Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Spear of Destiny
- This article is about the myth and legends of the artifact known as "the Spear of Destiny" (or "of Longinus"). The history of the relic of the Holy Lance itself is separately treated. Spear of Destiny is also the title of a computer game, a prequel to Wolfenstein 3D; an item from DC Comics stories; and the name of a band.
The Spear of Destiny, sometimes known as the Lance, Spear Luin or Spear of Longinus, is claimed to be the spear that pierced the side of Jesus when he was on the cross. It is described in John 19:31-37 as being used by a Roman soldier. Later Christian tradition would give the soldier's name as Gaius Cassius, and he is later called Longinus. It should be noted that there is a historical figure named Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators responsible for the death of Gaius Julius Caesar (died March 15, 44 BC). This should not necessarily be viewed as "too coincidental," since Roman names held little variety, especially among members of the same family.
According to its legend, it has passed through the hands of influential world leaders throughout the ages including Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the Habsburg Emperors, and Adolf Hitler.
Though there may have been a spear present and used in the indicated fashion during the crucifixion, such weapons were weapons commonly issued to Roman infantry (see: pilum), the contemporary spear is commonly considered to be a different artifact. The earliest modern account of this spear was its use in a coronation ceremony in 1273. Recent metallurgy indicates the spear as having been made in the 7th century AD at the earliest, although it may contain an authentic Roman crucifixion nail; but that nail has also been altered. Another study, however has indicated that the purported crucifixion nail actually dates from the same time as the apparently Carolingian spear. (This does not exclude the possiblity that fragments of a nail were smithed into the inset crucifixion nail.)
There are several other competing relics in different locations. One such "Holy Lance" was allegedly unearthed by a Crusader named Peter Bartholomew in Antioch in 1098 while the Crusaders were under siege from the Seljuk Turks under Kerbogha. Peter Bartholomew reported that he had had a vision in which St. Andrew told him that the Holy Lance was buried in St. Peter's Cathedral in Antioch. At the time some were skeptical, but others were convinced. In any case, after much digging in the cathedral, Peter Bartholomew took a hand and, in a few moments, discovered the lance. For some of the Crusaders this was a marvelous discovery. At the same time, dissension had begun in the ranks of the Muslim army besieging the city. This combination of factors resulted in the Christian army being able to rout the Moslems a few days later when they joined battle, allowing the Crusaders to decisively capture Antioch.
That Lance is now at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. Scholars believe that it is not actually a Roman lance but the head of a Roman standard. Another purported Holy Lance has been in Kraków since at least the 1200s, though German records indicate that the lance was a copy made from the German lance under Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, with a small sliver of the original embedded. Another copy was given to the Hungarian king at the same time.
The earliest reports of the Spear were circa A.D. 570, described as having been on display in the basilica of Mount Zion in Jerusalem adjacent to the Crown of Thorns. The point of the spearhead was alleged to have been snapped following the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 615. The point was set into an icon, and found its way to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was later transported to France, where it remained in the Sainte Chapelle until the 18th century. The icon was briefly moved to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris during the French Revolution, but it subsequently disappeared. The lower section of the spearhead was allegedly conveyed from Jerusalem to Constantinople sometime in the 8th century. It was sent by Sultan Beyazid II as a gift to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492; Innocent had the relic placed in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It still resides there. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity.
The holy spear that was used by the Holy Roman Emperors (cited from Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor on, the spear described above) as a part of their imperial insignia found its way to Vienna, Austria, where they are kept in a museum.
The legend of the spear
It is superstitiously believed that whosoever might hold the spear would have the power to conquer the world but losing it would mean instant death. The legend states that since the Spear had pierced the body of God (Jesus), it became imbued with some kind of magical power and therefore was a weapon capable of defeating any opponent. It is rumoured that the spear even has the power to kill an angel.
Hitler's interest in the relic probably originated with his interest in the 1882 opera Parsifal — by Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner — which concerned a group of knights and their guardianship of the Holy Grail, as well as the recovery of the Spear.
On March 12, 1938, the day Hitler annexed Austria, he arrived in Vienna a conquering hero. He made his way to the Schatzkammer in the Hofmuseum where he took possession of the Spear which he immediately sent to St. Katherine’s Church in Nuremberg, the spiritual capital of Nazi Germany.
One legend maintains that the spear came into the possession of the United States of America on April 30, 1945; specifically, under the control of the 3rd Army led by General George Patton. Later that day, supposedly in fulfilment of the legend, Hitler committed suicide. Patton became fascinated by the ancient weapon and had its authenticity verified. Patton did not go on to use the spear, as orders came down from General Dwight Eisenhower that the complete Habsburg regalia including the Spear of Longinus were to be returned to the Hofburg Palace , where it remains today. This legend has recently been shown to be quite false. The spear was not recovered until roughly six months after Hitler's suicide, and Patton never had possession of it.
The Spear of Destiny in popular fiction
- The Spear is a significant plot device near the end of the popular anime series "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and its continuation movie "End of Evangelion", although its appearance and history are radically different to the traditional version. It has the power to pierce an angel's A.T. Field and kill the angel with ease as seen in episode 22 when it is used on Arael. This is the only relation other than the name because of the fact that the anime's Lance is over 60 metres (200 feet) in length and is shaped like a tuning fork.
- The Spear of Destiny was featured prominently in the TV movie, . In this story, the Spear holds supernatural powers that make its holder immortal as well as omnipotent.
- In the DC Universe, the Spear and the Japanese counterpart were used as a retcon developed in the 1980s for the explanation of why the World War II superheroes didn't simply invade the Axis Powers to attack its leaders directly. DC Universe heroes learned that if they tried, the most powerful superheroes would be subject to mind control via the spear, which was imbued with supernatural power.
- In 1997 The TV show Roar had a subplot of Longinus searching for the Spear of Destiny on the British Island just before the Romans abandoned the island (400 AD). The character of Longinus in the show was cursed with immortality until he found the Spear of Destiny and relieved himself of his burden of immortal life.
- In 2004 the movie Hellboy makes reference to the spear and its relationship to Hitler.
- Discovery Channel documentary called "Spear of Jesus". Their website says about it "In the Hofburg Museum in Vienna, Austria, lies a metal spearhead said to have been used to pierce the side of Christ during his crucifixion. For the first time, scientific testing will establish if this ancient relic really is the Spear of Christ." The scientific points made in this article are all also made in this documentary.
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