Monday, January 1, 2018

January 1, 2018

I have not forgotten this site not lost interest in the writing about the Jesse Tree.  Of course, my excuse is "real life."  I have collected so much material and keep finding more that I think this site will go on for  a long while, "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise."

Though this window from Beauvais Cathedral is not about Jesse Tree, it is appropriate for this day.

Left, the circumcision of Jesus and Presentation with Simeon.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day, July 4, 2017

Independence Day, July 4, 2017

This blog was never intended as a political commentary, but there have been times when I must write something more topical.  This day is one of them.  One of our founding fathers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776 that he thought the day when independence was first declared (July 2, 1776) “will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp, Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” (edited per footnotes from

John Adams got the day of celebration wrong, since by July 4, 1777, the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted would become “Independence Day” beginning in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777 One could argue that August 2nd would work just as well as Independence Day since that was the day in 1776 when the document was signed.

But with all the hate, violence, and vile rhetoric of recent months, John Adams comment that Independence Day should be marked by “solemn Acts of Devotion of God Almighty” seemed especially appropriate.

Let us all remember this our anniversary day of adoption of the Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain with prayer and thanksgiving.

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.

We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
Inspire us.

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
Renew us.

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy [especially our forebearers who fought and died to establish this our nation and defend its preservation from foes within and without]. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Figure 1.

Since most do not know the words of Katherine Lee Bates poem: America: A Poem for July 4, I will post it below. Katherine Lee Bates was a professor of English at Wellesley College, my alma mater. Though some of us might change “brotherhood” to “sisterhood” in the version usually sung, and regret the unfortunate last line of the poem given how it could and would be interpreted in the 20th and 21st centuries, remember that this poem was written in 1893. With the music of Samuel Ward, it became probably the most popular anthem, after our national anthem. The last two lines were soon changed to, “And crown thy good with brotherhood, From sea to shining sea.”

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man's avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

With the setting of the sun tonight, we will have our very splendid grand illuminations in the sky, though there may be tears this year and perhaps less pride because of current events, we can still ask, "God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!"


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ruthwell Cross

 Previous blog entries related to this note: 
  1. Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 5 [Ruthwell Cross]
  2. Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 6  [Dream of the Rood]

The Ruthwell Cross is usually considered with the Bewcastle Cross and the Brussels Cross because they all contain Old English runic inscriptions. I have mentioned both the Ruthwell and Brussels crosses and their inscriptions that reference the poem Dream of the Rood previously. No point in repeating. Both the poem and the two stone crosses, Ruthwell and Bewcastle, all seem to date from the 8th century. The Ruthwell Cross with its conscious use of sculptural references to Christian iconography and its use of vine scrolls with flowers, fruit, birds makes Christian the use of motifs that were previously pagan.

The Ruthwell Cross is a large, seventeen foot, standing cross, made in Northumbria on the border with Pictish territory in the 8th century. The cross now stands in a church in Dumfriesshire, south-west Scotland. The cross lost its tops and horizontal cross bar or transom when the cross was pulled down and smashed in 1644 during the iconoclasm of the English Civil War because the cross was considered idolatrous.  The cross probably stood near where it is currently located in Dumfriesshire, Scotland though the lower carvings suggest that the cross was moved once.  When the cross was re-erected in the 19th century, a new transom was carved with part of the old top. 

In 2014, a Viking hoard of silver, gold, crystal and silk was found on Church of Scotland land not far from the site of the cross. (Galloway Hoard). According to the BBC account, the objects in the hoard were accumulated over a hundred or more years before they were buried. Their origins include not only Irish silverwork, Anglo-Saxon brooches, but also a Carolingian silver-copper alloy pot and Byzantine silk.  There are coins, arm rings, ingots, a silver cross, a gold pin that resembles a crane or heron, among other objects. Apparently buried in the corner of a wooden building, the trove was buried at two levels.  The building is not far from the ruins of a monastery.  But what relationship the building within its double ditched enclosure had with the nearby monastery is not known. It seems probable that the Viking building was constructed after the destruction of the monastery. The hoard was buried in the late 800s or early 900s. Some of the objects such as the silver cross of Irish design, the Carolingian lidded silver alloy pot (perhaps a ciborium), the Byzantine-style gold reliquary, and the silk fabric certainly suggest that some of the objects were looted from a church and/or monastery.  Other objects would have come from high status men and women. The burial of the hoard could have been linked to unrest as a result conquest on York and Northumbria in 927 by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan or Æthelstan.  Another hoard from a somewhat later time period called the Vale of York hoard is more clearly linked to Æthelstan’s northern victory.

 Anglo-Saxon silver brooch from the Galloway hoard. There is fabric still attached to the broach.

This small pendant with its Byzantine granulation gold might once have been a reliquary containing a bone from a saint or some other holy relic.

