The Holy Lance (also known as the Spear of Destiny, Holy Spear, Lance of Longinus, Spear of Longinus, or Spear of Christ) is the name given to the lance that pierced Jesus' side while he was hanging on the cross. This lance is described in the Gospel of John's account of the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:31-37).
The spear was allegedly rediscovered by Helena of Constantinople during her travels to the Holy land and it became an important relic during the Middle Ages. The lance also featured prominently in subsequent Crusader battles and played a significant role in several legends surrounding Jesus' ongoing miracles. The focus of much popular veneration, the spear eventually disappeared under mysterious circumstances. More recently, it has been the subject of much intrigue and debate in occult circles, including Adolf Hitler's alleged interest in the spear.
The lance is mentioned only in the Gospel of John (John 19:34). Roman Catholics generally understand a deeper meaning in this event. They see it representing the Church (and more specifically, the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist) issuing from the side of Christ, just as Eve was taken from the side of Adam.) and not in any of 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 the death during a crucifixion. Just before they did so, they realized he was already dead and that there was no reason to break his legs. To make sure he was dead, a soldier (extra-Biblical tradition gives this man the name Longinus) stabbed him in the side: "… but one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water" (
The earliest mention of a relic preserved as the Holy Lance is in the account of the pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza, about 570 C.E., who described the holy places of Jerusalem, where 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." According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the presence in Jerusalem of this relic is attested half a century earlier by Cassiodorus and was known to Gregory of Tours. In 615 C.E., Jerusalem was captured for the Persian King Khosrau II; according to the Chronicon Paschale, the iron 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. This lance-point, embedded in an icon, was obtained in 1244 C.E. from the Latin emperor at Constantinople, Baldwin II, by Louis IX of France, who enshrined it with his relic of the Crown of Thorns in the Sainte Chapelle, Paris. During the French Revolution, these relics were removed to the Bibliothèque Nationale and disappeared.
The name of the soldier who pierced Christ's side 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 fourth century Acts of Pilate, the soldier is identified with a centurion and called Logginus or Longinus (making the spear's "correct" Latin name Lancea Longini).
A form of the name Longinus also occurs on a miniature in the Rabula Gospels (conserved in the Laurentian Library, Florence (illustration), which was illuminated by one Rabulas in the year 586. In the miniature, the name LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟC) 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. (The text is Syriac, the lettering Greek.)
The novel, The Spear, by Louis de Wohl (1955), further identifies him as Gaius Cassius Longinus. There is a historical figure named Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators responsible for the death of Gaius Julius Caesar (died March 15, 44 B.C.E.). Another "Longinus" is credited with the authorship of the treatise On the Sublime. Roman names held little variety, especially among members of the same family.
There have been many relics that are claimed to be the Holy Lance, or parts of it.
No actual lance is known until the pilgrim St. Antoninus of Piacenza (570 C.E.), describing the holy places of Jerusalem, says that he saw it in the Basilica of Mount Zion. A mention of the lance also occurs in the so-called Breviarius at the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The presence in Jerusalem of this important relic is attested by Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 585) as well as by Gregory of Tours (c. 538-594), who had not actually been to Jerusalem.
As for the larger portion of the lance, Arculpus claimed he saw it at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around 670 C.E. 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 sometime during the eighth 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.
Whatever the Constantinople relic was, it fell into the hands of the Turks, and in 1492, under circumstances minutely described in Pastor's History of the Popes. The Sultan Bayazid II sent it to Innocent VIII to encourage the pope to continue to keep his brother and rival Zizim (Cem) 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 "Vienna lance" below), and Armenia (see "Etschmiadzin lance" below). In the mid 1700s, 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, where it is preserved under the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica, although the Roman Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity.
The lance currently in Echmiadzin, Armenia, was discovered during the First Crusade. In 1098, the crusader Peter Bartholomew reported that he had a vision in which St. Andrew told him that the Holy Lance was buried in St. Peter's Cathedral in Antioch. After much digging in the cathedral, a lance was discovered. This was considered a miracle by the crusaders, who were able to rout the Muslim army besieging the city and decisively capture Antioch. Some medieval scholars (for example, Raynaldi and the Bollandists) believed that this lance afterward fell into the hands of the Turks and was in fact the lance that Bayazid II sent to Pope Innocent and is now in the Vatican.
The Holy Roman Emperors had a lance of their own, attested from the time of Otto I (912-973 C.E.). In 1000 C.E., Otto III gave Boleslaw I of Poland a replica of the 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 this was the lance of Constantine the Great which enshrined a nail used for the Crucifixion. In 1273, it was first used in the 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 birth place, Nuremberg, and decreed them to be kept there forever. This collection was called the Reichskleinodien or Imperial Regalia.
