The Holy Nail

The body of the martyred Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to the cross using three quadrangular nails, about 16 cm long.

Dozens of holy nails are stored in various churches in the world. Which of them actually nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross?

A trail in the tomb

Maybe there were more nails. For example, those that were in the beams of villains or those that connected the vertical beam with the horizontal beam or those with which the titulus was nailed. However, for Christians, the most important ones are the three nails that pierced the body of the Saviour. In the second half of the twentieth century, in the former settlement of Giv’at ha-Mivtar, in the north of Jerusalem, Israeli archaeologists excavated four tombs. And in one of them, the body of a young man crucified between years 6 and 65 was found. His feet were stacked on top of each other and pierced with a nail. Thanks to this unusual discovery, the scientists now had the design of nail used by the Romans during crucifixion: the nails used to nail Jesus to the cross were quadrangular, about 16 cm long and at the widest point were almost 1 cm thick.

The three nails

One nail (Santo Chiodo), which thanks to Empress Helena came to Rome, from the 4th century until today has been kept in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and almost certainly it is a nail from the cross of Christ. It is only 11.5 cm long because there is no original head. It was probably broken off when the nail was pulled from the beam using pliers. It turned out that there is no spike, but there are traces of sawing. The pieces were probably cut off from the nail and placed in some copies. Two nails went to Constantinople. One nail for centuries was owned by the imperial house. But when the relics were gradually removed from the treasury, the nail was given in exchange for another valuable object to the rector of the rich hospital in Siena. When the Holy Nail was brought to the city in a solemn procession, the relic became a pilgrimage destination. To this day, the relic in Siena is object of great reverence. The third nail was probably divided into parts. There is only one such relic in Poland. The nail from Golgotha, from the cross on which Christ died, has been kept in the treasury of the Wawel cathedral in Kraków for almost 600 years. Every year, on the Good Friday, the relic is displayed for adoration, then the faithful can pray with it during a special, many-hour prayer service.

The nail, witness to the Passion of the Lord, is also exhibited for “ordinary” adoration on all Fridays of the Lent.

A piece of the nail is a priceless object in the Wawel cathedral. As explained by the parish priest of the archcathedral parish, the relic of the nail was given to king Władysław II Jagiełło and his wife, Queen Sophia, in 1425 by Pope Martin V. It was, according to father Sochacki, a token of gratitude for services to Poland, mainly for the baptism of Lithuania; it was also a gift for the birth of son Władysław II, later known as Władysław of Varna.

The relic from the cross of Jesus was brought by Bishop of Naples to Kraków at the end of June 1425. The holy object was transferred to the Wawel Cathedral in a solemn procession through the city.

The relic in the form of iron wrought nail, four-sided in the cross-section, was enclosed in the Gothic, silver, gilded monstrance with the emblems of Three Crowns (cathedral chapters) and Dębno (probably of Zbigniew Oleśnicki, bishop of Kraków).

Currently, the relic is placed in a late Renaissance cylindrical reservaculum (repository, place for the Host) from 1633-1645, finished with a crown, decorated with enamel with the foundation inscription of Stanisław Grochowski, Archbishop of Lviv.

The whole is enclosed in a late baroque, golden reliquary in the shape of a radial monstrance, braided with a crown of thorns, topped with a sculpture of an angel holding a cross.

The reliquary is decorated with large and small sapphires, rubies and emeralds. On the foot there are four silver medallions with bas-relief scenes: the Lord’s Supper, the Agony in the Garden, the whipping and the coronation with thorns.

The parish priest of the archcathedral parish noted that the nail from Golgotha ​was always particularly guarded. The capitular archive in Wawel requires a detailed query to thoroughly trace the fate of the relic. It is known, however, that during wars, among others during the Swedish deluge and during World War II, the sacred object was taken outside Wawel, also abroad.

The relic kept in the treasury at Wawel comes from the cross and was found in the fourth century by Helena, the empress of Constantinople, mother of Constantine the Great.


Has developed a: Aleksandra Pelesz