Another archeological dig just west of Dumfries on Trusty’s Hill in 2012 revealed a nucleated fort built about 600. Among the buildings on the site is a metalworking shop where bronze, silver, gold and iron was found. It is suggested that this was a royal household that controlled the farming, animal husbandry, and perhaps mining in the wider Fleet Valley. Pictist language carvings found on and near the site have not been translated.

My point in mentioning the Galloway hoard and the finding of a royal fort (perhaps even Rheged) is that the Ruthwell Cross was not located in a distant and obscure backwoods crossroad. [Rheged is generally taken to mean a kingdom in what is now Cumbria.  The stronghold found at Trusty's Hill may have represented a center of power in the early 7th century.] Though this area is north of Hadrian’s wall, there were roads and ports.  The Picts were trading with Ireland and continental Europe. The monks and stone masons who erected and carved the Ruthwell cross were addressing people with an established culture, language and writing.  These are hardly backward barbarians even if the name Pict derives of Latin for painted people. These people were literate, cultured, and a political elite. The conversion of the social and political elite to Christianity was the pattern for conversion from paganism that was well established in Ireland and by the Gregorian mission to Kent.

The Ruthwell cross includes texts in Latin that would have been understood by the clergy and runes by literate Anglo-Saxon monks and probably the Picts. The Old English runes on the Ruthwell Cross are quite different from Pictish runes that has not been translated.  The Latin verses appear on the sides of the cross with biblical carvings, now north and south, though these would have been the east and west faces.  The Old English runic writing appears of the sides of the cross with vine and animals, that are now east and west sides of the cross, though these should be the north and south faces. 

 The north and south faces contain lines of poetry in Runes that are close to the Dream of the Rood as we have it from a late 10th or early 11th century manuscript in the Vercelli book.  The Dream of the Rood poem does not call the Cross of Jesus a Tree of Life as does Cynewulf’s Elene.  The date of Cynewulf’s Elene is uncertain, perhaps 9th or 10th century. Elene is a retelling of Helen’s search for and finding of the True Cross written in West Saxon and some Angle. In any case, Éamonn Ó Carragáin has made a strong argument for the interpretation of the Latin verses, runes, carvings and the vine scrolls with leaves, flowers and fruit as representing Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.[i]  The vines and fruit represent the Garden of Eden and the Holy Eucharist (and by extension the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins) for Christians.  For the pagan Picts, their belief in sacred trees or the presence of spirits in the tree, would easily understand the scrolled vines as representing something sacred. The vine-tree links heaven and earth, the spiritual and the concrete for both pagans and Christians. As such, it would have been a useful tool for conversion to Christianity of the pagan tribes of Northumbria.
Detail of north (now east) face of the Ruthwell Cross.  From the Visionary Cross Project.

The runic inscription is in the Old English language. It reads: (across the top) [+ ond]gere; (down the right side) dæ hinæ god almeittig · þa hewalde on galgu gistigamodig f[ore] [allæ] men [b]ug … [ahof] ic riicnæ kyniŋc · heafunæs hlafard hælda ic ni dorstæ [b]ismærædu uŋket men ba æt[g]ad[re i]c [wæs] miþ blodi bist[e]mi[d] bi[got][en of þæs gumu sida]… Translation: ‘Almighty God stripped himself when he wished to mount the gallows, brave in the sight of all men. I dared not bow. I [raised aloft] a powerful king. The Lord of heaven I dared not tilt. Men insulted the pair of us together. I was drenched with blood [begotten from that man’s side].

Detail of south (now west) face.

The runic inscription is in the Old English language. It reads: (across the top) [+k]ris[t] wæs on; (down the right side) rodi hweþræ þer fusæ fearran kwomu æþþilæ til anum ic þæt al bi[h][eald] s[aræ] ic w[æ]s · mi[þ] so[r]gu[m] gi[d]rœ[fi]d h[n]a[g]…; (down the left side) miþ s[t]re[l]um giwundad alegdun hiæ [h]inæ limwœrignæ· gistoddu[n h]im [æt] [his] [li][c]æs [hea]f[du]m [bih]ea[ld]u[n h]i[æ þ]e[r]… Translation: + Christ was on the cross. But eager ones came hither from afar. Noble ones came together. I beheld all that. I was terribly afflicted with sorrows. I bowed [to the hands of men], wounded with arrows. They laid him down, limb-weary; they stood at the shoulders of the corpse. They looked upon the Lord [of heaven].

These stone crosses would have been painted. It is fun to imagine the vines and leaves in green, colored flowers and fruit. I wonder how the birds and creatures would have been painted?  The biblical scenes on the cross would have been painted as well, making interpretation of scenes and symbols much easier than now when the stone is so worn. The painted high cross at the National Heritage Park is not as colorful as the Ruthwell cross would have been.
The painted high cross at National Irish Heritage park.

