Spear of Destiny

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This article is about legends surrounding the artifact known as "the Spear of Destiny" (or "of Longinus"). The history of the relic of the Holy Lance itself is separately treated. For other uses see Spear of Destiny (disambiguation).
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The Spear of Destiny (also known as the Holy Lance, Holy Spear, Lance of Longinus, or Spear of Longinus) is claimed to be the spear that pierced the side of Jesus when he was on the cross (John 19:31-37). Later Christian tradition named the soldier that pierced Christ's side as Gaius Cassius, and he is later called Longinus (making the spear's "correct" Latin name Lancea Longini). 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. There are many prototypes and analogues of the spear in other legends, it can be compared to the ancient Irish weapon, the Spear Luin, and is similar to the Bleeding Lance of Grail mythology, which was eventually claimed to be the Spear of Destiny.

According to its legend, it has passed through the hands of influential world leaders throughout the ages including Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, the Habsburg Emperors, and Adolf Hitler.



As told in the Holy Bible, a spear was used during the crucifixion of Christ (normally the legs were broken to hasten death, but Christ appeared dead already: the spear was used to "make sure"), as such weapons were commonly issued to Roman infantry (see: pilum), the contemporary relic known as the Holy Lance 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, 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 possibility that fragments of a nail were smithed into the current inset crucifixion nail.)


There are several objects that are reputed to be the Spear of Destiny or Holy Lance (Heilige Lanze). 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 Muslims a few days later when they joined battle, allowing the Crusaders to decisively capture Antioch. That object is now at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. Scholars believe that it is not actually a Roman lance but the head of a Roman standard.

Another of the many Spears of Destiny is the one in The Vatican. The earliest reports of that 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 one most often referred to) as a part of their imperial insignia found its way to Vienna, Austria, where they are kept in a museum. Dr. Robert Feather, of England, a metallurgist and technical engineering writer, tested that Holy Lance in January of 2003. He was given unprecedented permission not only to examine the Spear in a laboratory environment, but was also allowed to remove the delicate bands of gold and silver that hold it together. The silver band bears the inscription "Nail of Our Lord". It was added to the Holy Lance by order of Henry IV, the third German Holy Roman Emperor, in 1084. Around 1350 King Charles IV Of Bohemia had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed "Lance and Nail of the Lord."

That Spear made its way to Vienna around 1806 as part of an effort to keep it from Napoleon. It had previously been in Nuremberg since 1424. Before that it was in Prague.

In 1411 Sigismund was made Holy Roman Emperor. In 1424 he announced: "It is the Will of God that the Imperial Crown, Orb, Scepter, Crosses, Sword and Lance of the Holy Roman Empire must never leave the soil of the Fatherland." This collection of relics, known collectively as the Reichkleinodien or Imperial Regalia, were moved from his capitol in Prague to his birth place, Nuremberg.

When the army of Napoleon Bonaparte approached Nuremberg in the spring of 1796 many were terrified that Napoleon would seize the Spear and rule the world with it. The city councilors decided to remove the Reichkleinodie to Vienna for safe keeping. The collection of relics was entrusted to one Baron von Hugel, who promised to return the objects as soon as peace had been restored and the safety of the collection assured.

The Holy Roman Empire was officially dissolved in 1806. Baron von Hugel took advantage of the confusion over who was the legal owner of the Reichkleinodie and sold the entire collection, including the Spear, to the Habsburgs. Baron von Hugel's perfidy did not come to light until after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. When the city councilors of Nuremberg asked for their treasures back the Austrian authorities' response was a curt rejection. And there they stayed until the Anschluss, when Adolf Hitler claimed the Spear of Destiny as his own.

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 legend of the spear

“Whosoever possesses this Holy Lance and understands the powers it serves, holds in his hand the destiny of the world for good or evil.” Template:Citationneeded

The legend of the Spear of Destiny survives to this day in no small part because of the Nazi obsession with the occult, and of the contemporary obsession with Nazism and the New Age. That obsession is reflected in Trevor Ravenscroft’s 1982 bestseller The Spear of Destiny, which has fixed his version of the legend in the minds of many today.

It was Ravenscroft’s works that laid out that whosoever might hold the spear would have the power to conquer the world but losing it meant instant death. The history of those who actually possessed the spear does not support this.

