The Spear of Destiny, also known as the Holy Lance, is in Christian tradition the spear that the Roman soldier Longinus thrust into the side of Jesus (c. 6 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.) as he hung on the cross. ("Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side and forthwith came out blood and water" [John 19: 32–34 KJV]). Christian knights discovered the Holy Lance at Antioch during the First Crusade in 1098. The sight of the sacred artifact in the Church of St. Peter so inspired the beleaguered Christian soldiers that they rallied and routed the Saracens from the city. From that time forth, according to legend, whoever claims the spear and solves its secret holds the destiny of the world in his hands for good or evil.
Although there are a number of relics in various European churches that claim to be the genuine Holy Lance, the spear that is on display in the Weltliches Schatzkammer Museum (the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum) in Vienna has been considered the most authentic and it has found a home there for 250 years. It is also known as Constantine's Lance, and it was employed as a symbol of the imperial power of Holy Roman emperors at the time of their coronation in much a similar manner as the orb and scepter are used in the coronation of the monarchs of Great Britain. According to Trevor Ravenscroft in The Spear of Destiny (1997), a 19-year-old Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was first led to the lance in 1908 and from the moment of his first encounter with it in the museum, it became "the central pivot" in his life and the "very source of his ambitions to conquer the world." In addition to Constantine (d. 337), Hitler found that as many as 45 emperors had owned the lance before the great Charlemagne (742–814) had possessed it. Frederick the Great of Germany (1194–1250), who founded the Teutonic Knights on which Hitler allegedly based his SS, had also been an owner of the Spear of Destiny at one time. Ravenscroft claimed in his book that Hitler would often visit the museum, stare at the Holy Lance, and enter
Thirty years later, on March 14, 1938, Hitler arrived in Vienna to oversee the annexation of Austria. He also observed the transfer of the Hapsburg Crown Jewel collection, which included the Holy Lance, from Vienna to Nuremberg, the Nazis' favorite city. With the Spear of Destiny now safely ensconced in Germany, Hitler declared that the war could begin in earnest. The lance would be well protected in the hall of St. Katherine's Church, where it had once rested for nearly 400 years.
However, later in the war when Allied bombers damaged a portion of St. Katherine's, the many treasures looted by the Nazis and stored there were taken to another hiding place. In the chaos and confusion, the Holy Lance was inadvertently left behind.
The Spear of Destiny fell into the hands of U.S. soldiers on April 30, 1945. A few hours after the Holy Lance passed from Nazi possession on to its next claimant to world power, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. Later, the United States officially returned the Holy Lance to Austria, along with the other treasures that the Nazis had stolen. Today, the Spear of Destiny stands again in the Hapsburg Treasure House Museum in Vienna.