Cross and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England

An Interdisciplinary Conference in Durham, England
August 3-4, 2001
St. John's College, University of Durham


George H. Brown, Stanford University
The Venerable Bede and the Cross

As "The Dream of the Rood" poem contrasts the image of the cross as at once an ugly gallows of death and a triumphant cosmic sign of Christ and his followers' victory over death, and as the Northumbrians recognize and venerate this paradoxical sign in their monuments and literature, so Bede is in their vanguard by his constant re-presentation of the cross. He sees the cross everywhere and calls attention to it both as a physical object (especially in his historical works) and as a symbol of salvation (especially in his exegetical works). So its allegorical typological presence even in unlikely objects and events is a notable recurrent phenomenon in his exegesis of the Old Testament, where the cross is proleptically and sometimes surprisingly present in numerous biblical scenes. Although in comparison to Aldhelm and later Anglo-Latin writers, Bede is considered a sober, conservative, restrained writer, in this ingenious forefronting of the cross he employs an exuberant poetic artifice and a rhetoric that is comparable to seventeenth-century metaphysical poets' use of conceits.

Joyce Hill, University of Leeds
Preaching the Cross: Texts and Contexts from the Benedictine Reform

The context for this paper is the liturgy of the Benedictine Reform; the texts are Ælfric’s two homilies on the cross: for the Feast of the Invention in the Catholic Homilies, and for the Feast of the Exaltation in the Lives of Saints. These two collections provide textual milieux which are quite distinct from each other, the Catholic Homilies on the one hand being intended as a set of models for the secular church, and the Lives of Saints on the other being explicitly related to monastic practice and produced, probably initially as an anthology for reading, at the insistence of Ælfric’s patrons who wanted to engage with the monastic legendary. The paper will focus on the choices made by Ælfric for these different contexts — choices of feast, source-texts, and mode of presentation — with the intention of discovering more about Ælfric’s sensitivity to different needs and the significance of the cross in the different religious contexts found within the Reform period.

Catherine E. Karkov, Miami University, Ohio
Abbot Ælfwine and the Sign of the Cross

Some of the most unusual and complex examples of late Anglo-Saxon manuscript illumination were produced at the New Minster, Winchester during the time that Ælfwine was dean and abbot, chief amongst them the New Minster Liber Vitae (London, BL, Stowe 944) of ca. 1031, and Ælfwine's Prayerbook (London, BL, Cotton Titus D.xxv1 and xxvii) of 1023-35. The former contains the well-known double portrait of Ælfgifu and Cnut presenting a cross to the New Minster (fol. 6), and the latter the equally well-known images of the "Quinity" (fol. 75v) and Crucifixion (fol. 65v). This paper will explore the iconographic and ideological relationship between the illustrated programs of the two books. What is the meaning of the sign of the cross in the two manuscripts and their respective illustrations? What do they reveal about Ælfwine himself and the concerns of the New Minster in the second quarter of the eleventh century?

Sarah Larratt Keefer, Trent University, Ontario
Tracking the Veneration of the Cross Synaxis

The Regularis Concordia makes provision for an unusually full Veneration of the Cross service at Nones on Good Friday: where did it come from? what precedent was there for such a service, either piece-meal or as a preconstructed totality, on the continent? was it ever carried out in England as prescribed? how did the Norman Conquest affect it (and how much did it affect Norman practice)? The paper in hand will attempt to explore answers to some of these questions, with particular emphasis on the origins of the service, and on its performative first part (the Improperia and Trisagion, the antiphons and psalms, and the use of the full version of the Pange Lingua), as new evidence has come to light of this synaxis being copied at least twice in eleventh century Anglo-Saxon England. Attention will also be given to the 'Cross sepulture' at the end of the Regularis Concordia Good Friday Office: while its antiphons commonly appear in later musical collections as part of the Holy Saturday service, it is attested to for Good Friday in the Ordinary of Bayeux and the sepulture itself appears in ordo material from the Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, but its antiphons are also preserved in one of the newly-identified eleventh century English texts.

Roy Michael Liuzza, Tulane University
Prayers and/or Charms Addressed to the Cross

The use of the cross as an object of power in Anglo-Saxon charms, particularly those for the recovery of stolen property, is well known; liturgies and prayers for the Veneration of the Cross have also been studied in some detail. A text found in BL Cotton Tiberius A. iii, fol. 59rv and in CCCC 391, pp. 617-18, however, seems to be situated at the intersection of these two usually separate genres. It is described as a ‘charm’ by its most recent editor but it takes the form of a prayer addressed to the cross; it is remarkable among charms involving the cross for the elaboration of its synactic elements and its manuscript context amid other orthodox prayers to the cross. My paper examines this text and others like it in order to ask a series of questions: when is a ‘prayer’ a ‘charm’? is there a generic marker for ‘charm’ inherent in the text, apparent in the context, or implicit in the intended effect? what structural elements, if any, distinguish this text from surrounding material? how does the cross function in this text as both object of veneration and sign of power?

