“Rodolfo Esqueda removes pewter nails from the mold used to make one of the pieces of jewelry in the ‘The Passion of the Christ’ line of jewelry at the Bob Siemon Designs plant in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday.” (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The humble nail — once a bit player in the crucifixion — has come into its own as a religious symbol. Now that you can buy a diamond-encrusted cross pendant in any shopping mall jewelry store in America, perhaps it was high time another Christian accessory came along to point to the repulsive violence at the heart of the faith. Of course, that’s precisely what Mel Gibson had in mind all along. Yet just as the institutional church could not help but betray the anti-institutional strains of the gospels, so can a Hollywood marketing plan for a movie about an ugly death not help but look for pretty pieces of ugly death to sell to the world. As such, it’s hard to beat the Jesus Nail. Elegant, evocative, and simple — more simple even than the cross — it is a religious bauble that could only be made in an age of telephoto lenses and high resolution digital imaging. Imagine a crane shot of Golgotha: The camera high above the crowd, showing helmets and headscarves and bareheads bowed, it sweeps in and finds a lone body on a cross, then it tightens on the man’s chest, his arm, his wrist, and finally, there in the center of a frame filled with a wreath of blood and palm-skin, the head of a nail. Whatever else it accomplishes, Mel’s movie has made available and wearable the most elemental view of the crucifixion possible — at least until they find a way to sell a hole in the hand.

Peter Manseau is co-author of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible and author of the forthcoming Vows: A Family History of Sex, Love, and the Catholic Church.

View the complete Revealing Photos Archives.