Sancta Crux/Halig Rod: The Cross in Anglo-Saxon England

Project Description

The cross in early medieval England was so ubiquitous as to become invisible to our eye, and yet it played an innovative role in Anglo-Saxon culture, evident in art, architecture, material culture, literature, ritual, medicine, and popular practice. The cross functioned as an object, as a gesture ("making the sign of the cross") and in words (prayers, invocations). The cross was therefore one of the most powerful relics in early medieval society because it could be reduplicated in many forms and was accessible to every layer of society. Consequently the cross, although originally an instrument of torture, had a high symbolic value in early medieval England, associated with protection, strength, and power.

This interdisciplinary project, drawing on the expertise of scholars from a wide range of fields, correlates these different forms and uses of the cross in England circa 800-1100 in order to understand the cultural significance of this symbol in clerical, monastic, and lay society. The three collaborators in this project are all specialists in Anglo-Saxon studies, but from three distinct disciplines: Dr. Sarah Keefer in English literature, Dr. Catherine E. Karkov in art history, and Dr. Karen Louise Jolly in cultural history. In 1999, we began a fruitful dialogue via email and at conferences on different views of the cross from our own research, then presented our results in a July 2000 conference Ritual and Belief: Rites of the Anglo-Saxon Church in Oxford that attracted the interest of many scholars.

Between 2001 and 2003, the project sponsored three seminars (Durham 2001, Manchester 2002, Winchester 2003) as well as sessions at Kalamazoo, Leeds, and ISAS that drew in scholars working in diverse aspects of religious culture in the British Isles. These seminars and conference sessions together have build an interdisciplinary collection of materials that has both depth of research in its focus on a single subject, the cross, and breadth of interest through investigation of the richness, diversity and significance of this cultural artifact. A planned three-volume series of essays will provide both new knowledge and innovative interpretations to a variety of different audiences. Specialists in Anglo-Saxon studies--in archaeology, art history, history, literature, and religion--will be able to see how one theme, the cross, cuts across society and disciplines. These publications will also be of interest to those in cultural studies, both for the interdisciplinary methodologies used and for the insights gained into how cultural symbols function in society. These volumes, and this website, will also be accessible to students conducting research as well as general readers. The project aims to bring popular enthusiasm into dialogue with scholarship by showing the process of research in a dynamic environment on the web and by demonstrating the multifaceted nature of research in collaborative publications.

Project History

1999: Genesis

2000: Project Launch




Publication Plan

Support and Thanks

Catherine, Sarah, and Karen would like to offer thanks to the many individuals from the following supporting agencies and organizations:
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updated 8/23/04