« PreviousContinue »
press the sign of the holy cross, because of my ignorance of letters."
In matters of exceptional pomp and circumstance the signing of the cross was elaborated into a ceremonial. According to Rock, ‘They took the hand of that personage to whom they were about pledging their word for the fulfillment of each condition in the document, or, if he were away, his representative's hand, and upon its open palm they drew the sign of the cross with the thumb of their right hand. Thus did Offa and Archbishop Lambert with his brother bishops, as they all promised the Holy See through Pope Adrian's messenger to observe those decrees and canons which had been passed under the presidency of that same pontifical legate in the first canonical council held at Chalk Lythe, in 785."
This custom of signing documents with the cross, though practised throughout the entire Christian world before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, was given further authority by the decree of the Anglo-Saxon Church itself. In the third council of Chalk Lythe (A. D. 816) it was enacted that all documents' confirmed by the sign of the sacred cross of Christ' were binding and must be fulfilled. This custom died out in England only with the Norman invasion. Under Norman kings the cross was superseded by a wax seal.
(c) Other Uses of the Cross-Sign in Documents As already remarked, besides the use of the cross at the end of a legal document as an oath, the cross was generally placed at the beginning, where it served for the invocation," or sometimes accompanied the invocation." But the cross is found frequently where it is difficult to find any reason for its being there. It comes sometimes in the middle of a charter, and it occurs frequently on the margin, especially on a line which contains the name of a king. It appears sometimes in the middle of a word, especially 'cru+cis,'? and always in the middle of the word in the sacramentary where a sign of the cross is to be made, as, for example, ‘bene+dicere,'' sancti+ficare.' 8 It appeared also in literary documents, a custom that long survived the Conquest, the manuscript of the Morality Everyman, for example, beginning with a cross. In the manuscript of the * Nine Herbs Charm,' also, the cross is on the margin on a line with the word 'worm, perhaps for the same reason that the writer would have crossed himself at the name of the devil.
ibid., p. 49. * 3, pt. 2, p. 117. Wilkins, Concil. 1. 170. * Wilkins, Concil. 1. 151. *Codex Dipl. 1. 49. *Codex Dipl. 1. I.
Nor was it restricted to writings on parchment; it is found preceding inscriptions on stone slabs and crosses, and on inscribed rings and jewels.* Apparently in all of these the use of the cross is a sort of invocation or 'saying grace,' a pious custom without rules or restrictions. Possibly it may have been used merely as a sign of good luck.
(d) The Cross on Coins The cross had been stamped on the coins of Christian emperors of Rome from a very early time, and its use in Anglo-Saxon England was probably introduced with the establishment of the Faith. At all events, it appeared upon coins as early as the sceata of Egbert, King of Kent (665 -674). These crosses were small and in relief, and therefore are evidently not applied for the purpose of dividing the coins into fragments, as was the case with the penny of later times. The significance of the cross on Anglo-Saxon coins
* Codex Dipl. 2. 296-7.
was doubtless the same as when it was first applied to the coins of Roman emperors, namely, that, by its sanctity, it pledged the value of the coin. It is akin, therefore, to the use of the cross as an oath on legal documents.
In this connection may be mentioned a few miscellaneous forms of oath in which the cross plays a part, though in these cases it is not the sign of the cross. Wulfstan swears by the cross in a way that is not found elsewhere among Anglo-Saxon writers. · He says: 'We swear by the great power of Almighty God, and by the Holy Rood on which Christ suffered for the salvation of men, that what we say is true.'1
Among the laws for the taking of oaths, we find the following which mention the cross. Archbishop Egbert sets as a test of innocence of an accused person that he 'place above his head the cross of the Lord, and testify by the Eternal that he is free from guilt.”? Another form of oath, also, among Egbert's decrees, was to speak the vow with hands outstretched upon a rood.': If an oath not spoken upon a cross was broken, the penalty was one-third of the penalty if the oath had been sanctified by the cross. In the hot-water ordeal, also, the prisoner was required to “kiss the Book and Christ's rood-token.''
The idea of the sacredness of the emblem is brought out in another way by the making of the sign of the cross in posture. The ancient method of prayer, that of standing with outstretched arms in the likeness of a cross,' was transplanted into England, and was used as the most solemn form of invocation. Bede tells how Cuthbert, at the request of Hereberht, prayed that both might die at the same time; 'then the bishop extended himself in the form of a cross and prayed, and at once was informed in spirit that the Lord had granted the request.'• It is related of St. Ecgburga that, when she wanted to show St. Guthlac how strongly she urged him to accept her gift of a leaden coffin and a winding sheet, having spoken her wish she stretched out her arms as if in prayer-'adjurans per nomen terribile superni Regis, seque ad patibulum Dominicæ crucis erigens' -as a sign of her earnest insistence. She instructed her messenger to deliver her message to Guthlac, and then place himself in the position of the cross, as he had seen her do.' This custom appears also in one of the charms, which directs the sufferer to ‘chant benedicite with outstretched arms.'* Another method was, instead of standing, to kneel with the arms extended wide; and a third was to lie prostrate, with the arms extended as before.
1 Hom., p. 214.
2 Thorpe, A. S. Laws, p. 320.
But to stand or kneel in cruce was also a form of penance. Among the Canons of Edgar it is directed that the penitent 'cry to God and implore forgiveness, ... and kneel frequently in the sign of the cross.': But it was not till the eleventh century that we find the custom of laying the dying man outstretched upon a cross of ashes, and it was not till the Norman invasion that we find this famous mediæval custom to have been generally practised.
Up to this point we have found little or nothing peculiarly national in the aspect of cross-worship among the Anglo-Saxons, but there yet remain two forms, the pictorial arts and literature, which afford a wider opportunity for originality than ritual or legend.
IV. THE CROSS IN ART
(a) The Monogram Before passing to the cross, a word may be said in regard to the use of the monogram. The Chi Rho monogram, as we have seen, was gradually supplanted by the cross, as the need of symbolism, and the actual scenes of crucifixion, disappeared. But it was often met with as an accompani
ment of the cross, and as one of the symbols of the faith, long after it had yielded to the cross.
In the England of the Anglo-Saxons, the monogram had but little meaning. It had already been outgrown by the church before Christianity was introduced among them. It was doubtless seen in Rome on old monuments, and it might easily have been transferred as a mark of the Faith upon Christian stones or documents in England. But these examples are comparatively rare. The church of Jarrow contained a tablet commemorating its original founding, in which the inscription is headed by the Chi Rho monogram. This event occurred in 686, and it is quite possible that Benedict Biscop may have imported the device along with the paraphernalia that he brought from Rome. But in the earliest documents it is not to be found, and the simple cross is used instead. It appears first in a charter dated 770, taking the place of what might be termed the 'invocation' cross, at the very beginning of the document. It occurs only once again in a charter of the years 779,' where it is combined with the letters A and l. It occurs most frequently, however, in the charters of Edgar, in the tenth century. Just why it should have been fashionable in clerical circles at that particular time it would be difficult to say, unless it was a belated influence of the court of Charlemagne. In the time of Charlemagne the use of the monogram was revived, through the quickened interest in the early history of the Church, a result of that revival of letters of which his court was the centre. The Chi Rho, with the swastika and a few unimportant devices, occurs rarely on the coins of Anglo-Saxon kings. The swastika may have been adopted from Teutonic paganism, where, as some say, it stood for the hammer of Thor, the so-called hamarsmark. On the other hand, more probably it may have come from an early Christian use kept alive in
1 Codex Dipl. 2. 145.