The legend states that since the Spear had pierced the body of God (Jesus), it became a weapon capable of defeating any opponent. It was supposed to have been used by the knight-martyr St. Maurice, whose name is carved on the Holy Lance of Vienna, and was eventually connected with the Holy Grail in the Arthurian Vulgate Cycle, where it was identified with the Bleeding Lance that had wounded the Fisher King in earlier Grail romances.

To understand the power of the Spear legend one has to understand belief in the power of relics. One example from the Old Testament, dealing with the Prophet Elisha, is found in the book of 2 Kings:

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. (2 Kings 13:20-21, English Standard Version)

In this passage can be seen the power of a holy relic, literally the bones of a Prophet, and how that relic is a link to the supernatural. More than being a passive link to the “other side,” a relic contains some of the essence, some of the power of the God, Prophet or Saint it was associated with. The foundation of the legend of Spear of Destiny then, is that having touched the body of God, the Holy Lance has been imbued with some aspect of God, or has become a contact point to some godlike supernatural power.

One version of the legend holds that the Spear was brought to England by Cassius Longinus and Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion. Boudica, the Icene princess who led an uprising against Roman occupation, is alleged to have taken the Holy Lance from Cassius. She was the first of a long line of “invincible” wielders of the Spear of Destiny. Another was Constantine, The Great, as were Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa.

In addition to invincibility, possessors of the Spear of Destiny are reported to have received other supernatural gifts from it. Constantine had his famous vision which was both clairvoyant and clairaudient (he saw the famous sign in the sky and heard the phrase “With this sign you will conquer”). Charlemagne was reportedly gifted with precognizance, seeing battles, and how to win them, before they took place.

On Christmas Day, 800 AD, Charlemagne was crowned Carolus Augustus, Emperor of the Romans, by Pope Leo III, which made him the first Holy Roman Emperor and the founder of the First Reich. Charlemagne replaced the Merovingian Empire with one of his own. The Merovingians had used as their symbol a “Tribal Spear” which conveyed upon the holder the power of life and death over all the Franks. Charlemagne replaced their “Tribal Spear” with his Christian Spear – the Spear of Destiny – that gave him the “divine right” to rule the Franks. Dr. Robert Feather’s findings that the Spear in Vienna only dates to the 7th Century leads one to speculate that Charlemagne’s Spear, should they be one and the same, was a fake, a forgery (probably knowingly used) to trump the Tribal Spear of his predecessors.

Yet stories about the miraculous powers of the Spear of Destiny continued to pile up by the thousands throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. While it was on display in Nuremberg it was joined by a number of other holy relics, including a tooth of John the Baptist, an arm bone of Saint Anne, and what was claimed to be a piece of wood from the manger in which the infant Jesus had slept. The number, and celebrity of the pilgrims to see these holy relics also grew. Among them was Queen Isabella of Spain, who sent an emissary with a piece of muslin that she wanted to have pierced by the point of the Spear in the hope of making this a holy relic in its own right. Count Ferdinand of Austria also sent one if his courtiers with a keg of his wine, in hopes that a suitably generous gift would purchase permission to have the Spear dipped in the keg – he was convinced that by drinking this magically infused wine he would gain some of the Spear’s powers of invincibility.

In this vein, Hitler's interest in the relic probably originated with his interest in the 1882 opera Parsifal — by Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner — which concerns 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 (some reports state he spent one or two days at his mother’s grave in Linz before going to Vienna on the third or fourth day after the Anschluss). One version of the legend has him going straight to the Schatzkammer in the Hofburg Imperial Palace to take possession of the Spear; in another version he has Col. Buch collect it up and bring it to him at a State Dinner being held in his honor at the Royal Palace. Again the tales are divided on whether Hitler kept the Spear in his possession for months or immediately sent it to St. Katherine’s Church in Nuremberg, the spiritual capital of Nazi Germany.

Though a number of historians cast doubt on Hitler's obsession with the Spear as it was reported by Trevor Ravenscroft et al, recent work by researcher and author Alec MacLellan has unearthed material from Ravenscroft's original source that seems to validate some of stranger assertions. In fact, Ravenscroft's primary source, Walter Stein, did speak with an Irish newspaper reporter, repeating what Ravenscroft quoted.

