Jacques de Molay and the Shroud of Turin

Daybreak, Friday 13 October, 1307, and the seneschals1 of the King of France swooped to arrest members of the Knights Templar. This was a hush-hush operation, and as such was relatively successful. The Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was arrested along with members of his hierarchy on trumped up charges of heresy. The incredulous Templars put up no resistance as Philip le Bel's men secured the Paris Temple and investigated the inner rooms.

They found evidence of what they believed were heretical practices, and forced confessions from arrested Templars admitted that they 'denied Christ' and 'spat on the cross'. At this, the fury of Philip's men knew no bounds, and without delay they called in the chief torturer and extractor of confessions – a man named Imbert.

At first Imbert was thwarted in his attempts, as the Templars were answerable to no man but the Pope. By use of some creative interpretation of the papal directive that ordered the arrest originally, they were able to overcome this legal obstacle. Imbert resolved to ‘interrogate' Molay in his own temple, but as this was the financial centre of the city, the temple did not come equipped with a torture chamber.

However, Imbert was nothing if not resourceful, and sadistically creative with it. As punishment for denying Christ, Imbert put Molay through what he thought Christ would have suffered. Imbert stripped Molay naked and secured his wrists and ankles with rope, and then proceeded to whip him with a multi-tailed whip. A crown embedded with sharp objects was thrust onto Molay's head with great force, cutting his scalp and forehead, and then for the final humiliation Imbert searched for a means of crucifying Molay.

Molay was dragged over to a large wooden door and made to stand on a footstool. His right arm was stretched vertically above his head and a large nail through the wrist, carefully positioned between the radius and ulna bones and avoiding the veins, secured this arm to the door. The nail's entrance caused his thumb to embed itself in the flesh of his palm. His left arm was dragged out horizontally to the side and nailed similarly. The footstool was removed and a nail positioned between second and third metatarsals of the right foot. The right foot was placed over the left so that the economical Imbert could secure both feet to the door with one nail. He was not hung in the classical position, but in a near straight line from the right wrist to the feet with the left arm out to the side. His right shoulder would have dislocated immediately. Blood loss would have been minimal due to the careful placing of the nails, and Molay would have been fully conscious but in incredible pain. The rack would have given the toturers great control over the amount of pain they could inflict on a victim, but they were denied this. However, the simple action of swinging the door to and fro and occasionally slamming it shut must have sent unimaginable waves of pain through Molay.

This version of events corresponds with the medical aspects of the wounds seen on the Shroud of Turin, as well as the direction of blood flow (see R Bucklin, The Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Christ).

The trauma inflicted on the body of the 63-year-old Grand Master caused metabolic acidosis – the production of large amounts of lactic acid, as seen in exhausted athletes. His inability to exhale properly caused respiratory acidosis - a build up of carbon dioxide. His heart would have been pounding, he would have been pouring with sweat, and his muscles would have been paralysed with cramp. Just as Molay thought he must thankfully have died, Imbert took him down to inflict further indignities.


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