The spear that pierced Christ's side at His crucifixion. According to legend, the spear (hasta, ἔγχος) with which a Roman soldier pierced the side of Christ (Jn 19.34) was discovered by St. helena, at the time of the finding of the holy cross, in the early 4th century.
The presence of such a relic in Jerusalem is attested by numerous writers since the 6th century. When jerusa lem was captured by the Persians in 614, the lance and other relics remained there, but the lance's point was broken off and given to the Patriarch Nicetas, who brought it to Constantinople, Oct. 28, 614. At some unknown date between 670 and 723 the lance was taken from Jerusalem to Constantinople. Both the shaft of the lance and its point remained at Constantinople after the pillage of the city in the Fourth Crusade, 1204 (see latin empire of constantinople). In 1241 a relic of the holy lance was sold by the Latin Emperor Baldwin II to louis ix, King of France. Just what this relic was is uncertain. It remained in the Sainte-Chapelle at Paris until the French Revolution, when it was destroyed. The Constantinople lance was at Constantinople until 1492, when Sultan Bayazid II presented it to Pope innocent viii. It was then brought to Rome, where it still remains.
The holy lance now in the Weltliches Schatzkammer in Vienna is known as the lance of St. Maurice or Constantine's lance. Archeological evidence makes it certain, however, that this lance does not antedate the 8th or 9th century. Its history is attested by documentary evidence since the 10th century. It was used as a symbol of the imperial power, bestowed upon the Holy Roman Emperors at the time of their coronation. Another holy lance, that of Kraków, is apparently a facsimile of the Vienna lance and was presented by the German emperors to the Polish monarchs in the early 11th century.
Another holy lance was discovered at Antioch during the First Crusade by a Provençal peasant, Peter Bartholomew. The Antioch lance was in the possession of raymond IV of Toulouse, until 1101, when it was lost during a battle in Asia Minor. From the early 13th century the Armenians have had a holy lance at Etchmiadzin. Its origin is unknown. It may be significant that this lance appeared in Armenia not long after the Antioch lance was lost, but it is impossible to prove that the two lances are identical.
See Also: relics.
Bibliography: benedict xiv, De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione, v.1–7 of Opera omnia, 17 v. (new ed. Prato 1839–47) 4:619–620, 625–626, 647–648, 695–697. f. d. de mÉly, Exuviae sacrae constantinopolitanae … La sainte Lance … (Paris 1904). s. runciman, "The Holy Lance Found at Antioch," Analecta Bollandiana 68 (1950) 197–209. p. e. schramm, Herrschaftszeichen und Staatssymbolik, 3 v. (Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae historica 13; Stuttgart 1954–56) v.2. a. bÜhler, "Die heilige Lanze," Das Münster 16 (1963) 85–116.
[j. a. brundage]