Contemplating our Lord’s Head as He hung on the Cross


Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Translation by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. In I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze dell primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/1, pp.1498-1503. The only additions to the notes made by the translator are references to Francis of Assisi: The Early Documents, edited by Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J. A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. and William J. Short O.F.M. Conv., New York City Press, New York, London, Manila, (1999) for an English version of quotations from the Writings or Biographies of St Francis.


By pondering on historical events in an intensely devout manner while being absorbed in highly emotional prayer, Tommasso Da Olera contemplated on what was happening to his Beloved. He saw Him as being disgraced, covered in blood and spittle, with nobody there to help Him. Tommasso asked that this blood would flow onto him to purify him and fill him with love.

5344 After Matins one night,[1] while I was contemplating the crown of thorns on the head of our Redeemer I began to cry and to sigh in amazement at the extent of the love God had for us who are ungrateful and oblivious to what was happening. Although He was God, he was willing to suffer so much because He loved us. I have never heard that when the law had condemned someone to death, the executioners had the right to make him suffer any more than was specified in the sentence. No doubt if thy abused or injured the condemned they would have been reprimanded. Right down to our own times justice demands that the one who is condemned receives appropriate support in order to pass away in a dignified manner.[2]

However, they did just the opposite to Christ. Everyone was allowed to insult and maltreat Him not only by what they did but by what they said. Throughout His life and during His passion and death everyone tried to do the worst that they could to our Master and Lord [267r]. They showed mercy towards all kinds of villains. Neither the judges not human creatures showed any mercy towards Jesus who was completely innocent. We read that everyone was against the One who created them. In fact, I maintain that people treated God so badly because I know that although Pilate ordered that He should be flogged he did not say that a crown of thorns be placed on His head to increase His suffering. The law laid down the number of strokes of the lash. However, the law was not observed for the God of the Angels. The rogues did worse and gave Him as many strokes as they liked.

5345 How amazing, extreme, and extraordinary was the way Christ was treated! The law laid down that criminals were not to be punished beyond what the law demanded. However, neither the statutes nor the law was observed. Whoever hurt poor Christ the most was the one who felt the happiest. Anyone was free [267v] to spit on His divine face, anyone could hit Him, punish Him, pull His beard, His hair, insult Him, blaspheme against Him, hit Him with a whip or utter profanities against Him. Whoever did the most to insult Christ was held in the highest regard.

In this mortal life we cannot comprehend the dreadful sufferings, the torment, the shame, or the atrocities that God endured. Only God, who endured it all, knows this. What is more, we read in the lives of many saints that the weapons that were used to kill them lost their brutality, lions became tame, swords became blunt, chains melted into wax, sticks were snapped, furnaces turned into soft breezes, dim dungeons became as bright as day, Angels came in to support and comfort them. This is what happened to many holy martyrs. However, when Jesus was suffering the chains remained firm, the thorns [268r] in the crown still remained strong and pierced His flesh, His hands and feet were pierced with nails, a sharp lance penetrated His sacred side mercilessly, the scourging tore His flesh apart, carrying the cross was so painful, people cried out many sacrilegious profanities, the crowd showed no mercy, the judges acted unjustly till it seemed that God had abandoned this human being, the Apostles fled and Jesus remained alone to suffer so that He could say I am a worm, and no man,[3] cast underfoot, and maligned by the vilest creatures in the world.

5346 God made use of the Prophets to complain about this. It was foreshadowed by the Patriarchs. The prophets cried out and wept when they saw what was to happen. The Prophets said that the Messiah was led as a lamb to the slaughter,[4] but did not open His mouth. Scripture says that when the skin is being torn off a lamb it does not utter a sound. Christ our Lamb was stripped while He was doing good for all mankind and praying for His enemies.[5] He was also stripped while at the column [268v]. When they had stripped Him of His clothes, they attacked His Holy Human life. When He was nailed to the cross, He was stripped of His garments and His human dignity.[6]

The lamb was pierced and Christ’s hands, feet and side were pierced. Lambs were held down with nails when that were cut up and cut apart. Christ was also held down with nails. The lamb was roasted and Christ was nailed to the coarse wood of the cross. The lamb was eaten, and Christ the Lamb is eaten by the faithful in the Most Holy Sacrament which provides food for our souls.

