Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

This is a re-posting from earlier. I took it down to make way for a time-specific post on Cinema-Based Well Dressing.
And so, avoiding further confusion, here we are:

The Sequence of St Eulalia is one the earliest surviving French hagiographies, in the vernacular. It dates from 880AD.
It is called a sequence because the manuscript contains three poems based on the St Eulalia legend. The first is a Latin fourteen-line poem, followed by the French vernacular poem, and then one in Old High German. It is surmised the Latin poem was the original of the manuscript, and the others added in response.

Poem is a wrong description: the Latin piece was written as prose but in assonantal couplets, and the whole piece ending in an unpaired coda verse form. The lines are mostly ten syllables in length, but this admits variations of eleven, twelve, even thirteen at one point.
Internal evidence of the French vernacular shows the composition to have been in the northern French region, indeed beyond, in modern Belgian Wallonia.
This is initially puzzling, because the Sequence manuscript was found in 880AD, in Barcelona.

1
Eulalia was a twelve year old girl, from Merida, in northern Spain. She was known to be especially devout.  She was martyred for the intransigence of her belief, during the persecutions of Diocletian, around the year of 304AD.
Merida was the capital of Roman Lusitania; its ruins, part of an amphitheater, its bridge, and aqueduct  were still impressive in the 1850s.

The French vernacular begins:

Buona pulcella fut eulalia.
Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la veintre li deo Inimi.
Voldrent la faire diaule seruir

This has been modernised:

Bonne pucelle fut Eulalie.
Beau avait le corps, belle l’âme.
Voulurent la vaincre les ennemis de Dieu,
Voulurent la faire diable servir.

It is interesting, instructive, even, to see how the French language has developed over time.
I made an attempt at Englishing the piece from the modernised French:

The good girl Eulalia
lovely of from, lovely of soul,
and ready to overcome the enemies of God,
was intent to make the devil serve
her, nor listen to his bad counselors.
She denounced them to God, who dwells in heaven.
Not for gold, nor silver, nor finery,
royal threat, nor prayer,
no thing could ever make her bend,
the young nun, from the love of God’s ministry.
And for this she was presented to Maximilian
who was at that time king of all the pagans.
He uttered: It matters little to me.
What he did not want
was to be called a Christian man.
And so he summoned together his forces
better to put her in chains,
and put her virginity in danger.
For that she died, in great honesty.
In the fire they threw her, but it would not burn
her, nor cook her flesh.
But that did not please the pagan king,
he ordered them with swords to cut off her head.
The young girl did not try to stop them
she wanted to leave her life, as ordained by Christ.
In the figure of a dove, she flew to heaven.
All pray for her, who deign to pray.
This you can thank Christ for
after death, that we can only leave
by his clemency.

There is an excellent paper on the background and context of the St Eulalia legend, transmission, and period, on Academia.edu, by Fabian Zuk, of the Universite de Montreal.  I give the link below:

https://www.academia.edu/30143399/Eulalia_and_her_Sequence_a_Bridge_between_the_Marca_Hispanica_and_the_Carolingian_Heartlands

There is an earlier version of the legend, as Fabian Zuk points out in his paper. This is the poem contained in the Peristephanon (Crown of Martyrs) by the Hibernian Latin writer, Prudentius (348 to 410AD).
Prudentius was another devout Christian; he was born in Saragossa, highly educated, and became an innovative writer for his period. It is claimed that he introduced a trochee-dominant prosody to the established Latin classical forms.
The Peristephanon is a collection of fourteen lyric poems by Prudentius, on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
Anyone who has translated Latin will know that a line’s word order is wholly dependent on the writer’s intent, emphasis, within that line. For those, like myself, without a classical education, the initial impact is one of chaos.
The following is from a literal Google Translate version of Prudentius’s ‘O in Honour passionis of Eulalia blessed martyr’, written in the 4thCentury AD:

next Southside location it is and took this ten excellent; city powerful; people abundant; and more blood martyrdom maiden powerful title. coursing tribe , and the nine three winters?quarter adtigerat; and clinking pears The distressed terrified rough butchers; execution himself sweet rata

As you can see….
The poem was written as a dedication of the remains of St Eulalia recently unearthed, transported, and then placed in a prepared tomb, in Barcelona. That explains the reference to placement at the beginning. Fabian Zuk investigates all this in great detail in his paper.

2
So why all this interest in St Eulalia? Especially as, until not many years ago, I had never even heard of her.
Blame it on Federico Garcia Lorca.
I was analysing the structure of his famous Gypsy Ballads collection, for my book on chiasmus and rings: Gifts of Rings and Gold:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gifts-Rings-Gold-Introduction-Ring-composition-ebook/dp/B01IRPODPW

The poem on St Eulalia occurs in the last three historical poems of the collection: Martyrdom of St Eulalia; Joke about Don Pedro on Horseback; Thamar and Amnon.

Lorca’s poem is in three parts. This is a form that the French form, above, cannot accommodate. The Prudentius poem, however, has a more discursive treatment. Here we begin to see how it can be opened up into a tri-partite structure. There are still details that do and do not coincide, however. One example is the Lorca addition of the double mastectomy of Eulalia/Olalla; her intransigence is also toned down, almost to oblivion.

Herbert Ramsden, in his ‘Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, Eighteen Commentaries’ (Manchester University Press, 1988) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lorcas-Romancero-Gitano-Eighteen-Commentaries/dp/0719078245
writes that Lorca purposedly labelled Eulalia/Ollalla ‘la gitana Santa’, a gipsy saint, even though she had lived and died over a thousand years before the gipsies entered Spain. He also notes that Lorca, ‘characteristically ahistoricist’, integrated the gipsy into mainstream culture this way, so ‘elevating the gipsy’. By adapting a more popular form of the name, Olalla, he further cemented the connection. The gipsy is, paradoxically, a symbol of the eternal outsider. Yet Lorca’s ‘ahistoricism’ identified the moment in time that such outsider-ness was becoming a dangerous position.

