ON BEING A VOLUNTEER FOR CRUCIFIXION
I’ve written this essay because a number of people who read my article
“Reflections of a Catholic Life Model” asked me to. They told me that the most interesting bit was where I said that a couple of post-graduate students at Manchester University’s medical school wanted me to be the “guinea pig” in their planned study into the physical effects of crucifixion on the human body. I was worried that a description of my experience might come across as odd or macabre, but I decided to go ahead with it, so…. here we are.
The two students don’t mind me saying who they are: Khalil, who is qualifying for a doctorate in anatomical science, and Grace Lau, whose speciality is pathology and forensic science. They already knew me because they had already used me for anatomical modelling at medical school, , and knew about my work as a life model for religious themes featuring nudity. They thought that both physically and psychologically, I would be ideal for their purpose. Their aim was to produce a comprehensive treatise on the pathology of crucifixion, supported by medical data and images. They had researched similar studies in the past, in particular “An examination of forensic and clinical knowledge of the practice of crucifixion” by Professor F Zugibe, and “Jesus’ death on the cross from a medical perspective“ by J Wyatt. In both of these studies, now out of date, models volunteered to be crucified. And they had read up on various other studies of the subject.: particularly interesting was a study undertaken by the medical school at the University of Kobe, Japan in 1929, using the bodies of criminals executed by crucifixion. Another recorded experiment was carried out by medical students in Cincinnati in 1978. But as regards heir own project, the students had the advantage of up-to-date medical technology such as echocardiograms, blood pressure monitors, and suchlike, paid for by a grant from a source within the Wellcome Research Foundation.
Crucifixion is the central, most potent and awe-inspiring feature of the Christian religion. Think of the occasional media reports of the devotees who publicly offer themselves for crucifixion every Easter in places like the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and the like. Over hundreds of people every year offer themselves as victims on the cross, and a number of them willingly die in doing so.. I have all my life strongly empathised with them, and I have wanted since boyhood to join their number. I know that in the Philippines, some of these very brave people have been crucified using specially designed pre-sterilised plastic nails, but the students did not intend to go as far as nailing me to the cross, even though I would have accepted this.
My desire to be put on the cross is why I am an initiate of the Sodality of Dismas, whose members have taken a vow to replicate the fate of the eponymous saint. . The Catholic Church is officially opposed to “devotional crucifixion”, but my spiritual mentor, Rev. Brian Passmore SDB, assured me that offering myself for crucifixion was a beautiful and sacred act and that I was doing the right thing.
As I described in my earlier article, I have been crucified before as part of my vocation as an art model, and I have always viewed this as an act of worship and homage to what Jesus, his disciples and indeed early Christian martyrs suffered. But what the students were intending was the real thing, where I would be fixed to the cross and left there for an indeterminate length of time and with the likelihood of death: crucifixion was, in Roman days, a widespread instrument of torture and execution. I said to them “surely, in order to achieve a complete picture of what happens to a crucified body, I would have to end up dead?” They said that the study was not for the faint hearted, and if it was to be a serious exercise and they were going to do a proper job, I would need to be taken up to the very perimeter of death. I said this did not put me off - quite frankly, it would be a privilege to die in the same way as Christ, the two thieves alongside him, many of the Apostles and countless numbers of Christian martyrs, their bodies naked on the cross, stretched open to receive God‘s infinite love.
They admitted they could not guarantee my survival, and they made sure that I signed a disclaimer accepting all the risks and releasing them from any legal comeback if I ended up dead. They pointed out various unpleasant things which could happen along with death, such as an ischaemic attack, arrythmia, catatonic shock or cardiac failure. I said that if I suffered a serious life changing impairment, I was not to be resuscitated.
Besides modelling for medical schools, I have also been a “guinea pig” in special medical research studies for bodies such as Synexus, Clinilink, the Bios Foundation, as well as teaching institutes, involving nudity and risk of death - the last project of this kind was a study into the effects of a new anaesthetic- so this didn't worry me. I know it sounds macabre, but as a corollary of this and my modelling work for medical schools, I had already signed up to donate my cadaver for anatomical study. The students for this particular project stipulated that if I died because of the crucifixion, they would retain my body for anatomical examination and dissection. As Khalil said , “It’d be a shame to waste such a good corpse!”.
