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One roman nail

| by John B. MacDonald

I hefted the Roman nail feeling its hard roughness and sharpened point. What stories could it tell?

A nail

The nail is from Scotland where a Roman fortress used to stand.

The fortress, called Inchtuthil (Inch-too-till), was constructed about 82 A.D. It was dismantled four years later when the occupying force, the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, withdrew. 

In the 1950s, Sir Ian Richmond began excavating the site of the fortress. He discovered an elaborately concealed pit containing nails and other iron objects weighing about 10 tons.

A musing

It is one of those nails that I hold— a nail not unlike the nails used to crucify our Lord Jesus. Pieces of iron shaped and used by an Empire, in this case, the Empire of Rome.

  • Who mined the ore?
  • Who smelted the iron and made the nail?
  • Whose hands held the nails driven through His unresisting flesh?
  • What happened to the nails after they were discarded?

From this musing, I wrote a poem that begins with a follower of Jesus in despair and ends on a note of hope. 

A poem

Here and now.

Beaten, bruised, broken by force of Empire;

            Pierced through with pain of spirit— if not flesh

Exhausted, in darkness, the saint’s head sinks low …


There and then.

A sweating slave within Empire’s dark cave 

            Rips ore from heart of Heaven’s earth.

The mindless forge then forces flame

            To melt and draw the iron.


Cold ingot thrust unfeeling into heat,

            Compelled to take its shape by cruel design.

Cold again—a pointed spike—the Empire’s heartless tool awaits.


Calloused hands and hearts grasp unresisting hand. 

            The Empire’s point pierces through His willing flesh.

Bruised and bleeding in the darkness He dies.

            Empire’s aspirations reach the threshold of eternity.


Torn from His lifeless body,

            A senseless spike removed declares Empire’s release.

Discarded – it drops to dirt unseen, 

            Its duty done.


The King of Heaven then laid to rest,

            A trophy in Empire’s dark cave.

Remorseless to the end,

            It seals His sole escape.


Then, against Empire's plan and power,

Deep within that darkened cave

            bursts forth a beam of light.

From the silence of the tomb

            erupts a shout of victory.

While there ignored upon the ground

            That spike – with shame – its bloody rust

                        creeps back into the earth.


Here and now.

Something warm within the saint's darkness stirs –

            The glimmerings called Hope. 

Expressing light upon His throne

            My King invites me to reach out – of pain –

                        caress the print upon His palm –  

                                    a sign of victory.

A message

“Remember how he told you … ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:6-7).

He has risen!

Photo source: istock 

John B. MacDonald

Dr. John B. MacDonald has served for decades as a lawyer and pastor-teacher. He is an associate with Outreach Canada and focuses on equipping and encouraging others to become more like Jesus Christ and to live all of life with God-honoring competence and joy.

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