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 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 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.  http://www.heritagedaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/vik33.jpg

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. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/2016/03/23/vikinghoard/01vikingtreasure.adapt.1190.1.jpg

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. 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. http://www.irishheritage.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Monastery-224x300.jpg

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. http://www.bl.uk/IllImages/Ekta/mid/E115/E115495.jpg 

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.

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.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/KellsFol292rIncipJohn.jpg
See also: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

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,
http://julianharrison.typepad.com/.a/6a013488b55a86970c019b03463506970d-500wi
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_89000_fs001r

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.
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/e8/0b/8c/e80b8c5f305b30f21c379e3511b45298.jpg

Intricate interlacing of carpet page for gospel of John. British Library Cotton Nero D IV f.210v.
http://imageweb-cdn.magnoliasoft.net/britishlibrary/supersize/pod87.jpg

Lindisfarne MS Cotton Nero D IV f.211r, John 1.1
http://www.oberlin.edu/images/Art315/13494.JPG

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.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a9/Canterbury_St_Martin_chancel_wall.jpg/220px-Canterbury_St_Martin_chancel_wall.jpg

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
http://dms.stanford.edu/image/qw038wz9710/197B_247_TC_46/small

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
https://i1.wp.com/www.tcd.ie/Library/early-irish-mss/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/082-MS60_15_LO_crop_750.gif?resize=474%2C497

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.
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=royal_ms_1_b_vii_f130v

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. http://www.stpudenziana.org/images/mosaico3.jpg


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. https://i1.wp.com/corvinus.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Santo-Stefano3.jpg?w=1024



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.https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3935/15610829652_ab6603dbc1_b.jpg
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. 
http://l.yimg.com/g/images/spaceout.gif


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.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/42/Ravenna_BW_4.JPG/800px-Ravenna_BW_4.JPG


 Detail of a mosaic crux gemmata decorating an arch in the Hagia Sophia. Date uncertain. 
http://frugalfirstclasstravel.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/img_3089.jpg


 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.
http://www.cruxvaticana.com/album/3/22400941.jpg


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.
 https://i2.wp.com/www.tcd.ie/Library/early-irish-mss/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/149v.gif?resize=474%2C508 


Visogothic votive crux gemmata. 7th century. Part of the Treasure of Guarrazar.
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2d/Tesoro_de_Guarrazar_%28M.A.N._Inv.71210%29_01b.jpg/157px-Tesoro_de_Guarrazar_%28M.A.N._Inv.71210%29_01b.jpg

Visigothic gold cross set with precious and semi-precious stone and pendilia. 7th century.Treasure of Torredonjimeno, Museo Arquelógico, Barcelona. Inv. nr 390.
http://www.hubert-herald.nl/EspanVisigoth_bestanden/image043.jpg


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,  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5c/Ardennenkreuz_%28croce_processionale%29%2C_francia_del_nord_o_germania_occ.le%2C_825-850_ca_01.JPG/220px-Ardennenkreuz_%28croce_processionale%29%2C_francia_del_nord_o_germania_occ.le%2C_825-850_ca_01.JPG

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. 
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b9/Otto_Mathilden_Kreuz.jpg

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
http://www.bl.uk/IllImages/BLCD/mid/c138/c13834-75.jpg

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.
 http://media.vam.ac.uk/media/thira/collection_images/2006BC/2006BC6621_jpg_ds.jpg


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. 
http://www.learn.columbia.edu/treasuresofheaven/relics/jpegs/117.85.jpg

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. http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2012/04/wuldres-treow.html.]

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. 
 http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1369/4110/1600/250px-Brussels_Cross.jpg

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. 











Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How the Legend of the True Cross Travelled West, Part 2

As I have previously written, within a generation of the finding of the True Cross, or at least old olive wood, in Jerusalem, fragments of the wood were distributed widely as noted by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lecture X Sec. 19 (written c.348).[i]

The holy wood of the Cross bears witness, seen among us to this day, and from this place now almost filling the whole world, by means of those who in faith take portions from it.

Socrates Scholasticus (Ecclesiastical History, Bk. I, Ch. XVII) wrote that pieces of the Cross were sent to Jerusalem and Constantinople. Presumably a piece taken back to the palace of Helen Augusta in Rome along with other passion artifacts from her trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. In any case, a record in the Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes) perhaps begun in the 5th or 6th century, reports that Pope Sylvester I (Pope from 324-335) built a basilica (an oblong church with a semicircular apse) in the Sessorian palace, the residence of Helena Augusta at the time of her death in about 330.  In this church, the pope placed some “wood of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” encased in gold and decorated with jewels.[ii]  This church is now the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.  

