Every good Christian is familiar with the story of Jesus Christ’s Passion. If you are not a Christian, but have seen the movie, The Passion of the Christ, it’s difficult to forget the gruesome parts – His brutal chastisement, the arduous way to the cross, and the horrifying crucifixion. Most forms of media from early medieval paintings to modern movies show a fatigued, hunched over Jesus carrying the wooden cross to Golgatha (the place of the skull) where He was crucified. Yet, many scholars believe Christ only carried the crossbeam on which his wrists were nailed. Many others are traditionalists who agree that art confirms the “whole” cross view. Incredibly, the Bible never states that Jesus carried His own cross, except in the Book of John: Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha) (John 19:17, NIV). All of the other Gospels include Simon of Cyrene as the reluctant man who helps Jesus on the way to Golgatha. However, I believe Christ bore the partial or full weight of the cross.
In my opinion, the Shroud of Turin is the famous, large cloth is the true linen in which the temporarily dead body of Christ lay for three days. It bears the imprint of the body of Jesus. By careful analysis of the biological and forensic evidence, we can learn about how Jesus suffered.
Jesus was in such weakened condition from the scourging he could barely carry the crossbeam itself. On the backside of the Shroud two large straight diagonal abrasions are marked from the right shoulder blade down to the left. Jesus arms and hands were tied to the crossbeam. It would have to have been heavy for a person who had not been severely beaten, like Simon of Cyrene, to carry Jesus’ crossbeam. According to Dr. Pierre Barbet, early groundbreaking author of A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon, the crossbeam called the pitabulum would have weighed about 125 pounds and the large vertical pole-the stipes would have weighed 250 pounds. (Location 861, Kindle)
To make matters worse, Jesus’ arms and hands were tied to the crossbeam. So, he could not have walked a half mile to Golgatha without falling due to navigating the uneven, rough terrain with bare feet. The Shroud reveals evidence that Christ’s nose appears to be broken and his right cheek swollen – injuries consistent with one or several falls while bearing the crossbeam as long as he did. Under microscopic analysis, the Shroud shows dirt and lime particles on His face.
When Jesus and Simon arrived at the crucifixion site, the pitabulum and Jesus were set down on the ground. Then, Roman soldiers drove nails through his wrists. Afterwards, they hoisted the pitabulum and Jesus up on a wedge situated in the middle of the stipes (pole) which had already been set into the ground. Then a nail was driven through his feet. This type of cross is known as a “tau”cross in the shape of a “T”.
On the other hand, many of today’s Shroud scholars believe that Christ carried the entire cross. According to Andrè Marion & Gerard Lucotte, French authors of the 2006 groundbreaking book, The Shroud of Turin and the Argenteuil Tunic, Jesus bore the whole cross. Using computer modeling, which analyzed the back of the Shroud, they discovered that there were more than two abrasion marks on the Shroud; there were nine blood marks which correspond to the tunic Jesus was wearing (John 19:23-24). Marks on the tunic indicate a cross pattern, created by the pressure of the whole cross- the pitabulum and the stipes – on his back, despite the tunic which buffered the bruises.
What about the two diagonal bruise marks across his back? The new computerized data clearly shows more bruises that form a perpendicular cross pattern from his bruised shoulders to where the stipes met the pitabulum between and under both shoulder blades. Marion’s analysis of the Shroud and the Tunic of Argenteuil suggest that the upper part of the vertical beam was carried on the left shoulder, while the horizontal beam’s full weight fell on the right shoulder. This might have dislocated His shoulder.
But Jesus could not have carried a cross weighing 350 pounds. However, for Jesus to have carried the entire cross-the stipes (vertical pole) and the pitabulum (cross beam) -would have weighed much less. According to legend, in 326 AD, Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine of Rome made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find the location of Christ’s cross. Witnesses remarked that not only did she find Jesus cross in an area below Golgatha, but the crosses of the criminals. She couldn’t determine which cross belonging to Jesus, so a terminally ill woman touched each cross until she laid her hand on the one which miraculously made her sickness vanish.
Helena took the relics related to the crucifixion back to Rome. In the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, the pitabulum of the good thief is displayed. It measures 180 cm long x 13 cm width x 13 cm high. Its weight is 20 kg or 45 pounds. It’s estimated that the stipes measured 250 cm long x 11.5 cm width x 11.5 cm high. Its weight is 25 kg or 55 pounds. So, the total weight of Jesus’ cross would be about 90 pounds. (From an anonymous article, Why Jesus Carried the Whole Cross and Not Only the Patibulum.) Interestingly enough, this evidence supports the fact that the bruise marks were the same size-between 11 to 13 cm long.
Jesus would have had severe trouble walking, restricted to a 45-pound patibulum mounted on just his shoulders with his hands and arms tied to it. By bearing the entire 90-pound cross, He would have had his hands free, while dragging some of its weight behind him. So, if Jesus bore a much lighter complete cross, it would have been the traditional “Latin” cross- a “t”.
It has also been speculated that Jesus had to carry the entire cross, because the filthy, used stipes, covered in blood and feces were pulled out of their holes in the ground and stored. This was probably done because in and around a holy site like Jerusalem, the religious law forbid anyone touching anything unclean. So, Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him had to carry both stipes and pitabulum. In more secular places around the Roman Empire, the filthy stipes stood in the ground waiting for its next victim. So, the tau cross was traditionally used and not the Latin cross, unique to Jesus.
Early experts who analyzed the Shroud of Turin believed that the condemned Messiah only carried the pitabulum because only two abrasion marks from his right upper back and the lower left back were visible. Today, using the latest computer technology, more evidence has surfaced that Jesus bore the entire cross by reexamining the Shroud of Turin, the tunic of Argenteuil and the good thief’s cross. The tunic Jesus wore to the crucifixion overlapped the marks on the Shroud. The measurements of the good thief’s crossbeam indicate that it weighed much less than previously thought, as probably did the stipes. With this evidence, it is more likely Jesus carried the whole cross, with the help of Simon de Cyrene, to the crucifixion site, validating the traditional artistic view of Jesus bearing the entire cross.