THE SPEAR OF DESTINY

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The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Holy Lance and the Lance of Longinus, is one of the three artifacts shrouded in mystery from Christ's Passion, the others being the Holy Grail and the Crown of Thorns. The legend of the spear comes from the book of John. According to his account of the events at Golgotha, Jews asked the Roman soldiers to break the legs of Jesus and the two men crucified with him. It could take two days to die on the cross; breaking the legs sped the process by redistributing the weight and the Jews wanted the bodies to come down before the Sabbath.

John wrote that one soldier, later identified as Gaius Cassius, and later still called Longinus, used the spear to pierce Jesus' side to prove he was already dead, therefore eliminating the need to break his legs.

According to John's account, blood and water flowed from the wound; according to legend, some of the fluids splashed onto the soldier's eyes, immediately repairing his vision.

The spear is an incredibly valuable artifact, because legend claims that whoever owns the spear has the power to control the world. The owner is invincible-unless he loses the lance, in which case he meets death almost immediately. The spear is said to have passed through the hands of world leaders throughout the ages including Herod the Great, Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, The Habsburg Emperors and Adolf Hitler. Charlemagne is said to have carried the spear through 47 victorious battles, but died when he accidentally dropped it. At least one history attributed to the spear puts it in the hands of Frederick Barbarossa, who conquered Italy in the twelfth century. Barbarossa is said to have died minutes after accidentally dropping the spear into a stream.

There are four spearheads, none with the wooden shaft to which they were attached still in place. Each of the four have been said to be the Spear of Destiny. One is at the Vatican. Another is in Krakow, Poland, and a third is at Etschmiadzin in Armenia. But the lance most widely considered authentic resides in the Hofburg Museum in Vienna, Austria, where it is on public display.

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The Vienna spear came into the House of the Habsburgs, and by 1912 was part of the collection at the Hofburg Museum. In September of the year, a young Adolf Hitler visited the museum and learned of the lance and its reputation. On March 14, 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and ordered that the spear-and the rest of the Habsburg collection- be sent to the city of Nuremberg. The Spear was kept at St. Catherine's church for six years until 1944, when the collection was moved to an underground vault to protect it from Allied artillery and bombs. Allied forces invaded on April 30, 1945, taking possession of the vault and the spear. A short while later that day, Hitler died by his own hand in a Berlin bunker. After the war, the collection was returned to the museum, where it remains.

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In 1084, Henry IV had a silver band with the inscription "Nail of Our Lord" added to it. This was based on the belief that this was the lance of Constantine the Great which enshrined a nail used for the Crucifixion.

In 1273, the Holy Lance was first used in the coronation ceremony. Around 1350, Charles IV had a golden sleeve put over the silver one, inscribed Lancea et clavus Domini (Lance and nail of the Lord). In 1424.

Peter Bartholomew in Antioch, Turkey, found one of the other spears in 1098 during the crusades. Under siege by Muslims at the time, the battle turned upon the spear's discovery, allowing the Christians to capture Antioch within a few days. That lance is now at Etschmiaszin in Armenia, but its origins have been questioned; some historians believe the artifact isn't the Roman lance at all, but the head of a roman standard.

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Another alleged Spear of Destiny has been in Krakow, Poland, since at least the 1200s. German records suggest, however, that the spear is a copy made from the German lance under Henry II, with a small sliver of the original embedded.

The final spear is said to be preserved at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. It came into the possession of the Turks, and in 1492 the Sultan Bajazet sent it to Pope Innocent VIII to encourage him to keep the sultan's brother in prison. The lance has never since left Rome, although the Catholic Church makes no claims as to its authenticity as the Holy Lance.

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