But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. —John 19:33–34
Longinus is the name given to the soldier who drove a spear into the side of Jesus upon his death. The name likely comes from the Greek word longche, which means “lance.” Not a great deal of information is offered in the Bible on Longinus, but it is believed that he is the same as the centurion mentioned in the other Gospels who was awestruck at the moment of Jesus’ death. As the noon sunshine darkened and the earth trembled, Longinus faced Jesus and suddenly knew the truth: this gentle man nailed to the cross, now dead, was undoubtedly the innocent Son of God.
When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” —Mark 15:39
This unexpected acceptance of Jesus by the soldier-centurion Longinus is truly startling. During the Crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman military in charge gave all appearances of enjoying their part in the horrendous deed. They made cruel sport of the situation: mockingly dressing Jesus in a purple robe, crafting a painful crown of thorns, and spitting on and ridiculing him. These brutal behaviors make the spontaneous confessions of faith from one of them seem miraculous.
Although many curious legends about Longinus make it difficult to verify actual truths, we can be sure of one important fact. We can celebrate with certainty that the heart of one particular soldier was transformed. Longinus openly glorified God before his demeaning comrades with a profound declaration of belief and outward conversion.
Within the beautiful dome of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome stands an enormous statue of Longinus pensively holding his lance. It is believed by some that the Holy Lance―the actual lance that was embedded within the side of Christ―is securely contained within a reliquary below this inspiring image.
The memorial of St. Longinus is observed on March 15 in the Extraordinary Form and Oct. 16 in the Ordinary Form.
Get to Know St. Longinus a Little Better Through Scripture:
- John 19:31–37
- Matthew 27:27–31
- Mark 15:16–20
- Mark 15:33–39
- Matthew 27:45–54
- Luke 23:44–47
Theresa Doyle-Nelson (www.TheresaDoyle-Nelson.blogspot.com) is the author of “Saints in Scripture” and writes from Pipe Creek, Texas.