Éamonn Ó Carragáin, University College Cork
Theology and English Poetry: The Case of Maximus Confessor

Many scholars spend their lives usefully establishing intellectual contexts for English poetry. The trouble is that the most innovative and exciting theological thought was often highly technical and written in Latin and Greek. A good example is the monothelete controversy of the seventh and early eighth century. It led to the martyrdom of Pope Martin I and of Maximus the Confessor. It is good to record that Martin, the last pope to be martyred, was martyred in the same cause as the most innovative theologian of the age, Maximus. In that controversy, at least, there was no opposition between good theology and the papacy.

To defend the reality of Christ's human courage, Maximus the Confessor produced new and highly innovative analyses of human will (thelesis) and of Christ's human will in particular. All of this seems highly relevant to Old English poetry, so much concerned with courage, and in particular to the Dream of the Rood and the related poem at Ruthwell. But how could a backwoods monastery in a place like Ruthwell, at the ends of the earth, have come in touch with the highly technical thought, written in Greek, of Maximus the Confessor? George H. Brown (in his fine lecture on AS literacy) wrote that in opposing heresy Bede was flogging theological horses long dead, like Arianism. Another fine scholar, Thomas F.X. Noble, has written that Maximus had no influence, even at Rome. Rudolf Riedinger has demonstrated that Maximus was the author of the Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649. Maximus seems to have cooked the Acts, writing up the minutes before even the Synod was convened. The Acts are thus an extensive and highly authoritative statement by Maximus of his own theological position.

But we know from Bede that the Acts of the Lateran Synod were brought to Wearmouth in 679 by John the Archcantor; that the canons of the Synod were solemnly accepted by the council of Hatfield in September 679 presided over by Theodore of Tarsus (who had probably known Maximus personally). Benedict Biscop and Wilfrid were both in attendance at Hatfield. In the Acts, preserved at Wearmouth, the newest theological thought had been given the authority of a Synod and the urgency of the controversy which had led to the martyrdom of a pope (and bad fair, if not resolved, to lead to the martyrdom of more western ecclesiastics). John the Archcantor was a liturgical expert: he knew how to advise Anglo-Saxon monks how the question of Christ's courage should be popularized in ceremony and in song.

The monothelete controversy, in short, is one clear example in which innovative theology was given a public reception and a public affirmation in England. It provides one convincing context for original composition of the first English poems on the Crucifixion, and ultimately for the highly innovative poetic and iconographic synthesis found later in the Ruthwell Cross and poem (ca 730-60).

Fred Orton, University of Leeds
The Bewcastle Monument, Rome, Bede, The Reckoning of Time, Sundials and the Renewal of Science

The sundial on the Bewcastle monument, probably the earliest surviving English time-reckoner, has received scant attention from scholars of Anglo-Saxon art and culture. This paper argues that over and above being made of the need to connote Romanness and to keep up with monastic times, the Bewcastle dial provides evidence for the beginnings of social time in England and of an attempt, or even the beginnings of the attempt, to inaugurate the renewal of astronomy in western Europe. The dial is theorised as marking one moment, perhaps a very important moment to put beside Bede's work on computus and tides, in the re-emergence of science in the Latin West.

William Schipper, Memorial University, St. John's Newfoundland
Rabanus Maurus’s In honorem sanctae crucis and Tenth-Century England

The recent publication, in 1997, of Michel Perrin’s critical edition of Rabanus Maurus’s In honorem sanctae crucis (CCCM 100 and 100A [Turnhout: Brepols, 1997]) has made closer examination of Rabanus’s carmen figuratum possible. Three copies of this work have survived from Anglo-Saxon England: two from before the Conquest (Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B.3.16; and Cambridge, University Library, MS Gg.5.35 [= the ‘Cambridge Songs’ manuscript], and one from shortly after the Conquest (British Library, MS Royal 8.D.xvii). Joachim Prochnis (in 1929) and more recently Herrad Spilling (1992) have argued for a close textual link between these English copies and Amiens, Bibliothèque Municipale,MS 223, itself a ninth-century copy produced in Fulda. The work is the direct source, moreover, for Dunstan’s line drawing that forms the frontispiece of the manuscript known as “Saint Dunstan’s Classbook” (Bodleian Library, MS Auct. F.4.32), as well as the brief inscription that accompanies the drawing (as Helmut Gneuss noted in 1978).

The presence of these three copies of Rabanus’s composition in England, as well as Dunstan’s use of, at this time raises some interesting questions about how tenth and eleventh century readers and owners of manuscripts may have perceived the position and role of the cross in their own culture. The production of a book of this kind posed a number of difficult problems in layout, and would thus not have been undertaken lightly, or merely to have a copy of it in a monastic library. My paper proposes to examine the Trinity College copy of In honorem sanctae crucis and its position in the later manuscript tradition of the poem. From a closer comparison of the manuscript with its alleged ancestor (the Amiens manuscript — the connection is questioned by Perrin) I hope to draw some conclusions about what significance someone in the tenth century ascribed to Rabanus’s poem, and what this can tell us about the cultural significance attached to the cross as represented in this particular manuscript and its immediate parallels.