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The ‘Spear of Destiny' believed by many to have pierced the side of Jesus while he was on the cross has been stolen from a museum in Vienna.
The ancient artefact was reportedly taken from the Schatzkammer Museum in Vienna's Hofburg Palace around midnight on Thursday night.
One witness told police they saw a cape-clad thief wearing a mask running away from the building clutching “a large stick” before jumping into a moving van and speeding off.
The relic - also known as the Holy Spear - has long been surrounded by mystery and intrigue, attracting some of history's most fearsome rulers. It was thought in the past to be able to shape the world to the owner's will but then curse the owner with death if the spear fell out of their possession.
The legend of the great King Charlemagne says that he carried the spear through 47 battles, and then died immediately after dropping it. It was later sought by Holy Roman Emperors, Napoleon and then Hitler, who seized it after annexing Austria in 1933. Hitler's suicide came just days after the spear was seized again by US troops, giving more weight to the ‘death curse' theory.
Authorities are so far stumped as to why someone would rob the museum of the spear, but leave much more valuable items on display behind, including a giant narwhal tooth that was thought to be the horn of a unicorn and a bowl once thought to be the legendary Holy Grail.
The incident comes just days after a replica Holy Lance was stolen from a cathedral in Germany.
In that case, the artefact was taken from Magdeburger Cathedral in the city of Magdeburg. "This is a painful loss for us and a scandal," said church preacher Giselher Quast at the time.
The Vienna theft could be a copycat case or the thief may have simply struck again after realising they stole the wrong spear.
“It could be that they think the spear will bring them power,” said Museum spokesman Herr Kutt.
With the race to be Austria's next President well underway, it may be that some campaigns are resorting to desperate measures to get their candidate into the much lauded position at the Hofburg Palace.