The Holy Lance in the Schatzkammer of Vienna
In John's account of Jesus' final moments on the cross, we are reminded of several prophesies, among them that Messiah's side shall be pierced (Zechariah 12:10)
"One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side." That is all we know from the biblical account, but that is not the end of the story of either the soldier or the spear he used. At the time of the Crucifixion, Jews had been fighting against Roman oppression for centuries. To say there was no love lost between the people of Israel and Rome's legionnaires would certainly be to understate the enmity that existed between the two parties. Yet, for some reason and by some means, both of which are not related to Scripture, Catholic hagiographers have come up not only with the soldier's name, but even his post-crucifixion biography.
The soldier, we are told, was called Longinus. Now I was unable to learn how long Longinus had served in the Legion, but I do know the enlistment for a Legionnaire changed over time, from serving for one campaign to as long 25 years. Those seeking more information concerning Roman legions and service, will find this site to be a useful source.
We have no reliable information concerning the soldier who thrust a spear into the side of our Lord. Neither the Scriptures nor reliable historical accounts provide give us the name of the soldier. And why should they? Clearly the Holy Spirit did not think it important to include details concerning that legionnaire when He inspired the writers of the Gospels.
Catholic hagiographies tell us that Longinus was nearly blind – a condition which, I should imagine, would surely have affected his usefulness as a soldier. In any case, the legend assures us that Longinus was not long blind, for after he thrust his spear into the side of Christ, some of the blood and lymph (water) from Jesus fell into his eyes.
The hagiography claims that Longinus "pierced the side of Our Lord while He was hanging on the cross." So far so good. It also informs that, when blood and water poured out from the wound, Longinus said, "Indeed, this was the Son of God." That sounds pretty good, except that the claim does not conform to the account in the Gospel of John, which is quoted at the beginning of this piece. In verse 30 of his account, John tells us that Jesus gave up the ghost. The Apostle then informs that the Jews then asked Pilate to have the legs of those crucified that day broken, which would hasten their dying, so that the bodies might be taken down before the sabbath day. In verse 32 of the account, we learn that the soldiers came to break the legs of those on the crosses. It is in verse 35 that an unidentified soldier made his statement of belief, after the Jews had sought Pilate's approval and for the soldiers to return to Golgotha.
Mark's version of the crucifixion story tells us that the unidentified centurion made his declaration concerning Christ's divinity after hearing His loud cry and seeing the veil before the Holy of Holies torn from top to bottom. The centurion, who likely had supervised a number of crucifixions during his tour of duty in Palestine, apparently was surprised by the force of Jesus' dying statement, for it would not have been likely that anyone dying on a cross--which kills by slowly and painfully suffocating the victim--would have had the strength to "cry out in a loud voice." His shout, followed by an earthquake and the ripping of the veil, caused the Roman soldier to believe.
Matthew's account coincides with Mark's and provides a number of additional details:
It is only here that we are told of the saints who rose up from their graves and walked around Jerusalem. I should think that these received their glorified bodies and walked the streets in order to validate the miracle of Christ's atoning sacrifice and His resurrection, which soon would follow. Once enough people had seen the risen saints, they may then been assumed into Glory. Think about it. If you had been there and heard His shout, felt the ground shake, seen the temple veil ripped asunder and looked at the people who had been buried but now were walking around the city, would you not have believed that Jesus of Nazareth indeed was, and is, the Messiah?
According to the hagiography, Longinus, now converted, left the army and studied under the Apostles, and supposedly became a monk at Caesarea in Cappodocia. There, poor Longinus ran afoul of the law because of his new faith and, we are told, was involved with yet another miraculous cure. The authorities tormented him by forcing all his teeth from his mouth and cutting off his tongue. Despite these tortures it is claimed that Longinus, who continued to speak clearly, then picked up a handy axe and smashed several idols as the governor watched.
When Longinus broke the idols, the demons that had resided in them attacked the governor, depriving him of his sight and driving him mad. This was the occasion for another miraculous healing involving Longinus. The centurion-turned-monk told the governor he would regain his sight when Longinus was dead, so the governor ordered him killed. When he was beheaded, some of his blood splashed into the governor's eyes, restoring his sight. At this miracle, the governor, we are told, was converted to the Christian faith.
We also are told that the relics of the unknown centurion, who now is known as "St. Longinus," are located in the church of St. Augustine in Rome. His lance, the very weapon said to have pierced the sinless and holy body of Jesus Christ, is said to have been contained in one of the four pillars that surmount the altar in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but has since been moved. How the lance made the trip to Rome is something I have yet to discover. The various versions of Catholic history and hagiography, like most other teachings of the RCC, are not always in agreement.
According to other legends, the spear came into the hands of Herod the Great. Constantine had it for a while, claiming that Providence, by way of the spear, led him to victory at Milvian bridge, which resulted in Christianity becoming the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantine used the spear while surveying the site for his new city, Constantinople. After him, we are informed that Theodosius, the Spanish-born Emperor of the Eastern Empire had possession of it a while, as did Alaric, the Goth who sacked Rome. Theodoric, who turned back Attila's hordes, owned it for a while, as did Justinian. We are told it passed into the hands of Charles Martel, who defeated the Moslems in the Battle at Poitiers. Legend claims the lance led Charlemagne to victory in 47 battles, but the Emperor died when he accidentally dropped it. Five Saxon emperors who came after Charlemagne possessed the lance, as did seven Hohenstauffen emperors, among them Barbarossa, Frederick II and Kaiser Wilhelm. There were other owners as well.
