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. 

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

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.  

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