In summary, it seems as though the Ruthwell Cross stands at a special point in time when the green vine scrolls at are carved on the stone cross bring to mind not just the symbolism of the wooden cross as an instrument of death and sacrifice, but also the cross as green and living Tree of Life. That phrase was not yet applied to the Cross of Jesus in the early 8th century, as far as I am able to discern. It seems clear to me that the idea of the cross as having a life of its own and being a force for giving life-sustaining salvation is already firmly established even if the words Arbor vitae or Lignum vita were not yet applied to the concept.

Next I plan to write a bit about the Bewcastle Cross. The Bewcastle Cross and the Ruthwell Cross both share curious carvings of Jesus Christ with his hands in front  standing on the snouts of two fantastic animals without sword or spear.

[i] Éamonn Ó Carragáin. Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition. (2005) London: The British Library.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A.D. 710

It is one of my many quirks that when I start to write about a small subject, Ruthwell Cross, located in a local area, the northern border of the Kingdom of Northumbria, I like to take a step back. For serious historians, my broad-brush stroke synopsis is probably laughable.  For me it is helpful.  I am picking a random year, say AD 710 as my anchor.

Jerusalem had become a Christian city from the 200s to the 600s. There were Jewish communities in Palestine and Syria, but Jerusalem was not one of them. In 614 Jerusalem was captured by the Persians during the Byzantine-Sasanian Wars of 602-628. The Persian troops were accompanied by Jewish forces from Galilee north of Jerusalem and forces south of Jerusalem.  Byzantium had become increasingly anti-Jewish, continuing to forbid Jews access to Jerusalem except on a very limited basis.  In this period, the concept that Jews were Christ-killers developed strong roots that would last for millennia. Byzantine rulers had persecuted and oppressed the Jews.  The combined Persian and Jewish forces besieged and captured Jerusalem without a battle.  Thousands of Christians within Jerusalem were killed, though the numbers are debatable. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was damaged by fire and the True Cross carried off by the Persians as a war trophy.

A century before 710, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was crowned in 610.  He strengthen the walls of Constantinople and rebuilt the Byzantine armies, withstanding the siege of Constantinople of 626 by Avars.  As the attention of Byzantium was focused to the east, Avars and other slavs moved south of the Danube into the Balkan peninsula.  At this time, the Lombards settled in northern Italy in land that had been controlled by the Ostrogoths.

Eventually Heraclius defeated the Persians and recaptured Jerusalem in 627. As part of the peace settlement, a wooden cross, supposedly the True Cross, was returned to the Emperor Heraclius in 628.  With great celebration, the Cross was returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 629 or 630.  Legend tells that Heraclius walked barefoot and carried the cross into Jerusalem.

Heraclius carrying True Cross at the gate of Jerusalem, in William of Tyre, Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum. Book made in Bourges, France about 1480. British Library Royal 15 E 1 f.16. 

Byzantine control over Jerusalem and the Holy Land was very short-lived. The Rashidun Caliphate established after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 quickly conquered the Persian Empire, Mesopotamia, the Levant including Palestine and Syria, Egypt and much of north Africa. The Caliphate took control of Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes and raided Sicily.  The successor Umayyad Caliphate continued the conquest of north Africa and Anatolia.  All the eastern two-thirds of the Mediterranean Sea and adjoining lands came under Muslim control.

In the western Mediterranean, the Visigoths had established control over the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Aquitania and the area around Toulouse.  By 710, the Kingdom of the Visigoths was fractured with internal division.  Beginning in 711, Hispania was invaded by Berber Muslims from north Africa under Tariq ibn Ziyad.  The Umayyad conquest of Hispania would be complete except for the far north and west, and extend into southern France and include much of the western coastline of what is now France.

This would have profound impact on travelers and pilgrims from the British Isles to Rome and beyond. Instead of travelling part of the journey down the Rhone valley to Marseilles and then to Ostia, the port of Rome, by ship, the traveler had to take the long overland route through the Alps. 

In 990, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigeric, kept a record of his trip to Rome to collect his pallium.  He recorded the churches and sites he visited Rome and then the route he took from Rome back to Canterbury. It is assumed that he took approximately the same route to Rome.[i]

Map of the locations of the some of the stops on the route of Archbishop Sigeric in year 990.

In 710, what is now France, Belgium, Netherlands and western Germany was under the Merovingian kings of Austrasia, Neustria, Swabia and the dukes of Aquitania. The remainder of south-eastern France was under the control of the Burgundians.

The Italian peninsula was divided between the Byzantine empire and the Lombards.  Constantinople controlled the Exarchate of Ravenna and the Duchy of Rome and the far south of the peninsula now Calabria, part of Campania, Basilicata and Apulia. The Lombardian kingdom controlled north Italy as well as the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.

