The search for the holy relic is like something out of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' In the ed, though, It is a question that must be answered by faith.
There is no shortage of venerated items in the Catholic Church, as each new saint has a plethora of first-degree relics (remains of the saint themselves), second-degree relics (an article of clothing or possession of a saint), and third-degree relics (items with which a saint interacted).
In fact, there’s a really good chance that your home parish has a relic from its namesake installed within the altar. Relics of saints are relatively common, but finding a relic from the life of Christ is a rarity.
Several such legendary relics, also known as the Arma Christi or “weapons of Christ,” are believed to be remnants from Christ’s Passion, including the Holy Sponge, which was brought up to Christ’s lips so he could drink while on the cross; Nails of the True Cross, which were driven through Christ’s hands and feet upon crucifixion; and the Holy Lance, which pierced the side of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
The Holy Lance, also known as the Lance of Longinus and the Spear of Destiny, has been one of the most popular and sought after relics of the Church practically since the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as their religion. The prevalence of its legend is nearly on par with the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant.
The popularity of the relics of Christ’s Passion has led to the appearance of several versions of the relics. At one time there were estimated to be around 30 nails associated with Christ’s crucifixion, and the Lance of Longinus is similar in that there are several countries that claim to hold the sacred spear. Some of these have been denounced as fakes by the Church, but there are still three spearheads that experts consider might possibly be the true Spear of Destiny.
One example comes from Armenia, where there is a spearhead said to be the Holy Lance on display at the Museum Manoogian, enshrined in a 17th-century reliquary. While the artifact looks quite old, the earliest reference to it comes from a 13th-century manuscript, leaving roughly 1,200 years unaccounted for.
With over a millennium of history in question, this casts doubt on the Armenian spear. In an article that examines the validity of these multiple spears, Aleksa Vučković from KeeptheFaith notes that this version of the spear does not look like it could hurt anyone, as the tip is too wide. She writes:
It takes one look to realize that this spear head is anything but an actual weapon. It is so unlike a lance that most likely it couldn’t pierce anything. Its look is purely ceremonial. Now, some claim that the actual lance was re-forged into the current form, but this is debatable.
Another purported Holy Lance is kept beneath the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, although the Church has never made any claim to its authenticity. This is the oldest known example of the Holy Lance, which has records that date back to the 6th century. Wikipedia traces its travels through history from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to Constantinople, to Paris, and finally to Rome.
The lance in Rome had its tip broken off over the course of its long journey, and the tip has since been lost. All that remains of the tip is a drawing, which 18th-century Pope Benedict XIV verified as showing the two pieces had at one time formed one blade. Even with this announcement, however, Pope Benedict XIV did not state that it was the true Holy Lance, which suggest that even the pontiff was not convinced of its authenticity.
This brings us to the Holy Lance preserved in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna lance is the most famous of all, and it was the model for the Spear of Destiny as it was portrayed in the 2005 comic book movie “Constantine.” It notably features a golden sleeve that holds the broken pieces of the blade together.
The Austrian spear is said to have belonged to both St. Maurice and Constantine the Great, and is credited with the military successes of both men. During World War II the Holy Lance was a prize sought by Hitler and it fell into Nazi hands. It was recovered after the war thanks to a tip from a captured SS officer, but some think that the recovered spear could have been a replica, placed in storage by the Nazis to trick the Allied forces.
A documentary was made about the Viennese lance, which covers more than we could possibly note here. Experts ran scientific analyses of the spear and compared it to archaeological examples of spears made from the Roman Empire. They determined that the spear could indeed be old enough to be the true Lance of Longinus, but they could not confirm that it is the relic in question.
We may never know the whereabouts of the real Holy Lance, but as with all things Catholic, it relies on faith. For more information, take a look at the documentary, linked below.