Thanks to the good offices of Craigslist, the students recruited a carpenter to construct a crucifix. The man who offered his services, Aidan, a retired joiner, was experienced, but making a crucifix was something entirely new to him and he was delighted at the chance to try his hand at it. He and I got on well from the start - an extremely interesting and entertaining guy, who had been a bit of a “swinger” when that was fashionable. About six weeks before I was to be crucified, I was taken to his workshop in Scarisbrick, outside Southport, where he measured and weighed me. This inevitably meant intimate handling of my limbs and torso. He told me to be naked when he did this so as to ensure precision of his measurements; he said this was important because he had heard of cases in places like Brazil and the Philippines, where crucifixes had been unable to support the weight of a body and had collapsed. And I am not the lightest of bodies. Aidan said he was an agnostic, but he was very impressed by what I had volunteered to do, so much so that he was anxious to be present as a witness to my crucifixion so that he could inspect the results of his handiwork. I struck up quite a rapport with Aidan, who made no bones about the fact he enjoyed seeing me nude, and he said he thought I was voluptuous; I was quite flattered when he laid me out on his workbench, face down, delivered a resounding slap on my bare buttocks and remarked “ nice tight bum!” Still, as a fetish model I am used to that sort of thing. Aidan said that it was essential to get my weight right because after he had got the job, he had done some research of his own as to the methodology of Roman crucifixions. He would erect the crucifix at the site of the crucifixion, where I would be laid out on the cross, which would be put on the ground. I would be tied to it, after which it would be hauled up vertically into the air.
The date of my crucifixion was originally going to be mid-October, but it was postponed because the people providing the backing in the Wellcome
Foundation were a bit wobbly about the legal position regarding me. To satisfy them, I had to write and sign a full statement saying that I accepted the 95% risk of death and that my body would be made available for medical study (similar to what happens when someone signs up for a high-risk operation so that the surgeon, etc. is legally in the clear.) This was done, and the date of my ordeal was fixed for Wednesday 3rd December. During the delay, I made a number of visits to Aidan, ostensibly to help him design the crucifix but also because he had taken a shine to me. He said he loved my feminine roundness; in fact, my curvy body reminded him of his former wife ! He said he had also found out that “the Romans used to make a practice of crucifying their slaves - Kenneth, how’d you like to be my slave - I need someone to do all my household chores.“ I said “Are you serious?“ “Yes, quite serious.“ So I said “OK, if I’m still here after my ordeal.”.
The location for the crucifixion was a centre specifically devoted to anatomical studies, a Victorian-era building not far from Dunham Massey, in North East Cheshire,. I am not permitted to quote its current name to protect its confidentiality, but it was formerly the St Berteline asylum, made redundant by “care in the community” but now used by the Wellcome Foundation and other medical research bodies, particularly for exceptional projects like this one.
Khalil and Grace were glad to be given the opportunity to use it because of the facilities it offers; because of its role in medical tuition and research, it has a decent mortuary. I know it sounds ghoulish, but the fact remains that medical teaching and research need a continuing supply of bodies, not just body parts but complete cadavers, and sometimes - like me- live ones willing to be volunteers. Without the availability of sufficient bodies, medical education would be unsustainable. There is a persistent shortage of bodies; the profession is anxious for as many people as possible to donate their bodies for anatomical study, and I am very proud that my body is much valued as a demonstration model both before and after my death.
I was taken to the centre early on the Friday preceding my crucifixion. Understandably, Khalil and Grace thought that time should be allowed to decouple me from this world, and to prepare me psychologically and spiritually for what they were going to do to me.
On arrival, I was taken to a room rather like a monk’s cell, tiny and sparsely furnished with a table, washbasin, w.c., a small set of drawers, and a bed with just a single sheet. Here, I was stripped naked and all my clothing put into a bin bag and taken away. This sent a chill down my spine; it was deliberately intended to illustrate my impending removal from the material things of this world, to depersonalise me, and to prepare me to enter the next. “You won‘t need clothes where you‘re going, Kenneth“ said Khalil. I was given a skimpy , white almost transparent loincloth, vaguely rubbery in texture and not much bigger than a handkerchief, secured at the side with Velcro. It barely covered my genitals and left my buttocks completely bare, emphasising rather than hiding my nudity. Grace said that it made me look beautifully vulnerable and just like a mediaeval painting of Jesus ready for his crucifixion. The loincloth was required by the institution, to be worn by “guinea pigs” like me whilst waiting to be utilised. So, a temporary “garment” - the practicalities of my crucifixion would require me to be completely naked when on the cross.