Anglo-Saxon England was divided into seven kingdoms called the Heptarchy-Kent, Essex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria.  Dumnonia covered what is now Cornwall and Devon.  The Picts controlled the area north of the Firth of Forth.  There were Welsh clans, and other Celtic groups lived west of Northumbria.  In the 100 years since Augustine and his company of monks was sent by Pope Gregory, most of the Anglo-Saxon groups had become Christians following the Roman traditions though the older Celtic Christianity still survived even after the Synod at Whitby in 664. 

AD 710 was marked by continued warfare among the kingdoms. Ine of Wessex and Northelm of Sussex were campaigning against the Britons of Dumnonia. Beorhtfrith described as a prefect of Northumbria fought the Picts in what in now Scotland. Since I will spend some time discussing crosses in Northumbria, I should mention that the two northern kingdoms of the Angles, Bernicia and Deira had been more or less united for a century under the Bernician king Aethelfrith (d. c. 616) forming the kingdom of Northumbria. Aethelfrith's  daughter, Aebba, converted to Celtic Christianity while living in exile in Dal Riata, the Gaelic kingdom of western Scotland and northern Ireland. She established a nunnery about 660 at Ebchester, bringing Christianity to the previously pagan Angles.

The last half of the 500s and 600s also saw the establishment of many monasteries that would influence Christianity in the British Isles for centuries. What follows is my no means a complete list of the abbeys and the monasteries and convents associated with the abbeys. I wanted to highlight a few.

According to tradition, Iona was founded on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland about 561 by Columba and twelve companions. This monastery is usually credited with the production of the gospel Book of Kells about 800 using the Vulgate Latin translation of Jerome.

[Since the illuminations of the Evangelists and the carpet pages of most of the books that I am about to write about are so well known, I have chosen to show the illuminations for the beginning of John. John 1.1: In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Most of these examples show the elaborate interlacing for which these manuscripts are renowned.]

Trinity College Dublin MS 58. The Book of Kells, f.292r.  John 1.1. It is a mostly Vulgate text. Made in a Columban monastery about 800.
See also:

The monastery at the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne was founded off the east coast of Scotland by Aidan from Iona at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria about 634. Lindisfarne was also the seat of the bishop. Perhaps the most famous of the early bishop-abbots of Lindisfarne was Cuthbert (c. 634-687) whose remains are now in Durham Cathedral.  A book of the Gospel of John was founded in the coffin of St. Cuthbert when it was opened in 1104.  Cuthbert died at Lindisfarne 687 and was buried there.  In 698 the monks thought that a more important grave site was due St. Cuthbert because of the miracles ascribed to him, so his body was reinterred. 

The Gospel Book of John dates to 690-700 or so and was made during the same time period as the more famous Lindisfarne Gospels.  Some time about 700 and perhaps as early as 698, the Gospel Book of St. Cuthbert, must have been put inside the coffin. Abbot-Bishop Cuthbert’s remains and those of Abbot-Bishop Eadfrith who was the scribe for the Lindisfarne gospels were removed from the island after the Viking raid of 793 to the mainland of Northumbria, now Scotland.  Cuthbert’s bodily remains were sent to several places before coming to rest at Durham Cathedral in 995.  In 1093, the foundation stone was placed for a Norman or Romanesque cathedral at Durham.  In 1104, the shrine for St. Cuthbert’s relics was complete.  It was then that the Gospel Book was found when the coffin was opened.

British Library Add MS 89000. Gospel book of St. Cuthbert. f.1r Made in Northunbria
The Gospel of John was made in the late 7th or early 8th century,

The most famous of the manuscripts produced at Lindisfarne was the Lindisfarne Gospels. The colophon at the end of the manuscript at f.259r, states that the manuscript was written by Eadfrith, bishop of Lindisfarne.  This dates to manuscript to sometime between 698 and Eadfrith’s death about 721.  So, for the sake of this note, one could say that the Lindisfarne Gospels were being produced in 710.
British Library MS Cotton Nero D IV. f.209v. John the Evangelist.

Intricate interlacing of carpet page for gospel of John. British Library Cotton Nero D IV f.210v.

Lindisfarne MS Cotton Nero D IV f.211r, John 1.1

The first church founded in Kent was St. Martin’s Church. It was founded by Queen Bertha, the Christian wife of the pagan King Æthelberht about 580. This parish is still in existence and thus is one of the oldest churches in continuous use in western Europe.  When Augustine arrived in 597 he used this church as his headquarters before building the new cathedral and establishing the Abbey of St. Peter and St Paul, later named St. Augustine’s Abbey.