5347 The law laid down that you were to consume the entire Lamb while standing. This prefigured the way in which we eat all of Christ who is the Lamb for when we receive the Most Holy Sacrament, we are consuming both the body and the soul of God. We do this standing on our feet because we are on a journey to the heights of heaven, elevating our spirit to the divine mysteries, contemplating all that pertains to God, and performing bodily acts of love and compassion towards our neighbour [269r]. In receiving this Sacrament, we are strengthened and nourished by eating the body of Jesus Christ the Lamb, who was humiliated by being empaled on the holy cross, drenched by His precious blood, pierced by a lance that opened His side so that when blood and water flowed out it proved that He was dead. When Longinus saw the water and inhaled its sweet fragrance God filled him with grace and, when his soul had been enlightened, he recognised that this was the Messiah and he proclaimed that He was in fact God. He followed Him and loved Him for the rest of his life. While he lived in Jerusalem and after he passed into eternal life, he would behold the One who had enlightened him, and see the wound in His side and behold His glorified, sacred humanity.[7]

5348 O blessed, happy, glorious Christ [269v], my beloved Lord! A glimmer of love flashed from that Heart and pierced my heart without you taking any notice of my frailty. You shed your blood despite my hard heart. O Jesus, my life, let the lance of Your filial love penetrate my heart! O my God, let the blood of mortification, contempt and scorn, the limpid water of purity, charity, and kindness and love splash out so that my soul be born again and purified from every vice or sin and filled with your divine grace.

Enlightened by what brings about perfection may I be permitted to follow the Lamb who was roasted and consumed in the Most Blessed Sacrament so that having been refurbished by this heavenly food I may travel to the top of the mountain as the holy Prophet did.[8] May I come to where the innocent Lamb lives feasting on the lush pastures of His glory and majesty in the company of all the Angels, and men and women Saints who surround the Lamb as foreshadowed by the Patriarchs and foretold by the Prophets. May I join the martyrs [270r], confessors and virgins in feeding on the holy Cross. I ask all you saints to ask God to allow me to share the pasture that you enjoy so that after this mortal life I may join you in feeding on those pastures where there are no bitter herbs, or poisonous snakes, but only happiness, glory, composure, and radiance and where you have been washed in the blood that was shed by the Lamb. He has cleansed you and carried you out of this life which is full of woe and brought you to a place that is filled with the glory and praise of the Eternal Incarnate Word who was killed out of love for us.

5349 O holy love of God I offer myself to you, I consecrate myself to you forever. O love guide me towards God and do not permit me to dawdle over anything below God. When you have led me to my God and made me a fellow citizen with God,[9] through contemplating God, place your divine hand on my head and if I move away from God by making bad decisions guide me back to God and do not let me separate myself from Your Divine Majesty.

O holy and venerable [265v] love of God take care of me and guide my heart. O divine fire guide my heart with a lantern. Keep my heart in a safe place. Send torrents of heavenly love into my thoughts. Let them burst out through my eyes so that my eyes may see nothing but what pleases you. O fire of love, warm my cold heart, brighten the darkness of my uncouth spirit, purify me, enlighten me so that I may behold the radiance and transparency of your face.

Come, O holy love, and awaken my heart so that it will yearn to experience love. O love of God focus my sight on God,[10] helping it through many misfortunes because I am still poor sighted, lead me my God to doing what is pleasing to you. Be my guide leading me along the same way of the cross that Jesus travelled. On this day, which is the vigil of my beloved Maria Magdalene and the feast of St Praxedes, grant me the guidance that you granted to those saintly women so that I too may learn how [266r] to travel the same path as these devout women who were ultimately brought into the vineyard of their Spouse,[11] where they drank abundantly as they were embraced by Christ their Spouse and were united with the one whom they loved.

  1. These pages are the fruit of a contemplation that took place between the night of the 21st and 22nd July of a year that cannot be decisively determined, but it would have been between 1616 and 1630. Cf. infra, note 12.
  2. Br Tommasso had witnessed the execution of a condemned man in Innsbruck. Fr Luca da Trento reported this in the documents pertaining to his Process in 1635. Cf. Pasitio cit., 64.
  3. Ps 21: 7 (Vulg.).
  4. Cf. Is 53: 7.
  5. Cf., Pt 2: 21-25; Acts 10: 38; Lk 23: 34.
  6. This point often appears in spiritual literature that contains images of the final moments of Christ’s sufferings.
  7. The traditional story concerning Longinus the Centurian (cf. Mt 15, 30) was well know at the time of Tommasso da Olera who might have heard it during a sermon. It was mentioned by St Gregory of Nissa (PC 93, 1545ss).
  8. This refers to the Prophet Elijah who walked to Mount Horeb strengthened by the bread of Angels. Cf. 1 Kgs 19:8.
  9. Cf. Eph 2:19.
  10. Cf. Lk 22:64; Mk 14:63.
  11. Br Tommasso mentions this because he is writing on 21st July which is the feast of St Praxedes and the vigil of the feast of St Mary Magdalene.