THE PLACE OF THE CROSS IN ANGLO-SAXON ENGLAND

An Interdisciplinary Seminar
Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies, 5–7 July 2002

Abstracts




Carol Farr (London) ‘Full-Page Crosses: the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Stockholm Codex Aureus’

This paper will show the shared features as well as distinctiveness of uses of the cross in the two most lavish examples of manuscript art surviving from Northumbria and Southumbria. I hope to show how (1) the ambiguities and multiple associations of the shape of the cross were exploited in Northumbrian and Southumbrian gospel book art, (2) how the differing positions of the cross images and designs in relation to text have a determining role for the forms they take, and (3) how these forms may be related to the developing ecclesiastic cultures of Anglo-Saxon England within western Christianity of the 8th century, in particular to examine recent redating of the Lindisfarne Gospels to 710-20 by Michelle Brown. The paper’s argument will analytically compare and contrast the designs and iconographic details of pages bearing large-scale cross images from both books, namely the cross-carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the pages of carmina figurata of the Codex Aureus, and I will discuss the importance of their placement in relation to prefatory and gospel texts. Moreover, material from exegetical and liturgical texts and other visual media will be drawn upon. By the time of the conference, art historians will have become aware of the publication of new facsimiles of the two famous gospel books, The Lindisfarne Gospels edited by Michelle Brown and The Stockholm Codex Aureus edited by Richard Gameson. My paper may help to engage the scholarly community across the disciplines with these important new resources and open a door onto fresh looks at two well-known and spectacular objects from Anglo-Saxon England.

Simon Keynes (Trinity College, Cambridge), “Graphic Crosses in Anglo-Saxon Charters”

I would propose to examine the use and function of graphic crosses in Anglo-Saxon charters, as a form of pictorial invocation (alongside other symbols, such as alpha-omega designs and chrismons), as a symbol used sometimes in other contexts, and as the crucial element in the act of subscription (the cross as the mark made by the witness, whether or not by his own hand, and related formulas of attestation). It may be that there would also be some scope for examining references to the cross in other parts of the formulation of charters, notably the proem. My particular interest in such matters has to do with the place of the document, as a physical object, in the formal procedures connected with the production of charters in the Anglo-Saxon period, in relation to and comparison with the procedures which obtained on the continent. I suspect that there may never have been a ‘normal’ way in which charters were drawn up and handed over to (or obtained by) the beneficiary; but it would be a matter of some interest to work out how arrangements may have worked in particular cases in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, and what might have been involved in the actual act of attesting a charter cum signo sanctae crucis, or whatever. A certain amount of information on this subject can be gleaned from the texts of the charters themselves, when they happen to give some indication of the circumstances in which the transaction was ratified and the charter produced. Much will also depend on the close examination of the physical features of the surviving corpus of charters preserved in their original single-sheet form; and I shall be especially keen to consider supposed instances of ‘autograph’ crosses, in whatever contexts they can be found.

Jane Roberts (King's College, London), "The Seals of the Cross"

Of the Old English vocabulary associated with the cross one relatively infrequent word, insegl, deserves fuller investigation than it has had. Editors and translators are less than helpful in explaining the phrase ‘mid inseglum’, which occurs in the account of Guthlac’s birth in the Old English prose life of the saint. Our understanding of the two occurrences of the word in the prose Life of Guthlac benefits from discussion of the range of meanings carried by this word in English. Moreover, the importance of the cross within the legend of Guthlac has not been recognized. Guthlac, it would seem, is marked out at birth. Even before baptism, he is sealed with the cross of Christ crucified as a ‘miles cristi’. It is hardly surprising therefore that images of the cross should play a part in writings about this Anglo-Saxon saint, not least in the Exeter Book poems.

Alexander R. Rumble (University of Manchester), “The Cross in English Place-Names"

There are many places in England whose name contains a word that appears to mean 'cross'. Not all of these names however relate to the cross of Christ and careful investigation has to be made in order to distinguish those that do. The modern spellings of some of the names have developed from quite different words, while other names contain a word meaning 'cross' with a different significance. Of those names which do signify the cross of Christ, several were coined after the Anglo-Saxon period. Most of the crosses referred to in the names and documents studied do not now exist. Many were sited on country roads, probably as wayside edifices at which travellers could pray. They often became used as boundary-markers where estate-boundaries went across or along roads. Others were sited on prominent hills, possibly as waymarkers but also as Christian symbols in the landscape. Instances in the material of words meaning 'symbol, sign' and the references to 'holy' trees are much less certain indications of crosses or even of Christian worship, but might occasionally be worthy of further investigation. The geographical distribution of definite early medieval onomastic references to crosses is national within England, but the vocabulary used to describe them appears regional in the late Anglo-Saxon period.