As written earlier in this blog, it is thought that the sermon of Ambrose of Milan for the funeral of Theodosius in 395 is the first account of the finding of the True Cross by Helena Augusta, the mother of Emperor Constantine.  Apparently a slightly earlier version was written by Gelasius, bishop of Caesarea, about 390 as part of a continuation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, but this is lost.

The mass migrations or invasions of numerous non-Christian populations into western Europe during the 400s blocked the spread of the True Cross legends.  It appears that coming of orthodox Roman Catholic Christianity and the cult of relics to non-Christians in the 5th and 6th centuries carried the legends of the True Cross with the missionaries from the lands around the Mediterranean Sea.

It is not my intent to go into the long discussion about the distribution of the fragments of the True Cross from Jerusalem and Constantinople. I will tell two stories. 

One story with a cast of interesting men and a woman, illustrates the wanderings of at least one fragment of the True Cross that is told by Paulinus of Nola (c. 354-432) in his letter 31.[iii] Paulinus of Nola was born in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, south-west France, into a family of wealth and privilege.  He was ordained as a priest while married, and he and Theresia, his wife, moved to Nola, now a suburb of Naples, Campania, Italy. He and his wife sold or donated their properties and possessions and gave to the poor and funded the building of a church, hospice for the poor, and an aqueduct.

About 395, Paulinus wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem and wrote to Jerome living in Bethlehem. Jerome wrote back to Paulinus discouraging him. Jerome reminded Paulinus that the “access to the courts of heaven is as easy from Britain as it is from Jerusalem; for ‘the kingdom of God is within you.’”[iv]  Jerome went on to complain that Jerusalem, and even bucolic Bethlehem, was too full of men and women tourists coming from everywhere. In addition, Jerusalem was a city filled with soldiers, court officers, criminals, actors, civil and church officials, and having the vices of a city such as prostitutes, plays, social parties and the overindulgence at large social gatherings. Paulinus and Theresia, his wife, stayed home.

Next, two characters are added to the story.  The first is Melania the Elder (c. 341-410), a very wealthy Roman widow, friend and perhaps kinswoman of Paulinus, and friend and patroness of Rufinus of Aquileia, the previously mentioned writer of an Ecclesiastical History. The second person is the controversial Bishop John II of Jerusalem (ruled from 387-417, after the death of Bishop Cyril mentioned above). Bishop John was a friend to Melania the Elder and her friend and protégée Rufinus.  Apparently, Bishop John was also friends with Jerome until sometime around 395 or so when a schism developed.  Sometime about 398, Jerome wrote an acerbic letter/treatise called, “To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem” accusing him or heresy (Origenism) and an inability to maintain discipline in Jerusalem and vicinity.[v]

As Bishop of Jerusalem, John II would have had access to the wood of the True Cross maintained as a sacred relic in Jerusalem. It is he that gave fragment of wood from the True Cross to Melania the Elder.[vi]  Melania the Elder gave a piece of the True Cross to Paulinus of Nola who in turn sent a sliver of the True Cross to his friend and fellow countryman, Sulpicius Severus (c.363-425).[vii]

Stained glass window of Sulpice Sévère (Sulpicus Severus) in Cathedral of St. Stephen in Bourges, France. Window located in choir triforium; north side window 103. Dated to 1230. http://www.therosewindow.com/pilot/Bourges/images/w103l-80474.JPG

What became of the relics worn by Paulinus and Severus is not known. 

Severus was presbyter in the Church as well as a writer and poet known for his classical style of writing in Latin.  He wrote among other works Sacred History and On the Life of St. Martin. Severus mentions the finding of the True Cross by Helena in Jerusalem in his Sacred History, but he says nothing about the fragmentation of the True Cross or its disbursal. Severus was a disciple of St. Martin of Tours, and lived at or near Toulouse.[Aside-Though the Emperor Honorius gave Toulouse and Aquitania to the Visigoths in 418, the Visigoths were Christians, just Arian Christians, a heretical sect to Trinitarian Roman Catholic Christianity.]

