In Caesarea in Cappadocia, the passion of St. Longinus, said to be the soldier who pierced the side of the Lord with his lance. – Roman Martyrology for March 15
John's gospel tells of a Roman soldier who pierced Jesus' side after his death (19:37). In the Golden Legend some of the blood that spilled from Christ's side is said to have gotten into Longinus' eyes and cured his blindness; the Legend also says the soldier converted to Christianity and was martyred in Cęsarea in Cappadocia.
The earliest known representation of St. Longinus is in the image of the Crucifixion in the Rabbula Gospels (Syriac, 6th century). That image pairs him with "Stephaton," the name tradition gives to the bystander who offered Jesus a sponge with soaked in wine. A German plaque from about 1200 does the same (third image on the right). In the West, late medieval Crucifixions often show both Longinus and a soldier pointing to Jesus as if to say with the soldiers of Matthew 27:34, "surely this was the Son of God (example).
St. Longinus is only rarely seen in separate portraits, the most famous of these being the Bernini statue at right. Naturally, the attribute that Bernini provided to St. Longinus was his lance. Narrative images mostly involve his presence at the Cross, but in the 15th century Weingarten Abbey commissioned a large triptych illustrating the legend that he collected some of Christ's blood in a flask that eventually landed up at the abbey.
A curious modern expression of the Longinus story is a series of pulp novels by a retired U.S. Army sergeant named Barry Sadler. In the novels Longinus becomes immortal and passes the centuries as an "eternal soldier."
The Sagrada Familia (second image at right) has a remarkable take on Longinus' spear-thrust.
Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University. Revised 2016-06-26.