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Posts from the ‘Legends’ Category

The Holy Lance (“Spear of Destiny”) & the Power to Rule the World

The Legend of One of the Holiest, Most Fought Over, Sought After, Artifacts of Mankind

Charlemagne, Barbarossa, Hitler, Napoleon, General Patton and the quest for possession of the Holy Lance

“…whoever possesses this Holy Lance and understands the powers it serves, holds the destiny of the world in his hands for good or evil

– Trevor Ravenscroft, The Spear of Destiny

According to legend, the lance holds sacred powers and the person who possesses it is thus invincible and capable of ruling the world.

Holy Lance

Holy Lance

But why?

In ancient Rome, crucifixion was considered such an excruciating (from the word “crucify”) way to die that the Romans did not use it to execute their own citizens but rather reserved it as a form to torture and humiliate slaves, traitors and foreign criminals. The length of time for the condemned to die could range from hours to days depending on the condition of the person and the method of crucifixion.  To hasten death and ensure that the crosses were empty by the day of the Sabbath, soldiers would often times shatter and crush the bones of the condemned with an iron club. However, when the Roman Centurion, Longinus, came upon Jesus, he noticed that he was already dead and refused to smash his bones. And to prove to all present that he had died, Longinus pierced Jesus’ side with a lance causing blood and water to flow from the wound and fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would die without broken bones and become resurrected.

And so the legend begins.

St. Longinus
At the time Longinus encountered Jesus on the cross, he had long been suffering from a severe eye disease that nearly blinded him. This may explain why he was assigned to oversee the crucifixions. When he stabbed Jesus, some of Jesus’ blood and water fell into the soldier’s eyes, and he was instantly healed. According to Mark 15:39 he then exclaimed, “Indeed, this was the Son of God!” He was so taken by the miracle that he left the army, converted and became a monk. Eventually, however, in 45 AD, Longinus was beheaded for his beliefs. Years later the man who was said to have held, for one brief moment, the destiny of the world in his hands, was venerated as a saint.

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance

The Holy Cross and the Holy Lance displayed side by side in the Imperial Treasury

St. Maurice
Somewhere along the line, the lance that had touched Jesus’ body and blood was passed into the hands of Maurice, the head of the 3rd century garrison of Roman soldiers who came from Thebes (Upper Egypt). In 287 Maximian, junior Roman Emperor, ordered Maurice and 6599 of his men to attack local Christians in a town in what is now Switzerland (today, St. Maurice-en-Valais), offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and pay homage to the emperor. Maurice and his men refused, and at first the emperor killed every 10th man to pressure the soldiers to obey. But when they still refused to follow orders, he ordered them all to be killed. The bravery and martyrdom of Maurice became legendary and Maurice later became a patron saint of the Holy Roman Emperors and the patron saint of soldiers, swords smiths, armies and infantrymen. For centuries, Holy Roman Emperors were anointed at his altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.


Tip of Holy Lance with Nail from Cross

Tip of Holy Lance said to contain Nail from the Cross

Constantine the Great
From there, the lance eventually ended up with Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity in the early 4th century.

Three centuries later Pope Leo III gave the lance as a gift to Charlemagne (742-814) , also known as Charles the Great, whose empire united most of Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne is said to have carried the spear through 47 battles and died when he accidentally dropped it.

Henry I
German king Henry I, desperately wanted the lance as well and after doing everything in his power to get it, ended up acquiring it for a high price. On 15 March 933, on the day of St. Longinus, he conquered Hungary at the Battle of Riade with the lance and later successfully set his son, Otto I, spear in hand, to continue his reign.

Otto I
In 962, still in possession of the lance, Otto I is crowned emperor in Rome and becomes “the first of the Germans to be called the emperor of Italy.”

Otto III
In 996, Otto III was so convinced of the lance’s sacred powers that during his march to Rome to reclaim the crown, he prominently displayed it in the front of his army.

German Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, is also said to have possessed the lance and when he dropped the lance in a creek, his downfall was sealed. He’s the same king who is supposed to be sleeping in a cave in Bavaria somewhere, surrounded by his faithful knights, his red beard growing ever longer, waiting for the ravens to stop flying around the mountain so he can restore Germany to its former greatness.


Holy Lance and Golden Sleeve

Golden Sleeve added in 1350 by Charles IV with inscription “Lancea et clavus Domini” (Lance and Nail of the Lord)

Charles IV

Around 1350 Charles IV had a golden sleeve put over the silver one and inscribed the words “Lancea et clavus Domini” (Lance and nail of the Lord).