 Top panel: Anderedus's child is healed by lying on St. Radegonde's hair shirt. Bottom panel. St. Radegonde revived a sick child. St. Radegonde’s Church, Poitiers, France. North window no. 109. Original 13th century glass fragments from a life of St. Radegund in a window made about 1900. http://www.therosewindow.com/pilot/Poitiers-StRadegonde/images/n1r-1-2-IMG_4296.JPG

Detail of north window 113.  St. Radegonde in center with two companions, Abbess Agnes and Abbess Disciola.  Stained glass made about 1275.  Reset in present window in 18th and 20th centuries.  St. Radegonde’s Church, Poitiers, France. http://www.therosewindow.com/pilot/Poitiers-StRadegonde/images/n3-L-rosette-IMG_4325.JPG

The second story is that of Radegund, the founder of the Abbey Our Lady or St. Mary, later the Abbey of the Holy Cross, Poitiers.  Radegund’s name has many spellings including Radegonde, Redegonda, Radegonda, Radegundis, among others. There are two sources for the life of this Thuringian princess, Vita Sanctae Radegundis by her friend, Venantius Fortunatus, and Vita Radegundis written by Baudovina, a nun at the Abbey of the Holy Cross, about twenty years later.  These Lives are supplemented with Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, translated as History of the Franks, and a few surviving letters.[viii]  

Radegund was born about 520 to Bertachar, King of Thuringia, an area that is now in central Germany. Her father was defeated in battle and killed by his brother, Hermanfrid. The child Radegund was presumably sent to live with her uncle Hermanfrid. 

Hermanfrid made a pact with Theuderic I, the Merovingian king of Metz or Austrasia (now northern France, much of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and part of Germany) to attack Hermanfrid’s remaining brother, Baderic.  Once Hermanfrid and Theuderic defeated Baderic in 529, Hermanfrid reneged on his promise to give Theuderic half his kingdom.  Then the Frankish king Theuderic with his brother Clotaire or Clothar or Chlothar, also called Lothar, attacked Thuringia, and eventually defeated them in 531 with the resultant death of Radegund’s remaining family except for her brother.

An argument ensued among the Frankish leaders for the spoils of war but ended with casting lots.   Chlothar won, and he took the 10-year-old or so child Radegund back to his villa of Athies in Picardy to be raised as his wife. She was taught to read and write.  

Chlothar had at least seven wives and consorts including Guntheuc, his brother’s widow; Theodosia of Burgundy; Ingund, and her sister, Aregund; Chunsina; Radegund; and Wuldetrada. 

About 540, Chlothar, forty-something, married Radegund, probably about 19 or so.  There were no children. Fortunatus describes her distaste for married life by describing how she would leave the marriage bed at night to relieve herself and then prostrate herself on the cold ground under a hair shirt to pray.

About the time that Chlothar murdered Radegund’s brother, she left her husband. Radegund was probably in the late 20s and her husband in his 50s. According to Baudovinia, Radegund retired to a villa at Saix where she came to an arrangement with her husband to endow a convent. When her husband changed his mind, and decided to retrieve Radegund from her abbey at Poitiers, she turned to Bishop Germanus of Paris.   At the shrine of  St. Martin of Tours, she lay in tears on the ground before King Chlothar accompanied by the Bishop.  The Bishop interceded to change Chlothar’s mind. He asked Queen Radegund for forgiveness and provided an endowment for the Abbey. 

Venantius Fortunatus recounts a different story.  When Radegund fled from her husband Chlothar, she went to Menardus, Bishop of Noyon.  When he was reluctant to allow her to become a monarcha or nun, she put on the monastic garb herself.  She shamed Menardus by saying, “If you shrink from consecrating me, and fear man more than God, Pastor, He will require His sheep’s soul from your hand.” Bishop Menardus consecrated Radegund a deaconess. Only after this, did she retire to Saix.  After distributing her personal wealth, one of her first acts as a deaconess was to grind flour by hand for religious communities. She seems to have developed a community of women even before establishing the Abbey.

Fortunatus described the extreme ascetic practices and mortification of the flesh practiced by Radegund during her marriage and after her withdrawal to the convent. She not only fasted to the extreme, when she did eat, she ate no animal products. But even her diet of grains and vegetables was inadequate. She frequently denied herself water and other liquids to drink. The burning and other harm she did to her physical body would be considered self-injury today and would be traced to all the traumatic events of her early life.  In her time, her activities were thought to bring her closer to the “sweetness of Christ.”[ix]

We know little about the founding of the Abby of Our Lady or St. Mary itself, though in a letter to the Bishops, Radegund wrote,

I established a monastery of girls in the city of Poitiers and endowed the institution with a donation as far as royal munificence granted me. Moreover, for the congregation collected through me for Christ, I received the rule under which holy Caesaria lived, which the solicitude of blessed Caesarius, bishop of Arles brought together fittingly from the institution of the holy Fathers.[x]

The founding of the Abbey is traditionally dated to about 552 with Agnes, the foster daughter of Radegund, as the first Abbess. Radegund and the community of nuns established a hospice for feeding paupers twice a week and caring for the sick, especially women with skin diseases.

