Q. Is it true that when Christ was nailed to the cross, the nails were actually driven through his wrists rather than his hands?
A. Most traditional sacred art depicting the Crucifixion locates the nails in the palms of Our Lord’s hands. But the weight of Christ’s precious body would have torn the hands from the nails if they were in fact pierced in the palms. So we must assume that when our Lord was crucified, the nails were driven through his wrists instead, unless perhaps his arms were bound to the crossbeam by ropes as well to support His weight.
Even so, when speaking of the “wrists” in this context, we must understand the term to refer, not to what is popularly known today as the “wrist” (where wristwatches are worn), but rather to what is called the “anatomical wrist.” This is the area between the first and second row of carpal bones in the heel of the hand. The ligaments that join these bones are much stronger than those that join the bones of the palm, so they would be better able to support the weight of the victim’s body hanging from the cross.
Jesus’ reference to His wounded “hands” (John 20:27) is a matter of biblical translation. The Greek word translated here as “hand” (cheir) can actually refer to anything below the mid-forearm. For example, Acts 12:7 uses this same Greek word to tell how the chains fell from St. Peter’s “hands,” even though the chains would presumably have been placed around what we would call the “wrists.”
An interesting side note: Many Christians believe that the Shroud of Turin, preserved as a sacred relic for centuries, was the burial cloth used to wrap Jesus’ body in the tomb. It displays a mysteriously created image of a crucified man.
The image on the shroud shows blood stains on the anatomical wrist of each hand of the victim, not on the palm. If the image were a medieval forgery, as some insist, the bloodstains would almost certainly have been depicted on the palms, as they were in the sacred art of that period. In addition, a nail that pierced the anatomical wrist would injure the median nerve and likely cause the thumb to turn inward. Perhaps this would explain why the thumbs of the victim displayed on the Shroud are not visible. PT