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Spear of Destiny

Spear of Destiny or Holy Lance

The Spear of Destiny is another name given to the “Holy Lance” which is the title given to the lance that was used to pierce Jesus’s side as he hung on the cross in John’s account of the Crucifixion. The lance only occurs in the Gospel of John and in none of the Synoptic Gospels. As the story goes, the Romans planned to break Jesus’ legs, a practice known as crurifragium, in order to hasten his death during the crucifixion. However, just before they did so they realized that Jesus was already dead and opted instead to ensure that he was dead by a Roman soldier stabbed him in the side. The Gospel goes on to say that both blood and water came out of Jesus’s body (John 19:34). This was considered a miracle by Origen, an early Christian theologian.

The significance of both blood and water to religious organizations stemmed from one of the main teachings of the church; that “Jesus Christ was both true God and true man.” Catholics, while acknowledging that blood and water emanating from a pierced heart and body cavity are biological realities, also acknowledge the allegorical interpretation: the blood symbolizes Jesus’ humanity and the water his divinity. A ceremonial remembrance of this is done when a Catholic priest says Mass as the priest pours a small amount of water into the wine before the consecration, acknowledging Christ’s humanity and divinity.

The name of the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side is not mentioned in the Gospel of John, but there are other references to the legend. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, appended to late manuscripts of the 4th century Acts of Pilate identifies the soldier as a centurion called Longinus. A form of this name occurs on a miniature of the Rabula Gospels, a 6th century illuminated Syriac Gospel Book, which was illuminated by one Rabulas in the year 586. The name is written in Greek characters above the head of the soldier who is thrusting his lance into Christ’s side. Barring the possibility of it being a later addition, this is perhaps one of the earliest records of the name.

There have been a few major relics that are claimed to be the Holy Lance or parts of it. The Vatican Lance legend begins with Antoninus of Piacenza in describing the holy places of Jerusalem says 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”. Another mention of the lance occurs in the so-called Breviarius at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Others attested to the presence of the relic in Jerusalem as well. However, in 615, Jerusalem and its relics were captured by the Persian forces of King Khosrau II. According to the Chronicon Paschal, the point of the lance was broken off and given 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 Pharos. This point of the Lance, 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. After the French Revolution the relics disappeared. The larger portion of the lance was supposedly seen by Arculpus around 670 in Jerusalem, but there is otherwise no mention of it after the sack in 615. It seems possible to trace the larger portion to Constantinople in the 8th century due to reports from various pilgrims and it was clearly a different relic than the point. Whatever the relic was, it did fall into the hands of the Turks and the Sultan Bayezid II sent it to Pope Innocent VIII to encourage the pope to continue to keep his brother and rival Zizim prisoner. Skepticism over the authenticity of the relic was high as there were reports of other lance pieces from various places, but 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, he was satisfied that the two had originally formed one blade. The relic has never since left Rome where it is preserved under the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, though the Church makes no claims as to its authenticity.

The Echmiadzin Lance is now conserved in the Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin), the religious capital of Armenia. The first source to mentions this lance is a text “Holy Relics of Our Lord Jesus Christ” from the 13th century. According to the manuscript, the spear which pierced Jesus was to have been brought to Armenia by the apostle Thaddeus. Though it did not specify precisely the location where it was kept, the writing gives a description that exactly matches the lance, the monastery gate, since the 13th century precisely, and the name of Geghardavank (Monastery of the Holy Lance). In 1805, the Russians took the monastery and the relic was moved to Tchitchanov Geghard, Tbilisi, Georgia. It was later returned and is always visible to the museum Manougian. This Lance has never been a weapon. Rather, it is the point of a sigillum, perhaps Byzantine, with a diamond-shaped iron openwork Greek cross.

The Hofburg spear, or Vienna Lance, was attested to from the time of Otto I (912-973). In 1084 Henry IV had a silver band with the inscription “Nail of Our Lord” added to it, under the belief that this was the lance of Constantine the Great which enshrined a nail used for the Crucifixion. Around 1350 Charles IV had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed “Lancea et clavus Domini” (Lance and nail of the Lord).

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