The Spear of Destiny – sometimes called the Holy Lance – is one of the most revered relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But why would a weapon used to stab the son of God while he died on the cross come to be regarded as a sacred item? And even stranger – how did the Roman centurion who wielded the spear come to be a saint, recognised by the church for his holiness?
Spear of Destiny – the beginning
It’s a bizarre story that begins in the Gospel according to Saint John. It’s made clear that Jesus had already died on the cross and then a Roman centurion with a lance “opened his side and immediately there came out blood and water”. This strange liquid mix by the way is believed to denote the combined humanity and divinity of Jesus – blood for the former and water for the latter.
The incident with the spear – also known as the Holy Lance – seems to grow in importance with the telling. In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the centurion acquires a name: Longinus.
Nicodemus, by the way, is a pharisee who is mentioned by Saint John in his gospel as somebody who helps with the burial of Jesus. The gospel allegedly written by him was not accepted into the New Testament but the Catholic church embraced the name and you can see a towering statue of “Saint Longinus” at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
As the importance of the Spear of Destiny grew – so did the name of Longinus. Apparently he was almost blind at the time of the crucifixion and after spearing Jesus, the mix of water and blood splashed in his face and gave him his sight back. Not surprisingly, Longinus converted on the spot to Christianity and was then martyred for his faith.
DISCOVER: The enduring mystery of the Holy Grail
The Spear of Destiny goes on a long journey
As the film here informs you – keeping track of where the Spear of Destiny ended up down the centuries is very confusing. So we have it being owned in the third century AD by an African Roman soldier, called Maurice, who converts his entire garrison to the Christian faith. All of them are put to death by the authorities.
Almost inevitably, it finds its way into the hands of Constantine – the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and inveterate collector of relics. But then different accounts have it being stolen by Alaric the Goth during his sack of Rome in 410AD or taken by Attila the Hun. By the sixth century, it appears to be with the Byzantine emperor Justinian in Constantinople who sends it to Jerusalem. Where sadly it is seized by the Persians when they conquer the city in the seventh century.
But then the emperor Heraclius retrieves the sacred relic and instals the Spear of Destiny at the Holy Sepulchre but when the forces of Islam approach, it’s back off to Constantinople. Where it remains until the Ottoman conquest in 1453. The victorious sultan, for diplomatic reasons, sends the spear to the Pope in Rome.
Multiple claims to be the real Spear of Destiny
Or is any of this true? Because the Armenians claim they have a Spear of Destiny. And in Vienna today, you can see their claimed Spear of Destiny that for centuries was part of the imperial regalia of the Holy Roman Empire. It went from Nuremburg to Vienna in 1796 as the Holy Roman Empire was under attack from Napoleon Bonaparte.
But then was returned to Nuremburg by Adolf Hitler. However, once he lost World War Two, it was back in Vienna again. Whether Hitler believed the Spear of Destiny had occult power is a subject that lies firmly between fact and fiction as I explain in the film. Enjoy and tell me what you think!