From Centurion to Saint: The Path of Longinus

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

For our readers of the Christian faith, our Lenten journey is coming to an end. Hopefully  all of the prayer, doing penancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial was not too taxing.

Since it is Good Friday today, that means Easter Sunday is right around the corner. The stories of Easter and the Nativity of Jesus (aka Christmas) are easily the most recognizable, even for those not following the faith.

Keeping that in mind, today we take a look into the life of a man who played a part of the Easter story as we explore the life of Longinus!

Saint Longinus in Bom Jesus do Monte (Tenões, Portugal).

Longinus is a legendary name of Christian history given in medieval and some modern Christian traditions to the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus in his side with a lance, the Holy Lance (Lancea) during the Crucifixion. This act created the last of the Five Holy Wounds of Christ.

This individual, unnamed in the Gospels, is further identified in legend as the Centurion present at the Crucifixion, who testified “This man certainly was the Son of God.” But who was this Roman who left us with a single, very cool quote?

View of Cappadocian landscape

In tradition, he is called Cassius before his conversion to Christianity, and was said to be born in Cappadocia. However, an old tradition links the birthplace of Longinus with the village of Anxanum (Lanciano), Samnite territory, in today’s Abruzzo region of Central-Southern Italy.

Longinus did not start out as a saint, especially since no name for him was actually given in the Gospels. The name Longinus is instead found in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus that was appended to the apocryphal Acts of Pilate.

An early tradition, found in the 4th Century pseudepigraphal “Letter of Herod to Pilate“, claims that Longinus suffered for having pierced Jesus. He was supposedly condemned to a cave, where every night a lion came and mauled him until dawn. Every morning his body healed back to normal, in a pattern that would repeat till the end of time.

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 AD 715. There is no reliable authority for the Acts and martyrdom of this saint.

Jesus’ side is pierced with a spear, Fra Angelico (circa 1440), Dominican monastery of San Marco, Florence.

The name is probably Latinized from the Greek lonche, 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, the name is in horizontal Greek letters, LOGINOS (ΛΟΓΙΝΟC). This was mentioned in the Syriac gospel manuscript illuminated by a certain Rabulas in the year 586 AD, housed in the Laurentian Library, Florence.

The spear used is now known as the Holy Lance, and even more recently as the Spear of Destiny, which was revered at Jerusalem by the 6th 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 some medieval folklore, such as the Golden Legend, the touch of Jesus’s blood cures his blindness:

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.

Veneration of Longinus

Longinus is said to have subsequently converted to Christianity after the Crucifixion, and returned to his home in Cappadocia where he made many conversions. He was sentenced to torture and death by beheading under the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Governor of the Roman Judaea who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.

The body of Longinus is said to have been lost twice. Its latter recovery was at Mantua in 1304, together with the Holy Sponge stained with Christ’s blood, wherewith it was told that Longinus had assisted in cleansing Christ’s body when it was taken down from the cross.

It was at this time that Longinus’ role was extended into an almost mythical state. The relic, corpuscles of alleged blood taken from the Holy Lance, enjoyed a revived cult in late 13th Century Bologna under the combined drive 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.

Frescoe of Longinus in Basilica of St Peter and St Paul (Vyšehrad, Prague).

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.

Longinus’ legend grew over the. He is traditionally venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic ChurchEastern Orthodox Church, and several other Christian communions.

There are two categories of saints: martyr and confessors. A Christian martyr is regarded as one who is put to death for his Christian faith or convictions, while confessors are people who died natural deaths.

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 15 March 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.

St. Longinus is the patron of Mantua which is where his relics are preserved. There is a patron for virtually every cause, profession or special interest, so prayers are considered more likely to be answered by asking a patron directly for intercession on their behalf.

Bernini’s statue of Saint Longinus (Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City).

The statue of Saint Longinus, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is 1 of 4 in the niches beneath the dome of Saint Peter’s BasilicaVatican City. A spear point fragment from the Holy Lance is also conserved in the Basilica.

It is helpful to be able to recognize Saint Longinus in paintings, stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, architecture and other forms of Christian art. Since artistic representations reflect the life or death of saints, or an aspect of life with which the person is most closely associated, Saint Longinus is represented in Christian Art wearing the uniform of a Roman soldier, and has a lance or spear in his hand.

In Irving Pichel‘s 1939 film, The Great CommandmentAlbert Dekker portrays Longinus 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.

John Wayne as Longinus in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

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. This moment of conversion was portrayed by John Wayne in a cameo role.

Longinus is a leading character in the 2005 4-issue comic The Light Brigade by DC comics. 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 a popular series entitled Casca 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.

Moriones Festival in Marinduque

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

The “Moriones” are men and women in costumes and masks replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers as interpreted by local folks. The Moriones tradition has inspired the creation of other festivals in the Philippines where cultural practices or folk history is turned into street festivals.

The mask was named after the 16th and 17th Century Morion helmet. The masked and costumed penitents march around the town for 7 days searching for Longinus, scaring the kids, or engaging in antics or surprises to draw attention.

More from the Moriones Festival

The festival is characterized by colorful Roman costumes, painted masks and helmets, and brightly colored tunics. The towns of Boac, Gasan, Santa Cruz, Buenavista and Mogpog in the island of Marinduque become a gigantic stage.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey from Soldier to Saint. Stop back again soon to see where we’ll be or what we’ll being doing.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. Facts on File, 1994. ISBN 0-8160-2135-X.

Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First GospelIndiana University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-253-34235-X.

Godwin, Malcolm. The Holy Grail: Its Origins, Secrets & Meaning Revealed. Viking Penguin, 1994. ISBN 0-670-85128-0.

Sniadach, Keith. Relics of God: A Supernatural Guide to Religious Artifacts, Sacred Locations & Holy Souls. Keith Sniadach, 2010.

Torretto, Richard. A Divine Mercy Resource: How to Understand the Devotion to Divine Mercy. iUniverse, 2010.

John 19:34

Mark 15:39

Matthew 27:54

Cinco, Maricar. “Last of Moriones mask makers looking for heirs”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 13 April 2014.

One of the Philippines most Colorful Festivals

The Reliquary of Saint Longinus

Catholic Forum: St. Longinus

St. Longinus

Catholic-Saints St. Longinus

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