Roman bricks re-used (spolia) in the wall of St. Martin’s Church at Canterbury, Kent.

The church that became Canterbury Cathedral had a Benedictine Abbey adjoined to it about 995. The impetus for the foundation of the Abbey seems to have the administrative reforms of Archbishop Dunstan who died in 988.  Many manuscripts thought to have been made in southeastern England are ascribed to Christ Church Abbey.

Bishop Birinus, a Frank, was a missionary to the West Saxons initially under King Cynegils in the 635.  The king gave him Rochester to be his bishopric.  Later under King Cenwahl, the Old Minster at Winchester was founded about 650. A priory was added sometime in the 10th century and it also was a major site for manuscript production. (Much more to come on “Winchester style.”)

Most of the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts come from the monasteries in Northumbria. The founding of these institutions during the late 7th century provides some interest glimpses into the history of the British Isles in what is usually considered the Dark Ages.

As noted previously Benedict Biscop founded St. Peter’s Abbey in Monkwearmouth, Northumbria, in 674 on land given to him by King Egfrid or Ecgfrith. About eight years later, St. Paul’s Abbey at Jarrow was founded by twenty monks from Wearmouth including the young Bede. Jarrow is about eight miles from Wearmouth even though they are considered twin institutions. The first abbot at Jarrow was Ceolfrith. Biscop brought in stonemasons and glaziers from Francia to build the churches and buildings in stone and include glass in the windows.  As noted previously Biscop brought home books and icons and other goods from his travels to furnish the libraries of Wearmouth and Jarrow.  In the year 710, the three large bibles associated with Wearmouth-Jarrow were being made including the Codex Amiatinus that Abbot Ceolfrith was carrying to Rome when he died.  Another gospel book of which only fragments remain is the Northumbrian Gospel Book at Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 197B. It also seems to date from the 8th century and displays the same elaborate interlacing seen in the other northern bibles or gospel books except the Codex Amiantinus.

The Northumbrian Gospels, Cambridge Corpus Christi College 197B, p.247. John 1.1

The Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, later known as the Abbey of St Augustine was founded by Augustine and his accompanying monks in 598. The first five Archbishops of Canterbury were Augustine (d. 605) and the men that accompanied him, namely Laurence (d. 619), Mellitus (d. 624), Honorius (d. 653).  Then came Deusdedit who was the first native born Archbishop. Not much is known about him though he established a nunnery in Kent at the Isle of Thenet and the Peterborough Abbey. He died about 664 or so since his name does not appear among those that attended the Synod of Whitby. He may have died from the plague.  According to Bede, his successor was Wighard or Wigheard who died in Rome before his consecration of the same disease. This allowed Pope Vitalian (d. 672) to choose an Archbishop from among the clergy in Italy and to send with him a learned man to become the Abbot of St. Augustine’s Abbey.

Pope Vitalian consecrated Theodore of Tarsus in 668 as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was a Byzantine Greek, fluent in Greek and Latin. He brought a tradition of classical learning and scholarship to Canterbury until his death in 690.  He began his years as Archbishop by spending time conducting a survey of British churches, appointing Bishops, and instituting administrative reforms such as the division of the large diocese of Northumbria, confirming the dating of Easter, limiting movement of monks and clerics, regulating marriage and divorce, convening of regular synods, and rules “intended to insure unanimity…of orthodox beliefs.”[ii]

Theodore had a rocky working relationship with one of his bishops, Wilfred, Bishop of York.  Wilfrid became abbot at Ripon in 660.  About 664 Wilfrid was appointed to be Bishop of York.  He went to Gaul to be consecrated, staying for three years, and in his absence, another man Ceadda or Chad was appointed Bishop of York.  (Chad resigned the see and went on to become the Bishop of Mercia and Lindsey at Lichfield.) When Theodore took over as Archbishop of Canterbury he affirmed Wilfrid as Bishop of York. Bishop Wilfrid took his complaint against King Egfrid or Ecgfrith to Rome in 679. While he was in Rome, Wilfrid's signature appears on Pope Agatho’s Italian Synod of 680, representing Britain. Wilfrid won his appeal but King Ecgrith would not take him back as bishop. In the meantime, Theodore divided the Northumbrian diocese into three parts.   Wilfrid eventually regained the much smaller Bishopic of York along with the monasteries at York, Hexham and Ripon before his death in 710. There is no written information about what Wilfrid brought back from his trip(s) to Rome but, surely, he brought back at least some manuscripts. 

