The Telegraph reports about a Maltese priest who made an important medical discovery related to the death of Christ on the Cross

Doctor-turned-priest claims to have solved ‘mystery’ of Jesus’s death

Retired neurologist believes he can explain why, as told in the Gospel of John, blood and water poured from Christ’s crucified body

ByGabriella Swerling, SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR14 April 2022 • 7:52pm

An imagined drawing of Jesus Christ on the cross
A priest believes that Jesus Christ may have ultimately been killed by complexities linked to his dislocated right shoulder CREDIT: enter89/Getty Images

Jesus died of fatal bleeding caused by a dislocated shoulder from carrying the cross, a doctor-turned-priest has claimed. 

The Bible tells how Jesus fell while carrying the cross to his own crucifixion up to Calvary, the skull-shaped hill in ancient Jerusalem.

Also, following the crucifixion, a Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, prompting blood and water to spurt out. 

However, for the first time, a doctor-turned-priest has written a scientific paper explaining why he believes that Jesus Christ may have ultimately been killed by complexities linked to his dislocated right shoulder.

The Rev Prof Patrick Pullicino, a former consultant neurologist at East Kent Universities Hospitals NHS Trust who since retirement has become a priest, has published his theory in the latest edition of Catholic Medical Quarterly.

The London-based doctor analysed work conducted by forensic and medical experts on the Shroud of Turin, also known as the Holy Shroud. This refers to the linen cloth bearing the negative image of a man which some believe depicts Jesus of Nazareth and is the burial shroud within which he was wrapped after the crucifixion. 

The shroud, which has been preserved since 1578 in the royal chapel of the cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin, Italy, has long been subjected to speculation regarding its authenticity. 

In the Eighties, it was subject to radiocarbon testing which concluded it was probably a mediaeval relic. However, more recent studies, conducted in the 2010s, dispute this claim and instead argue that the linen sheet dates from the time of Jesus.

The Rev Prof Patrick Pullicino
The Rev Prof Patrick Pullicino has analysed the Shroud of Turin to develop his detailed theory

The Rev Prof Pullicino saw that the image on the shroud depicts a man with a dislocated shoulder, but thought that its position was particularly significant: it was pulled so far out of its socket that the right hand stretches 10cm (four inches) lower than the left.

When stretched out for crucifixion, he claimed that this would cause the subclavian artery – a pair of large arteries in the thorax that supply blood to the thorax itself, head, neck, shoulder and arms – to rupture causing massive internal bleeding, the collapse of the circulatory system and, eventually, death. 

As a result, around three pints of blood would fill the cavity between the ribcage and the lung. 

This new theory, he argued, explains why blood poured out of Jesus when he was pierced by the centurion.

The Rev Prof Pullicino concurred with other scholars that Jesus’s dislocated arm was most likely the result of his arm being trapped under the T-shaped cross he was forced to carry, and that abrasions on the back of the Turin Shroud indicate that it was shifted from his right to his left side, possibly because due to his inability to use his dislocated arm following a fall. 

The Bible tells how Jesus fell while carrying the cross to his own crucifixion up to Calvary, the skull-shaped hill in ancient Jerusalem
The Bible tells how Jesus fell while carrying the cross to his own crucifixion up to Calvary, the skull-shaped hill in ancient Jerusalem CREDIT: Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

However, he advances the theory claiming to answer how Jesus died and why blood and water gushed from his dead body.

“Because of this right arm stretching, the right subclavian/axillary artery was also subjected to stretch, as it was one of the only remaining intact structures connecting the body and the right arm,” he said.

“Transferring of body weight to the arms in inspiration is likely to have caused further stretching of the right subclavian artery. Transferring weight to the legs in exhalation would reverse this stretch. 

“This would cause the stretched subclavian artery to move across the rib surface with each breath and its underside would be subject to friction.

“This paper postulates that over the course of three hours, the subclavian artery became abraded, injured and its wall attenuated until finally the artery ruptured and profuse bleeding ensued.”

Regarding the water, the Rev Prof Pullicino argued that it is cerebrospinal fluid, which has a translucent appearance, and that it had leaked up towards Jesus’s upper lung.

Roman soldiers routinely broke the legs of those they crucified to speed up their deaths, but since Jesus had already died, his legs were left unbroken. 

So when Jesus was pierced by a soldier, as per tradition, the Rev Prof Pullicino claimed that the spear tip must have released the build-up of pressure caused by the blood.

Echoes of Christian visions

The Rev Prof Pullicino’s medical analysis also has echoes of spiritual Christian visions. 

St Bernard of Clairvaux, in the 12th century, claimed that he spoke with Jesus, and asked him what was the greatest unknown suffering of his Passion.

Jesus replied: “I had on my shoulder, while I bore my cross on the way of sorrows, a grievous wound that was more painful than the others and which is not recorded by men.”

Pope John Paul II had a similar experience when he met Padre Pio, the 20th-century Italian mystic, famous for suffering the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, in his own body. 

The future pope, at the time a young priest, asked Padre Pio which of his injuries were the most painful. 

“It is my shoulder wound, which no one knows about and has never been cured or treated,” came the reply.

The Rev Prof Pullicino discussed his theory with Dr Gavin Ashenden, the former royal chaplain to the Queen, on Merely Catholic, the new weekly podcast of the Catholic Herald. Please follow this link to listen.

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