In the essay, I mentioned my participation in a passion play undertaken by people with whom I pray (some of them life models like me) belonging to the Christian Naturist Fellowship. This occurred in Easter 2015: I was selected to be Gestas, one of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. I was not happy about being him as he was the thief whose sarcastic criticism of Jesus was offensive, and I didn't like having to repeat his words. I pleaded to be Dismas, the good thief, as he is my Patron Saint to whom I pray whenever I am about to undertake a particularly strenuous modelling "gig", but was told my time would come. I knew that the play was intended to become an annual event, so I was over the moon when I was chosen to be Dismas for Easter 2016. I have been portrayed as Dismas before, in paintings, naked and crucified, but being Dismas in a precise re-enactment in real time of his ordeal was something I have always desired. Especially so because the date fixed for this year's passion play, 25th March, was both Good Friday and the Feast Day of St Dismas. What better day for me be used to replicate the death of the Saint who means so much to me, and with whom I identify.
It was not a "play" in the theatrical sense: the word is really a misnomer - it is not intended to be entertainment but a re-enactment of the crucifixion with as much realism as possible this side of the deaths of those taking part. And the guiding mind behind the re-enactment? I've mentioned before my spiritual guide and confessor, whom I've known for years, Brian Passmore, a non-pastoral priest originally from the Salesian teaching order. In his earlier days, he spent much time doing work in the Philippines and Brazil, where the intensity and passion of the groups who staged recreations of the crucifixion story at Easter made a deep impression on him. He was awestruck by the depth of the suffering the participants were willing to endure, a very different contrast to the softness and mildness of the passion plays we know of from this part of the world; they underwent pain, anguish, nakedness - they even shed their own blood , commemorating Jesus' flagellation- faithfully recreating the horror and suffering which happened on Calvary, even to the extent of being nailed to the cross. Some brave souls have also gone all the way and offered themselves for sacrifice on the cross, such was their desire to experience to the full the passion of Golgotha.
Brian was captivated by the power of these re-enactments, and to cut a long story short, was delighted when he found there was great interest among fellow Christian Nudists nudists, like me, who wanted to share the suffering on Calvary, and we came together as the Society of St Dismas. We are a small grouping, no more than 40 and nearly all of us are devout catholics. We meet regularly for worship, and we do so naked so that our bodies are open to God's love and mercy. We have nothing to be ashamed of, as we celebrate the sheer beauty of His creation in this way - we are not the only grouping who do so in a Christian -and Catholic-context. Why should there be anything wrong in displaying the bodies that God has designed in his infinite wisdom? We are in communion with the naked victims on the cross, and also in solidarity with the martyrs who were put to death naked in the past. The Society holds periodic retreats for spiritual meditation, reflection, mortification and expiation of sin; and we celebrate specific saints' days such as St. Sebastian on 20th January, and of course St Dismas himself. Our group bears his name because he is our guiding light, who bore the same torments and suffering of Jesus, their bodies stretched out and bravely exposed alongside each other. Dying on the cross as Jesus and his fellow victims did is nothing to be afraid of, and is the stepping stone to eternal life in Paradise. That is why we proudly feel that being crucified is the most beautiful death anyone could experience.
The Society is lucky in that it has the support of a benefactor who owns a large farmstead in Llandeilo. Although in a fairly remote part of South West Wales, it is used as the venue for retreats and conclaves, and also for earlier crucifixion re-enactments. Brian would have liked to carry out the whole thing in the open air as happened at Calvary, but the climate was too cold for anyone to be outside tied naked to a cross for several hours!. The property offered ample space under cover, with a large warehouse with sufficient space for the crucifixions and the witnesses, also space for the subsidiary scenes of the re-enactment: namely the garden in which Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, the dungeon in which Dismas and Gestas were stored after being condemned to death, and the tombs to which the bodies were taken after the deposition.
I was Dismas, so who were the other two to be crucified? Gestas: this was Gregory, another art model, from Uttoxeter, 46, a nudist and devout Catholic, teetotal, a strong believer in mortification of the flesh, and the same deep belief as I have in the potency of the crucifixion story. And the role of Jesus was performed by Carlo, very quiet, also in his late 40s; a lovely, calming soothing person, a skinny body with the marks of a hard life, much of which he spent homeless after a spell in the army. With his physique, character and beard, I thought he was ideal to represent Jesus. Gregory and I were both quite fearful in awaiting our ordeal, but Carlo - and Brian for that matter - dispelled any doubts by saying we were offering ourselves for something really sacred and beautiful. I was particularly fearful at first about being tied to a post and scourged, but Carlo said "Jesus put up with the agony, so if He could, so will you."
Ten other members of the Society shared the roles of the attendant Roman soldiers, and of the men who physically set up the crucifixions and took our bodies down after death, and any other roles necessary for the drama. Playing the part of the soldiers, they wore simple tunics and cloaks - otherwise, as witnesses, they were naked to show solidarity with those to be executed.
The whole of the passion story was video -recorded by a member of the Society, Sean Finerty, again a catholic and highly experienced photographer who has done a lot of work for the Convocation of Christian Naturists and has used me as a nude model in the past. The dialogue was entirely spontaneous, adding to the realism of the passion.
