calvaryCONFIDENTIAL REPORT

The original version of this story was written for a school assembly. I’ve rewritten it for a more adult audience and I hope you enjoy it. With one exception, all the names and places are either historically correct or based on ancient traditions.

 

From:-             Cassius Longinus

                        Senior centurion of the second cohort of Legion Six Ferrata

To:-                  Lucius Pomponius Flaccus

                        Imperial legate in Syria

 

Greetings

 

If you are well, I am well.

 

As Your Excellency is aware, I am here in Jerusalem with a flag company of men from my cohort to provide additional security in the city for the Jewish feat of Passover. Your Excellency expects officers on detached duty to report any significant event which occurs during their tour. I would like, therefore, to inform you, most noble Lucius Pomponius of the unusual events of yesterday.

 

I was woken before dawn by a messenger from the imperial procurator, Pontius Pilate. He sent a note asking me attend urgently at his residence in the praetorium. I dressed as quickly as possible and went at once with four troopers in light armour and weapons. When I arrived, I found a substantial crowd of local residents in the large paved courtyard outside the residence. This crowd was in an ugly mood and some of Pilate’s personal guard were already there to protect the building. The procurator himself was engaged in a very lively dispute with a group of important locals, some of whom I knew to be members of the ruling Jewish council. In particular, I recognised Joseph Caiaphas the current high priest and his father in law, Annas. He is a former high priest and very much the power behind the scenes here in Judea. He has the reputation for being a smooth faced, crafty manipulator.

 

Pilate had obviously been engaged in dispute with this group and he lost no time in abandoning them to talk to me. He wanted me to take charge of an execution detail that morning. At first, I was greatly offended. It is not customary for a man of my senior rank to be in charge of a crucifixion squad. However, when the procurator explained things to me, I came to understand his thinking.  Two of the men destined for the cross were local bandits, Gestas and Dismas. The third man was to be the notorious preacher and wandering holy man, Jesus of Nazareth. I know Your Excellency has heard reports about this man, even up there in Antioch.  A former carpenter from the north, he has been going up and down the country for about three years, telling stories, healing the sick, talking about God and things like that. Some people revere him as a prophet and messenger from the gods. The Jewish leadership see him more as a trouble maker and rabble rouser. It seems they had picked him up last night on some local charges and this morning they had persuaded or blackmailed the procurator into approving a crucifixion.

 

Pilate was only too glad to be rid of this situation. Indeed, he literally washed his hands of it in front of the crowd and went inside leaving me to sort things out. I immediately sent a runner to the fort with orders for my deputy, Titus Quadratus to send me four tent squads of men, so thirty two in all, in full kit, and to place the rest of the men on standby alert until I gave orders to stand down. The usual street patrols would continue but in full armour and with appropriate weapons. Titus himself would remain at the fort to await further orders. I have complete confidence in Titus Quadratus.

 

I now took charge of the prisoners. The two bandits were terrified, shaking and wailing as men usually do on the way to the cross. The carpenter, on the other hand, was very quiet. I was shocked at his condition. He had obviously been badly beaten during the night. He was wearing an old legionary cloak and a crown of twisted thorns on his head. I gave orders to dress him in his own clothes and to remove the thorns. I then discovered he had been flogged, apparently in a futile attempt by Pilate to placate the crowd’s bloodlust. I wish had been sent for earlier. I could have managed things much better than this.

 

We got ourselves under way as quickly as possible. The two bandits were in front each guarded by an eight man tent squad. The Galilean came behind with two squads to guard him and I with three men brought up the rear.  Two thieves were still wailing and cursing but the carpenter staggered along in silence. We had gone about a hundred paces when his legs buckled and he crashed to the ground with the cross on top of him. It was quite obvious he was too weakened by his overnight ill treatment. I had no wish to have him die on the street so I looked round the crowd for a strong man to carry the cross. I spotted one suitable candidate and ordered him to pick the cross up. He turned out to be an African from Cyrene called Simon. He was very unwilling. He kept on about his two sons but I gave him no choice. He picked the cross up very reluctantly and started off.

