The Holy Lance, also known as the Lance of Longinus (named after Saint Longinus), the Spear of Destiny, or the Holy Spear, is legendarily known as the lance that pierced the side of Jesus as he hung on the cross.
The lance (Greek: λόγχη, lonkhē) is mentioned in the Gospel of John (19:31–37), but not the Synoptic Gospels. The gospel states that the Romans planned to break Jesus’ legs, a practice known as crurifragium, which was a method of hastening death during a crucifixion. Just before they did so, they realized that Jesus was already dead and that there was no reason to break his legs. To make sure that he was dead, a Roman soldier (named in extra-Biblical tradition as Longinus) stabbed him in the side.
One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance (λόγχη), and immediately there came out blood and water.
The phenomenon of blood and water was considered a miracle by Origen. Catholics, while accepting the biological reality of blood and water as emanating from the pierced heart and body cavity of Christ, also acknowledge the allegorical interpretation: it represents one of the main key teachings/mysteries of the Church, and one of the main themes of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the homoousian interpretation adopted by the First Council of Nicaea, that “Jesus Christ was both true God and true man.” The blood symbolizes his humanity, the water his divinity. A ceremonial evocation of this is found in a Catholic Mass: The priest pours a small amount of water into the wine before the consecration, an act which acknowledges Christ’s humanity and divinity and recalls the issuance of blood and water from Christ’s side on the cross. Saint Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun whose advocacy and writings led to the establishment of the Divine Mercy devotion, also acknowledged the miraculous nature of the blood and water, explaining that the blood is a symbol of the divine mercy of Christ, while the water is a symbol of His divine compassion and of baptismal waters.
In most variants of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the priest lances the host (prosphoron) with a liturgical spear before it is divided in honor of the Trinity, the Theotokos (Virgin Mary), and various other remembrances. The deacon recites the relevant passage from the Gospel of John, along with sections of the Acts of the Apostles dealing with commemoration of the saints. Most of these pieces, set aside, become the antidoron to be distributed after the liturgy, a relic of the ancient agape of apostolic times, considered to be blessed but not consecrated or sanctified in the Western understanding. The main piece becomes The Lamb, the host that is consecrated on the altar and distributed to the faithful for Holy Communion.
Crucifixion miniature, Rabula Gospels, with the legend “Loginos”
The name of the soldier who pierced Christ’s side with a lonchē is not given in the Gospel of John, but in the oldest known references to the legend, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus appended to late manuscripts of the 4th century Acts of Pilate, the soldier is identified as a centurion and called Longinus (making the spear’s Latin name Lancea Longini).
A form of the name Longinus occurs on a miniature in the Rabula Gospels (conserved in the Laurentian Library, Florence), which was illuminated by one Rabulas in the year 586. In the miniature, the name LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟϹ) is written in Greek characters above the head of the soldier who is thrusting his lance into Christ’s side. This is one of the earliest records of the name, if the inscription is not a later addition.
There have been three or four major relics that are claimed to be the Holy Lance or parts of it.
A mitred Adhémar de Monteil carrying one of the instances of the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade
1898 drawing of the Holy Lance In Rome
The Holy Lance in Rome is preserved beneath the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, although the Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity. The first historical reference to the lance was made by the pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza (AD 570) in his descriptions of the holy places of Jerusalem, writing that he saw in the Basilica of Mount Zion “the crown of thorns with which Our Lord was crowned and the lance with which He was struck in the side”:18, although there is uncertainty about the exact site to which he refers.:42 A mention of the lance occurs in the so-called Breviarius at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The presence in Jerusalem of the relic is attested by Cassiodorus (c. 485–585) as well as by Gregory of Tours (c. 538–594), who had not actually been to Jerusalem.
In 615, Jerusalem and its relics were captured by the Persian forces of King Khosrau II (Chosroes II). According to the Chronicon Paschale, the point of the lance, which had been broken off, was given in the same year to Nicetas, who took it to Constantinople and deposited it in the church of Hagia Sophia, and later to the Church of the Virgin of the Pharos. This point of the lance, which was now set in an icon, was acquired by the Latin Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople, who later sold it to Louis IX of France. The point of the lance was then enshrined with the crown of thorns in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. During the French Revolution these relics were removed to the Bibliothèque Nationale but the point subsequently disappeared.