According to Baudovinia, Radegund sought relics for the convent and the mortuary chapel St. Mary-outside-the-wall, later called St. Radegund’s Church, being built at Poitiers. First, Radegund sent a priest named Reoval to the Patriarch of Jerusalem to request some relics of a martyr named Mammas entombed in Jerusalem. Radegund received a finger sent to Poitiers from Jerusalem.[xi]

Baudovinia compared Radegund to Helena, the mother of Constantine, in her desire for the True Cross. She wrote to King Sigebert I, the king who had control over Poitiers, asking his permission to contact the Emperor Justin II and his wife Sophia in Constantinople. Radegund petitioned the Emperor for piece of the True Cross.  The Emperor sent back not only the wood but also legates with gospels ornamented with gold and gems.[xii] These events probably took place in 568-9.

The bishop of Poitiers, Maroveus, refused to accept the wood of the True Cross into Poitiers. Then Radegund, “her spirit blazing in a fighting mood” wrote to King Sigebert again while the relics were kept at a monastery founded by the king at Tours.[xiii]  Sigebert sent word to Bishop Eufronius of Tours.  It was he who welcomed the relics, led the procession, and had them installed at the Abbey, whose name changed to the Abbey of the Holy Cross.

On the occasion of the procession of the relic of the True Cross from the outskirts of Poitiers to the Abbey, Venantius Fortunatus composed two hymns.  The first was Vexilla Regis prodeunt. For a discussion of this hymn in English, see: A Clerk of Oxford: Vexilla Regis Prodeunt: Þe kynges baneres beth forth ylad. (http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2012/04/vexilla-regis-prodeunt-e-kynges-baneres.html.) The other hymn was Pange lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis.[xiv] These hymns are still in use, usually in translation, more than 1400 years after they were written.

The Abbey of the Holy Cross was severely damaged during the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century but then rebuilt. The Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution.

The presence of a fragment of the True Cross at Poitiers made it a pilgrimage site, helping to spread the legends of the True Cross.

I try to imagine what the casket looked like that brought the True Cross from Constantinople. All I can imagine are the Fieschi Morgan staurothekehe, or the beautiful bursa caskets such as the one at The Cloisters at Washington Heights on Manhattan Island, or the spectacular champlevé reliquaries from 600 years after the founding of the Abbey of the Holy Cross.

The Fieschi Morgan Staurotheke made in Constantinople in the early 9th century apparently to hold relics including a cross. Silver gilt, gold, enamel and niello. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 17.190.715a, b. 
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_17.190.715ab.jpg



10th century bursa reliquary made in northern Italy of wood, bone, and copper gilt.
The Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 53.19.2
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_53.19.2.jpg


Chasse of Champagnat made in Limoges, France about 1150 of copper, gilt, and champlevé enamels. Metropolitan Museum of Art.17.190.685–87, .695, .710–.711 http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_17.190.685.jpg

Back of Reliquary Cross showing scenes of Helen finding the True Cross. Made in Belgium (Mosan) about 1165. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Made of copper alloy gilt with enamel and semi-precious stones. http://www.learn.columbia.edu/treasuresofheaven/relics/jpegs/298.87-300float.jpg.





