Although a majority have been lost to history, some of the earliest relics of the Church still survive to this day. Those associated with Jesus Christ Himself have been the most studied and fascinating of them all.

Some of these include the Holy Sponge, True Cross, and the Holy Robe. While most are familiar with these relics, many are probably unfamiliar with the Holy Lance.

The Holy Lance

The Holy Lance is an Instrument of the Passion, Arma Christi, mentioned in the Gospel of John as used by Saint Longinus to pierce the side of Christ while on the Cross to make sure He was dead.

“but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” – John 19:34

The first historical reference to the Holy Lance comes from the Piacenza Pilgrim who traveled to the Holy Land during the height of the Byzantine Empire around 570 A.D. In Jerusalem at the Basilica of Mount Zion, he writes he saw “the crown of thorns with which Our Lord was crowned and the lance with which He was struck in the side.”

One of the earliest record of Saint Longinus as the centurion who pierced Christ’s side, 586 A.D.

Later, the Holy Lance was moved to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as attested by Saint  Gregory of Tours and Cassiodorus. In 615, when Jerusalem was captured by the Persian Khosrow II, the lance was taken to the Hagia Sophia and the broken-off point later sold to Louis IX of France. However, after the French Revolution the point was lost to history.

As for the the larger portion of the Holy Lance, it remained in Constantinople as attested by Pedro Tafur in the 1430s who saw “the lance which pierced Our Lord’s side.” In 1492, when Constantinople fell to the Turk, Sultan Bayezid II sent it to Pope Innocent VII. Pope Benedict XIV later obtained a drawing of the point still kept in France to compare the two pieces and determine its authenticity.

Today, the Holy Lance is housed beneath the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, despite the Church making no official claims to its authenticity. Not available to the public, it is sometimes shown during celebrations to the Faithful in the Basilica.

The statue of Saint Longinus in Saint Peter’s Basilica, sitting atop the relic of the Holy Lance.
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