The statue of St Longinus by Gianlorenzo Bernini sits above the relic in St Peter’s Basilica
As for the larger portion of the lance, Arculpus claimed he saw it at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around 670 in Jerusalem, but there is otherwise no mention of it after the sack in 615. Some claim that the larger relic had been conveyed to Constantinople in the 8th century, possibly at the same time as the Crown of Thorns. At any rate, its presence at Constantinople seems to be clearly attested by various pilgrims, particularly Russians, and, though it was deposited in various churches in succession, it seems possible to trace it and distinguish it from the relic of the point. Sir John Mandeville declared in 1357 that he had seen the blade of the Holy Lance both at Paris and at Constantinople, and that the latter was a much larger relic than the former; it is worth adding that Mandeville is not generally regarded as one of the Middle Ages’ most reliable witnesses, and his supposed travels are usually treated as an eclectic amalgam of myths, legends and other fictions. “The lance which pierced Our Lord’s side” was among the relics at Constantinople shown in the 1430s to Pedro Tafur, who added “God grant that in the overthrow of the Greeks they have not fallen into the hands of the enemies of the Faith, for they will have been ill-treated and handled with little reverence.”
Whatever the Constantinople relic was, it did fall into the hands of the Turks, and in 1492, under circumstances minutely described in Pastor’s History of the Popes, the Sultan Bayezid II sent it to Pope Innocent VIII to encourage the pope to continue to keep his brother and rival Zizim (Cem Sultan) prisoner. At this time great doubts as to its authenticity were felt at Rome, as Johann Burchard records, because of the presence of other rival lances in Paris (the point that had been separated from the lance), Nuremberg (see Holy Lance in Vienna below), and Armenia (see Holy Lance in Echmiadzin below). In the mid-18th century Pope Benedict XIV states that he obtained from Paris an exact drawing of the point of the lance, and that in comparing it with the larger relic in St. Peter’s he was satisfied that the two had originally formed one blade. This relic has never since left Rome, and its resting place is at Saint Peter’s.
The Holy Lance, displayed in the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria
The Holy Lance in Vienna is displayed in the Imperial Treasury or Weltliche Schatzkammer (lit. Worldly Treasure Room) at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. It is a typical winged lance of the Carolingian dynasty. At different times, it was said to be the lance of Saint Maurice or that of Constantine the Great. In the tenth century, the Holy Roman Emperors came into possession of the lance, according to sources from the time of Otto I (912–973). In 1000, Otto III gave Boleslaw I of Poland a replica of the Holy Lance at the Congress of Gniezno. In 1084, Henry IV had a silver band with the inscription “Nail of Our Lord” added to it. This was based on the belief that the nail embedded in the spear-tip was one that had been used for the Crucifixion of Jesus. It was only in the thirteenth century that the Lance became identified with that of Longinus, which had been used to pierce Christ’s side and had been drenched in the blood of Christ and water.
In 1273, the Holy Lance was first used in a coronation ceremony. Around 1350, Charles IV had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed Lancea et clavus Domini (Lance and nail of the Lord). In 1424, Sigismund had a collection of relics, including the lance, moved from his capital in Prague to his birthplace, Nuremberg, and decreed them to be kept there forever. This collection was called the Imperial Regalia (Reichskleinodien).
