Page images

at the same time to raise the bodies of the dead, and when he cometh he will be baptized in Jordan. Then with the oil of mercy he will anoint all those who believe on him; and the oil of his mercy will continue to future generations, for those who shall be born of water and the Holy Ghost unto eternal life. And when at that time the most merciful Son of God, Christ Jesus, shall come down on earth, he will introduce our father Adam into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.

From this story developed during the Middle Ages a rich and varied body of legends, the general tenor of which runs as follows: When Adam fell sick unto death, he bade his son Seth go to the gate of Paradise and beg for a drop of the healing oil from the Tree of Life. But the archangel Michael answered Seth with the prophecy of the Messiah, and gave him instead a twig (according to some accounts a seed, in others three seeds) from the Tree of Life. When Adam died, Seth buried him on Golgotha, exactly where the cross of Christ was to stand. The seed, or shoot, he planted in Jerusalem, where it grew into a great tree. In Solomon's time it was cut down, on account of its beauty, to be used in the building of the temple; but as it proved always too short or too long to fit any place whatever, it was rejected, and finally thrown over the brook Kedron for a foot-bridge. When the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon she refused to set foot upon it, declaring that one day it would cause the destruction of the Jews. Accordingly, Solomon caused it to be thrown into the pool of Bethesda, to the waters of which it imparted healing virtues. Finally, at the time of the trial of Christ, the beam came to the surface, and the Jews took it and made of it at least the upright part of the cross.

The Gospel of Nicodemus is found in an Old English translation, and the story of Seth's visit to Paradise was doubtless always familiar. But it is not till the fourteenth century that we find this elaborate story developed. During the Anglo-Saxon period there seems to have been no

* Morris, Legends of the Holy Rood.


legend of the wood itself. In the Dream of the Rood, for example, there is no hint of the tree planted in Jerusalem, cut down by Solomon, and taken from the Pool of Bethesda for the Crucifixion. The Rood itself speaks, saying:

It was long, long ago .
Yet I recall, when, at the forest's edge,

I was hewn down, and from my stem removed." As to the kind of wood of which the cross was composed, there was a wide divergence of opinion. Chrysostom, for example, had applied the words of Isaiah: 'The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious,'' to the different parts of the cross. And finally, in the Golden Legend, the version is given which has survived the rest, namely, that the upright part of the cross was of cedar, the cross-beam of cypress, the piece on which the feet rested of palm, and the slab on which the title was fastened of olive.

But at the period which we are studying, or at least among the Anglo-Saxons, there seems to have been no canon in the matter. The quotation from the Dream of the Rood just cited shows that the author of that poem did not conceive of the cross as made of more than one kind of wood. (Pseudo.?) Bede, however, says:

The cross of the Lord was made of four kinds of wood, which are called cypress, cedar, pine, and box. But the box was not in the cross unless the tablet was of that wood, which was above the brow of Christ, on which the Jews wrote the title, 'Here is the King of the Jews.' The cypress was in the earth and even to the tablet, the cedar in the transverse, the pine, the upper end.

But he is not quite sure about the box, and in the Riddle on the Cross * there is a totally different enumeration. There the parts are described as ash or maple, oak, the 'hard yew

960. 13.

111. 28-30.
* Patrolog. Lat. 94, Collectanea 555.
* No. 56. Bibl. der A. S. Poesie, Wülcker-Grein.
hlin, the meaning of which is doubtful.

and the dark holly.' Evidently the question was still a matter for individual speculation.

In his Book of the Holy Places, Bede speaks of the relic of the True Cross preserved at Constantinople as possessing a wonderful fragrance: 'A chest containing the relic is laid on a golden altar and exposed to view. As long as it remains open on the altar a marvelous odor spreads through the whole church, for an odoriferous liquor like oil flows from the knots of the holy wood, the least drop of which cures every complaint with which a man may be afflicted.' So, according to the Martyrology, the fragrance is 'a wonderful odor, as winsome as if there were collected there all kinds of flowers.'? Ælfric, also, in his account of the Exaltation of the Cross, dwells on this fragrance of the cross:

There was also another marvel, so that a winsome odor steamed from the Holy Cross when it was on its way home throughout the land, and filled the air; and the people rejoiced on account of their being filled with the odor. No perfume could give out so delightful a smell.

