Some of us are aware that painting of the White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall is well liked by our present Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Francis.

White Crucifixion

White Crucifixion

Although it seems to deviate from the traditional form of a Crucifixion Scene and some even consider it somewhat scandalous. Are there any examples as to other types of Crucifixion Scenes that have Jesus in some sort of non-traditional attire that are acceptable to Catholics thought (either via painting, icon or Crucifix)?

Some think it is scandalous because Our Lord is not wearing a crown of thrones or a loin cloth! We know historically that the Romans crucified their victims naked.

Do we know what made Pope Francis likes this form of art, since it deviates from a classical perspective?

  • 1
    At a wild guess, could it be because it associates Jesus' crucifixion with the suffering of the people of the world, and the kind of sins that caused him to be crucified in the first place? Catholics don't judge art just be how well it conforms to classical patterns. Sep 9, 2020 at 13:50
  • @DJClayworth My thought is that you are probably correct.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 9, 2020 at 15:06
  • @DJClayworth Absolutely not. The Jesus crucifixion is already linked with the suffering of the people of the world in Catholic, (and Christian theology in general). So you're on the wrong path... Please, re-read your Christian theology...
    – Quidam
    Dec 23, 2020 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


The White Crucifixion and Pope Francis?

White Crucifixion

The 1938 painting White Crucifixion represents a critical turning point for the artist Marc Chagall: it was the first of an important series of compositions that feature the image of Christ as a Jewish martyr and dramatically call attention to the persecution and suffering of European Jews in the 1930s.

The paintings shows the suffering of Jews and Jesus. Violent conflicts are depicted such as the setting on fire of synagogues. In the center of the picture Jesus is displayed, crucified and symbolized as being Jewish adorned in a prayer shawl.

White Crucifixion revealed nostalgia for 14th-century Italian art, and displayed an authentic coloristic value. This painting has thematic ties to Renaissance religious painting, especially the works by Michelangelo, but it also carries references to The Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt.

In White Crucifixion, his first and largest work on the subject, Chagall stressed the Jewish identity of Jesus in several ways: he replaced his traditional loincloth with a prayer shawl, his crown of thorns with a headcloth, and the mourning angels that customarily surround him with three biblical patriarchs and a matriarch, clad in traditional Jewish garments.

At either side of the cross, Chagall illustrated the devastation of pogroms: On the left, a village is pillaged and burned, forcing refugees to flee by boat and the three bearded figures below them - one of whom clutches the Torah - to escape on foot. On the right, a synagogue and its Torah ark go up in flames, while below a mother comforts her child. By linking the martyred Jesus with the persecuted Jews and the Crucifixion with contemporary events, Chagall's painting passionately identifies the Nazis with Christ's tormentors and warns of the moral implications of their actions. - White Crucifixion, 1938 by Marc Chagall

Dominating the picture above in the center is the figure of Jesus crucified. This is very much a Jewish Christ who wears a Jewish tallith instead of a loincloth. His head is covered by a bandana (and not a crown, turban or a Crown of Thorns). Over his head written in Hebrew and Latin are the words 'King of the Jews.’ As in our Latin style the artist uses the Roman letters in a acronym form INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum) to express the title King of the Jews. At his feet burns a menorah with only six candles, one unlit which is surrounded by a halo like the one that frames his head. Nothing speaks blasphemy, as it author is also Jewish.

Yes, Pope Francis likes this painting.

Pope Francis, who so clearly is a man who sides with the poor, the suffering and the marginalized, not to mention the religiously persecuted and martyred, must surely love the White Crucifixion of Marc Chagall precisely on account of our Christian understanding of Christ as the Innocent One crucified on account of human sins. Christian theology that teaches the solidarity of the Suffering Messiah with the suffering humanity finds a perfect emphasis in the common suffering of Jesus and the Jewish people in Chagall’s art. Pope Francis is not one who forgets the Jewish roots of Jesus. His solidarity with the poor brings him spiritually close to the Jews who suffered in the hands of the Nazis. And yet, above all else, what appeals to Pope Francis is the sign of hope. The Paschal Mystery which stands at the centre of the Christian narrative, is a journey from pain to hope, from darkness to light, from death to new life. Always mindful of the reality of human cruelty and suffering, Christian theology is nothing if not a theology of the cross and a theology of hope. For Pope Francis, the scene in The White Crucifixion:

There is not harm to the deposit of the faith for a pope to like this form of art as one of his favourites.

Not every form of Crucifix art within the Church has Our Lord wearing a Crown of Thorns! In fact it is not all that uncommon to see a Crucifix of the Risen Christ wearing a royal crown of some sort.

crucifix with a risen christ and crown

Crucifix with a Risen Christ and Crown

Churches that are under the patron all name of Christ the King for example sometimes have Crucifixes similar to he one shown above.

