Longinus /ˌlɒnˈnəs/ is the name given to the unnamed Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus with a lance and who in medieval and some modern Christian traditions is described as a convert to Christianity.[2] His name first appeared in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus.[3] The lance is called in Christianity the "Holy Lance" (lancea) and the story is related in the Gospel of John during the Crucifixion.[4] This act is said to have created the last of the Five Holy Wounds of Christ.

Saint Longinus
Longinus pierces the side of Jesus with the Holy Lance. Fresco by Fra Angelico (1395–1455), San Marco, Florence
Born1st century
Died1st century
Venerated inAnglican Communion
Coptic Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodoxy
Roman Catholic Church
Major shrineInside the St. Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican.
  • March 15: Roman Catholic Church (pre-1969)
  • 16 October: Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches
  • 22 October: Armenian Apostolic Church
  • 14 November: Coptic Orthodox Church
AttributesMilitary attire, lance[1]

This individual, unnamed in the Gospels, is further identified in some versions of the legend as the centurion present at the Crucifixion, who said that Jesus was the son of God.[5] Longinus' legend grew over the years to the point that he was said to have converted to Christianity after the Crucifixion, and he is traditionally venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, and several other Christian communions.

Origins of the story

No name for this soldier is given in the canonical Gospels; the name Longinus is instead found in the Acts of Pilate a text appended to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. Longinus did not start out as a saint. An early tradition, found in the 4th-century pseudepigraphal "Letter of Herod to Pilate", claims that Longinus suffered for having pierced Jesus, and that he was condemned to a cave where every night a lion came and mauled him until dawn, after which his body healed back to normal, in a pattern that would repeat till the end of time.[6] Later traditions turned him into a Christian convert, but as Sabine Baring-Gould observed: "The name of Longinus was not known to the Greeks previous to the patriarch Germanus, in 715. It was introduced amongst the Westerns from the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. There is no reliable authority for the Acts and martyrdom of this saint."[5]

The name is probably Latinized from the Greek lonche (λόγχη), the word used for the lance mentioned in John 19:34.[7] It first appears lettered on an illumination of the Crucifixion beside the figure of the soldier holding a spear, written, perhaps contemporaneously, in horizontal Greek letters, LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟϹ), in the Syriac gospel manuscript illuminated by a certain Rabulas in the year 586, in the Laurentian Library, Florence. The spear used is known as the Holy Lance, and more recently, especially in occult circles, as the "Spear of Destiny", which was revered at Jerusalem by the sixth century, although neither the centurion nor the name "Longinus" were invoked in any surviving report. As the "Lance of Longinus", the spear figures in the legends of the Holy Grail.

Blindness or other eye problems are not mentioned until after the tenth century.[8] Petrus Comestor was one of the first to add an eyesight problem to the legend and his text can be translated as "blind", "dim-sighted" or "weak-sighted. The Golden Legend says that he saw celestial signs before conversion and that his eye problems might have been caused by illness or age.[9] The touch of Jesus's blood cures his eye problem:

Christian legend has it that Longinus was a blind Roman centurion who thrust the spear into Christ's side at the crucifixion. Some of Jesus's blood fell upon his eyes and he was healed. Upon this miracle Longinus believed in Jesus.[10]

The body of Longinus is said to have been lost twice, and that its second recovery was at Mantua in 1304, together with the Holy Sponge stained with Christ's blood, wherewith it was told—extending Longinus' role—that Longinus had assisted in cleansing Christ's body when it was taken down from the cross. The relic, corpules of alleged blood taken from the Holy Lance, enjoyed a revived cult in late 13th century Bologna under the combined impetus of the Grail romances, the local tradition of eucharistic miracles, the chapel consecrated to Longinus, the Holy Blood in the Benedictine monastery church of Sant'Andrea, and the patronage of the Bonacolsi.

The relics are said to have been divided and then distributed to Prague and elsewhere, with the body taken to the Basilica of Sant'Agostino in Rome. However, official guides of the Basilica do not mention the presence of any tomb associated with Saint Longinus. It is also said that the body of Longinus was found in Sardinia; Greek sources assert that he suffered martyrdom in Gabala, Cappadocia.

