The scourging of Christ before his crucifixion is mentioned matter-of-factly in three of the gospels (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1-3), although it’s not described in any detail.
These brief references to the scourging, however, don’t take away from the fact that it was a terrible punishment that would have left Christ in a critical condition. Following Roman custom, Christ would probably have been stripped, tied to a pillar and then flogged repeatedly. The gospels do not tell us for how long he was punished, by how many people or exactly with what. Often, however, a torturer would use a flagellum, a leather whip containing pieces of metal or bone. In any case, the scourging would have left him with life-threatening wounds.
A closer look at the gospels reveals that Christ was fully expecting this punishment. One day, he took the twelve apostles to one side and told them that he would be condemned to death, then handed over to non-Jews “to be mocked and flogged and crucified.” (Matthew 20:17-19; Luke 18:30-33). In keeping with this, it would have been Roman soldiers, on the orders of Pontius Pilate, who scourged him. The soldiers, however, may not have been Roman citizens. In the provinces, there were many ‘auxiliaries’ within the army.
The flagellation of Christ before his execution has been a popular subject in the history of art. This is partly because of the event’s inclusion in the devotion of the Rosary. The Scourging at the Pillar became the second ‘Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary’, encouraging Catholics to meditate on the episode in prayer.
This stained glass image of the scourging dates to 1902 and is by the Hardmans firm. The window emphasizes the cruelty of the soldiers who are punishing Christ. Each looks rather wild-eyed and determined, almost as if they are enjoying the task. Note that they are all using a different kind of scourge; one with knots, another, a reed and the third, one with spiked metal balls. The soldiers are also flaying the suffering Christ from three directions, so as to inflict maximum pain.
Where to find this work of art
St Antony’s, Forest Gate
Read the relevant passage