Archbishop Theodore was accompanied by Hadrian or Adrian.  Hadrian was north African, perhaps Berber, in descent who went to Rome probably because of the Arab Muslim conquests of north Africa. He had been to France on more than one occasion before he accompanied Theodore to Canterbury.  Hadrian was abbot of a monastery in or near Naples. When Theodore and Hadrian left Rome, they traveled by sea to Marseille before going overland. They were accompanied for most of the trip by Benedict Biscop who was returning from Rome to Northumbria.  Theodore and Hadrian made it as far as Arles in southern France before being detained by Ebroin, Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. Ebroin did assert some control over Burgundy in about 668 but it is not clear if his control extended so far south.  In any case, Theodore and Hadrian were detained and had to obtain permission to cross Neustria. This took some time so that Theodore made it only to Paris by wintertime which he spent with the Bishop of Paris. In springtime, Theodore was sent for by King Ecgberht or Egbert of Kent.  Theodore arrived in Canterbury in the spring of 669, already 67 years old. Theodore was archbishop for 21 years.

Hadrian was detained perhaps because he was north African and suspected of being a spy for the Byzantine Emperor Constans II who was living at the time at Syracuse, Sicily.  Eventually Hadrian made it north as well after spending the time with the bishops of Sens and Meaux.  He probably arrived at Canterbury a year after Theodore in 670.  Soon after his arrival, Hadrian became Abbot of the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, later St. Augustine. Benedict Biscop served as Abbot in Hadrian’s place.  Once Hadrian arrived at the Abbey, he began his work as teacher and administrator. Abbot Hadrian obtained a papal privilege from Pope Agatho that prevented outside inference with the affairs of the monastery. (Ceolfirth obtained a similar letter of immunity from Pope Sergius I for Monkwearmouth-Jarrow.)  Theodore and Hadrian started the school at Canterbury that quickly became renown for the teaching of Greek and Latin. We know something of the teaching of the Old and New Testament to the students at the school thanks of a manuscript Biblioteca Ambrosiana M.79 sup. in Milan, translated as Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School of Theodore and Hadrian. Hadrian died in 709 or 710 after having served as abbot at Canterbury of almost 40 years.

As the late Rev Dr. Richard Pfaff pointed out in The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History, there is precious little evidence on which to base a reconstruction of the liturgical materials, bibles or gospel books available in the 7th, even early 8th century England. The Vulgate translations of the gospels in the Gospels of St. Augustine (Corpus Christi College Cambridge 286) is an Italian manuscript from the 6th century that may have accompanied the Gregorian mission to Kent.  But after that, there is not much surviving material on which to write a story about the links between the waning antique Roman and Byzantine Mediterranean cultures to the liturgical manuscripts found in the far northwestwardly British Isles.
The Gospels of St. Augustine. Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 286 f.208r, John 1
6th Century Italian Vulgate said to have accompanied Augustine to Canterbury.

The standard Biblical text in England seems to have been the Vulgate translation of the Bible. The use of the Vetus Latin or Old Latin bible seems to have persisted longer among the Irish, the pocket Gospel Book of Mulling being an example, written and illuminated in the second half of the 8th century.

Portrait of John the Evangelist holding a book and the opening page of John 1.
Book of Mulling, Trinity College Dublin, MS 60, ff. 81v-82. Second half of 8th century

One surviving link between Rome and Naples and the scriptoria of Northumbria is the British Library manuscript Royal 1 B VII. This gospel book dates to 700 to 749 and was created in Northumbria. This is a remarkably complete Vulgate translation gospel book including Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus, Jerome’s commentaries on each of the four gospels and his prologues for each of the gospels. There are Eusebian canon tables decorated with interlacing and human, animal and bird heads. For the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there are list of festivals in which portions of the gospel are to be read. 

British Library MS Royal 1 B VII f.130v. John 1. Made in Northumbria about 700-749.

The gospel book Royal 1 B VII is rather unlike its elaborately decorated cousin the Lindisfarne gospels.  It has been suggested that both books derive from a now lost exemplar from Neopolitan Italy, not copied from the other. The Royal 1 B VII gospel book includes the commemoration of St. Januarius, for example. Januarius was a legendary bishop of Beneventum who was supposedly martyred during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian. He is a patron saint of the diocese of Naples. The commemoration appears also in to Lindisfarne gospels.  Several theories suggest that this now lost gospel book was brought by Hadrian to Canterbury when he became abbot and where Benedict Biscop might have learned of the text.  Another theory is that Benedict Biscop might have brought back a Neapolitan gospel book or bible during his book buying trips.  The third suggestion is the Ceolfrith might have brought such a book from Italy when he returned to Northumbria with Benedict Biscop.