The play began two days before the Good Friday, in the filming of the condemning to death of Gestas and me. The first scene was the hall in which the Sanhedrin passed sentence on us as common thieves. "Take them away and strip them ready for execution!", at which the two soldiers guarding us seized us, unceremoniously pulled off the simple shifts we were wearing, leaving us completely naked, dragged us away and flung us into the nearby dungeon to join other criminals awaiting death. One of them said " being hung on a crucifix means you are going to take most of the day to die, but at least it's better than having your head chopped off!"
After this, Sean and his camera left us alone. We spent the reminder of the day, and all Thursday, deep in prayer and meditation, thinking that the original pair of thieves would have experienced the same terror about what they were about to go through - and how they were on the path to entering the next world.
Friday dawned, and we were led out to be reunited with Carlo. We were naked, but Carlo was clothed in a shawl. We were taken to a washing room, where Carlo was stripped and all three of us laid out on our stomachs on a large slab. The same as when I volunteered for the medical crucifixion project, we were given a colonic irrigation to ensure that our bowels were empty during the lengthy time we would be hanging on our crucifixes. Then we were washed and oiled to ensure we were clean when presented to God for his decision whether to take us. The enemas were undertaken by Guy, a Society member who is a practice nurse - distasteful though they were, they were nothing compared to the torments awaiting us. All this was included on Sean's video. Brian also insisted that our bodies should be completely shaven as a token of our purity - as he looked at me stretched out without a trace of body hair, he said "Kenneth, you look like a large cherub."
In my prayers, I had asked St Dismas to fortify my soul and help me endure the dreadful things which were going to be done to me. And my prayers were answered; as we were being made ready for our flagellation, I began to have a feeling of spiritual submission to what was in store for me, in fact an anticipatory joy which would transcend my suffering. I recalled being told by Brian that in the early days of the Church, martyrs would sing with happiness and joy, in the knowledge of God's love, as they were being prepared for execution. That was just how I felt.
We were taken into a shed, within which were the posts to which we were going to be tied for flagellation. The posts stretched all the way up to the roof, were quite thick and a set of manacles was fixed to each above head level. A joyful ecstasy filled my whole body as I was manacled to one of the posts, such that I even felt impatient for the scourging to begin. And boy did it hurt! One concession was that the whips were not the leather/metal ones used by the Romans but knotted fabric, but they still left marks on the skin, drawing blood. The whipping was performed by a guy who took a vicious delight in his role, alternating between each of our bodies. " I want to do a proper job of this, and if you don't like it, you shouldn't have come here in the first place!" The shed echoed with our bloodcurdling screams, but our suffering only served to strengthen our unity with the victims of the original passion. To be honest, the screaming did help to mollify the agony. There was a "safe word" - "satis" -which we could have called out, at which the flogging would have ceased, but we felt this would have betrayed our commitment to share the suffering of the original victims. For some time afterward, when modelling for my quotidian round of life drawing sessions, people expressed concern about the welts and scars. I told them the truth about how I got them; the reaction was admiration and understanding. One gentleman said they added to the purity and spirituality of my body.
Our suffering in the flagellation room was also recorded for the video. The flogging continued for what seemed to me an eternity - a single lash, followed by a pause, then the crack of another lash either on my body or randomly on someone else's. After all this, the three of us were hardly able to stand up, so we were carried out and laid on a sheet , where we were allowed to recover before the next stage of our torments, but not that long. Sensibly if not historically accurate, Guy dressed our scars with salve and iodine.
Still groggy, we were taken to another shed, in which were three substantial wooden crucifixes laid out on the ground. We didn't need telling what we were expected to do next. Each of us picked up a crucifix, and believe me, they were heavy! We could just about manage to support each one over a shoulder, dragging the base of each cross along the ground. It was about 300 yards to the execution site, and it took us about five minutes to get to it, trying not to trip up on the way. When we finally got there, all three of us fell on the ground with exhaustion. But my feeling of euphoria redoubled as I knew that my crucifixion was now imminent.
We were tied to our respective crosses whilst stretched out on the floor, which made it easier for tying the knots on our wrists. Our arms were extended and firmly tied to the cross beams; our ankles and bare feet were loosely tied together to the pole with the soles flat and legs slightly flexed . There were no foot rests as the bonds securing our feet were considered to provide enough support for our bodies. Our arms were widely stretched out to form a "T" cross, replicating the posture in which Jesus, Dismas and Gestas died. Brian said this was a particularly beautiful pose as it showed we were ready to embrace our fate and we had nothing whatever to hide. Once we were secured. we were hauled up into position by three muscular members of the Society. I was in a state of spiritual rapture at what was happening to me; my body was completely limp, as I prepared myself for whatever God wanted to do with me. It was horrible to see Carlo being insulted by the placing of the crown of thorns on his lovely head. And before we were hauled up, wooden blocks with the words "INRI"; "DISMAS"; "GESTAS" were fixed over our heads on top of the poles. In place, we had to really struggle to retain any kind of comfort. We had to wriggle and writhe our bodies, and one of the witnesses called out " look, they're dancing." The weight on our arms felt strange, and breathing was more and more difficult. I had that feeling, again, of beginning a journey which was likely to end in entering the afterlife. But I also felt a radiance, and that this was the culmination of something I had always sought.