The time preceding my ordeal was spent in meditation, prayer, reading texts/looking at artworks about crucifixion, also physical exercises. I did think “Blimey! I must be barmy in getting myself into this”. As I contemplated the nearness of the suffering that I had agreed to undergo, moral and spiritual support came in the form of Brian Passmore, who had arranged to be present as a witness at my crucifixion. He thought the loincloth looked quite cute. He stayed with me on the Tuesday before the day of my ordeal and remained with me overnight, giving me the sacraments and taking my confession so that I would be in a state of grace when tied naked to the cross, pure and clean in both body and soul. He recited the traditional Salesian prayer for the “next one amongst us to die”, and the “De Profundis.”
Going back to the Saturday after my arrival, I was subjected to an extensive medical examination. I was taken into an examination room, and laid out on a plain metal table. The examination was undertaken by both the Khalil and Grace. Lasting for well over an hour, thorough and intimate were not the words for it- still, it was obviously necessary in order to assess my full medical status, not least to ensure I would be OK for the ordeal. My cardio-vascular system was examined, heart rate and pulse recorded, samples of blood and other body fluids taken, prostate condition investigated using a spatula, and samples of skin and hair collected.. The procedure finished with me being taken into the photography room, where the sole item of furniture was a glass topped slab and various camera equipment/lighting focused on it. I was stretched out on the slab, and my bare body was photographed in considerable detail.
And then, the morning of my crucifixion. The final set of preparations began in dramatic style; I was taken back into the examination room where I was stretched out on the table (again) , the loincloth removed and a rubber tube shoved into my bottom for an enema. Quite sensible and logical, as it meant that my system would be empty during the time I would be hanging on the cross - Khalil said this would ensure my body would now be purified in readiness for my ordeal.
After I had recovered from the colonic emptying, Grace used gloved fingers to oil the inside of my anus so as to alleviate the soreness, and I was declared ready for the final preparations for crucifixion. Earlier on, I had met the two mortuary assistants, Bryan and Peter, who were absolutely fascinated by the project, and that I had the pluck to volunteer for it. “We‘ve already reserved a slab for you“ was their unfunny attempt at humour. .Anyway, they were only too pleased to get to work on me. Any remaining body hair , particularly my pudenda, were shaved and all of my body was washed and perfumed, so that I would be lovely and clean on the cross.
Then came the defining moment: Khalil now declared me “ ready for execution”. I was put onto a stretcher and taken down to the room nominated for the crucifixion. We were joined on the way by Grace and Rev. Passmore; we continued along a lengthy and dreary looking corridor and down a flight of steps into a high-ceilinged room, very warm and full of large boilers and pipework around the walls. Otherwise largely bare, except for a polished metal table at one side of the room. “So this is where I am probably going to die“ I thought.
Aidan was waiting, looking very pleased and clearly proud of his carpentry. The crucifix, made out of substantial planks, looking like old railway sleepers was laid out on the floor ready to receive me, and believe me, it made an awesome sight. I thought that he had made a superb job of it. Near to it was a raised wooden dais, about three feet high, with a slot in the middle. Looking at the shiny table, I asked what it was for. The reply was “we’re going to lay you out on it for viewing after we take you down.“ Bryan and Peter, helped by Aidan, lifted me off my feet by my armpits and ankles, and carried me towards the cross. They laid me down on it, and fastened my arms at the wrists to the horizontal crosspiece, and my feet above the ankles to the vertical beam. White silken cord was used to tie me to the cross. Whilst I was still stretched out, recording devices were attached to my body. Two ECG terminals were attached beneath each nipple; a blood pressure cuff around my left upper arm; more terminals were placed in the groin area, near the thorax and at the bottom of my calves. Another was put inside my anus to record rectal temperature. The leads from the terminals were all linked to a box fixed to the back of the upright of the crucifix. A longer wire led to a medical monitoring machine on a small table, enabling Khalil and Grace to see data showing what was happening to my body.
