John’s Gospel records during the crucifixion, a Roman centurion pierced Christ’s side with his spear causing blood and water to spill out of the wound. The centurion is unnamed, but tradition claims he was called Longinus. Early Christians believed he was the same centurion who saw the empty tomb after the resurrection and cried out, “Truly this man is the son of God!”
Some centuries later, Longinus had become a saint and his legend had grown. A book of saints from the 1200s, called ‘The Golden Legend’, says Longinus was blind. His sight was restored when his eyes were splashed by the blood from the wound he made in Christ’s side.
Like the story of the man, the legend of the spear had also grown. It was now called the Holy Lance or the Spear of Destiny, because some claimed it had the power to make its bearer invincible, at the price of his death and failure should he ever lose it.
A spear was first recorded by Antoninus of Piacenza in his account of a pilgrimage to the holy places of Jerusalem in around 570. In the basilica of Mount Zion he saw ‘the crown of thorns with which Our Lord was crowned and the lance with which he was struck in the side’.
The relic remained in Jerusalem until the city was sacked in 615 AD by Persian King Chosroes II. Before this, the tip of the lance was broken off and smuggled to Constantinople where it was kept with the crown of thorns in Justinian’s famous church, the Hagia Sophia.
There is some debate as to when the Crown of Thorns arrived in Constantinople. It was seen in Jerusalem in 870 by a monk called Bernard and thought to have found its way to Byzantium in 1060. At some point the rest of the Spear of Destiny also found its way to Constantinople, maybe sometime in the 800s.
Legend has it Charlemagne, 8th century King of the Franks and the first Holy Roman Emperor, crowned by the Pope, had the spear. He was supposed to have carried it into 47 battles against the Moorish invaders from Spain and died as soon as he lost the relic. Historical records dispute the legend. Unless there was a second spear doing the rounds, which is highly likely given the brisk trade in holy relics. More authentic stories say the Spear of Destiny remained in Constantinople.
In the 1400s, when the crusaders sacked Constantinople (with Venice’s connivance), they sold the Spear of Destiny’s broken tip to the King of France. (It went missing during the French Revolution). The rest of the spear was still in Constantinople when it fell to the Turks. In 1492 the Turkish Sultan made a present of it to the Pope in Rome in return for his neutrality.
It is claimed a papal delegation checked the broken tip in France to the spearhead and found it an exact match to the rest of the relic. However by this time, things were getting confused. There were now no less than four spears claiming to be the original lance. And there still are.
The one from Constantinople, gifted by the Turks, remains in Rome.
Another is in an ancient Armenian city where it has rested for a thousand years.
There is another ancient spearhead in Krakow. Apparently dated to the 1200s, some claim is a copy made by the Holy Roman Emperor for the King of Poland, which contains a sliver of the Hapsburg Lance .
The Hapsburg Lance, lodged in Vienna, has been part of the Holy Roman Emperor’s Imperial Treasury for at least a thousand years. Recent examination showed it is a 7th century spear, but it contains a (believed) authentic Roman nail claimed to be one used in Christ’s crucifixion. It may well be Charlemagne possessed this lance, believing it to be the genuine article.
Some authors credit Hitler’s rapid string of early victories in the Second World War to his possession of the Hapsburg Spear of Destiny, which he seized when the Nazi’s marched into Austria. Hitler’s fortunes were reversed when the spear was sent to be hidden with other looted Nazi treasures. Berlin fell and he committed suicide soon after. Later it passed into the hands of US General George S. Patton and was returned to Vienna.
One author claims the spear returned to Vienna is a fake and the true Spear of Destiny is currently in the hands of an underground neo-Nazi group. However another says he can prove it is the real Spear of Destiny. Legend has it if you lose the spear you die. Hitler committed suicide when he lost the spear towards the end of the war. General Patton died in a car crash at an army camp after relinquishing the spear to its rightful owners.
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