Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In Christian mythology the Holy Lance is the lance used at the Crucifixion, which was later identified with a relic or relics that survive. The modern mythology elaborated on this theme and recent science concerning authenticity is separately described at the entry Spear of Destiny.
The Gospel of John (xix, 34) reports that "one of the soldiers with a spear [lancea] opened his side and immediately there came out blood and water". (This event is not reported in the Synoptic Gospels.)Of the weapon thus sanctified by association nothing is known until the pilgrim St. Antoninus of Piacenza (A.D. 570), describing the holy places of Jerusalem, tells us that he saw in the Basilica of Mount Sion "the crown of thorns with which Our Lord was crowned and the lance with which He was struck in the side". A mention of the lance also at the church of the Holy Sepulchre occurs in the so-called Breviarus
Centuries later, the name of "Longinus" became associated with the unnamed soldier of the Crucifixion. In a miniature of the famous Syriac manuscript of the Laurentian Library , Florence, illuminated by one Rabulas in the year 586, the incident of the opening of Christ's side is given a significant prominence: the name LOGINOS is written in Greek characters above the head of the soldier who is thrusting his lance into Christ's side, the earliest record, if the inscription is not a later addition, of the legend. This leads one of the lance's many names, the Lance of Longinus.
A spear was venerated as the Holy Lance at Jerusalem by the close of the 6th century, and the presence there of this important relic is attested half a century earlier by Cassiodorus (In Ps. lxxxvi, P.L., LXX, 621) and after him by Gregory of Tours, who had not been to Jerusalem. In 615 Jerusalem and its relics were captured by Persian forces of King Khosrau II. According to the Chronicon Paschale , the point of the lance, which had been broken off, was given in the same year to Nicetas, who took it to Constantinople and deposited it in the church of Hagia Sophia. This point of the lance, which was now set in an "yeona", or icon in 1244 was sold by Baldwin II of Constantinople to Louis IX of France, and it was enshrined with the Crown of Thorns in the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. During the French Revolution these relics were removed to the Bibliotheque Nationale, and disappeared. (The present "Crown of Thorns" is a wreath of rushes.)
As for the larger portion of the lance, Arculpus saw it at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around 670 in Jerusalem, where it must have been restored by Heraclius, but otherwise there is no further mention of it after the sack of Jerusalem in 615. There is consequently some reason to believe that the larger relic as well as the point had been conveyed to Constantinople before the tenth century, possibly at the same time as the Crown of Thorns. At any rate its presence at Constantinople seems to be clearly attested by various pilgrims, particularly Russians, and, though it was deposited in various churches in succession, it seems possible to trace it and distinguish it from the companion relic of the point. Sir John Mandeville declared in 1357, that he had seen the blade of the Holy Lance both at Paris and at Constantinople, and that the latter was a much larger relic than the former.
Whatever the Constantinople relic was, it fell into the hands of the Turks, and in 1492, under circumstances minutely described in Pastor's History of the Popes , the Sultan Bajazet sent it to Innocent VIII to encourage the pope to continue to keep his brother Zizim prisoner. This relic has never since left Rome, where it is preserved under the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica. Benedict XIV (De Beat. et Canon., IV, ii, 31) states that he obtained from Paris an exact drawing of the point of the lance, and that in comparing it with the larger relic in St. Peter's he was satisfied that the two had originally formed one blade. M. Mély published for the first time in 1904, an accurate design of the Roman relic of the lance head, and the fact that it has lost its point is as conspicuous as in other, often quite fantastic, delineations of the Vatican lance.
At the time of the sending of the lance to Innocent VIII, great doubts as to its authenticity were felt at Rome, as Johann Burchard's "Diary" (I, 473-486, ed. Thusasne) plainly shows, on account of the rival lances known to be preserved at Nuremberg, Paris, etc., and on account of the supposed discovery of the Holy Lance at Antioch by the revelation of St. Andrew, in 1098, during the First Crusade. Raynaldi , the Bollandists, and many other authorities believed that the lance found in 1098 afterwards fell into the hands of the Turks and was that sent by Bajazet to Pope Innocent , but from M. de Mely's investigations it seems probable that it is identical with the relic now jealously preserved at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. This was never in any proper sense a lance, but rather the head of a standard, and it may conceivably (before its discovery under very questionable circumstances by the crusader Peter Bartholomew) have been venerated as the weapon with which certain Jews at Beirut struck a figure of Christ on the Cross; an outrage which was believed to have been followed by a miraculous discharge of blood.
Another lance claiming to be that which produced the wound in Christ's side is now preserved among the imperial insignia kept in the Schatzkammer in Vienna and is known as the lance of St. Maurice. This weapon was used as early as 1273 in the coronation ceremony of the Holy Roman Emperor and form an earlier date as an emblem of investiture. It came to Nuremberg in 1424, and it is also probably the lance, known as that of the Emperor Constantine, which enshrined a nail or some portion of a nail of the Crucifixion. The story told by William of Malmesbury of the giving of the Holy Lance to King Athelstan of England by Hugh Capet seems to be due to a misconception. One other remaining lance reputed to be that concerned in the Passion of Christ is preserved at Cracow, but, though it is alleged to have been there for eight centuries, it is impossible to trace its earlier history.
For the elaborate Nazi mythology surrounding this relic and modern manufactured legend, see the so-called "Spear of Destiny"
The Lance in popular fiction
- The Lance is a significant plot device near the end of the popular anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, although its appearance and history are radically different to the traditional version.
- In the Clive Cussler novel Atlantis Found , it is mentioned as being hidden within the ruins of Atlantis by the Nazis not long after they fled their research station in the Antarctic. It is the object that the novel's villain Karl Wolf wants to obtain for his twisted utopia.
- In the film production of Constantine (2005), the lance is possesed with the soul of a demon and is used to summon the son of the devil onto Earth
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