The crucifix was then hauled up and into place, with the bottom edge secured into the slot in the dais. One thing I immediately noticed was the great height at which I had been fixed to the cross - it must have been about six feet from my ankles to the surface of the dais. Aidan remarked on this and said “at least you’re a bit closer to heaven up there!”. Sand was spread at the bottom of the crucifix, to absorb urine and any other bodily fluids that would inevitably happen in the course of my ordeal.
Readers of this essay can well imagine my thoughts and feelings as the cross was fixed in position. It was like fulfilling a long sought after dream, powerfully erotic and at the same time a sense of religious ecstasy - I felt the same sense of willing sacrifice as the early Christian martyrs. It might sound bizarre, but these emotions swamped any fear that I could well die up there. I also had the feeling of embarking on a journey of exploration to somewhere exotic and beautiful. I heard intakes of breath from the witnesses as they saw me - Aidan said fantastic, seeing this made him now realise the sheer beauty and power of crucifixion. And another emotion I felt was that the crucifix was embracing me, caring for me, and soothing me ready for my journey. Aidan remarked that the expression on my face - eyes glazed and half-shut, and mouth open and pouting - showed that religious rapture and erotic arousal were two sides of the same coin.
Not much pain at first, but discomfort. The cords were no problem initially, and were the least of my concerns. And I will not disguise the powerful eroticism of the experience. But as time went on, my arms and wrists began to become numb because the blood flow was becoming restricted. And again as time passed, I felt my upper body sagging forward and sinking. This created pressure on my chest and lungs, and I began to get frightened that I was going to suffocate. And because ordinary movement was stopped by the cords, my limbs began to get more and more stiff and painful. And as I sagged forward, the cords began to cut into me, and I felt as though they were slicing into me. As a BDSM submissive, I am not afraid to declare I get a sexual high out of undergoing pain and torture, and in no way would I let down the students and spoil the experiment by pleading to be cut down. I can only describe what I felt as “pleasure-pain”, daft as though it may sound. After a while, I began to enter into a kind of trancelike state, as though I was floating away from reality. And this sensation was enhanced by the rhythmic, indeed hypnotic, hum from the heating system. .But the pressure on my lungs then got more intense, my breathing got more laboured and my chest more painful. I recalled being told earlier that the word “excruciating” comes from the latin ex cruce, which needs no translation. As the pain increased and overpowered the psycho-sexual pleasure, I prayed to God to take me. I thought that besides ending my suffering, the students would then at least get a complete set of data.
During the four or five hours I was fixed on the cross, I inevitably urinated, and began to dehydrate. I asked for a drink, so using a raised mobile platform, Grace opened my mouth and poured a beaker of water into it. But it was obviously more than water, because a couple of minutes later I lost consciousness - I had entered a state of catalepsy. As she admitted later on, the water included a form of liquid chloroform which she hoped would avoid my further suffering , but it almost did for me.
Catalepsy is often mistaken for death as the body in effect shuts down. The readings being picked up from the terminals was showing a fading pulse - in effect, I was beginning to flatline, indicating the imminence of death. My body had started to turn a greyish blue. Khalil said in his opinion I was now ostensibly clinically dead, and the experiment had gone as far as it should.
My naked body, grimy with sweat and urine, was taken down from the crucifix and laid out on the shiny table. Because my pulse was zero, Khalil announced that I was to be prepared for presentation to the mortuary for examination and post-mortem. Oblivious to the world, I was ritually washed by Brian Passmore with the help of Peter, put back on the stretcher and delivered to the photography room, where I was lifted onto the slab, and photographed both supine and prone for the benefit of the treatise paper. I am not sure how long after, my awareness started to seep back, very sporadically, but everything seemed unreal. It waslike coming out of a deep dreamless anaesthetized sleep, but inert and unable to communicate. I remember in the first brief moments finding myself laid out in a large room, in what was obviously the morgue, and I particularly remember a strong smell of formaldehyde. And I remember fading daylight shining through an arched glazed roof onto me. I seemed to be stretched out on a large glass shelf as one of a row of naked cadavers, and placed between the naked dead bodies of a couple of old men, both grey bearded and very obese, one completely bald and the other with a biker’s tattoo on his torso. And someone probably Bryan or Peter had tied an identity tag to my left ankle! But I do remember , whilst lying there, that I felt no fear, only a wonderful feeling of euphoria and rest.