The following articles may be of interest to some:

  • 1
    In Latin the acronym INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum) is written, but below it is written in Hebrew and Aramaic "Jesus the Nazarene, king of the Jews." But, in what way do they write the name of Jesus? They do not write it as Yeshua (ישוע), but as Yeshu (ישו) which is a acronym that means "Let his name and memory be blotted out;" the same as "Jesus anathema.". So it is not the attire but the caption above his head. Sep 9, 2020 at 3:35
  • @wildmangrove Against that David Flusser suggested that the name Yeshu itself was "in no way abusive," but "almost certainly" a Galilean dialect form of Yeshua. But E.Y. Kutscher showed that the `ayin was still pronounced in Galilee, refuting the thesis by Paul Kahle.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 9, 2020 at 4:00
  • 1
    "In most of the versions of the Toledot Yeshu, Jesus is called Yeshu (ישו), an anagram for "May his name and memory be erased" (yimah shemo ve-zikhro). In the Huldreich, the anagram is "May his memory and his name be erased" (yimah zikhro ve-yimah shemo), resulting in the name of Yezush (יזוש), which is very close to both the Latin and German pronunciations of "Jesus." " (Yoffie, A. M. (2011). Observations on the Huldreich Manuscripts of the Toledo Yeshu. En P. Schafer, M. Meerson, & Y. Deutsch (Edits.), Toledot Yeshu ("The Life Story of Jesus") Revisited: A Princeton conference) Sep 9, 2020 at 14:35
  • @wildmangrove: The Greek ichtys, meaning fish, is also used as an anagram for Christ; however, this does not imply that Christians invented the word, which predates Christianity by millennia, and is utterly unrelated to its very existence; similarly for (post-Christian) Judaism and Ye(ho)shu(ah).
    – user46876
    Sep 10, 2020 at 11:49

The White Crucifixion is blasphemous. It spells Jesus's name Yeschua (ישוע) as Yeshu (ישו),

which is maliciously taken as if it were composed of the initial letters of the three words Immach SCHemo Vezikro—"May his name and memory be blotted out."
—Rev. I. B. Pranaitis, The Talmud Unmasked (imprimatur 1892)

Closeup of Chagall's blasphemous spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus: closeup of Chagall's blasphemous spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus

closeup of full inscription

inscription over head

  • 3
    Just because some Jewish writers used Yeshu pejoratively does not mean that Christians can't use it honourably. Can you add any more authoritative sources that using such a name is truly and indisputably blasphemous for Catholics?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 9, 2020 at 4:11
  • 3
    “Rev. I.B. Pranaitis is a violent anti-Semite from Czarist Russia that has been discredited.” Do you really want to have him as a source. Justinas Bonaventura Pranaitis or Pronaitis (July 27, 1861 – January 28, 1917) was a Lithuanian Catholic priest (subsequently defrocked), Russian Master of Theology and Professor of the Hebrew Language at the Imperial Ecclesiastical Academy of the Roman Catholic Church in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 9, 2020 at 4:22
  • 1
    John Owen in his book on the Holy Spirit (Pneumatologia) said: "They looked at him as a person to be detested and abominated as the common odium of their gods and men. Hence, at his mention they used to say, "Jesus anathema." He is, or let him be, "accursed, detested, destroyed." And the Jews continue in this blasphemy to this day, hiding their cursed sentiments under a corrupt pronunciation of his name. For instead of Yeshua, they write and call him Yeshu (ישו), the initial letters of yimmach shemo vezikhro — that is, "Let his name and memory be blotted out;" the same as "Jesus anathema." " Sep 9, 2020 at 4:41
  • 2
    @DJClayworth Tell that to the fathers at the Council of Nicaea, who fought against the heretics' inclusion of a single iota (ι) in ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, consubstantial) to form the semi-Arians' term ὁμοιούσιος (homoiosios, "of like substance"). (cf. Mt. 5:18: "one jot (ιώτα), or one tittle shall not pass of the law…")
    – Geremia
    Sep 9, 2020 at 18:39
  • 2
    @Geremia The artist was brilliant. I think the charge of blasphemy is unwarranted. I'm as far as a Hebrew or Aramaic expert as you can get, but after reading through the chain of reference material and considering possible metaphors, the line might translate contextually to, "King of the Jews, the Messiah from Nazareth, who was pushed away." It's too bad he (apparently) hasn't provided a more detailed explanation - but having an artist in the family, that's not uncommon.
    – JBH
    Sep 16, 2020 at 0:24

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