During the Napoleonic Wars, the lance was transferred from Nuremberg to Vienna to protect it from Napoleon Bonaparte who supposedly tried to obtain it after the battle of Austerlitz

During WWII, after the annexation of Austria, Hitler ordered the lance and the rest of the Hapsburg treasury, moved to his spiritual headquarters in Nuremberg.

General Patton
US troops found the lance in tunnels in an underground vault and under US General George S. Patton, the lance was returned to Vienna. According to legend, they took possession of the lance on April 30, 1945 and less than two hours later, Adolf Hitler killed himself in a bunker in Berlin.

Holy Cross and Holy Lance in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna

The Holy Cross had a secret compartment for the Holy Lance

The lance is made of iron, is 50.7 cm long and was stored in the royal cross to keep it safe. The staff of the lance was wooden but can no longer be found.

In 1914, Montan University in Leoben in Austria and in 2003, Dr. Robert Feather, an English metallurgist, both found that the holy lance probably dates back to the 7th century AD. Dr. Feather also confirms that the metal pin claimed to be the nail from the crucifixion is consistent with the length and shape with a 1st century AD Roman nail.

In an article about the holy lance posted on the University of Vienna website, Mr. Mathias Mehofer of the Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science refers to the lance “as part of the insignia of the Holy Roman Empire, [the object is] one of the most significant objects of the Imperial Treasury from a historical and cultural standpoint.” And is a “stroke of luck for archeology since no other lance from the time period has survived in such good condition.”


Back of Holy Cross

Engravings on the back side of the Holy Cross

Legend or not 12 centuries is a heck of a long time
And even if you don’t believe all the legends surrounding the lance, you cannot deny a sense of awe gazing upon an object that has witnessed 1200 years of history. 1200 years!  And you’re looking at it. And maybe 1200 years from now, someone else, just like you, is gazing upon the exact same object. Awe-inspiring. Print This Post

Where to view the Holy Lance:

You can view the holy lance at the

Imperial Treasury in the Imperial Palace in Vienna

Hofburg, Schweizerhof, subway stop: Herrengasse (U3) or tram (1,2,46,49, D @ Dr. Karl Renner Ring)

Opening Times And Entrance Fees

More sources on the legend of the Holy Lance:

Bouchal, Robert, and Gabriele Lukacs. Geheimnisvoller Da-Vinci-Code in Wien Verborgene Zeichen & Versteckte Botschaften. Wien: Pichler, 2009. Print.

Crowley, Cornelius Joseph. The Legend of the Wanderings of the Spear Of Longinus. Heartland Book, 1972.

Dreger, Ronald. “Die “Heilige Lanze” Zwischen Wissenschaft Und Legende.” Weblog post. Unviersity of Vienna Online Newspaper. University of Vienna, 4 Apr. 2005. Web. 5 Oct. 2013:

Kirchweger, Franz, ed. Die Heilige Lanze in Wien. Insignie – Reliquie – Schicksalsspeer [The Holy Lance in Vienna. Insignia – Relic – Spear of Destiny]. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2005.

Kirchweger, Franz. “Die Geschichte der Heiligen Lanze vom späteren Mittelalter bis zum Ende des Heiligen Römischen Reiches (1806) [The History of the Holy Lance from the Later Middle Ages to the End of the Holy Roman Empire (1806)].” Die Heilige Lanze in Wien. Insignie – Reliquie – Schicksalsspeer. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2005, 71–110.

MacLellan, Alec. The Secret of the Spear: The Mystery of the Spear of Longinus. Souvenir Press, 2005 (Reprint).

Ravenscroft, Trevor. The Spear of Destiny. [S.l.]: Wehman, 1969. Print.



The Writing on the Wall

Secret Code of Resistance Fighters on St. Stephan’s Cathedral

“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

When you stand at the very heart of Vienna – on St. Stephan’s Square — look closely at the wall on the right side of the front entrance portal.


O5 chalk inscription

“Strange. Not only do the Viennese have graffiti on their church,” you might think. “Those crazy Austrians put up a glass case to preserve it.”

And thinking that the O5 had something to do with preservation and Austrians you would already be a bit into the story behind the writing on the wall.

The “O” is the first letter of the German name for Austria: “Österreich”

And because the “Ö” is equivalent to “OE” the first two letters for the name Austria would be “OE.” Since the letter “E” is the fifth letter of the alphabet, the symbol “O5” was a secret code for “OESTERREICH” – “Austria.” Of course, some might even say the 5 stands for the five letters of “AEIOU” which was a Habsburg campaign slogan from Emperor Friedrich III (1415 -1493), first inscribed into his coat of arms and then added onto many buildings and works of art throughout the empire. Sources vary about the exact meaning of the letters and historians still can’t agree but one of the many possibilities is:  Austria erit in orbe ultima, Austria will last forever.