Napoleon tried to claim the lance as spoils of war after the battle of Austerlitz, but the relic had been sneaked out of Vienna before he got there. Some time after the threat from Napolean ceased, the lance was restored to Vienna, where it resided in the Hoffburg Museum until 1938.
The Spear of Longinus, also known as the Spear of Destiny, the Holy Spear and other names, was of surpassing importance to the leaders of the infamous Third Reich. According to the legends surrounding this "sacred" relic, whoever owned the spear would be the controlling force in world power politics. Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler made a study of the spear and its history. Adolph Hitler, who was something of a nut concerning religious relics, lusted for the spear from the moment he first saw it in the Vienna museum in 1912.
And Hitler never forgot the lance. On that day in 1938 when Germany declared Austria to be a part of the Third Reich, he was in Vienna to personally take charge of the lance. He had it put on an armored SS train which carried it to Nuremburg, the spiritual capital of the regime. There, it was kept in St. Catherine's church for six years before being moved to an underground vault to keep it safe from the Allied bombing raids.
From that point on, the history of this lance becomes quite specific. An Army officer took possession of the lance in the name of the U.S. Government on April 30, 1945. With the exception of General George Patton, Commander of the U.S. Third Army, American generals and political leaders showed little interest in the spear. Patton, on the other hand, was terribly interested in it and had its history traced and its authenticity confirmed. After a time, General Eisenhower had the spear returned to the Hofburg Treasure House, where it remains.
Now we have two spears of Longinus, one somewhere outside of Rome and one in Vienna. Rome claims her relic is the authentic one, and had enshrined it on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica. Pope John II used the Roman version of the spear to christen Otto the Great as Holy Roman Emperor. The other, its history traced and authenticated by General Patton, a man known to have had an interest in reincarnation and other pagan beliefs, resides in the Hofburg Museum in Vienna. Are there others?
Reformer Jean Chauvin (John Calvin), in his Admonitio de Reliquiis, reported that the spear of Longinus was being kept at Glastonbury Abbey, in England. He added that the abbey also possessed a vial of the Virgin's milk. I find it interesting that the Virgin would have been passing out samples of her breast milk or that people would have been interested in having them, since Christ did not start His public ministry until some 30 years after he was born. Of course, she had at least six other kids, so she likely spent a lot of years lactating.
That makes three spears of Longinus. In the Arthurian legend, Chretien de Troyes tells how Parsifal, an honorable and sinless knight, undertook a trial to show his worthiness to succeed a godly king who was dying. Parsifal sat on a magical chair. Now this was a risky undertaking, for anyone who sat on the chair and was not the knight selected by God to be guardian of both the spear of Longinus and the Holy Grail was put to death. Parsifal passed the test, was made king and kept the spear and grail with him until his death. Nice story.
Those who are into the darker religions and crafts claim that the spear, which they call the Spear of Destiny, has been around since the beginning of recorded time. There also is a legend that an ancient Hebrew prophet named Phineas forged the spear. Unfortunately, neither of these legends explains how an iron spear could have been forged in or before the Bronze Age.
The spear in the Hofburg Treasure House (Schatzkammer) is a wreck. The shaft is long gone and the spearhead is something of a shambles, being bound together with threads of gold, silver and bronze. Supposedly a nail from the True Cross is contained in the spearhead. This "sacred relic" is not being held in the dusty vaults of some cathedral, but sits in an ornate case in the museum, out in the open where all may view it and think on its legends.
Granted, some of the above is legend and some just plain mythology. On the other hand, is documented history that a number of powerful European rulers had possession of something called the Spear of Longinus. The Spear in the Vienna museum has been authenticated. That Rome is promoting the fantasy of the spear may be deduced from several so-called facts: Longinus is a member of the pantheon of Roman demi-gods they call "saints;" the RCC has ascribed miracles to the agency of Longinus the Centurion and his spear; that the spear was enshrined in one of the principle altars of Roman Catholicism.
As to the reported spear at Glastonbury Abbey and the one that was in Parsifal's care, I dunno what to say. Perhaps it suffices to say there are for certain at least TWO spears of Longinus, plus another probable and one possible.
While researching Roman hagiography, I discovered several cases of multiple body parts, all apparently considered authentic relics of saints by the Roman church. There are, for example, at least two heads of John the Baptist being venerated (with dulia, of course), two or maybe three heads of Peter, innumerable leg bones of Peter, a few of which have been claimed to be of feminine origin and some of which are remarkably similar to the bones of a cow, a pig and several chickens. The list goes on. I cannot describe how foolish I would consider myself, were I to discover that the relic of Saint Somebody, before which I had been offering prayers and supplications for years turned out not to be the bone of his left great toe but instead a portion of a chicken's drumstick.
I beseech all you who are still wandering in the darkness of Roman Catholicism to turn aside from seeking help through things that invoke the spirits of the dead and turn instead to Christ. The truth is in the Bible and salvation is in Christ, not the lustral waters of Catholic baptism.
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