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to pluck out the heart of its mystery; and the descriptions of certain ancient representatives of Y ggdrasil do not lessen the difficulty. The great world-tree under which the gods assembled was, says the Ed da, although an ash, an evergreen; and scattered, over Northern Europe were many sacred trees, reverenced as representing Y ggdrasil, which are said to have been green summer and winter. Such a tree, according to the Archbishop of Bremen, stood close to the great temple at Upsal; and there was a famous tree of the same kind in Dithmarsch, carefully protected by an entrenchment, and looked upon as bound up in some mysterious way with the fortunes of the country. When Dithmarsch lost her ancient liberty, the tree withered; but a magpie, one of the chief Northern birds of augury, came and built on it, and her eggs produced five young ones, perfectly white—an omen that liberty should one day return. These trees may have been either solitary specimens of the Ilex, or more probably of the Turkey oak (Q. cerris), the chief oak of Southern Europe—a tree which holds on its leaves so long, that in the North it might well pass for an evergreen. A still more famous tree, described as an evergreen—that at Romowe, the old sacred centre of the Prussians— was certainly an oak.
It is somewhat remarkable, considering that the roots of Y'ggdrasil were half destroyed by the serpents that lay nestled among them, to find the leaves and wood of the ash regarded throughout Northern Europe as a powerful protection from all manner of snakes and 'evil worms.' Among the curious woodcuts which adorn the Roman edition of Olaus Magnus, that illustrating his chapter 'touching the keeping away of serpents from children in harvest time' represents the children comfortably slung in their cradles from the branches of great ashtrees, whilst their mothers are hard at work in the harvest-field below. Snakes, according to the gossiping old Swede, cannot abide the ash, and will not willingly go near it If a circle be traced with an ashen staff, says a piece of Devonshire folk-lore, round a sleeping viper, the creature will be unable to pass beyond it. In such folk-lore as this, or in the ' shrew-ash ' described in White's Selborne, it may not be possible to trace Yggdrasil; but Northern antiquaries insist that the world-tree has had, and has, its direct representatives. They find it, first in the maypole, with its garlands, its streaming ribbons, and its bird's-eggs, now almost as completely a relic of past ages as Yggdrasil itself; and also in the Christmas Tree, which, according to the learned Finn Magnussen, is descended in a straight line from the great ash, of all whose accompaniments—the stags, the eagle, and the squirrel—the ornaments which hang from the branches of the
modern tree are memorials. Into such weighty questions as these we need not examine: but it is quite certain that the recollections of Yggdrasil did not fade away with the introduction of Christianity; and that they were interwoven in a remarkable manner with some of the mediaeval traditions relating to the tree of the cross. Eilif, a Norwegian scald, who, before his conversion, had been a devoted servant of Thor, thus, after he had become a so-called Christian, speaks of Our Lord:—
'They say he sitteth on a mount,
The Urdr well was that from which the Norns drew water to pour over Yggdrasil; and on a mount under the tree Thor and his brethren sat 'to give dooms.' Eilif must have been still more than half *a heathen; but his verses show how readily the imagery of the former creed could be adapted after the change to Christianity; and some later mediaeval poems, quoted in Grimm's great work on Teutonic Mythology, prove that the connexion with Yggdrasil, suggested in EiliPs verses, was long retained. The tree of the cross, says one of these ' singers,' is a noble tree, planted in a garden. Its roots pierce downward to hell; its top reaches to heaven; and on its branches, which spread over the world, sit birds that sing without ceasing.t The world-tree of the Ashmen has here become a world-tree with a far deeper significance. It is not clear, however, whether such descriptions as these (which occur also in graver writersj) were meant to be accepted literally. It is more certain that a remarkable legend, of a different kind, was attached to the actual tree of the cross, and was generally believed throughout the middle ages.