On 12 March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria into the German Third Reich and Austria ceased to exist. Three days later, from a balcony overlooking the Heldenplatz in Vienna, Hitler announced, “As leader and chancellor of the German nation and Reich, I announce to German history now the entry of my homeland into the German Reich.”

Good-bye Austria.Chalk O5 sign of Austrian Resistance Movement

But not everyone was waltzing for joy alongside Hitler. Sometime in 1944, a symbol began appearing throughout the streets of Vienna – hurriedly scribbled on house and church walls – the symbol was O5 and originated from a medical student, Jörg Unterreiner, who was part of an underground group fighting to resist the Nazis and restore Austria.

So the writing on the wall of St. Stephan’s Cathedral is not a case of an errant graffiti artist who strayed from the banks of the Danube Canal or an elementary school’s teacher demonstration that this country should finally dump the chalk and invest in some white boards for the classrooms, it is rather a powerful reminder for all who walk through the heart of the city that, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

For more information about the resistance, visit the online pages of the Document Archive of the Austrian Resistance.

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Got Pig? Pigs as Glücksbringer – Schwein as Austrian Good Luck Charm

I am a great believer in luck. And I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

Three pigs

Schwein gehabt!

If you ever spend New Year’s in Vienna (which Walter Cronkite loved to do and I highly recommend), you may find yourself wandering past the clean-up crews of the Christmas market at Rathaus and under others hanging up colorful banners across the Graben to mark the lanes of the New Year’s path. And while you mosey across the cobblestones still humming Still, Still, Still, you may suddenly also notice trinket stands popping up on every corner and in every subway station like mushrooms sprouting up in the forest after a rain. And if you stop to take a closer look, you will notice those stands selling dime-sized charms of four-leaf clovers, chimney sweeps, lady bugs, horseshoes, and… pigs.

Pigs? Yes. Pigs.

Don’t get me wrong. Austrians also have their own colorfully derogatory terms employing pigs to denote unsavory characters and behavior.

Viel Glück!

Viel Glück!

But this just evidences their conflicted relationship with their four-legged smashed-snout, squiggly-tailed friends. On the one hand, if an Austrian calls you a pig (Schwein), you have every right to kick ‘em in the sausage. However, if he calls you a good-luck pig (Glücksschwein), you probably have something to celebrate and will be on your way to a Beisl and some Ottakringers because you obviously hat Schwein gehabt (had pig).


Viel Schwein!

For centuries, pigs have been symbols of good luck representing wealth and prosperity. Got a pig then you got a meal. After all, pigs aren’t exactly high maintenance and demand no five star cuisines or upkeep. In Nordic mythology, the wild boar was considered holy, a pet of the gods and a symbol of fertility. For the Greeks and Romans, he who had many pigs was privileged and affluent. Archeologists have found helmets adorned with boar teeth and shield adorned with images of wild boars in the graves of ancient soldiers. And let us not forget the all-important piggy banks.

Therefore, I wish you all

Viel Schwein! – Much Pig! – Good luck!

Check out more Austrian good luck charms in my post on everything you ever wanted to know about Austrian good luck charms:

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AUF DER WALZ – Becoming A Master (Seton Hill University 2013 Commencement Speech)

…it is an odd fact about our chosen trade and quite ironic that we engage in long hours of being alone, in order to connect with others.

I had the great honor of being asked to speak on behalf of my fellow classmates at Seton Hill University during our commencement this past June 2013. I have decided to post this speech to remind myself and my fellow classmates and anyone else out there suffering through the writer’s struggle on the writer’s journey the importance of not giving up. Here it is from start to finish – Commencement Speech from June 2013, Seton Hill University, MFA Class of 2013:

Nail with tag from 1892

Nail with tag from 1892

I begin with a thank you to my fellow classmates for this honor. During my first residency Professor Scott Johnson asked, “Cool accent, where you from?” and I responded, “Level Green, PA.” I live in Austria now but I grew up just a few miles away from here, my high school, Penn Trafford High, played football games against Greensburg Salem and my mom managed a bank less than 3 minutes up the road. In fact, as a girl, I attended a wedding on this very campus. So this opportunity means an awful lot to me. Because at age 16, I left for Europe and from then on I was out and about only coming back for brief visits. And to my very supportive critique partner here at Seton Hill who followed up the email about my being commencement speaker with 4 the supportive words – “DON’T SCREW THIS UP!”

I would like to say, I will give it my very best.

