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Longinus, Saint

spear crucifixion greek soldier

The Gospel of John recounts that a Roman soldier pierced *Christ’s side with a spear during the *Crucifixion. Although unnamed in the canonical Gospels, he was identified as Longinus (probably from the Greek, longke , “lance”) in the apocryphal Acts of Pilate , which source also gave the name Longinus to the centurion in charge of the Crucifixion who proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Various legends hence evolved about Longinus’s conversion to Christianity (his blindness was healed when he rubbed his eyes with the blood of Christ, which ran down the spear onto his hand), and stories developed concerning his later tortures and *martyrdom in Caesarea. The tales were amplified in the * Golden Legend although the cult of Saint Longinus had already been further strengthened by the discovery of the Holy Lance (one of the *Instruments of the Passion) during the First Crusade. He often appears in scenes of the Crucifixion from the sixth century onward, dressed as a soldier, holding up his spear to pierce Jesus’ side. In later medieval art he is sometimes shown on horseback. His companion Stephaton (perhaps from Greek, spongon , “sponge”) who gave Jesus a vinegar-soaked sponge, elevated on a reed, to drink, is frequently paired with Longinus on the other side of the cross, creating a symmetrical composition.
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