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 one "Baron von Hügel," who promised to return the objects as soon as peace had been restored and the safety of the collection assured. However, the Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved in 1806 and von Hügel took advantage of the confusion over who was the rightful owner and sold the entire collection, including the lance, to the Habsburgs. When the city councilors discovered this they asked for the Reichskleinodien back but were refused. As part of the imperial regalia it was kept in the Schatzkammer (Imperial treasury) in Vienna and was known as the lance of Saint Maurice.
During the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed to Germany, Adolf Hitler took the lance. It was returned to Austria by American General George S. Patton after World War II and was temporarily stored in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Currently the Spear is held in the Schatzkammer (Imperial treasury).
Dr. Robert Feather, an English metallurgist and technical engineering writer, tested the lance in January 2003. He was given unprecedented permission not only to examine the lance in a laboratory environment, but was also allowed to remove the delicate bands of gold and silver that hold it together. In the opinion of Feather and other academic experts, the likeliest date of the spearhead is the seventh century C.E.—only slightly earlier than the Museum's own estimate. However, Dr. Feather also 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 first century C.E. Roman nail.
Another lance has been preserved at Krakow, Poland, since at least the 1200s. However, German records indicate that it was a copy of the Vienna lance. Emperor Henry II had it made with a small sliver of the original lance. Another copy was given to the Hungarian king at the same time.
The story told by William of Malmesbury of the giving of the Holy Lance to King Athelstan of England by Hugh Capet seems to be due to a misconception.
The "Spear of Destiny" is a name given to the Holy Lance in various stories that attribute mystical powers to it. Many of these have originated in recent times and several popular New Age and conspiracy theory books have popularized the legend of the spear.
Trevor Ravenscroft’s 1973 The Spear of Destiny (as well as a later book, The Mark of the Beast) claims that Hitler started World War II in order to capture the spear, with which he was obsessed. At the end of the war, the spear came into the hands of U.S. General George Patton. According to legend, losing the spear would result in death, and that was fulfilled when Hitler committed suicide.
Ravenscroft repeatedly attempted to define the mysterious “powers” that the legend says the spear serves. He found it to be a hostile and evil spirit, which he sometimes referred to as the Antichrist, though that is open to interpretation. He never actually referred to the spear as spiritually controlled, but rather as intertwined with all of humankind's ambitions.
Dr. Howard A. Buechner, M.D., professor of medicine at Tulane and then LSU, wrote two books on the spear. Buechner was a retired colonel with the U.S. Army who served in World War II and had written a book about the Dachau massacre. He claims he was contacted by a former U-boat submariner, the pseudonymous “Capt. Wilhelm Bernhart,” who claimed the spear currently on display in Vienna is a fake. "Bernhart" said the real spear was sent by Hitler to Antarctica along with other Nazi treasures, under the command of Col. Maximilian Hartmann. In 1979, Hartmann allegedly recovered the treasures. Bernhart presented Buechner with the log from this expedition as well as pictures of the objects recovered, claiming that after the Spear of Destiny was recovered, it was hidden somewhere in Europe by a Nazi secret society. After contacting most of the members of the alleged expedition and others involved, including Hitler Youth Leader Artur Axmann, Buechner became convinced the claims were true.
In Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Balin uses the Spear to kill the evil Sir Garlon, the Invisible Knight. However, Balin also wounds King Pellas, the Grail King and brother to Sir Garlon. This is referred to as the Dolorous Stroke that lays waste to three kingdoms. The later Grail Quest heals Pellas and restores the wasteland created by the Dolorous Stroke.
In the opera Parsifal, by Richard Wagner the Lance of Longinus (or Holy Spear) makes an appearance.
The Holy Lance has appeared many times since then, in the continuity of DC comics. The mental impressions of Hitler have affected the spear, causing those who hold it act evilly.
The Holy Lance is central to the 2004 movie The Librarian: Quest for the Spear and to the 2005 movie, Constantine, where the angel Gabriel tries to use it to summon the devil's son, Mammon out of the body of a possessed earthly host.
The Spear of Destiny is a central plot device of the 1992 iD Software video game of the same name in which an Allied soldier, BJ Blazkowicz works to liberate the spear from Hitler's control.
The manga/anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion features the Lance of Longinus as a colossal weapon, and the only thing that can penetrate the fictional AT-Field of an Angel
In an Indiana Jones graphic novel, Indy and his father search for the Spear of Destiny and hope to prevent Nazis from capturing it because, as an angel puts it, "A demon, his hands stained with the blood of millions, would wield the spear and the world would drown in blood!"
Stephen R. Lawhead wrote the historical fiction novel about the Holy Lance titled, The Iron Lance, the first of a trilogy of novels about Christian relics and the period of the crusades (trilogy title The Celtic Crusades).
The spear appears in The Last Vampire: Creatures of Forever by Christopher Pike, as a weapon that can be used by both good and evil.
All links retrieved January 12, 2018.
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