As I mentioned, I now live in Vienna, Austria where I have been living for a total of over 16 years. This may explain the accent and the reason why I always started off the program-wide chats with “Good morning,” because, Dr. Wendland, 9 pm Greensburg time is 3 am Vienna time. Vienna has become a second home to me and I love it there. It has centuries of stories to tell.

In the first district in the middle of the city is St. Stephan’s cathedral – Vienna’s most beloved landmark. And about 100 steps from the cathedral’s doors is a glass case at a place called Stock-im -Eisen. No one ever stops to look at it. I doubt you would even find it in the travel guides. It’s in a pedestrian zone. A busy thoroughfare of shoppers and tourists bustle past every day at every hour. But it is there snuggled up next to a building on the corner.

Very unnoticeable.

But if you really look, you will see what stands inside the glass case. It is a dark-colored mid-section of a tree-trunk about 7 feet tall and 10 inches wide which dates back to the middle ages. It is held up by an iron band that bears the date 1575 with the initials of the guy who put it there. And if you strain your eyes even more, you will see many metal things sticking into that tree. The Viennese call it the Nagelbaum, or nail tree. It is called that because it bears hundreds of nails, the first one was pounded in about 1440.

Think about that for a minute – 1440. Now a bunch of us here today are writers not mathematicians so I’ll do the math for you quickly – that’s 573 years ago. Five hundred and seventy three years! Just imagine the class of 2013 abandoning the cheese platters and lemonade after this ceremony to race to the front of Cecilian Hall and pound our pencils, our pens, our iPads into Sister Charity’s oak tree to the rhythm of Professor Arzen’s devious laughter claiming, “I always knew those WPFers were bad news! This wouldn’t have happened with literary students”. Then in the year 2586 – 573 years from now – our sci fi writers could describe it better – some SHU grads zooming around the quad discover that tree with those items. Besides Prof Arzen’s Schadenfreude and the fact that Prof. Wendland would be in some serious trouble, think about it.

What would provoke someone to do such a thing? Many someones. For centuries! Many legends surround the tree – stories like the kinds that we like to write here – fantasies about a magical grove that gave birth to the city, romances about a young man trying to win the favor of a beautiful maiden and even horror stories about punishment and the devil. But one story in particular comes to mind when I think of our ceremony here today and the path we started several years ago here at SHU. This is the tale of the Nail Tree in Vienna and craftsmen embarking on their Walz. You see, in the past, the Craftsmen Guild of Europe in the middle ages required their members to travel to become a master. Young men wanting to be stonemasons, carpenters, roofers or furniture-makers left home 2 -3 years to work under the supervision of a master of his chosen craft to perform at first menial work for very little money.

And you thought the one week residencies were long? But the menial work for very little money sounds vaguely familiar to the writers amongst us, doesn’t it? But it’s not the money I want to talk about, it’s the journey — the path to become a master and the four important groups who accompany us on the way. Now the first is perhaps the most obvious – those masters already practicing the trade. That is who the craftsmen set out to learn from. Walking – they were required to walks weeks – at least 50 km from their homes — to get to a village with a master craftsman, from whom they could learn their trade. Not unlike those of us here today.

Traveling from all corners of the United States, all corners of the globe, to come under the direction of these masters sitting before you – men and women who know their trade – who have pitched to agents, negotiated contracts, debated with editors and gracefully ignored negative reviews they have done it all and… they have learned to become better writers and masters of their craft and have taken us under their wings to share their expertise so we may do the same. They’ve helped us to purge all adverbs, pick up the pace, and push forward. They look unassuming and yet – they are the masters amongst us.

Now the second group of our journey are those we knew before embarking on our journey, the ones we leave behind – family and friends. In the middle ages, someone who was married, could not go on the Walz. The fellow – and it had to be a fellow – had to be under the age of thirty and single and have accumulated no debt. I think that last point there has just about disqualified about every single one of us graduates. But I think the real point is that they had to leave everything behind and go out into the world. And we too have left many of you behind. Quite literally when we boarded the planes to come here to Seton Hill every 6 months.

But our passion for writing has demanded that we leave you time and time again in other ways as well. Whether that be by entering the next room and closing the door to edit a draft or by zoning out for a few minutes to our own little made up worlds of people and dialogues. We have left you to emerge ourselves in long periods of self-inflicted isolation. And you, through virtue of your presence here today, continue to demonstrate your support of our journey and I think I can speak on behalf of my fellow graduates and say that we thank you and are very grateful. Because I am also convinced there is a good reason these fellows had to be single – and that is because it is hard to be attached to someone on such a journey. And so we thank you for helping to make this possible. And it is an odd fact about our chosen trade and quite ironic that we engage in long hours of being alone, in order to connect with others. There is a saying about Viennese coffeehouses – they are places where people like to go to be alone in the company of others and I think this is true about the writing community and the connections we’ve made at Seton Hill.

