Friday, 8 May 2015

An intense sensation of heat

Ecce homo

A man has been killed. He was in his mid to late thirties, around 180 cm tall and weighed between 72 and 77 kgs. The forensic pathology report, based on an analysis of images of the cadaver, indicates that the immediate causes of death were a myocardial infarction and Takotsubo cardiomyopathy that followed an earlier myocardial contusion and a lengthy catalogue of trauma resulting from torture prior to the subject’s execution.

The body bears markings that reflect abrasions and contusions and others that indicate punctures and an outflow of blood from cavities.

The skin bears marks on the anterior chest and the back of the body, where they extend from the shoulders to the calves. Each of the marks consists of two portions indicating a bifid instrument. There are indented bleeding points at each of these sites and the marks resolve into scratch-like linear lesions, each with three or four parallel elements. While the lower extremities show signs of these injuries, none are present on the arms or forearms. The appearance of these wounds is consistent with the application of a whip-like device having sharp or rounded ends that tore the skin and lead to hypovolemia. Two large, discolored areas over the shoulder blades are consistent with bleeding from surface abrasions as if a heavy, rough object had been in contact with the skin at these points.

The hands of the cadaver are crossed over the pubis with the left hand covering the right wrist. The outlines of four fingers are clear but the thumbs are not visible in the images. In the left wrist area there is a stab wound and a bloodstain that is composed of two projecting rivulets from a central source and separated by an angle of about 10 degrees. The wound indicates a sharp object having been driven through the bones of the wrist, separating them but not producing fractures. The lack of thumbs in the images of both hands is related not only to a lesion of the median nerve, which causes only a slight flexion of the thumb, but also to the fact that the object driven into the wrist has pulled or injured the flexor pollicis longus tendon causing its dragging and the complete retraction of the thumb. This suggests a double insertion of the sharp object into the subject’s wrists, with the second insertion lower down between the two rows of carpal bones, on the ulnar side of the hand.

Images of the cadaver also indicate an under-glenoidal dislocation of the humerus on the right side, a lowering of the shoulder, and a flattened hand. These injuries indicate that the subject suffered a violent, blunt trauma to the neck, chest and shoulder from behind, causing neuromuscular damage and lesions of the entire brachial plexus. The posture of the left claw-hand is indicative of an injury of the lower brachial plexus, as is the crossing of the hands on the pubis, not above the pubis as it would normally be.

The above, blunt force trauma also resulted in neck and shoulder muscle paralysis, and caused a displacement of the head from the side opposite to the shoulder depression. In this case, the nerves of the upper brachial plexus (particularly branches C5 and C6) are violently stretched resulting in an Erb-Duchenne paralysis because of loss of motor innervation to the deltoid, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, biceps, supinator, brachioradialis and rhomboid muscles. As a consequence, the right shoulder is lower than the left by 10±5 degrees.

From the angulation of the stain on the left wrist as well as the direction of flows of blood on the forearms, a position of the arms at approximately 65 degrees above the horizontal can be inferred at the time of the blood flow, which, together with the other markings, is consistent with crucifixion. The divergence of the streams suggests that two positions were maintained by the subject during the period of the blood flow. The difference in angulation is about 10 degrees and can be explained by the subject elevating his body by directing his weight toward the feet and then changing position to permit the full body weight to be supported by the wrists.

A nearly complete image of the right foot shows an outline of the heel and toes. In the area corresponding to the metatarsal zone is a square surrounded by a pale halo, which shows where the foot has been pierced. The image of the left foot is less clear. Examination of the calves of the legs on the dorsal view shows that the right calf has left a well-defined print in which the marks of a whip can be seen. It appears that the right foot was directly against the surface of a cross and the left leg was flexed at the knee and the foot rotated so that the left foot rested on the instep of the right foot. The sole of the right foot became completely covered with blood while the left did not. An analysis of the imprint of the sole of the right foot shows that two nails were driven into it: one between the second and third metatarsal and another at heel level. A swelling of the right knee further indicates a knee cap fracture.

