This illustration, created by the French artist Jean Colombe (c. 1430–1493), depicts an event that occurred during the First Crusade (c. 1095/1096-1099). The scene is set in 1098, not long after the Crusaders captured the city of Antioch, when a man named Peter Bartholomew appeared before the leaders of the Crusade with a miraculous story. He claimed to have had experienced a vision of Saint Andrew, and during that mystical experience, the saint allegedly showed Peter the location of a relic that would come to be known as the Holy Lance. According to Peter Bartholomew, the Holy Lance—a spear used by the Romans to determine if Jesus was truly dead after his crucifixion—was apparently hidden underground within a building that the Crusaders called the Church of St. Peter. Count Raymond and the Bishop of Puy went with Peter Bartholomew to investigate the church, and they indeed found a spear buried on the premises. The legitimacy of the relic was debated greatly, however, even among the crusaders. This story of the Holy Lance’s discovery was recorded in histories written in the early 12th century, such as The Gesta, The Chronicle of Raymond d’Aguilers, and The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres. The last of the listed texts contained the most concise account of the lance:
“After the city was taken, it happened that a Lance was found by a certain man. When it was discovered in a pit in the ground of Saint Peter’s Church, he asserted confidently that, according to the Scriptures, it was the one with which Longinus pierced Christ in the right side. He said that this had been revealed by Saint Andrew the Apostle. When it had been found, and he himself had told this to the Bishop of Puy and to Count Raymond, the Bishop thought it was false, but the Count hoped it was true. Upon hearing this, all the people, rejoicing, glorified God for it, and for almost a hundred days it was held in great veneration by all, and handled gloriously by Count Raymond, who guarded it. Then it happened that many of the clergy and people hesitated, thinking it was not the Lord’s Lance, but another one deceitfully found by that foolish man” (Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, Book I, chapter 18).
Jean Colombe drew upon such quotes in creating his illustration, which shows the Bishop of Puy inspecting the Lance after it was dug up from the ground. As hinted at in the passage quoted above, Peter Bartholomew’s discovery inspired many doubts and suspicions. In 1099, such skepticism finally caused Peter Bartholomew to undergo a trial by fire in hopes of proving his claims. His trial, however, backfired—he was mortally wounded by the fire, bringing the validity of his discovery into even more doubt.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials (Second Edition) by Edward Peters. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.