 

While he had been arguing the toss with me, two women had slipped through to speak to the prisoner. This was a serious breach of security but no harm was done. One of the women was his mother, the other some local well-wisher who wanted to wipe the sweat and blood from the prisoner’s face.  The remarkable thing, your Excellency, was the way the women behaved. At first, they were distraught and tearful. But when they spoke to the prisoner, he placed his hand on their heads and their tears ceased. We shooed them back to the side of the road but they were no longer in tears. They were not exactly happy but they were at peace. Something very similar happened with big Simon. He was cursing me to the lowest pit of Hades but then the carpenter walked up to him, spoke to him, put his arm round his shoulder and smiled at him. Simon calmed down at once, smiled back and set off quietly with the cross. The prisoner tottered along beside him. It was astonishing to watch. I never saw the like.

 

As we leaving the city gate, we came across a whole group pf woman, wailing and lamenting in the local style. Once again, their whole attitude changed after the carpenter spoke to them. They calmed down and silently let him go.

 

When we finally reached the execution yard on Skulltop, we nailed the three of them up quickly. I wanted no delay and no interference. The two thieves screamed and howled as usual but the carpenter lay quietly. He only spoke once, a single clear solemn sounding sentence. I asked for an interpretation. Stephaton my servant told me it was a prayer asking his god, his father, to forgive us because we did not know what we are doing. I have followed the Eagles for twenty years, most noble Lucius Pomponius, and I have seen many men come face to face with death, in the battle line, in the arena and on the cross but this was the first time I had heard any man forgive those who were killing him. I never heard the like.

 

His mother had now arrived with a young man and some other women. I let them stand at the foot of his cross. A small of group of local priests and temple officials had rolled up as well, come to heckle and hurl abuse at a dying man. I made sure they were kept a distance.  Gestas, one of the thieves, was also abusive and angry and everything you would expect a man to be while dying on a cross. The other fellow, Dismas, was quieter. He said something to the carpenter, who looked at him and replied. They both smiled at one another and Dismas seemed filled with new strength and calm. He hung there waiting for death with courage and dignity, all because this Jesus spoke to him. I never saw the like.

 

The whole thing lasted about three hours which, as you know, is quite a short time for death by crucifixion. The weather deteriorated badly. By the end, the sky was pitch black with thunder and dry lightning. There were even a couple of earth tremors which, I understand, caused some damage in the Temple. Jesus had asked for a drink and my man Stephaton had offered him some cheap wine on a sponge. After that, he called out something in a clear loud voice. He looked round. He looked at his mother and smiled. He looked at Dismas and smiled. And then he looked at me and smiled. He smiled at ME! With one last cry, he slumped down and died.  This final breath comes to us all, Your Excellency, and all men are ultimately defeated by death. But not this man. He dominated death. We did not kill him. He laid down his life on his own terms.

 

The weather by now was foul and the crowds had drifted silently away. I decided that enough was enough so I called up the hammermen to break the legs of the two thieves to speed up suffocation. Jesus I knew to be dead but I carried out the standard procedure and stabbed the body in the side with my lance. The usual mixture of blood and clear liquid ran out. We were taking the bodies down for disposal when a rich looking local man turned up with a chit signed by the procurator requiring me to hand the body of Jesus over to this man, Joseph, who would see to the burial. All the paperwork was in order so I left him and his associates to it. I sent a squad of men with the other bodies to the Hinnom Valley and I went to report to Pilate. He did not seem at all interested in anything I had to say, beyond the fact that Jesus was actually dead, so I promptly returned to the fortress.

 

 I know that in the very moment that Jesus died I shouted something out. I cannot recall the exact words and different people have told me different versions. I know it was something in praise and honour of this dying man. You will think it ridiculous, most excellent Lucius  Pomponius, that a centurion of the legions should cry out in praise of a condemned criminal. But I know I did this and I would do it again in a heartbeat. This was a truly remarkable man and the manner of his dying was beyond anything I ever imagined. I never saw his like.

 

Written in the Antonia fortress in Jerusalem of the Jews on the day of Venus three days before the Nones of April in the seven hundred and eighty sixth year of the foundation of the City. Hail Caesar!!

 


On this Site, we use functional/necessary cookies to make this Site function. Third party cookies e.g. Google Maps, You Tube or Facebook are controlled via your browser settings. Read our Privacy Policy -Cookie Policy.