Thus, in the year 710, two great leaders of the English Church, Bishop Wilfred and the Abbot Hadrian died. The major scriptoria of the north, Landisfarne and Wearmouth-Jarrow, and probably others in Northumbria were producing memorable manuscripts such as the Gospel Book of St. Cuthbert, Royal 1B VII, the Lindisfarne gospels, and the Codex Amiatinus.  Bede was teaching and writing at the Abbey of St. Paul at Jarrow. In another decade, he would be writing his Ecclesiastical History of the English People or Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Fortunately, it would be another 80 or so years before the dread Viking ship prows appeared at Lindisfarne and later Wearmouth-Jarrow and Iona. In was in this period when classical learning was contending with the artistic traditions of the Irish, Angles and Saxons, that the Ruthwell Cross and the related Bewcastle Cross were carved.

[i] Veronica Ortenburg. “Archbishop Sigeric’s Journey to Rome, 990” in Michael Lapidge, Malcolm Godden, Simon Keynes, (eds) Anglo-Saxon England 19. Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 197-246.
[ii] Michael Lapidge, “The Career of Archbishop Theodore,” in Lapidge, Michael. Archbishop Theodore: Commemorative Studies on His Life and Influence. Cambridge Univ Pr, 2006, at p. 26. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Crux Gemmata

I mentioned crosses covered with precious metals and gems or crux gemmata before when writing about the Cross in Dream of the Rood. (Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 6). 

It appears that when the depiction of the Cross of Crucifixion became an object for public display, there were two themes.  The first was the preciousness of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins. Though the wood of the cross was coarse, crude and rough, stained with blood, the sacrifice of God’s Son was so matchless and priceless that only the most costly and beautiful materials were worthy to hold pieces of the sacred wood.  The other was the desire to publicly display and celebrate what once was a mean method of inflicting torture and death.  Thus, the crux gemmata not only used precious gems but also colored glass to make the displayed cross more impressive from a distance.

Though the impulse to lavish such costly materials on an object of torture, terror and death, is the antithesis of the depiction of a wooden cross, these crux gemmata are visually stunning.  I can well imagine the awe that pilgrims coming to Constantinople, Rome and Ravenna must have experienced when seeing them. Especially for the new Christians of the north, the cross must have been especially arresting since crucifixion was not a form of punishment used by them, though they would have known about hanging and gallows. 

The mosaic crux gemmata were made well into the 13th century.  I have chosen the oldest crosses made before 1100, moving generally from south and east to west and north. As, I have commented previously, the survival of these objects is dependent on so many events in history, such as the periods of iconoclasm in the Byzantine empire, 726-787 and 814-842, sack of Rome by Alaric I in 410, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and all the other wars in Europe. The sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 brought many relics back to Europe including many purported fragments of the True Cross. I am going to exclude the reliquaries made for these objects from this note.

    Apse mosaic with crux gemmata made about 415 but extensively restored.The Basilica of Santa Pudenziana. Note the the mosaic dates to after the sack of Rome in 410.

Crux gemmata in the apse of the chapel of chapel of Saints Primus and Felicianus in the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo, Rome. Made about 470.

Crux gemmata. The top picture is the cross above the 6th century lunette mosaic of the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek. Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.
The bottom picture is the crux gemmata above the 6th century lunette of the hospitality of  Abraham (and Sarah) to the three angels at the Oaks of Mamre and the Sacrifice of Isaac.  Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna.

Crux gemmata in the apse mosaic of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. In the center of the cross is the face of Jesus and above the cross is the hand of God. In addition to the starry sky that surrounds the cross, there is an alpha and omega. First half of 6th century.

 Detail of a mosaic crux gemmata decorating an arch in the Hagia Sophia. Date uncertain.

 Crux Vaticana, also called the Cross of Justin II. In the Treasury of St. Peter's. It was given to the Pope, probably Pope John III, about 568, by Emperor Justin II and his wife Sophia of Constantinople. [This is about the same time as the fragment of the True Cross was given to Radegund and the Abbey of the Holy Cross.] The Latin inscription on the cross reads Ligno quo Christus humanum subdidit hostem dat Romae Iustinus opem et socia decorem or "With the wood with which Christ conquered man's enemy, Justin gives his help to Rome and his wife offers the ornamentation."  Restored 2009. The center cross contains a relic of the True Cross. The front of the cross is gold set with jewels and includes pendilia of gems instead of an alpha and omega. The back of the cross in repouseé silver gilt with a medallion of the Lamb of God.

A fragment from Codex Usserianus Primus, a Old Latin (not Vulgate) gospel book.  This framed and decorated cross that looks alot like a crux gemmata with alpha and omega pendilia. This decoration occurs at the end of Mark and before Luke. Dated to between 400 and 600, it may have been made in Ireland or Bobbio (Italy) or continental Europe. For an interesting review and link to the digital version, see the Trinity College Dublin website on the Codex Usserianus Primus. 

Visogothic votive crux gemmata. 7th century. Part of the Treasure of Guarrazar.

Visigothic gold cross set with precious and semi-precious stone and pendilia. 7th century.Treasure of Torredonjimeno, Museo Arquelógico, Barcelona. Inv. nr 390.