It is unnecessary to discuss in this place the historical truth of the discovery of our Lord's cross by the Empress Helena, said to have been made in the year 326. The great argument against it is the silence of Eusebius, who died about A.d. 338 ; but it is at least certain that a cross, said to have been that of our Lord, was publicly shown and honoured in Jerusalem during the episcopate of St. Cyril (350-386). It was after this time, and probably as a natural result of the interest awakened by the asserted discovery,
* Finn Magnussen.
t Grimm, D. Mythol., p. 757. s
X 'Nam ipsa crux magnum in se mysterium continet; cujus positio talis est, ut superior pars ccelos petat, inferior terra: inhrereat, fixa infernorum ima contingat, latitudo autem ejus partes mundi appellat.' From a treatise ' De Divinis Officiis,' quoted by Grimm, p. 757.
Q 2 that that the legend which told the history of the tree of the cross gradually took shape; working into itself many older traditions, especially those which had made Hebron and its neighbourhood the chief resting-place of Adam after his expulsion from Paradise. With slight variations the story occurs in all the great mediaeval legendaries, including the ' Legenda Aurea' of Jacques de Voraigne. It was told also in verse, by trouvere and by troubadour; and formed the subject of many stained windows (it occurs for example in one of those which give an especial interest to the Cornish church of St Neot), and of much ancient tapestry and wall painting. In its complete shape the legend is as follows.
For four hundred and thirty-two years after his expulsion from Paradise, Adam had tilled the ground in the valley of Hebron, when he felt his end approaching, iind determined to send his son Seth to the gates of Paradise, to demand from their keeper, 'the angel called Cherubim,' the oil of mercy which had been promised to Adam when he was driven from the garden. Seth accordingly set forth, finding his way by the footprints of Adam and Eve, upon which no grass had grown since they passed from Paradise to Hebron. The angel, after hearing the message, ordered Seth to look beyond the gate into the garden, and to tell him what he saw. He beheld a place of inexpressible delight and beauty, with the four great rivers proceeding from a fountain in the centre; and, rising from the edge of the fountain, an enormous tree, with wide-spreading branches, but without either bark or leaves. He was ordered to look a second time, when he saw a serpent twisted round the tree ; and a third time, when the tree had raised itself to heaven, and bore on its summit a child wrapped in glittering vestments. It was this child, said the angel, who would give to Adam the oil of mercy when the due time should come. Meanwhile the angel gave Seth three seeds from the fruit of the tree of which Adam had eaten. These were to be placed in the mouth of Adam before his burial; and three trees would spring from them,—a cedar, a cypress, and a pine. The trees were symbolical of the Holy Trinity, not only by their number, but by the virtues which belonged to each separately.
It happened as the angel had foretold. The trees were hardly a foot above the ground in the days of Abraham. Moses, to whom their true nature was revealed, took them up carefully, carried them with him during the years of wandering in the desert, and then replanted them in a mysterious valley named Comfrafort (' Comfort,'' Consolation ?'). From Comfrafort, David was directed to bring them to Jerusalem. He planted them close to a fountain; nnd within thirty years they had grown together so as to form a single tree of wonderful beauty, under the shade of which David composed his psalms, and wept for his sins. In spite of its beauty, Solomon cut it down in order to complete his temple; for which a single beam was wanted, of a size such as no other tree could furnish. But, in fitting the beam to its place, it was found, after repeated trials, either too long or too short; and the marvel was accepted as a sign that it was not to be so employed. The miraculous beam, however, was reverently preserved in the temple. A certain woman, named Maximilla, one day leant against it, when her clothes caught fire, and she cried out in a spirit of prophecy, 'Jesus Christ, thou Son of God, help me!' The Jews, when they heard her cry, took her for mad, and chased her from the city—the first martyr, says the legend, for Jesus Christ.
