The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken from prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
The first nail - James Tissot
He shook like an aspen before them, and he was so weak from suffering and the loss of blood that he could hardly stand. His clothes had stuck to his scourged flesh, and when they pulled them off the dried skin and flesh stuck to them, and his wounds were reopened. From the soles of his feet to the top of his head he was one mass of wounds, looking startlingly like the roasted skinned Paschal lamb sacrificed from the creation of Adam, as a type and figure of him the Lamb of God skinned alive and about to be sacrificed for the world's sins.
He was about to fall in a swoon when they led him to a stone and roughly placed him sitting on it. They at once replaced the crown of thorns on his head driving the thorns again into his flesh. They brought again the mixed vinegar and gall, but again he refused to drink it. Then they told him to rise and they led him to the cross. He lay down on it and stretched himself out, reaching out his hands on the arms of the altar of redemption.
In a basket were the nails. They had been made by a blacksmith. They were of iron with a head like the bottom of a small cup, with a hole in its bottom through which the head of the nail passed and riveted or fastened so the hands and feet would be held. One of the executioners knelt on his breast, while another seized his right hand, dragged it to the hole in the arm of the cross, and tied the hand down with a cord. Another, taking a nail placed it on the palm of the hand near the wrist and with a heavy iron hammer, he drove the nail down through flesh and bones or metacarpus into the wood, till the iron reversed cup forming the nail-head pressed into the palm. The nails were as large as a man's finger and passed through to the back of the cross.
They took the other hand, but found that they had made a mistake in boring the hole. They tied cords to the hand, and bracing their feet against the body of the cross, they pulled and stretched the arm till the hand came over the hole. The Victim heaved, the legs contracted, and a spasm of suffering shook his whole frame. Kneeling on his wrist, they drove home the second nail. His arms were nearly disjointed by the violent strain.
His body became livid, then death-like, while groans and sob were heard among his followers. His Mother, looking on, nearly fainted. John and her friends kept her from falling in a swoon, while cries of exultation were heard among the Scribes and Pharisees.
When they stretched his legs, they found that they had made a mistake in placing the cross-piece of wood for his feet to rest on. So they tied ropes to his feet and stretched them till his feet came over the holes they had bored in the wood, as the prophet said," All my bones are scattered." (Psalm, xxi. 15.) Then they nailed his feet to the wood of the cross. There seems to be a difference of opinion, as to whether they used one long nail driving it down through both feet, or a nail for each foot. The meditations and the revelations of many Saints, which we have followed in all their details, say one nail was used, being driven down through both feet. On the other hand, numerous pictures and carvings, as well as visions of the Saints, show the feet nailed by two nails. The Gospels do not go into details and the prophecies are silent. The prophet said. " They have dug my hands and feet, they have numbered all my bones. (Psalm, xxi. 18.)
The agony which he suffered at this time can hardly be imagined. For he was stretched out on his cross with ropes around his chest and body lest the hands might be torn from the nail. The captain of the Roman soldiers then ordered the inscription, which Pilate wrote, nailed to the top of the cross above the head of the Crucified. The soldiers mocked the Jews, pointing out to them their Crucified King, and this roused the ire of the Pharisees, who demanded again, that another title be written stating that he said he was the King of the Jews. But the commander said something about carrying out his orders. Pilate had composed the Title, they nailed above his head, as a mockery of the Jews; for Pilate was much irritated against them. He did not know that he was showing forth the truth, that Christ was the King of the Jews, last heir of David and Solomon.
"And it was the third hour and they crucified him. (Mark xv, 25.) Then the prophecy was fulfilled: " And I was as a weak lamb that is carried to be a victim, and I knew not that they had devised counsels against me, saying: " Let us put wood on his bread and cut him off from the land of the living, and let his name be remembered no more." (Jerem xi. 19. See Zac. xii. 10.)
It was noon. The silver trumpets were sounding over the sacred city calling the people to prepare for the after noon sacrifice of the lamb at three o'clock, while here was the true Lamb of God, foretold from the world's foundations, dying to fulfil all that the prophecies and the Temple services foretold.
Then in the holes for the thieves' crosses, they raised beams upright, put a cross-piece from one to the other, and threw the ropes over it. Xenophon, Pliny, Lucian and other writers tell us of the ropes, nails and other instruments of execution. The ropes had sometimes knots, and St. Hilary mentions the wounds made in Christ's body by the cords, As was the custom, they bound his chest to the cross with knotted ropes, so the hands would not tear away and the body fall. The living flesh is very strong, the hands did not tear away. Few pictures of the crucifixion give these ropes around the breast and limbs. We are not sure such ropes were tied around the chest of the Saviour. But some writers mention them.
Now the executioners threw the ropes over the cross-piece, and while two pull on them, the other four lift up the cross with the weight of its Victim, and thus they raise it up. As the figure of the Lord appeared raised on high, cries of joy, exultation and mockery, rise from the great crowd on all sides. They directed the foot of the cross towards the hole in the ground, into which it fell with a frightful shock, nearly tearing hands and feet from the nails. Then they violently vibrate it back and forth as they drive five wedges into the ground to support it.
Thus Christ was raised up as he had foretold. " And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. Now this he said signifying what death he should die." (John xii. 32, 33.) There he was on high, fixed to the cross with nails driven into his hands and feet like pegs, as the prophet said : (Isaias lxv. 2.) " And I will fix him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be as a throne of glory to the house of his father.' (Isaias xxii. 23.) " And they shall say to him: 'What are these wounds in the midst of thy hands?' And he shall say ' With these I was wounded in the house of them that loved me. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that cleaveth to me. Strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered.'" (Zachary xiii. 6. 7.)
In all lands where she has spread, in all ages from Apostolic times, on Good Friday, the widowed Church in plaintive wailing voice weeps over the death of her Beloved. These Reproaches, formed by Apostles in Greek and Latin, seem to have been uttered by the dying Lord hanging on the cross.