful, makes it less able to bear the and the blows which it will receive during the night and during the following day, right on till the scourging and crucifixion” (p. 70).

Furthermore, Barbet attributed the level of Jesus’ sensitivity to pain to His highly refined nervous system. Apparently, “individuals who are physically of a more refined type endure [pain] with the greatest patience and in general put up a better resistance, under the influence of a more courageous soul and finer sensibility” (ibid.). And in the case of Jesus, “He had a firm will to endure the painful consequences to the utmost extent” (p. 71).

Moreover, having analyzed the body image on the Holy Shroud of Turin from an anatomical point of view, Barbet concluded it was genuine, in large part because of its inexplicable departure from traditional artistic depictions. “A forger,” he wrote, “would somewhere or other have made some blunder which would have betrayed him. He would not have contradicted  all artistic traditions with such supreme unconcern” (pp. 81-82).

Image of Christ at the Column by Hans MemlingNote: in a much-publicized study in 1988, samples of the Shroud were carbon dated to some time between 1260 and 1390, but there are procedural concerns regarding the testing, as well as questions about the effects of fire damage and other contamination to the cloth. Together, these indicate that the 1988 findings were in error.

Considering the evidence of the Shroud image in light of the testimony of Scripture and Tradition, led Barbet to some stunning discoveries. For instance, regarding Our Lord’s scourging, he reported: “There are plenty of marks of this on the shroud. They are scattered over the whole body, from the shoulders to the lower part of the legs. … Altogether I have counted more than 100, perhaps 120 [blows]” (pp. 83, 84).

Of the Crucifixion, Barbet referred to an “ideal spot” called “Destot’s space,” an open area “in the middle of the bones of the wrists,” which would allow the bones to be “pushed aside [by the nails], but [left] intact” (p. 102)—in keeping with the prophecy cited by St. John, “Not a bone will be broken” (see John, 20:36).“Is it possible,” argued Barbet, “that trained executioners would not have known by experience of this ideal spot for crucifying the hands … ? The answer is obvious. And this spot is precisely where the shroud shows us the mark of the nail, a spot of which no forger would have had any idea or the boldness to represent it. … When [the median nerves] were injured and stretched out on the nails in those extended arms, like the strings of a violin on their bridge, they must have caused the most horrible pain” (pp. 104-105).