Session for the 2001 International Society of Anglo-Saxonists in Helsinki, Finland

Performing the Cross in Anglo-Saxon Culture

The Sancta Crux/Halig Rod: The Cross in Anglo-Saxon England project sponsored an interdisciplinary panel at the 2001 ISAS meeting in Helsinki. The goal of this session was to stimulate discussion on the ways in which synactic, artistic and cultural performance of the cross and the cruciform had meaning in Anglo-Saxon England. One particular focus lies on how such an understanding of 'performing the cross' bridges scholarly and methodological boundaries imposed by conventional academic disciplines. The panel consisted of three 10-minute position papers by the organizers, and one hour of general discussion. To facilitate such discussion, questions from each speaker were posted ahead of time, together with abstract material. The session succeeded in generating an ongoing interdisciplinary dialogue on new ways of apprehending Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Cross.


1. Catherine E. Karkov: "Performing the Ruthwell Cross"

The Ruthwell 'cross' is not a static object but a monument in process. Begun in the 8th century and added to in the 9th or 10th, the 'cross' combines narrative and iconic images, vernacular poetry and Latin prose, tituli and descriptive passages, third and first person voices in a dynamic performance that is completed only by the reader/viewer. As recent scholarship has revealed, it is possible that the original monument was not a cross at all but a shaft that became a cross, and that we can witness becoming a cross. If correct this interpretation allows us to understand the process by which inanimate stone became speaking object, and perhaps to parallel it with the way in which an ordinary tree became the cross of the crucifixion--simultaneously rood and gallows.


  1. How does the cross in Anglo-Saxon England function as a matrix for the interaction between and merging of bodies human and divine?
  2. Conversely, how do the cross and its articulation function as instruments of exclusion and alienation?
  3. Does the cross always carry the same meaning, or can different cruciform shapes or types of symbol (e.g. the chi-rho) suggest different meanings or differently nuanced meanings?

2. Sarah Larratt Keefer: "Cross Liturgy: Object and Act"

The composite parts of the Good Friday Veneration of the Cross occur in Anglo-Saxon England in differing configurations and different centuries. Earliest English evidence of any part of this material appears as private prayer in books either made in England or brought hither in the ninth century, at a time when some of the same prayers were being incorporated as the celebrant's private act of 'adoratio' into the public synactic order of service that creates the Veneration of the Cross proper. That synaxis is substantially performative, sung in roles which in places are in both Greek and Latin: its antiphons, psalm and hymn material are sung during the private acts of adoration mentioned above, almost in counterpoint to them. It is a composite service, its elements very disparate and in origin both Roman and Gallican, Eastern and Western. While its earliest witness occurs in a French pontifical, and thereafter in a mid-tenth-century French sacramentary, its main evidence for English adoption appears in the eleventh-century Regularis Concordia manuscripts, and in two unedited and incomplete texts, one a fragment of the Triduum section of a sacramentary for a priest, and the other more complete but apparently intended for a singer rather than a celebrant. In the Regularis Concordia text we have the earliest evidence of the Depositio Crucis, the ritual enactment of the sepulture of Christ through the "burial" of the cross used in the Veneration synaxis; the antiphons for this sepulture also appear as part of the more complete unedited fragment of the Veneration, whose provenance and probable origin is Winchester, 1060.


  1. What does the adoption of such a performative synaxis for Good Friday from continental practice tell us about Ęthelwold, assuming that the eleventh-century manuscripts of the Regularis Concordia are in fact true to the decisions taken in the 970s?
  2. Was he merely imitating French service material as a matter of course? if so, why did he add the Depositio Crucis as optional closure for the synaxis?
  3. Since extant evidence tells us that the ninth- and tenth-century continental practice of this synaxis extended to both abbey and cathedral, can we assume that Ęthelwold intended his Regularis Concordia to serve as a kind of ordo for both monastic and ecclesiastical centres?

3. Karen Louise Jolly: "Signing and Sacralizing Space"

In protective and theft-recovery remedies for fields, cattle, buildings and household goods, the sign of the Cross both orders and alters space in a spiritual landscape full of invisible yet potent forces. The dimensions of the Cross, identified with the four compass points and the four gospellers, reaches out to encompass the world, retrieving lost or stolen items just as the Cross itself was lost and invented by St Helen. The Cross, placed on four sides or centred, encircles and marks a protective space for those standing within its embrace. These protective Cross remedies borrow words, rites and concepts from Christian ritual, sacralizing space in ways similar to church consecrations.


  1. How is the time of year significant to the use of cross patterns in these remedies, given the calendrical context of the manuscript?
  2. Are the four-directional aspects of these remedies a Celtic/Germanic trait imposed on Christian ritual, or vice-versa?
  3. Is there a clear distinction in the manuscript or in the mentality of Anglo-Saxon Christians between sacred and secular rituals?
  4. How does the Cross give shape and meaning to the Anglo-Saxon physical and mental environment?