The Holy Lance

UnknownLance: 8th century - Golden Sleeve: 14th century

Treasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Treasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

The Holy Lance is a Carolingian winged lance with a pointed, oval
aperture chiselled out of the centre of the blade in order to insert
an ornamental iron pin. In addition, two blades have been added
symmetrically above the wings of the lance and tied with leather thongs.
The band of silver wire probably dates from a later repair after the blade
of the lance was broken. Pious wishful thinking soon turned the central pin into one of the nails with which Christ was hung on the cross. The lance itself has gone through a succession of interpretations and has been variously seen as the lance of Emperor Constantine and as the spear of the patron saint of the empire, Maurice. Over the course of the 13th century, finally, it became seen as the lance of Longinus, who wounded Christ in the side and was covered with the blood from his heart. Its value as a relic was legendary and may be explained by the need of the Holy Roman emperor to equal his Byzantine counterpart, who possessed the most important relics of
Christ, and acquire a treasure of relics of his own that would support his divine right to rule, his legitimacy and his invincibility. For a long time the Holy Lance was seen as a symbol of imperial power and the most noble of the imperial insignia, and its miraculous powers were considered capable of turning the course of battle. In keeping with its status as a precious relic of the Passion, the Lance was stored from the early 11th century in the cross-beam of the Imperial Cross. Emperor Charles IV (reigned 1346–1378), who deeply venerated the Lance, added the gold sleeve with the inscription “Lance and Nail of the Lord” and got the pope to introduce a religious festival honouring the Lance and the Nail. © Masterpieces of the Secular Treasury, Edited by Wilfried Seipel, Vienna 2008


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