Which brings me to the third important group in our journey. Now I joked about the encouraging email from my Mantasy writer critique partner stating, “Don’t screw this up.” Though he writes thrillers and loves ninjas and I write historical fiction and love horse-drawn carriages, we share a love of great storytelling. And we share this love with every single person graduating today and all those who will graduate tomorrow. And there is nothing quite so refreshing along the long hard road on a chosen journey as meeting a fellow traveler – the campfire burning and waiting for our arrival – surrounded by others who are weary with travel but eager and willing to share tips, advice and encouragement to keep us moving along our paths.

Perhaps best described by a Seton Hill student who answered a question posed by the infamous Bill Braddock on our Facebook group. The question was, “What from Seton Hill has given you the most mileage?” And one person answered, “when that lightbulb went off and I realized, ‘Oh, these are my people. I’ve finally found them.’” The same people who cheer for Bill when he gets a contract, CBS buys his script and has it made  into a series and Permuted Press publishes his novel. And who, when someone else in our FB group posts in desperation that they have received a bad review falsely accusing of them of plagiarism – within seconds respond: “For the love of God, don’t respond.” Or when another  shares the news of a rejected query letter – and sadly – everyone here will go through that – 20 some folks respond to the message, “Send out the next ones RIGHT NOW”. Because as one of the speakers reminded us yesterday, no matter who we are in this field, there will be those disappointing moments.

Yes, as writers, even with a Masters of Fine Arts in our hands, our journey will forever continue and it is good knowing we have our people, our fellow writers. I am seriously trying not to “screw this up.” But even if I do, I know there will be 20 people here in front of me who will reach out, give me a hug and tell me I did a good job nevertheless. And the last group of the journey I want to mention is ourselves. Along the Walz we discover ourselves – not only the writer within us but that part of ourselves that will determine in the end whether or not that writer will ever be read. Someone else in the program, answered Bill’s most mileage question with a quote from our Professor, and my mentor, Barb Miller. She had said, “There will always be writers far worse than you being successfully published and celebrated and there will always be writers much better than you who will never get published.”

In the end, what will determine that difference? I am not sure. I am not yet published though several people in the graduating class before you here today are. I suppose luck is important. If we take a good look at that tree trunk in the middle of Vienna, you will see what makes it so incredible – hundreds of nails from every century since 1440 pounded into that trunk – the last one a nail from the workers of the subway that runs directly below the square. And those craftsmen pounded in those nails – an object of great value hundreds of years ago – for luck before they left on their journey. And we too will need a lot of luck to continue. Luck combined with patience, persistence and perseverance. Because let’s face it. If you have participated in this program with your ears and heart open, and a willingness to embrace critique, work hard and improve, then you will have written a manuscript worthy of publication. So it will come down to what we are made of and how much we want this.

Vienna's first district - subway stop Stephansplatz

Vienna’s first district – subway stop Stephansplatz

And in times of doubt and desperation we may weaken and start to listen too earnestly to those who say that it is just art and has no value. But I want you to always think back to that tree trunk on Stock-im-Eisen. And if you ever think about seriously giving up, come visit and we will go look at it together. Because most commencement speeches will advise you to make the most of this life while you are here. But art will allow us, every one of us, to do even more. With art, we will not just communicate to the person in the next room, across the street or in another time zone, with art, we can communicate with people in a whole other time — tomorrow, next week, two months from now, five hundred and seventy three years from now.

I ask you, all of you here today, what of ourselves will live on on this earth. Art, art will survive. Now more than ever before, at a time when e-books don’t have a shelf-life. So, no, the Master of Fine Arts we take home with us today was not amongst Forbes top 10 most lucrative master’s studies. And sadly, as Ms. Townsend gently reminded us yesterday: “None of us should get into this for the money. We’ll just be bound for disappointment.”

Our Masters that we take home today will probably not enable us to buy a bigger house or fancier car. But it is proof. Proof that we embarked on a journey to become better at what we do. We have followed a long tradition of people willing to leave the safe warmth of their four walls to venture into a scary and uncertain world. And we have done so all in the name of art. Art that may not span the great divide between poverty and wealth but will have the ability to span the even greater divide of life and death. And given that writers are judged by their worst work while living and their best when dead, the future can only get brighter. And so in closing, we, the class of 2013, want to thank all of you for giving us the time and space to write and become masters of our trade. Giving us the time and space, mentoring and support to embark on this journey. And most of all for believing in us and for believing in our art.

May our journey to write better books and become masters of our trade never end.

Hazard yet forward!

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