Among the marks on the cadaver’s swollen head there are several blood prints on the front of the forehead. Circling the scalp posteriorly is a row of blood prints and high on the scalp at the vertex are similar prints. Any puncture of the scalp ordinarily produces bleeding excessively because of retraction of torn vessels. A cap-like structure with sharp needle-like protrusions at the center and periphery would account for such bloodstains on the head. On the face over the right cheek, there is a swelling and there is partial closure of the right eye, which is further retracted into the orbit because of the paralysis of the entire arm. There is a very slight deviation of the nose and at the tip of the nose is an area of discoloration consistent with a bruise, covered in scratches and dirt. These are consistent with the nose having made contact with the ground, most likely as the result of a fall.

The subject suffered very serious and widespread pain, accompanied by an intense sensation of heat, and usually shock at even the slightest limb movement, caused by a total paralysis of the right arm, the nailing of the left arm because of damage to the median nerve and the nailing of the feet because of damage to the tibial nerves. This method of nailing led to breathing impairment: with the arms raised at an approximately 15 degree angle causing the ribcage to expand, the lungs had difficulty expiring, reducing air flow. Each deep breath the subject will have taken to speak or to catch his breath will have put a strain on the lower limbs, causing intense pain.

Serum stains can also be seen, separate from blood stains from a chest stab wound sustained post mortem, which were formed as a result of bleeding in the lungs. This bleeding will have started before the crucifixion, after the violent fall which caused the contusion on the subject’s shoulders. Restricted breathing and the presence of a haemothorax, which put pressure on the right lung, were not enough to bring about death by asphyxia. Asphyxia involves an inability to breathe, which results in loss of conscience and coma. The fall and/or the flagellation have likely caused not only a pulmonary contusion but also a cardiac contusion. This, together with the serious clinical and mental condition the subject was in, may have led to death through myocardial infarction and cardiomyopathy.

A man has been brutally tortured and executed in cold blood.

But, who was he?

As you may have guessed, the above forensic pathology notes are derived from the Turin Shroud blood stains and “imprint” and represent a compilation of the latest results of its study,1-3 which has gone on for over a century and which has involved a worldwide assortment of forensic pathologists, trauma specialists and medical imaging scientists. While the identity of the subject is not scientifically beyond doubt, one thing is for sure: whoever it was whose “imprint” and blood stains are shown on the Turin Shroud, or - even in the case of it being a fake - whatever the nature of the event depicted here, we are looking at the savage and prolonged torture of a human being here, who had suffered fractured bones, stab wounds, contusions, paralysis, neurological damage, internal organ failure and unspeakable pain, terror and anguish, leading to a fatal heart attack.

While reading about the Turin Shroud, I personally have come to the conclusion that there is a high likelihood of it being genuine and an engagement with its forensic pathology was an invitation to contemplate Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice with greater specificity and therefore a heightened invitation to compassion.

Such thoughts very quickly lead to another realization: Jesus’ suffering on the cross (whether it be precisely in the form indicated by the Turin Shroud or of the less specific, while still equally brutal and savage, nature reported in the Gospels) draws attention to the suffering of all. Every single victim of violence deserves the same degree of care and attention as that heaped on the Turin Shroud. Every single wound and violent act is as much an offense against God as was the murder of his own Son, since every single person is a child of God.

The Christians crucified in Syria, the women suffering domestic abuse worldwide, the factory workers killed as a result of inhumane working conditions, the Muslim detainees tortured at Guantanamo, the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the homeless left to starve and freeze to death at the doorsteps of a society living in excess, the millions left to die of infectious diseases in the absence of clean water and sanitation, the Chinese prisoners executed and then having their organs harvested for the transplant market. They all deserve tears spilled over their wounds, careful attention paid to the violence visited on them and everything possible done to end or, better still, prevent the offenses perpetrated against them. Every one of them is a child of God, in every one of them there is a presence of God, just as much as there was in Jesus’ torn and mangled body, brutally tortured to death on a cross.

1 Bucklin (1982) The Shroud of Turin: a Pathologist’s Viewpoint, Legal Medicine Annual, ISSN 0075-8590.
2 M. Bevilacqua, et al. (2013) Do we really need new medical information about the Turin shroud?, Injury, Vol. 45, Issue 2, pp. 460–464.
3 N. Svensson (2010) Medical and forensic aspects of the Man depicted on the Turin Shroud, Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Scientific approach to the Acheiropoietos Images, ENEA Frascati, Italy, 4‐6 May 2010.