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The reference to the cross being clothed, wædum geweordod (v. 15), may be a recollection of the veiling of the rood on Good Friday in the ceremony already described.
Here, as everywhere else in references to the crucifixion, realism plays but little part. Whenever there do occur touches of realism, they seem evidences only of a keen sympathy on the part of the writer with the sufferings of his Lord; for example, the mention of the iron nails' with which Christ was fastened to the 'hard tree' in Ælfric, or, in the Christ, ' the cruel crown of thorns' and the ' white hands' that were pierced.
But the crucifixion to the Anglo-Saxons was first of all an act of free will; Christ mounted the cross as a king would mount his throne, and there he ruled over all the world. The willingness of the sacrifice is repeatedly emphasized, and, further, the crucifixion is represented as an act of triumph, a deed of royal prowess. So in their crucifixes the figure was crowned, not with thorns, but with a diadem."
In endowing the cross with personality, the poet of the Dream of the Rood outstrips any other writer. While the cross is never represented as sharing in the guilt of the crucifixion in this poem, it is not merely a helpless instrument but a conscious creature, recognizing its Lord, and suffering, together with him, grief and pain: In this poem the cross is not simply a personality, it is actually deified:
When will the Cross of Christ, which formerly
This deification we have already noticed in the charms, where prayers were made to the Holy Rood, and the Holy Rood was expected to bring back strayed or stolen cattle. So also in the conclusion to the charter of Wihtred's that was quoted, the curse pronounced upon him who breaks his word is this, that 'the Cross of Christ shall come in vengeance.' Again, in the conclusion to the apostrophe to the Cross that Ælfric puts into the mouth of Heraclius, he says to the Cross, ‘Be mindful of this assembly which is here gathered together for the honor of God!'
*Hom. I. 144.
* See above, p. 18, note.
The Christ of Cynewulf we have already quoted from in the discussion of the legends of the Cross. But the chief importance of this poem for our purpose is the description it contains of the apparition of the Cross at the Day of Doom. This was not original with Cynewulf, but is in accordance with an ancient tradition of the church.
An Old English prose account of the various days, with their signs and wonders, leading up to the Great Day, describes the seventh day thus: “Then shall the Lord reveal the cross on which he suffered, and there shall shine a light over all the world, and he shall show the wound in his side, the wounds of the nails both in his hands and feet, by which he was fastened to the cross, as bloody as they were on the first day.” We find the same idea in liturgy: in the Response at the end of the Third Lesson for the service of the Invention is the following: 'Hoc signum crucis erit in caelo cum Dominus ad judicandum venerit.'
In the Christ the red rood shines brightly,' and it 'blazes upon all peoples.' This idea of its brilliant appearance is also found in Chrysostom, who describes the cross on the last day as 'shining beyond the very sunbeam.''
It is a striking picture that Cynewulf gives of the cross on the Day of Judgment; it is indeed, the poetical apotheosis of the cross, and with it we may conclude this discussion: There shall sinful man, sad at heart, behold the greatest affliction. Not for their behoof shall the cross of our Lord, brightest of beacons, stand before all nations, wet with the pure blood of heaven's King, stained with his gore, shining
*Das Jüngste Gericht.
q. Cook, note on Christ 192. * Hom. 76, on Matt. 24, 16-8; cf. Cook, note on Christ 189.
brightly over the vast creation. Shadows shall be put to flight when the resplendent cross shall blaze upon all peoples, . . . when the red rood shall shine brightly over all in the sun's stead.''
Summary Up to this point we have reviewed the various aspects of the cross in Anglo-Saxon life and literature, section by section. The arrangement into sections is arbitrary, but it serves as well as any other to suggest the diversity of forms in which this symbol appeared, and the many sides of life which it influenced.
