This chapter was written for the doctors of the
de Saint Luc [Bulletin of March, 1938]. I apologize for its avowedly
dry and didactic note, as in a scientific demonstration.
I have always been a little shocked by the sligtly
brutal way in which
artists represent the Descent from the Cross. Even my old friend Fra
the most mystical and Catholic of painters, is not altogether guiltless
in this matter; and yet God alone knows how often I have meditated in
of his moving triptych, which is nowadays in the pilgrim's hostel of
Marco, Florence. It is true that the poor disciples of Jesus---Joseph,
Nicodemus and the others---show
deep affection; yet they would seem to be reduced to actions more
of executioners, which must have made their grief, already so violent,
become almost desperate.
Now, the study of the Holy Shroud has led me to an
conclusion and one far removed from the usual traditional iconography.
Indeed, it is my belief that these good men were able to take the body
down from the Cross and to bear it to the tomb with infinite delicacy,
respect and tenderness. They can scarcely have dared to touch that
Many Catholic colleagues, having read the first two
editions of the
The Five Wounds of Christ [Clonmore & Reynolds], have either
said or written to me that this study was for them the finest
on the Passion. I, therefore, thought it would be useful, while keeping
within the sphere of science, to outline for them this new subject for
reflection, one which in my opinion is no less suggestive; after the
of the Passion and the cruelty of the executioners we still have before
us the majesty of that dead body, in which the Divinity still resides,
and at the same time we can watch the tender piety of the disciples.
They will, however, be content with a scientific
exposition, from which
they may draw their own ascetical conclusions, and reap the spiritual
A.---lt is certain
that the body of Christ was borne horizontally, but as it was on the
from this to the neighborhood of the tomb; it was not till then that it
was placed on the shroud.
In fact, if it had been otherwise, the back part of the
have been drenched with the blood from the inferior vena cava, during
the period of the journey. On the contrary, the journey lasted long
for the inferior vena cava to be able to empty itself through the
Wound in the heart. One day, when I was explaining this question in the
neighborhood of La Villette, I met with the enthusiastic agreement of
officials from the abattoirs. They knew from experience that when they
open up an ox, empty it and take out the liver, the section concerned
the lower vena cava gives out a flow of black blood.
The greater part of the blood was then lost [or was
they came to touch the body]. Only that remained which coagulated on
skin, to a limited extent, while it was flowing. After the body had
carried naked, and had been laid, after the journey, on the shroud, the
latter received only the impression of the clots of blood formed on the
skin of the back during the journey. Only these clots of blood have
on the shroud what we call the dorsal transversal flow, because these
are its mark.
B.---It is certain
that the journey was carried out with a minimum of handling, in such a
way that the clots remained in their place, unmoved. If there had been
more handling, or had it been less delicate, they would have been wiped
away and obliterated.
fashion, then, was Jesus Christ borne, so that His body was not
the two following facts:
(a) The patibulum [the horizontal part of the Cross] was mobile;
the hands of Jesus were nailed on to the patibulum, while He was
lying on the ground. This was then lifted with the body on to the top
the stipes which was permanently fixed in the ground on Golgotha.
(b) Death occurred, as Dr. Le Bec has written [Le
Supplice de la
Croix, Paris, March, 1925], and as has been finally established by
experiment and observation, by Dr. Hynek [La Passion du Christ,
Prague, November, 1935], following tetanic contraction of all the
This has no connection with tetanus [I stress this for the sake of
who are not doctors], an infectious disease which produces similar
This tetanization ended by reaching the respiratory muscles, thus
asphyxia and death. The condemned man could only escape from asphyxia
straightening himself on the nail of the feet, in order to lessen the
of the body on the hands; each time that he wished to breathe more
or to speak, he had to raise himself on this nail, thus bringing on
suffering. This hypothesis, which, as I have said, is based on the
of a form of corporal punishment [by Dr. Hynek], which in Hitler's
camps was increased to the point of murder, is a most probable one; it
is confirmed on the shroud by the jutting forward of the thorax and the
concavity of the epigastrium.
We have also seen how the double flow of blood from the
with this double position, with its two slighdy divergent angles.
