Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Week - Crucifixion

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #185
The Scourging of Jesus

According to Biblical accounts contained in the first four books of the New Testament (the Gospels), Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed on Passover. This was the culmination of a week in which he had entered Jerusalem (Triumpal Entry) and observed the Passover meal. During this time, he began to tell his disciples that he was about to leave them and that they were to pick up where he was leaving off.

After having what was to be later known as the Last Supper, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Once there, Jesus begins to fervently pray about the events that were to unfold that next day. As he was finishing, a mob came to arrest Jesus, who had been betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot.

Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) where it was determined that he should be sent to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for execution. Pilate, finding no fault in him and trying to assuage the temper of the mob, reminded the crowd of a pardon that he extended to Jews during their Passover. He gave the crowd the choice between freeing Jesus, or a hardened criminal named Barabbas. The crowd called for Barabbas to be freed, and thus sealed the fate of Jesus.

After a series of scourgings, most-likely an infamous 39 lashes with a cat-of-nine-tail's whip, Jesus was led to a place called Golgotha (Hebrew for Place of the Skull), which in English is known as Calvary, or Mt. Calvary. It is on this hilltop that he was crucified between two thieves.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #186
Jesus Carrying the Cross

Crucifixion was an torturous way to die. The condemned had his hands and feet nailed to a cross where he would suffer constantly. As the legs began to tire, the condemned person would sag, and with the arms fixed in place, the rib-cage would be compressed, making breaking very difficult. The victim would have to lift their body with their legs (which were agonizingly spiked to the cross) in order to breathe. Unable to breathe freely, fluid would accumulate in the lungs, in effect slowly drowning the victim.

Against this drama, the evening was approaching. In order to hasten the death, Roman soldiers would frequently break the legs of the victims, which would prevent them from lifting their bodies and breathing freely, thus hastening death. Glancing upon Jesus, they realized he had died and did not break his legs. Instead, one of the guards thrust his spear into the chest cavity of Jesus to make sure that he was indeed dead. The wound flowed with blood and water, with the water possibly being the fluid in his lungs that had led to his suffocation.

Two Jewish men, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, and Nicodemus, apparently the man who had secretly visited Jesus at an earlier time to ask him what he must do to make it to heaven, claimed the body of Christ. After a very brief funeral preparation, for the Sabbath day was approaching and work was forbidden, they laid him in a tomb and sealed it shut with a large rock, burying Jesus.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #187
Soldier Thrusting A Spear Into Jesus

In 1968, the Principality of Andorra, a small country nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains separating France and Spain, issued a set of stamps detailing the crucifixion of Christ. The stamps, issued under French administration of the country, show scenes from the crucifixion of Jesus. The first stamp in the set shows the scourging that Jesus went through at the hands of the Roman executioners. The second stamp shows Jesus carrying the cross up to the top of Golgotha. The last stamp in the set shows the Roman guard piercing Jesus's side with a spear. The stamps have been assigned Scott catalog numbers 185 through 187.

The depictions on the stamps from from 16th century frescoes.

After the crucifixion, the followers of Jesus thought that their 3 or so years of study and close relationship with Jesus was for naught. The one that they thought was the Messiah, the one who would lead his people out of the bondage of Rome and be victorious, had just died a horrible death and was buried in a cold, dank tomb.

But the biblical story didn't end there ....

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