The liturgical part of the subject I have not felt competent to discuss in detail, but have left it with references where such detail may be found. I have felt, too, that it had less intimate touch with life and literature than other aspects to which I have devoted more space. However, there has been sufficient material presented to show that the religion of the period was indeed the religion of the cross, from the ceremonial of adoration on Good Friday to the sign of benediction, or the crossing oneself which accompanied every rite of the church. And, as the church of the early Middle Ages touched life on all its sides, this devotion to the cross found expression in matters of every day-in curing sickness, in blessing the tools of trade, in restoring fertility to barren fields, as a charm against misfortune, a solemn form of oath, an inviolable boundary-mark and place of sanctuary, the favorite motive of decoration on manuscript, on jewels, bowls, and on the very coins of commerce. Finally, as a monument, it greeted the eye on every side, on field and highway, in churchyard and marketplace. In brief, the old term of mockery, 'worshiper of the cross,' which Aldhelm applied to himself as a synonym for ' Christian,' sums up the story in a word.
The significance of the cross which lay at the foundation
1 11. 1080-1100.
• Patrolog. Lat. 39. 105.
of all these differing aspects, and unites them all, is stated by a homilist thus:
There is much need for us to bear in mind how the Lord delivered us by his passion from the Devil's power when he ascended the rood-tree and shed his precious blood for our salvation. Wherefore we ought to honor the holy victory-sign of Christ's cross, and follow after it, and pray for the forgiveness of our sins all together, since he suffered for us all on the cross, and endured at the hands of the wicked Jewish people all those reproaches.
Because the True Cross was the instrument by which humanity was ransomed, it was the most precious of earthly possessions, it was wreathed in legends telling of its marvelous odor and life-giving properties, and splinters from it were shrined in precious metals. The representations of the cross standing in the church were adorned with gold, silver, and jewels, because it was the symbol of the Redeemer, and before them the Christian bowed in adoration. He conceived of it even as a divine personality, and invoked it as a saint or a God. And, at last, on the judgment scene of the Great Day, he looked to see it ablaze with ruddy light, towering over all the world.
In the greater part of all the forms of the cross-worship, we have found simply the ideas and practices of the mother church, persisting with little variation on English soil. The rites of the cross in liturgy, the use and significance of the sign of the cross, the vast body of legends of the miracle of the cross, the hymns, the theological literature of the cross—all were transferred from the church of Rome to the church of the Anglo-Saxons. While in these ideas and practices we find no strikingly original elements, they are significant in that they took such deep root in English soil, and overshadowed all classes of society. Even to the semipagan, to whom the literature of the Fathers meant nothing, and the ritual in the church little more, the cross was a potent talisman to add to his ancient heathen formulas, and he accepted and trusted it as a 'victory-token.'
* Blickl. Hom., p. 96.
It would be difficult to define just the contribution of the Anglo-Saxons to the cult of the cross. Possibly that deification of the cross that we have noticed was first developed on English soil. As far as I can discover, it transcends any veneration of the cross that was known in Rome, and as it is expressed in the Dream of the Rood it appears earlier than in any other piece of literature in Europe.
The cross-poetry of the Anglo-Saxons was certainly a contribution to the literature of the cross. It must have been widely known in England, from the testimony of the Ruthwell and Brussels Cross inscriptions, and of its influence abroad we shall have to speak later.
The stone cross with interlaced ornament, while a product of Irish rather than Anglo-Saxon genius, became an important feature of Anglo-Saxon life, and far surpassed the plain monumental cross of the tradition of Rome.
In the sculpture of the cross and the poetry of the cross, the emblem of Christianity reached among the Anglo Saxons its most devoted and most artistic expression.
Beside the main points · noted above, it is necessary to recapitulate two matters of date which were established by the investigation for this chapter, and are important for the discussion in the chapter which follows. First, the stone cross with Celtic ornament, which we have called the interlaced cross, was not known in England before the ninth century. Secondly, the crucifix also was unknown in England before the latter part of the same century, and did not come into general use till the late tenth and eleventh centuries.