Thus far the more usual version. Another, which has been followed in a striking Provencal narration, quoted by M. Fauriel,* asserts that when the tree was found too short for the temple, it was flung aside into a certain marsh, where it served as a bridge. But when the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and was about to cross the marsh, she saw in a vision how the Saviour of the world was to be suspended on that tree, and so would not walk over it, but forthwith adored it. It was afterwards, as all the versions agree, buried in the earth, on the spot where the Pool of Bethesda was afterwards made; so that it was not only the descent of the angel, but the virtues of the buried wood, which gave its healing qualities to the water. At the time of the Passion the wood rose and floated on the surface. The Jews took it to make the cross of our Lord.
Such is the remarkable legend which has at least the interest of having been very widely spread, and of having been generally received as authentic. It would be no easy task to trace the gradual steps of its formation, or to mark the period of its first introduction to Europe. The footprints of Adam, which left the ground bare, are still pointed out on the summit of Mount Gerizim. There was a very ancient tradition—more ancient apparently than the legend which has just been narrated—which asserted that the cross itself was fixed in the grave of Adam, and that his skull was thrown up in digging the ground to receive it—
'Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Traditions such as these seem to have been worked into the later legend; and there may have been others relating to Adam pre
* 'Hist, de la Poosie Provence,' i. 263.
served in the neighbourhood of Hebron. The tree of the story, 'without bark or leaves,' is possibly not unconnected with a remarkable oak, which Sir John Mandeville, in the middle of the fourteenth century, thus describes:—
'And a lytillc fro Ebron is the Mount of Mamhre, of the which the valley taketh his name. And there is a tree of Oke, that the Sarazincs clepen (call) Dirpe, that is of Abraham's tyme, the whiche men clepen the drye tree. And thei seye, that it hatho ben there sithc the beginnynge of the world; and was sumtyme grene, and bare leves, unto the tyme that oure Lord dyede on the croB; and thanne it dryede; and so dyden alle the trees that waren thanne in the worlde. And some sayc, bo here prophecyes, that a Lord, a prince of the west syde of the world, simile wyn the land of promyssyoun, that ys the Holy Land, with helpo of Cristene men; and he schalle do synge a masse undir that drye tree, and then the tree schallo wexen grene, and here bothe fruyt and leves. And through that myracle manye Sarazincs and Jowes schullc be turned to Cristene feythe. And thorfore thei don gret worschipe thereto, and kepen it fully besyly. And alle be it so, that it be drye, natheles yet he berethe gret vertue: for certeynly he that hath a litille thereof upon him, it heleth him of the fallynge evylle; and his hors schalle not be a foundrcd; and manye othere vertucs it hatha: wherefore men holden it full preoyous.' •
This is no doubt the 'antediluvian' oak—nfi/ nyvylrn* icaXov fievrjv Bpvv—mentioned by Josephus, and especially dedicated to Abraham,! the last relic of the 'oaks' (mistranslated the ' plain' j) of Mamre. The tree was said in later times to have sprung from the staff of one of the angels who visited Abraham here ; and though sometimes blazing with fire, it nevertheless was always green. Writers who, like Lipsius and Gretser, maintained that the cross of our Lord had been made of oak, appealed to the religious sanctity with which the sacred writers seem occasionally to invest that tree—and especially to this oak of Mamre—as partly confirming their opinion. But the earlier mediaeval belief was evidently connected with the legend of the tree which sprang from the three seeds given to Seth; and when four kinds of wood are mentioned, the title on the cross is included :—
'Pes crucis est cedrus; corpus tenet alta cupressns;
Bede names cypress, cedar, pine, and box as the four woods; and St. Chrysostom, who names but three, refers to the words of
* 'Travels of Sir John Mandeville," ed. Halliwell, pp. 68, 69. Mandeville left England iu 1322, and returning to Europe after an absence of 34 years, died at Liege in 1371.
+ See Dr. Stanley's 'Lectures on the Jewish Church,* and 'Sermons preached in the East.' r
t Stanley's 'Sinai aud Palestine,' p. 103.