Ardennes Cross. Wood cross covered with gold, semi-precious stones and colored glass. Made in northern France about 825-850. This was a processional cross. Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg,

Crux gemmata called the Cross of Otto-Mathilde or Otto-Mathilden-KreuzMade between 973 and 982 or a bit later. Made in Essen or Cologne or Trier. Parts may have been made in more than workshop and then assembled at another.  The core of the processional cross is oak covered in sheet of gold. Set with pearls and precious stones and enamel plaques.  The one at the bottom is Mathilde, Abbess, and her brother Otto, Duke. The back is copper gilt and engraved with the Four Evangelists.

Jeweled crosses seem not to be depicted in illuminated manuscripts, though the illumination of King Cnut and his Queen Aelfgifu (or Emma) giving a large gold cross seems to be the exception. The page appears in the Liber Vitae of Newminster and Hyde. The manuscript was made in south-west England, probably at Winchester by the scribe Aelfsige about 1031.

 King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu (also called Emma) before a large gold cross on an altar. Above them, angels hold a veil over Aelfgifu, a crown over Cnut, and gesture upwards toward an image of Christ in Majesty in a mandorla holding an open book, flanked by Mary and Peter. Below the feet of the king and queen are monks looking upward within arches.
British Library Stowe 944 f.6

These last three crosses are not strictly speaking crux gemmata, though the cross that is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection appears to be jeweled at first glance. The cross has a Mediterranean cedar wood core covered with gold and enamels. One can speculate that since the wood was not native to Great Britain, that it might have been considered to be the wood of the True Cross. The wood cross is Ottonian. The four round enamels depict the symbols for the four Evangelists. There is a cavity beneath the walrus ivory corpus that holds a female finger bone,  The inscription at the top of the cross is Jesus of Nazareth in Latin. Inscriptions along the edge of the cross are now unreadable. Though the cross was assembled at Winchester between 900-1000, the enamels might have been brought from continental Europe as was the wood. The walrus ivory corpus is Anglo-Saxon made in the Winchester style.
Reliquary cross, Victoria and Albert Museum. 7943-1862.

The second reliquary cross brings me back to green crosses. This reliquary cross was made in the Meuse River valley (referred to as Mosan) about 1150-1175.  It is copper gilt and covered with champlevé and cloissané enamels. Jesus is shown crucified on a green cross against a starry blue sky.  The hand of God is depicted at the top of the green cross. At the base of the cross is a chalice for collecting the precious blood and water. The sun and moon are also represented. Instead of the four Evangelists at the ends of the arms of the cross, there are four virtues.  Clockwise from the top are Hope, Faith, Obedience and Innocence. Hope holds a chalice and communion wafer and is identified with SP-ES. Faith [FID-ES] touches a baptismal font. Obedience [OBEDI-ENTIA] has a cross on her chest. Innocence [I-NOCENTIA] holds a white lamb for Christ as the lamb of God. The back of the reliquary cross is now missing.  

 Reliquary Cross, Mosan, made about 1150-1175.  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The last reliquary cross I plan to mention is the Brussels Cross or Drahmel Cross made in the early 11th century in England, perhaps Winchester. The front of the Brussels Cross has been lost, probably melted down for its precious metal and stripped of its gems during the French Revolutionary Wars about 1793. Even though, the crux gemmata side of the cross is lost, its link to Anglo-Saxon England is evident in its inscription.
Rod is min nama.         Geo ic ricne cyning 
bær byfigynde,         blode bestemed. 
þas rode het æþlmær wyrican and Aðelwold hys beroþor 
Criste to lofe for ælfrices saule hyra beroþor. 

I must depend on others for the translation: Rood is my name; Trembling once, I bore a powerful king, made wet (bedewed) with blood. Æthlmær and Athelwold, his brother, ordered this rood made for the love of Christ, for the soul of Ælfric, their brother.

The lines of the inscription recall lines 44 and 48 of Dream of the Rood.

Rod wæs ic aræred; ahof ic ricne cyning...
As a rood was I reared. I lifted the mighty King...
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere; eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed...
They mocked us, both together. I was entirely bedewed with blood...

[Please see Clerk of Oxford, Wuldres treow.]

The back of the Brussels Cross is silver over wood and is inscribed with Drahmel me worhte, Drahmel made me.  The wood of the cross was thought to be the largest piece of the True Cross remaining. The ends of the cross have the symbols for the four Evangelists and in the center, there is a Lamb of God. 
Brussels or Drahmel Cross. The Treasure of the Cathedral in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Brussels, Belgium.

Now that I have found my path back to Anglo-Saxon England, green crosses and Dream of the Rood, I will pick up with the Ruthwell Cross and its link to vegetation.