Present-day veneration

Longinus is venerated, generally as a martyr, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. His feast day is kept on 16 October in the Roman Martyrology, which mentions him, without any indication of martyrdom, in the following terms: "At Jerusalem, commemoration of Saint Longinus, who is venerated as the soldier opening the side of the crucified Lord with a lance".[11] The pre-1969 feast day in the Roman Rite is 15 March. The Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates him on 16 October. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, his feast is commemorated on 22 October.[12]

The statue of Saint Longinus, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is one of four in the niches beneath the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. A spearpoint fragment said to be from the Holy Lance is also conserved in the Basilica.

Longinus and his legend are the subject of the Moriones Festival held during Holy Week on the island of Marinduque, the Philippines.

  • In Irving Pichel's 1939 film The Great Commandment, Albert Dekker portrays him as the commanding officer of a Roman army company escorting a tax collector about Judea. Subsequently, he is converted to Christianity through the kindness of Joel bar Lamech and by his own experiences at Golgotha.
  • In the George Stevens's 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, Longinus is identified with the centurion who professed, "Truly this man was the Son of God" on Golgotha (portrayed by John Wayne in a cameo role).[13][14]
  • Longinus is a leading character in the 2005 four-issue comic series The Light Brigade by DC Comics.[15] The comic takes place in 1944 during World War II and features an immortal Longinus doomed to walk the Earth to atone for his deed by fighting fallen angels and their allies.
  • Casca Rufio Longinus, in the Casca novel series by Barry Sadler, accidentally ingests some of Christ's blood after lancing him. He is condemned by Christ to walk the earth as a soldier until they meet again at the Second Coming.
  • Cassius Longinus is the main character of Louis de Wohl's novel The Spear (1955).
  • The spear of Longinus is mentioned briefly in Hellboy (2004), a loose cinematic adaptation of the graphic novel, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, as a supernatural artifact in the collection of the BPRD.[16]
  • The Spear of Longinus is a central plot point in the film Constantine (2005) as the “blood of the son of God” is used to bring about “the birth of the son of the devil.”
  • In the 1990s anime TV show Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Lance of Longinus is a giant spear found in the body of Adam, the First Angel. It is shown to have incredible destructive power.
  • In the strategy board game Kingdom Death: Monster the Lance of Longinus is a weapon gear card available for players to craft.
  • In the Japanese Light Novel Series Highschool DxD the Holy Lance is a weapon owned by Cao Cao, with the name of the True Longinus.

See also


  1. Stracke, Richard (2015-10-20). "Saint Longinus". Christian Iconography.
  2. Fuhrmann, Christopher (11 April 2014). Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order (Reprint ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 231. ISBN 978-0199360017.
  3. Barber, Richard (2004). The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief. Harvard University Press. p. 118. ISBN 9780674013902. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  4. John 19:34.
  5. Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints, vol. III (Edinburgh) 1914, sub "March 15: S[aint] Longinus M[artyr]"; Baring-Gould adds, "The Greek Acts pretend to be by S. Hesychius (March 28th), but are an impudent forgery of late date." (on-line text).
  6. Ehrman, Bart, "Forged: Writing in the Name of God", Chapter 5.
  7. See at Kontos; "The name cannot be ascribed to any tradition; its obvious derivation from logchē (λόγχη), spear or lance, shows that it was, like that of Saint Veronica, fashioned to suit the event," noted Elizabeth Jameson, The History of Our Lord as Exemplified in Works of Art 1872:160.
  8. Sticca, Sandro (1970). The Latin Passion Play: Its Origins and Development. State University of New York. p. 159. ISBN 978-0873950459. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  9. Ruth House Webber (1995). "Jimena's Prayer in the Cantor de Mio Cid and the French Epic Prayer". In Caspi, Michael (ed.). Oral Tradition and Hispanic Literature: Essays in Honor of Samuel G. Armistead. Routledge. p. 633. ISBN 978-0815320623. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  10. Godwin, Malcolm (1994). The Holy Grail: Its Origins, Secrets & Meaning Revealed. Viking Penguin. p. 51. ISBN 0-670-85128-0.
  11. "Hierosolymae, commemoratio sancti Longini, qui miles colitur latus Domini cruci affixi lancea aperiens" - Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7), Die 16 octobris
  12. Calendar of Saints (Armenian Apostolic Church)
  13. Clarke, Howard W. (2003). The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Indiana University Press. p. 241. ISBN 0-253-34235-X.
  14. Leonard Maltin, 2004 Movie & Video Guide, (New York: New American Library, 2003), 558 sub loco.
  15. Light Brigade, Goodreads
  16. Hellboy: Seed of Destruction Dark Horse
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