Spear of Longinus: What happened to the Holy Spear

(ORDO NEWS) — Christian history is replete with relics. The bones of saints, clothes, even whole bodies are kept in places of honor in the great cathedrals of Europe and beyond.

Spear of Longinus – according to the Gospel of John, one of the Instruments of the Passion, a peak that the Roman soldier Longinus plunged into the hypochondrium of Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross. Like all Instruments of the Passion, the spear is considered one of the greatest relics of Christianity.

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Statue of Longinus in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One pretender to the Holy Lance is kept under the statue

The Holy Spear, also called the Spear of Destiny, the Holy Spear or the Spear of Longinus, is a legendary relic that pierced the side of Christ during the crucifixion.

There are at least three supposed relics of the Holy Lance, although the Vatican does not claim the authenticity of any of them. One of them is located under the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was presented to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492 after the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks.

Another is on display in the imperial treasury at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Also known as the Lance of Saint Maurice, this relic was used in coronation ceremonies. The last relic is kept in Vagharshapat, Armenia, and, according to legend, was brought by the holy apostle Jude.

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Spearhead in Vienna, Austria

Scripture and early legend

The piercing of the side of Christ during the crucifixion is told in the Gospel of John 19:33-34: “When they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.”

This last wound on the body of Jesus is the fifth of the five holy wounds of his Passion, and the soldier is traditionally identified as Saint Longinus.

According to Christian legend, Longinus suffered from an eye disease and was miraculously healed by the water and blood that fell from Jesus’ side when he pierced the body. He is usually identified with the converted centurion in Mark 15:39, who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

There are many traditions about the subsequent history of the spear of Longinus, and supernatural powers were attributed to it for a long time.

It was believed that the one who owns it decides the fate of the world, both good and evil. Conflicting accounts link its history to various saints or rulers, and its fame in medieval times was no less than that of the Holy Grail.

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Spearhead in Armenia

Discovery by Peter Bartholomew

One of the most famous stories about the Holy Lance was its discovery in June 1098 during the First Crusade by Christian crusaders in Antioch.

The acquisition of the relic inspired the crusaders to go on the offensive against the Muslims, defeating them in battle and securing Christian possession of Antioch. However, disputes over the spear’s authenticity caused internal divisions among the crusaders, and its discoverer, Peter Bartholomew, was eventually discredited.

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Crucifixion, tempera and gold leaf on wood panel by the Master of the Code of Saint George, c. 1340–45; at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It is said that the wound in Christ’s side was inflicted by the Holy Spear. Photo by KaDeWeGirl. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Cloisters Collection, 1961

Peter was a peasant who claimed that Saint Andrew appeared to him in several visions and revealed the location of the spear. He reported his visions to the leaders of the First Crusade, and although Bishop Adémar of Le Puy was skeptical of their authenticity, Count Raymond of Toulouse was impressed and ordered a solemn search for the spear.

Peter led them to St. Peter’s in Antioch and pointed out where the spear would be. After a day of fruitless digging, he jumped into the pit and pulled out a piece of iron, which they took to be a relic. Most of the crusaders recognized its authenticity and took the spear with them into battle against the Muslims.

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Peter Bartholomew being Tried by Fire, illustration from William of Tyre’s Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (“History of the exploits accomplished overseas”)

After acquiring the spear, Peter claimed that St. Andrew appeared to him at different times, giving instructions on the conduct of the crusade.

With the spread of Peter’s visions and his attacks on the memory of Bishop Ademar (died 1098), who never believed Peter’s claims, people began to doubt the visions and dispute the authenticity of the Holy Lance.

When Peter put himself to the test of fire to test the veracity of his claims, he was mortally burned and the Holy Lance was discredited. Raymond of Toulouse’s prestige suffered because he accepted the visions of Peter.


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