Our crucifixes were placed quite close together in a semi-circle, me on Carlo's right and Gestas on his left; I clearly heard Gestas utter insults at Jesus, mocking him on the lines of "if you're supposed to be the king of the Jews, you don't look like a king to me" , followed by "alright, you say you're the son of God - if you're so special, why don't you ask him to keep you alive?" This was he worst part of the day - Carlo as Jesus was hurt by the sheer nastiness of Gestas' diatribe, and the tears he shed were genuine. I protested at Gestas' unpleasantness, and after telling him he was out of order, said " We are about to die as just punishment for our misdeeds, and our execution is thoroughly deserved. But this man has done nothing wrong - he is a good man whose only wish is to preach for the redemption of mankind. Hardly fair to put him to death for that." Carlo then spoke Jesus' sweetest words to me "Today, you will be by my side in Paradise." Hearing this made worthwhile the increasing physical anguish I was going through, and I said I was now ready to die. How beautiful, I thought, to be about to die naked alongside Jesus and to enter Heaven in company with him.
Time passed, but I celebrated the agonies I was suffering because these were what Dismas suffered on Calvary. I prayed to him to sustain me and give me courage, and my prayers were answered: I felt his spirit entering me and filling me with his rough kindness - I even thought he was speaking to me to say how proud he was of my resilience, my faith and my willingness to suffer what he had undergone.
In the original crucifixion, the men on the cross were given water to drink - we were given a litre of water at the start, with the inevitable result that we urinated copiously during our ordeal - shameful, but the same thing happened to Jesus and his fellow victims. They were also given "vinegar and gall" , a drink meant to blot out their suffering Towards the end, something similarly foul and revolting was forced between our lips, agin to overcome our pain. It did that alright, as it contained a dose of a sleep inducing drug, which rendered us unconscious - I think it contained rohypnol. Unconscious? Well, rather more than that as I seemed to leave my body, and see myself from a distance. I seemed to sense voices, some familiar from the past, whispering words of comfort, and a kind of magnetic pull towards brightness. But after only minutes of this, I felt absolutely drained and weak, and sank into oblivion as the drug did its work. So I could not feel my body shutting down because it could take no more. The same thing was happening to Carlo and Gregory, who were also nearly dead. But then, crucifixion is after all a dramatic method of execution, and we were fully aware - and joyfully embraced- the mortal risks involved.
Brian had determined that we would be hung on the crosses for a fixed time of five hours, which he said had a historical precedent, and irrespective of the state we would be in at the end. We remained crucified for a good half hour before he gave the instruction for our deposition. This had to be done carefully, and we were taken down whilst the crosses were still erect. With the weight of our bodies, they would have been too heavy to uproot and lay on the ground. Our arms were untied first, whilst our feet and ankles afterward - to have done them first would have run the risk of our shoulders being dislocated.
Our bodies were taken away and laid out for viewing and examination. Our pulse rates were checked by Guy, who confirmed that despite appearances to the contrary, we were not yet dead and that the final stage of the drama should continue. He also opined that if we had been left on the crucifixes for another ten minutes or so, we would have succumbed. As with Jesus, Carlo was washed and made ready for placing in the tomb. As far as Gregory and I were concerned, history records that Dismas and Gestas were taken for burial in a mass grave of executed common criminals. Reflecting this, one of the barns had been used to create a very convincing burial pit. The two of us were separately put on a pair of planks, carried up high into the barn and cast into the pit, falling upon a pile of other naked corpses (volunteers again.) Earth was then sprinkled on the bodies in the pit as a token symbol of burial.
This ended the principal part of the passion. After we had been filmed in the pit, Gregory and I were lifted out still comatose. It was powerful stuff, so it took another hour or so for the drug to wear off, but when we came to, we were in a state of utter exhaustion, We were laid side by side and washed, our bodies being thoroughly filthy after what we had gone through. We were then each covered by a single sheet and left to recover and get our strength back.
The following day was spent in reflection and prayer. By Easter Sunday, we were just about recovered; what we had done, and the significance of the whole passion, was celebrated in a solemn mass, officiated by Brian, at which everyone who had been involved in the last few days attended.
The mass was also included in Sean's filming, giving a complete story of our passion. Brian Passmore has some copies of the video and if anyone wants one, they can contact me on email : firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward their request to Brian. Also, anyone can use that email address for details of the Society of St Dismas, as Brian would be delighted to welcome new members, also to offer any comments on my essay. I am extremely proud of the part I played in the passion, and not in the slightest bit ashamed of the nudity involved. To us, our nakedness symbolised our honesty and pride at being God's creation, and we will gladly repeat our roles next year. One of the people who liked my last essay told me he would love to do a proper job of crucifying me, and he will get his chance in Easter 2017. He envisages this would take place in a warmer clime, in the open air and therefore be more authentic.
Kenneth James Fahy
26th July 2016