Ravenscroft maintained 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 fulfillment of the legend that to lose the Spear meant death, 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 part of the legend has recently been shown to be quite false. The spear was not recovered until a month or more after Hitler's alleged suicide, and Patton never had possession of it. It is interesting to note that George Patton, in his poem Through a Glass Darkly, curiously posits himself as Longinus in a previous lifetime.

Ravenscroft was not the only post-war college professor and author to add to the Spear mythos. Dr. Howard A. Buechner, M.D., professor of medicine at Tulane and then L.S.U., added a strange chapter to the tale in his two books on the Spear. He was contacted by a former U-boat submariner who claimed to have helped take the Spear of Destiny to Antarctica in 1945 and to have helped to recover it in 1979. Buechner was a retired Colonel with the U.S. Army who served in World War II, and had written a book on the Dachau massacre as a witness to the event. He was presented by the pseudonymous “Capt. Wilhelm Bernhart” with the log of the 1979 Hartmann Expedition and photos of some of the objects recovered.

According to Buechner, the Spear currently on display in the Schatzkammer in Vienna is a fake. He claims that he had evidence that Heinrich Himmler, head of the Occult Bureau of the SS, had formed a circle of Knights dedicated to the Holy Lance and further, had Japan's greatest swordsmaker create an exact duplicate of the lance. Buechner claimed that the duplicate went on display in Nuremberg while the real one was used in arcane black magic ceremonies in a specially appointed castle in Wewelsburg, Germany. Even wilder, he wrote that Hitler personally had selected Col. Maximilian Hartmann to send several of his most prized possessions, including the Spear of Destiny, and Hitler and Eva Braun's ashes to Antarctica. According to him Col. Hartmann recovered the Spear of Destiny from the ice in 1979 and it is now in hiding somewhere in Europe, in the possession of the Knights of the Holy Lance.

After contacting most of the members of the alleged expedition and others involved, including senior Nazi officials and close associates of Adolf Hitler, like Hitler Youth Leader Artur Axmann, Col. Buechner became convinced the claims were true. Either he was the victim of an incredibly elaborate hoax, or the Spear of Destiny really did reside for a while in Antarctica and may well be in the hands of one or more individuals who believe, as Col Hartmann may have said “the Holy Lance points ever towards our eternal Deutschland.”

Col. Buechner's story is examined and partially corroborated by both Alec Maclellan and the research/writing team of Jerry E. Smith and George Piccard. These writers focus on the mysterious surrenders of two U-boats to Argentine authorities months after the war’s end and how they may have been part of the ‘’Fuehrer Convoy’’ taking high ranking Nazis and maybe treasure, to Argentina and/or Antarctica.

Spear legend meets Urban legend in the writings of the two conspiracy theory authors, Smith and Piccard. Their retelling of the Spear myth stretches from its purported creation in 3061 B.C. by Tubal-Cain, seventh generation grandson of Adam (the Spear was forged from a meteorite at the same time that he made the sword Excalibur), to Admiral Byrd’s battle (Operation Highjump) in the Antarctic against Nazis in their underground fortress in Neuschwabenland. Their version is replete with Nazi UFOs and the search for Atlantis. They connect Nazi secret societies to the Yale Skull and Bones fraternity and the horrific events of September 11, 2001.

Ravenscroft repeatedly attempted to define the mysterious “powers” that the legend says the Spear serves. He found it to be a hostile and evil spirit, which he variously referred to as the Antichrist and the Spirit of the Age. Smith and Piccard similarly attempt to identify what they too perceive as a malignant spirit reaching through the Spear. In a mishmash of quantum physics, Christianity, and the New Age they offer a handful of ideas, from the Spear channeling the “angry God of the Old Testament” (Jehovah) to it somehow transferring a part of The Crucifixion to the Spear, with the Spear becoming a Doppelgänger for the Holy Spirit, becoming, as they put it, an Unholy Spirit.

With more books and movies and comics and video games coming out each year with the Spear as a prop or player, it is likely that some piece of this medieval superstition will persist for decades, possibly centuries, to come.

The Spear of Destiny in popular culture

Main article: Spear of Destiny in popular culture.

