Religion Wiki
Saint Longinus
Born 1st century, Cappadocia
Died 1st century, Cappadocia
Venerated in Catholic Church
Eastern Orthdox churches
Armenian Apostolic Church
Major shrine Inside the Basilica di San Pietro, in the Vatican.
Feast October 16: Eastern Orthodox churches, Catholic Church (Latin and Eastern Rites); October 22: Armenian Apostolic Church.
Attributes Military attire

Longinus is the name given in medieval and some modern Christian traditions to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance while he was on the Cross. The figure is unnamed in Gospels. The Longinus legend further identifies this soldier as the centurion present at the Crucifixion, who testified, "In truth this man was son of God."[1] 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 various Christian denominations.

Origins of the legend

Saint Longinus in St. Peter's Basilica by Bernini

No name for this soldier is given in the Gospels; the name Longinus is found in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus that was appended to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate. 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."[2]

The name is probably Latinized from Greek longche (λόγχη), a spear.[3] 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, 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, more recently, especially in occult circles as the "Spear of Destiny", which was revered at Jerusalem by the sixth century, though 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 some medieval folklore, e.g. the Golden Legend,[4] the touch of Jesus's blood cures his blindness.

The body of Longinus, twice recovered and lost, was asserted to have been found once more 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 enjoyed a revived cult in late thirteenth century Bologna under the combined impetus of the Grail romances, the local tradition of eucharistic miracles, the chapel consecrated to Longinus and the Holy Blood in the Benedictine monastery church of Sant'Andrea,[5] and the patronage of the Bonacolsi.[6]

The relics were divided and have been distributed to Prague and elsewhere, the body taken to the Church of San Agostino in the Vatican at Rome. In Sardinia it was also asserted that the body of Longinus had been come upon and Greek sources assert that he had suffered martyrdom in Gabala, Cappadocia.

Present-day veneration

Longinus the Centurion. Russian icon by Fyodor Zubov, 1680.

Longinus is venerated, generally as a martyr, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. In the Roman Martyrology he is mentioned, 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."[7] In the Armenian Apostolic Church, his feast is commemorated on October 22.

The statue of Saint Longinus (illustration), one of four in the niches of the crossing in the Basilica di San Pietro, Rome, was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The spearpoint fragment from the Holy Lance is conserved in the Basilica of St. Peter.

The legend of Saint Longinus has been told via contemporary media. 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. George Stevens identifies Longinus with the centurion who confessed, "Truly this man was the Son of God" on Golgotha in his 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told. John Wayne portrays the role in a cameo.[8][9]

See also


  1. Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39.
  2. 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).
  3. See at Kontos; "The name cannot be ascribed to any tradition; its obvious derivation from longchē (λόγχη), spear or lance, shows that it was, like that of St. Veronica, fashioned to suit the event," noted Elizabeth Jameson, The History of Our Lord as Exemplified in Works of Art 1872:160.
  4. Golden Legend: Longinus
  5. The church was rebuilt as a grand basilica to designs by Leon Battista Alberti in 1472
  6. R. Capuzzo, "Note sulla tradizione e sul culto del sangue di Cristo nella Mantova medievale", Storia e arte religiosa a Mantova (Mantua) 1991, noted by Trevor Dean, The Towns of Italy in the Later Middle Ages, "Civic Religion: selected sources" (2000:80).
  7. "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
  8. Clarke, Howard W. (2003). The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Indiana University Press. p. 241. ISBN 025334235X. 
  9. Leonard Maltin, 2004 Movie & Video Guide, (New York: New American Library, 2003), 558 sub loco.

External links