When the French Revolutionary army approached Nuremberg in the spring of 1796, the city councilors decided to remove the Reichskleinodien to Vienna for safe keeping. The collection was entrusted to a Baron von Hügel, who promised to return the objects once the threat was resolved. However, the Holy Roman Empire was disbanded in 1806 and in the confusion, he sold the collection to the Habsburgs. The city councilors asked for the return of the collection after the defeat of Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Waterloo, but the Austrian authorities refused.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that the Imperial Insignia “were still preserved in Vienna and appeared to act as magical relics rather than as the visible guarantee of an everlasting bond of union. When the Habsburg State crumbled to pieces in 1918, the Austrian Germans instinctively raised an outcry for union with their German fatherland.” During the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed to Germany, the Nazis brought the Reichskleinodien to Nuremberg, where they displayed them during the September 1938 Party Congress. They then transferred them to the Historischer Kunstbunker, a bunker that had been built into some of the medieval cellars of old houses underneath Nuremberg Castle to protect historic art from air raids.
Most of the Regalia were recovered by the Allies at the end of the war, but the Nazis had hidden the five most important pieces in hopes of using them as political symbols to help them rally for a return to power, possibly at the command of Nazi Commander Heinrich Himmler. Walter Horn — a Medieval studies scholar who had fled Nazi Germany and served in the Third Army under General George S. Patton — became a special investigator in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program after the end of the war, and was tasked with tracking the missing pieces down. After a series of interrogations and false rumors, Nuremberg city councilor Stadtrat Fries confessed that he, fellow-councilman Stadtrat Schmeiszner, and an SS official had hidden the Imperial Regalia on March 31, 1945, and he agreed to bring Horn’s team to the site. On August 7, Horn and a U.S. army captain escorted Fries and Schmeiszner to the entrance of the Panier Platz Bunker, where they located the treasures hidden behind a wall of masonry in a small room off of a subterranean corridor, roughly eighty feet below ground. The Regalia were first brought back to Nuremberg castle to be reunited with the rest of the Reichskleinodien, and then transferred with the entire collection to Austrian officials the following January.
The inscription on the Holy Lance
The Museum dates the Lance to the eighth century. Robert Feather, an English metallurgist and technical engineering writer, tested the lance for a documentary in January 2003. He was given unprecedented permission not only to examine the lance in a laboratory environment, but to remove the delicate bands of gold and silver that hold it together. Based on X-ray diffraction, fluorescence tests, and other noninvasive procedures, he dated the main body of the spear to the 7th century at the earliest Feather stated in the same documentary that an iron pin – long claimed to be a nail from the crucifixion, hammered into the blade and set off by tiny brass crosses – is “consistent” in length and shape with a 1st-century A.D. Roman nail. There was no residue of human blood on the lance.
Not long afterward, researchers at the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for Archeology in Vienna used X-ray and other technology to examine a range of lances, and determined that the Vienna Lance dates from around the 8th to the beginning of the 9th century, with the nail apparently being of the same metal, and ruled out a connection with the time of the first century AD.
The Holy Lance in Echmiadzin
A Holy Lance is conserved in Vagharshapat (previously known as Echmiadzin), the religious capital of Armenia. It was previously held in the monastery of Geghard. The first source that mentions it is a text Holy Relics of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in a thirteenth-century Armenian manuscript. According to this text, the spear which pierced Jesus was to have been brought to Armenia by the Apostle Thaddeus. The manuscript does not specify precisely where it was kept, but the Holy Lance gives a description that exactly matches the lance, the monastery gate, since the thirteenth century precisely, the name of Geghardavank (Monastery of the Holy Lance).[clarification needed]
In 1655, the French traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was the first Westerner to see this relic in Armenia. In 1805, the Russians captured the monastery and the relic was moved to Tchitchanov Geghard, Tbilisi, Georgia. It was later returned to Armenia at Echmiadzin, where it is always visible in the museum Manoogian, enshrined in a 17th-century reliquary.
During the June 1098 Siege of Antioch, a poor monk named Peter Bartholomew reported that he had a vision in which St. Andrew told him that the Holy Lance was buried in the Church of St. Peter in Antioch. After much digging in the cathedral, Bartholomew allegedly discovered a lance. Despite the doubts of many, including the papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy, the discovery of the Holy Lance of Antioch inspired the starving Crusaders to break the siege and secure the city. In the 18th century, Roman cardinal Prospero Lambertini claimed the Antiochian lance was a fake.
This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library