Under these conditions the rigidity of the corpse would
as in the case of those who have died of tetanus: the body was rigid,
in the position of crucifixion. They would be able to raise it without
its sagging, merely by holding the two extremities, as with a body in a
state of catalepsy.
so, it would be possible: (a) to free the feet by drawing out the nail
from the stipes; (b) to lower the patibulum with the body still
rigid; (c) to carry the whole without using any contrivance; two men
hold the two ends of the patibulum and another could hold the feet or
only the right foot [the rear one] at the level of the Achilles tendon
and the heel. This part of the body would thus be the only one to be
during the journey.
the impression of the right foot on the shroud one can see precisely
(a) the rear part of the heel is poorly marked in contrast with the
of the impression of the sole, which is very clear; at first sight it
makes the foot appear shorter than it actually is; (b) the flow of
which has descended [during the carrying horizontally] from the wound
the sole towards the heel does not reach the rear part of this, which
the part which is poorly marked on the shroud. And this is easy to
if this was the part which was covered by the hands of the bearer; his
hands would have supported the heel and would have prevented the blood
from flowing that far.
D.---It is probable
that there were five bearers and not three, for they had to carry a
weighing approximately 200 lbs. and the heavy patibulum, which would
have weighed another 110 lbs. at least. The two extra men would have
the trunk by means of a sheet, twisted so as to make a band, and placed
across under the lower part of the thorax.
In fact: (1) The blood of the inferior vena cava, of
part has been congealed transversally on the back during the journey,
with considerable difficulty managed to reascend [even when the
body was leaning towards the left side] from the mesial line to the
edge. This edge, in the horizontal position, was in fact higher than
mesial line. (2) The flow of blood, which has coagulated transversally
on the back, consists of irregular windings which bifurcate several
and then come together again; this would be unlikely in a regular flow
of blood on skin which was touching nothing. (3) On the other hand, if
one supposes there to have been a sheet, twisted irregularly and
the lower part of the thorax, this sheet would inevitably have been
impregnated with blood during the journey; a small part of this has
irregularly on the surface of the skin where it could reach it
amidst the folds of the material.
of the corpse, which made it possible to carry the body without it
forward on account of its weight, would not prevent the arms being
back from the position of abduction to that of adduction, and the hands
being crossed, once the body had been laid on the shroud, the hands
and the patibulum removed. We know from experience that there is
no degree of cadaveric rigidity which cannot be brought to an end by
use of a little force, even if it has been sufficiently intense to
the weight of the body.
then conclude that everything is likely to have taken place in the
(1) The feet are unnailed from the stipes. Only one nail
has to be removed
from the wood.
(2) The patibulum is lowered with the body without
the hands. The whole is then carried, without using any contrivance, by
five bearers, of whom one alone touches the body, at the level of the
two others support the back with the sheet twisted to form a band,
becomes impregnated with blood. The two last carry the ends of the
(3) This body is only placed on half the shroud at the
end of the journey,
during which a small amount of blood from the lower vena cava has
coagulated transversally in the folds of the band on the skin of the
These clots, in the form of irregular windings, will produce the " back
transversal flow " by making counter-drawings, while still fresh, on
(4) The body is placed on the shroud [probably on what
is known as the
stone of anointing]. At the last moment it would have been necessary to
support the back with the band, which, being completely impregnated
blood, would have made considerable stains on the shroud.
(5) The hands are unnailed; the patibulum is
they bend the arms forward, crossing the hands.
(6) They then fold back the other half of the shroud
over the head and
the front part of the body.
in the Tomb
Finally, once more owing to the extreme rigidity of the corpse, it has
been easy to lay the body in the tomb, although the sepulchral stone
placed transversally at the end of the cave, occupying the whole
It would have been carried in sideways, and held from underneath, all
bearers being on the outer side. This is how one lays an unconscious
in bed, after an operation; and the rigidity must have made the body
easier to carry. One might think that the body would have been laid
not on the stone at the end, but in an ante-chamber which has now
while waiting for the final embalming, after the Sabbath. This
is worthy of a fuller discussion, but it is outside the limits of this