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Some Visions of the Crucifixion Aren’t T-Shaped

Jesus and others who were crucified didn’t necessarily die with their arms pinned straight out, the way we often imagine them

The Shroud of Turin's image is more consistent with this idea of crucifixion. (Peter Paul Rubens)

The layout of Jesus’s crucifixion is perhaps one of the most well known symbols in the world. The cross is on everything from bumper stickers to rosaries. But Jesus and others who were crucified didn’t necessarily die with their arms pinned straight out, the way they're often imagined. Some paintings depict him with his arms above his head, and new analysis of the Shroud of Turin, which shows an image of man that believers say is Jesus, suggests that in this case, too, the man's arms were pinned above him, in a Y shape.

Linda Geddes at New Scientist reports that researchers looked closely at the blood stains on the Shroud of Turin to try to picture how the blood would run down someone depending on how they were nailed up. Here’s a video what different crucifixion positions leave behind:

The Y shape was probably far more painful than the T shape. Geddes explains:

They found that the marks on the shroud did correspond to a crucifixion, but only if the arms were placed above the head in a "Y" position, rather than in the classic "T" depiction. "This would have been a very painful position and one which would have created difficulty breathing," says Borrini. Someone crucified in this way may have died from asphyxiation.

If you don't believe that the shroud is actually a relic dating back two thousand years (and research has indicated it was probably created in the medieval period), you might take this as a sign that the creators of the shroud wanted to emphasis the pain of the crucifixion. Or, at the very least, that over the years people have had a different ideas about how, exactly, Jesus died.

About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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