The broad-based recognition factor enjoyed by the Spear of Destiny has helped to make it a prominent feature in contemporary culture, from movies and TV to video games. A long list of such appearances may be found at Spear of Destiny in popular culture.



  • Spear Of Christ, TV special for BBC/Discovery Channel, narrated by Cherie Lunghi, written and directed by Shaun Trevisick. Atlantic Productions, aired 31 March 2002. 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 about the work of Dr. Robert Feather are also made in this documentary.

Books in English

  • Brown, Arthur Charles Lewis. Bleeding Lance. Modern Language Association of America, 1910
  • Buechner, Howard A. Col. and Bernhart, Wilhelm Capt. Adolf Hitler And The Secrets Of The Holy Lance. Thunderbird Press, 1988.
  • Buechner, Howard A. Col. and Bernhart, Wilhelm Capt. Hitler's Ashes - Seeds Of A New Reich. Thunderbird Press, 1989.
  • Childress, David Hatcher. Pirates and the Lost Templar Fleet: The Secret Naval War Between the Knights Templar and the Vatican. Adventures Unlimited Press, 2003.
  • Crowley, Cornelius Joseph. The Legend Of The Wanderings Of The Spear Of Longinus. Heartland Book, 1972.
  • Hone, William. The Lost Books of the Bible. Bell Publishing Co., 1979.
  • Macllellan, Alec. The Secret of the Spear: The Mystery of The Spear of Longinus. Souvenir Press, 2004
  • Prioli, Carmine A. The Poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of Fire, by George S. Patton, Jr. Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
  • Ravenscroft, Trevor. The Spear of Destiny, the Occult Power Behind the Spear Which Pierced the Side of Christ. Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1973
  • Ravenscroft, Trevor and Wallace-Murphy, Tim. The Mark of the Beast: The Continuing Story of the Spear of Destiny. Weiser Books; Reprint edition, 1997.
  • Rutman, Leo. Spear Of Destiny A Novel. Pinnacle Books, 1989.
  • Sheffy, Lester Fields. Use Of The Holy Lance In The First Crusade. L.F. Sheffy, 1915.
  • Smith, Jerry E., and Piccard, George. Secrets Of The Holy Lance: The Spear of Destiny in History & Legend. Adventures Unlimited Press, 2005.

External links

  • Hitler and The Spear of Destiny is a page from a site devoted to the authentication of a previously unknown work by Picasso. This page has an article by Mark Harris on Dr. Stein's revelations about Hitler and the Spear.
  • Piercing An Ancient Tale Solving the mystery of a Christian relic by Maryann Bird is an article in the European Edition of TIME Magazine on British metallurgist Robert Feather’s scientific examination of the Spear in Vienna.
  • The Holy Lance has a detailed history of the Spear's legend taken from Ravenscroft. Begins with a quote from Raiders of the Lost Ark and includes the statement made by Hitler to newspaper reporters of his first viewing of the Holy Lance and how he felt he'd possessed it before in a previous life. Good image of Hitler before the Eiffel Tower and a painting of the Crucifixion showing a centurion and the spear in the foreground.
  • Secrets of the Holy Lance is a website devoted to the book Secrets of the Holy Lance: The Spear Of Destiny In History & Legend by Jerry E. Smith and George Piccard. Includes extensive excerpts from the book and a gallery of Spear related images.
  • The Spear that Pierced the Side of Christ by J. R. Church. Very detailed history of the Spear, with interesting material on Mauritius (St. Maurice), the Merovingians, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Archduke Ferdinand, and Hitler.
  • The Spear Of Longinus has a good article on the several different Spears and the many differing legends around Longinus.
  • The Holy Lance is a page from the online Catholic Encyclopedia and was the basis for the other Wikipedia page on this subject.
  • Search for the real Holy Lance has a long and scholarly treatise on all the reputed Spears of Destiny and their various legends, with several good illustrations including: the Crucifixion, the Holy Lance on display at St Peters in Antioch, and El Greco's painting The Martyrdom of Maurice and the Theban Legion.
  • The Spear of Destiny a.k.a. The Holy Lance a short but concise article by Randy Van Dyke stating the main elements of Ravencroft's version of the legend.de:Heilige Lanze

fr:Lance du destin nl:Heilige Lans (Wenen) ja:聖槍 pl:Włócznia Przeznaczenia