This idea of fragrance may have originated in the lines of Fortunatus,

Funde aroma cortice

Vincens sapore nectare, but possibly it can be traced back further.

(6) Relics of the True Cross in England In the metrical homily by Ælfric on the Exaltation of the Cross, quoted above, the writer says: “It is, however, to be known that it—the cross-is widely distributed by means of frequent sections to every land. But the spiritual signification is always with God, ever incorruptible, though the tree be cut in pieces.' But there are not many references to relics of the True Cross finding their way to England during

? Opera, ed. Giles, 4, 440. Æ. H. 1. 108-13.

a Mart. 648. 4. Vexilla Regis’ 2. 25-6.

the Anglo-Saxon period. In his life of St. Felix, Bede relates the havoc made by a conflagration that threatened an entire town. While the people were at church praying for assistance, Felix went home and, 'taking a small splinter of the wood of our Lord's cross, threw it into the midst of the fire. Immediately the flames subsided, and the small fragment of wood effected what so many men with abundance of water had not been able to accomplish.' Æthelstan received a piece of the cross, enclosed in a crystal, from King Hugh of Brittany,' and Pope Marinus ' gave a fragment to King Alfred.

The so-called Brussels Cross bears these lines in Old English, reminiscent of the Dream of the Rood:

Rood is my name. Once long ago I bore,

Trembling, bedewed with blood, the mighty King. From this it must be inferred that the wood was regarded as a fragment of the True Cross. This wood is bound together by strips of silver, as Ælfric says the cross was adorned by Helena after the Invention.'

It is evident, however, that relics of the True Cross had not yet become numerous in England during the period we are studying, and were regarded as gifts appropriate for kings and popes to bestow and receive.

(c) The Vision of Constantine But the most popular legends of the cross were those that clustered about the vision of Constantine, including the stories of the Invention and the Exaltation, which were always associated with it. The famous story of the appearance of the cross in the heavens is connected with the victory of Constantine over Maxentius on the 28th of October, 312. It was the defeat and death of Maxentius


this battle-field that made Constantine Emperor of the West. The story of the vision as told by Eusebius, which accord

1 Wm. Malmesb. p. 397. A.-S. Chron. A. 883. . H. 2. 306.

ing to his account was related to him by the Emperor himself, and ratified by an oath, is the best known. He says of Constantine that—' about midday, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens above the sun and bearing the inscription, “ Conquer by this.” At this sight, he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which

witnessed the miracle.' 1 Lactantius, Rufinus, and Sozomen tell only of a dream in which Constantine saw the cross and its accompanying inscription. And the Old English poem Elene,' the anonymous eleventh-century homily on the Invention of the Cross, and Ælfric's sermon on the Invention, all tell of the cross as appearing in a dream in the early morning rather than as an apparition in the sky shortly after midday. The fact that these three Old English versions—one of the eighth, and the others of the eleventh century—agree in this important variation, shows that the accounts which the Anglo-Saxons had of the vision of Constantine were not taken directly, at least, from Eusebius, but had come from one of the other three, Lactantius, Rufinus, or Sozomen. According to Professor Cook,' 'Ælfric derives his information on the subject from Rufinus' version of Eusebius.' It is probable that this was also the source for the other two Old English accounts.

[ocr errors]


* Tr. Cook, Christ, p. 90.
* Morris, Legends of the Holy Rood.
Homilies, 2. 302.
Christ 19.

* Two minor variations may be noted: 1. Ælfric adds a detail omitted by the rest: ‘He [Constantine] bade then be forged of beaten gold a little rood, which he laid on his right hand, fervently praying the Almighty Ruler that his right hand might never be polluted with the red blood of the Roman people.' 2. There is a variation in date between the Elene and the anonymous homily: the former sets the year as 233 A. D.; the latter, 133 years after Christ's passion and ascension to heaven.'

« PreviousContinue »