Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 72(1) February 2022

Book Review

A Doctor at Calvary.
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ As Described by a Surgeon

by Pierre Barbet
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thavasathan

Book CoverIt takes a certain delicacy to describe the Passion of Our Lord from a medical perspective. The au-thor of this very famous work has achieved this.

Pierre Barbet (1884-1961) was an outstanding surgeon based at St Joseph's Hospital in Paris. By recourse to his own clinical experience and by an examination of the Shroud of Turin, which he believed to be authentic, he gives us a description of the effects on his body of all the injuries Our Lord suffered during his Passion. Interestingly, Barbet's belief that the Shroud is authentic came about due to his experiences of the sufferings and deaths he witnessed during the First World War. The fact that the Shroud challenges the iconog-raphy in medieval times actually points to its authenticity.

Barbet examines Christ's sufferings at Gethsemane, the Scourging, the Crown of Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross and, of course, the Crucifixion. Why Christ died rapidly is explained in detail.The medical reason for the sweat of blood at Gethsemane is explained. It is medically known as hematidrosis. It is brought about by extreme stress. This in turn would have made his skin more sensitive to the subsequent physical torture Christ endured. Barbet discusses how Christ received more scourging than usually given and that it was given by two soldiers at once.

The Crown of Thorns is described as more akin to a cap than crown, covering every part of the head. Christ carried his Cross. He did not drag it, as was depicted by artists in medieval times.

Barbet details how the feet of Christ would have been nailed to the Cross. The nailing to the Cross is one of the most cruel ways to torture someone. The medical reasons why he said "I thirst" are discussed.

Christ died by asphyxia: "The whole agony was spent in an alternation of sagging and then of straightening of the body, of asphyxia and respiration."

When the movie The Passion of the Christ came out in 2004, one of the criticisms it received was due to its depiction of violence. This work confirms how right the movie was to do so.

This wonderful book was so obviously written by a fully believing Christian:

"In that human body, suffering and dying, the Divinity dwelt. It remained in this corpse. And that is why, unlike anything else in this world, the Face of the Holy Shroud shows us such a serene and astounding and adorable majesty."