[i] Wilhelm Ziehr in his book Das Kreuz. Symbol · Gestalt · Bedeutung (Stuttgart / Darmstadt: Belser / Wiss. Buchges. 1997) reported microscopically examining 4 particles from the True Cross relics found at Santa Croce (Rome), Notre Dame (Paris), Cattedrale di Pisa, and Duomo di Firenze. He found that all four were made of olive wood. Olive wood is rot resistant, hard (not great for hammering in iron spikes but great for durability and re-use) and it does not bend under stress. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture X. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310110.htm.  In contrast stories about the Cross being found in Jerusalem, the Pilgrim from Bordeaux who visited Jerusalem in AD 333, reported the building of Constantine’s basilica, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but made no mention of a cross. http://www.centuryone.com/bordeaux.html.
[ii] Loomis, Louise R. The Book of the Popes (Liber Pontificalis) I. New York: Columbia University Press, Ch. XXXIV, p. 59.  Newer translation: Davis, Raymond, The Book of Pontiffs (Liber Pontificalis): The Ancient Biographies of the First Ninety Roman Bishops to Ad 715. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1989.
[iii]“Letter 31 to Severus” in Paulinus, Pontius M, and Patrick G. Walsh (eds.). Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola: Vol. 2. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1967, pp. 125-133.
[iv] “Letter LVIII to Paulinus” in W. H. Fremantle. The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Select library of Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian Church., Second series 6; Oxford: James Parker and Co, 1893. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.LVIII.html.
[v] NPNF2-06. Jerome: The Principal Works of St. Jerome. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.vi.viii.html. For a detailed examination of the reasons for the sharp criticism of Bishop John by Jerome, see the introduction to this letter. The controversy arose because Jerome thought that John II believed in Origenism.  The four main points of Origenism are (i) the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, (2) that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were no co-equal and (3) a confusing set of beliefs about the eternity of creation.  All created rational souls are equal. Though the material world was created at the same time as the spiritual one, the spiritual world came prior. Only imperfect spirits have bodies.  (4) Redemption is available to all rational beings.  Of particular concern was the concept of the Trinity.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each had a different sphere of influence of unequal power and dignity, e.g. the Father is creator, the Son is redeemer, the Spirit is sanctifier.  In liturgical practice this meant praying to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. This was interpreted to mean that God was the pre-eminent whole divinity and that the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate persons, not the now usual Athanasian interpretation familiar to most orthodox Christians that the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit but all members of the Trinity are co-equal. Athanasius (c. 297-373) was Bishop of Alexandria (I am dependent on The Catholic Encyclopedia, here, and I hope “I got it right.”)  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11306b.htm.
[vi] For information about Melania the Elder and her equally famous grand-daughter, Melania the Younger, see: Chin, Catherine M. (ed.), and Caroline T. Schroeder (ed.). Melania: Early Christianity Through the Life of One Family, Oakland, University of California Press. 2016. Melania the Elder died in Sicily in 410 having left Rome just as Alaric, the Visigoth, sacked Rome. Her grand-daughter and family settled in Thagaste, north Africa, now Algeria, before departing for Jerusalem. Thagaste or Tagaste was the birthplace of Augustine of Hippo. For an interesting look at itinerant religious travelers, see: Dietz, Maribel. Wandering Monks, Virgins, and Pilgrims: Ascetic Travel in the Mediterranean World, A.D. 300-800. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.  The Benedictine vow on stability did not begin until sometime in the 6th century, about two hundred years after the events related above.
[vii] “Letter 31 to Severus” in Pontius M, and Patrick G. Walsh (eds.). Letters of St. Paulinus of Nola: Vol. 2. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1967, pp. 125-133.  Some writings of Sulpicius Severus have survived including his life of St. Martin of Tours and his Sacred History. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf211.ii.html.
[viii] Carlin, Martha (trans.) Venantius Fortunatus: Life of St. Radegund. http://people.uwm.edu/carlin/venantius-fortunatus-life-of-st-radegund/. “Radegund, Queen of the Franks and Abbess of Poitiers (ca. 525–587)” in Jo Ann McNamara, JoAnn, E. Gordon Whatley, John E. Halborg. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham. Duke University Press. (1992) pp.60-105. Gregory, of T, and Lewis Thorpe. The History of the Franks. Harmondsworth (England: Penguin Books, 1986.) Epistolae: Radegund of Thuringia. https://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/woman/89.htm Patricia Cox Miller, “Visceral Seeing: The Holy Body in Late Ancient Christianity,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12.4 (Winter 2004): 391-411. Glenn, Jason. “Two Lives of St. Radegund,” in Glenn, Jason. The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011, pp.57-70.
[ix] Fortunatus, Venantius. Life of Holy Radegund.Ch 26. http://people.uwm.edu/carlin/venantius-fortunatus-life-of-st-radegund/. Or “Radegund, Queen of the Franks and Abbess of Poitiers (ca. 525–587)” in Jo Ann McNamara, JoAnn, E. Gordon Whatley, John E. Halborg. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham. Duke University Press. (1992) pp.60-105 at p. 81.
[x] A letter from Radegund of Thuringia (561-67?) to the Bishops. https://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/914.html. Included in Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum.
[xi] Radegund, Queen of the Franks and Abbess of Poitiers (ca. 525–587)” in Jo Ann McNamara, JoAnn, E. Gordon Whatley, John E. Halborg. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham. Duke University Press. (1992) pp.60-105 at
pp. 95-6.
[xii] Ibid., p.97.
[xiii]Ibid., p.98.
[xiv] http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/Vexilla.html. http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/PangeF.html.