The next memory was of being put on a weighing machine designed for weighing cadavers: in effect, a mega-set of scales, with my torso laid onto a sort of bucket with my head and limbs dangling over the side.
Again, back into catalepsis, then a memory of being stretched out on a slab and hearing Khalil’s voice going on about the tissue samples he was going to take from my body - one thing that remains in my mind was his great hairy hand laying on my belly as he was speaking. Then…further oblivion.
The worst part of coming out of a state of catalepsy like this is that you are in a kind of paralysis - you can perceive what is going on, but you are completely powerless to speak or do anything about it. Again, a hazy consciousness returned, and I realised I was lying on top of a gurney being wheeled along the corridor. It was still as though I was observing everything fom a different dimension, my only coherent thought being that I might end up being put into a fridge. The gurney was navigated into a brightly lit tiled room with a large high table in the middle, and a smaller table alongside it on which were surgical instruments. All I could do was scream soundlessly as I now realised, with returning clarity, that everyone believed I was dead and that I was to be prepared for dissection. I thought “please do whatever you are going to do as quickly as possible.” As I slipped back, exhausted, into unconsciousness. I distinctly remember an argument between Khalil and Bryan - Khall was insisting that I was dead and that he wanted to press on with the dissection whilst my cadaver was still fairly fresh, whilst Bryan said that here had been no indication yet of rigor mortis. After Khalil had marked out the lines on my body for his knife to slice into me, Bryan was alert enough to see a trickle of saliva dribble from my mouth - the butchery of my body was halted in time to prevent Khalil from slitting me open. Khalil was very reluctant to stop the process and was disappointed he couldn’t continue. But I was taken off the slab, and removed for a proper resuscitation. Later on, when I was “compos mentis” and back in the real world, I got the distinct impression that Khalil was annoyed with me because he could not proceed with the dissection.
As he said later, there are loads of instances like this almost every month; it is not unusual for a body to be presented to the mortuary to be in fact still medically alive. And it has also happened that such cases have gone undetected, so that the unfortunate individual has ended up dissected. As in my case, it is only because of the alertness of staff in the mortuary that people have been brought back from the brink. In fact, this had happened to me before, when about four years ago I nearly died from sepsis pneumonia in Warrington and Halton General Hospital and was only retrieved from the slab by the acuity of a Practice Nurse.
Needless to say, I was utterly wrecked after the ordeal, and remained in the centre until the following Tuesday to recover, to be physically rehabilitated, and towards the end some welcome physiotherapy. Anyway, the main object of my experience was achieved, and both Khalil and Grace were well satisfied with the results of the project even though I did not provide them with a corpse - they said they thought that the data it had yielded was highly useful and was what they had hoped for., and they were grateful to me for offering my body for the study, and for the suffering and the near-death experience which contributed to its success.
I have been crucified before in my work as a nude life model and I will be artistically crucified again. As an “epilogue” to my account, I participated in a passion play earlier this year in which I was Gestas, the other thief who was crucified alongside Christ and died naked and unforgiven for his sins. I think it is better and more comforting to be crucified as one of a group of people, as in a passion play, when you can draw comfort from each other.
rather than alone.
Aidan reclaimed the crucifix he had taken so much trouble to build and took it back to his workshop. He doesn’t want to waste it and intends to use it again this August. In his researches into novel ways of crucifying me, he has discovered that another Roman custom was to crucify women with their bodies facing inwards - he therefore intends to re-erect the crucifix in his secluded garden and put me on it in that way, my arms embracing the cross with my bottom on display. He proposes to upload the images of this onto social media, including YouTube, to show what happens to slaves who are wayward and neglectful.
So there we are - that’s my story, true if possibly distasteful to some, but writing it was a necessary catharsis. If I was asked “would I go through the experience I have described all over again?” I would reply with a resounding YES! I would rather die on the cross,, my beautiful body naked as God created me, rather than end up a senile old man, wrinkled, decrepit and with some horrible degenerative disease.
There are several photographs (and some drawings) of my ordeal, taken by Bryan and Peter, including the preparations for the crucifixion, the ordeal itself and my sojourn in the mortuary. I am happy to provide copies of these if anyone wants to see them.
Kenneth: 12th June 2015
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