Sancta Crux/Halig Rod: The Cross in Anglo-Saxon England
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.
- Email Correspondence between Sarah Keefer, Catherine Karkov, and Karen Jolly
- August 8-13, ISAS meeting at the University of Notre Dame, discussion begins in earnest
2000: Project Launch
- July 7 Ritual and Belief: Rites of the Anglo-Saxon Church Conference in Oxford organized by Brad Bedingfield and Helen Gittos.
- "The Sign of the Cross" session chaired by Prof. Simon Keynes, Trinity College, Cambridge: Keefer, "The Cross in Anglo-Saxon England: Sign, Signing and Performance;" Jolly, "Cross-Referencing Liturgy and Charms: The Sign of the Cross as Ritual Protection;" Karkov, "The Sign of the Cross: Poetic Performance and Liturgical Practice."
- All three essays will appear in the volume Ritual and Belief: The Rites of the Anglo-Saxon Church, ed. Helen Gittos and Brad Bedingfield (Henry Bradshaw Society Publications), forthcoming. Oxford Abstracts
- May 3-6, 36th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. Session 499: "Time and Memory in Anglo-Saxon England: Marking Time and Space" sponsored by Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture and organized by Karkov included papers by Professor Fred Orton, University of Leeds, "Timing the Bewcastle Monument" and Jolly, "The Graphic Cross: Marking Textual Space.”
- August 3-4, Cross and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England project seminar, St. John’s College, University of Durham. Dedicated to Stanford Professor George Hardin Brown; excursion to Bewcastle and Ruthwell monuments. 28 participants including 8 speakers and 15 ISAS members.
- August 6-11, ISAS meeting in Helsinki, Finland session “Performing the Cross in Anglo-Saxon Culture” chaired by Professor Joyce Hill, University of Leeds: Karkov, "Performing the Ruthwell Cross;" Keefer, "Cross Liturgy: Object and Act;" Jolly: "Signing and Sacralizing Space."
- May 2-5, 37th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. Two sessions (462, 514) on the “Sign of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England” sponsored with the Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies, organized by Karkov and Keefer, with papers by the 2002 Richard Rawlinson Center Congress Speaker Professor Mark Blackburn, Fitzwilliam Museum, Professor Anna Gannon, Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge Univ, Professor Carol Neuman de Vegvar, Ohio Wesleyan Univ., Helen Gittos, The Queen's College, Oxford Univ., and Professor Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Univ. of Manchester.
- July 5-7, The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England project seminar in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies; excursions to the Manchester Museum’s recently painted cast of the Ruthwell monument, to St. John’s Chester and to Sandbach. 40 participants including 16 speakers and 24 ISAS members.
- July 8-11, 9th International Medieval Congress at Leeds, project sponsored session “New Voices on the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England” organized and moderated by Keefer with papers by Chris Vaccaro, City University, New York; Karolyn Kinane, University of Minnesota; and Stuart Rutten, University of Toronto.
- May 8-11, 38th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo. Two sessions (89, 167) on “The Cross in Anglo-Saxon England” sponsored with Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture and organized by Keefer with papers by Professor Rolf Bremmer, Univ. Leiden; Professor Phyllis Portnoy, Univ. of Manitoba; Professor Tracey-Anne Cooper, Boston College; Amy Airhart, Univ. of Toronto; and Edward Christie, West Virginia Univ.
- July 4-6, Cross and Crucifix in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent project seminar at St. Alfred’s College, Winchester, held to honour the memory of University of Southampton Professor Timothy Reuter; excursion to Romsey, Headbourne Worthy and Breamore churches directed by George Hillard, III. 43 participants including 16 speakers and 25 ISAS members.
- August 4-9, ISAS meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, Project Report.
- Volume 1: Cross and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Karen Louise Jolly, Catherine E. Karkov, and Sarah Larratt Keefer. Essays from 2001 Durham seminar and 2002 Kalamazoo sessions currently in final editing.
- Volume 2: The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Catherine E. Karkov, Sarah Larratt Keefer, and Karen Louise Jolly. Essays from 2002 Manchester seminar and Leeds 2002 solicited and due mid-2004; anticipated submission to publisher in June 2005.
- Volume 3: Cross and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent, ed. Sarah Larratt Keefer, Karen Louise Jolly, and Catherine E. Karkov (Boydell and Brewer). Essays from 2003 Winchester seminar and select Kalamazoo essays solicited and due mid-2005; anticipated submission to publisher in June 2006.
Support and Thanks
Catherine, Sarah, and Karen would like to offer thanks to the many individuals from the following supporting agencies and organizations:
- University of Hawai`i Manoa: University Research Council;College of Arts and Humanities Dean Judith Hughes and the Hung Wo and Elizabeth Lau Ching Foundation; Yvonne Yamashita and Outreach College Conference Center
- Trent University, Ontario: Dean Chris Metcalfe and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Lori Johnston and Trent University Conference Centre
- University of Durham: St John’s College;< Professors David Rollason and Rosemary Cramp
- University of Manchester: Manchester Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies and Professor Donald G. Scragg
- King Alfred’s College, Winchester: Department of History and Professor Barbara Yorke
- The Medieval Academy
- International Society of Anglo-Saxonists
- Distinguished Speakers and Participants in the Sancta Crux/Halig Rod Project
Return to Cross mainpage