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.
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.
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.
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.