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St Longinus (oil painting, 30cm x 30cm, 360).


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. No name for this soldier is given in the canonical Gospels; the name is instead found in the Gospel of Nicodemus that was appended to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate. 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.

The name is probably Latinized from the Greek lonche (λόγχη), the word used for the lance mentioned in John 19:34. 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 (ΛΟΓΙΝΟC), in the Syriac gospel manuscript, illuminated by one Rabulas in the year 586, held 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 in the company of the cup used in the Last Supper.

The spear itself - or the medieval relic - is now in the Hapsburg Treasury in Vienna.

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, corpuscles 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 and the local tradition of Eucharistic miracles.

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