There is one point of connection between the vernacular French, Prudentius, and Lorca, and that is the potential assault on Eulalia/Olalla’s virginity. From the French, I give
‘and put her virginity in danger’ Englished from Qu’elle perdît sa virginité. Prudentius gives us, ‘The grace of [Eulalia’s} maidenhood [shielded]  behind the covering  of her head’.
Lorca wrote of Olalla’s sex which trembled as a bird ensnared, and her hands leap across.
Reader, take heart: she was only burned, decapitated, and masectomied.

This last detail, an addition by Lorca, occurs nowhere in the records. There is that terrible painting, though, by Bernadino Luini, where St Agatha carries her severed breasts on a tray, as Olalla in the poem. And interestingly, St Agatha was a patron saint of, among many places, Zamarramala, a province of Segovia. St Agatha was also a young girl, fifteen at the time of her own martyrdom.

What can we say about this assault upon young, outspoken, women?
It is not necessarily their vehicle for their opposition we notice, that is, their religiousness, but the form the oppression takes. It is their female identity that is attacked – their breasts, the threat of rape.
All the authority of the Church is here, but it is subtly enforced. They are applauded for their devoutness, but the indictment is still there: the terrible cost of female outspokenness, and of having a female body, with its possibilities. It is this sexuality the poem addresses partly, with that ‘Beau avait le corps’,  ‘Bel auret corps’, and the body-assault.
So why was she matryred? It is only in the Prudentius poem you get an indication: she was not just a devout believer, intransigent, but she openly mocked and attempted to over-turn the altars and images of the ‘pagan’s’ gods. Prudentius has her vehemently abusing the pagan leader, verbally.
Here we have it, the prize cannon in a woman’s armoury: speech. Not only has she the body of the fallen Eve, Eve as Magdalene, but also the gift of speech that can run rings around poor little man’s abilities.

In her way Eulalia can be said to inhabit the ambiguous transitional space between Mary and Magdalene figures. As Mary figure she connects with Lorca’s young female-centred poems of the first half of his collection. This is particularly clear in the sexual threats of the Preciosa poem. But also she connects with the gipsy nun, and with the gipsy madonna of one of the centre poem, St Gabriel. Soledad Montoya of the Black Pain, and the unnamed woman in Sleepwalking Ballad, introduce more nuanced, transitional, even median, characters. The faithless wife in the ballad is most certainly a Magdalene figure, as are, I would suggest, the grieving mothers in The Feud. This ambiguity of the Mary and Magdalene transitional moment is more fully drawn in the last poem of the collection, Thamar and Amnon, with the rape of half sister by half brother.

The Lorca Olalla poem plays also with time periods: he gives us a before martyrdom, during, and glorification in future times. This structure connects with the central poem of the collection, St Rafael. In this poem Lorca introduces another marginalised religious figure, St Tobit.
Each of these three centre poems is based on a city’s patron saint  – except St Rafael, the St Tobit poem, who was not the patron saint of its linked city of Cordoba. Lorca envisages Cordoba as Roman, Muslim, and modern city, each glimpsed in the water (a major motif in Lorca). Three time periods, again.
The tale of St Tobit/Tobias is fascinating for its own sake, a two-part story of father and son, linked by an angel in disguise. The angel exorcises a demon from the son’s wife, which caused her to kill her previous husbands. Definitely a Magdalene type woman, then rendered as Mary.

If anyone has a decent translation of the Prudentius Eulalia poem, I would be most grateful to them if they would point out a copy to me.

 

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norwich

 

Nothing of self here,

all is uprise and outreach;

no glandular dark, these side chapels

not reticules of aliment.

 

The windows are mast lights, fore and aft:

the cathedral a ship of adventure,

a covered deck against the weather,

its rowers benches.

It is course-plotted

by the unfolding of light that filters

between death’s finality

and the earth’s indifference.

 

To enter is to journey out,

to become dependent upon

earth’s mud-water, grain’s dry bread.

The mast is rooted in the fact

that earth can break,

and the truth that bodies are broken.

 

An immediacy of stone

and a sustaining hunger, time’s onward,

in turn feeding the imagination:

the fact and paradox that facet

an attempted history

 

a companioned adventure.

 

window

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This is a line-for-line literal translation of the whole Vercelli ms of the poem. I miss all the metrical tautness and alliteration. I hope, however, that it does give some impression of the period tone of the poem.

The Ruthwell Cross excerpts are lines 39-42, 44-45, 48-49, 56-59, 62-64

150px-Ruthwell.Cross.inscriptions

THE DREAM OF THE ROOD

     Hwaet! Ic swefna cyst   seegan wylle

h(w)aet me gematte   to midre nihte

   sythan reordberend   reste wunedon.

Listen, I had the best of dreams – I will tell you

well I dreamed this middle night,

when word-bearers had won their rest.

I thought that I saw a wonderful tree

in the air raised, light wrapped around it

bright shining. All of that symbol was

sprinkled with gold; gems stood

fair on the earth surface, and five there were

on the tree’s axlespan. Gazed on there by angels, the Lords’ all,

fair in creation. Nor was this a felon’s gallows

but beheld there by the holy spirit

in men upon the earth and all this great creation.

Marvellous was that sign of victory, and I a guilty sinner

stained with sins. I saw glory’s tree

dressed in honour, beautifully shining

covered with gold, gems it had on it

covered magnificently, this forest tree.

However by virtue of that gold I perceived the mighty

wretched former struggle earlier, as it began

to bleed on the right-hand side. I was all with sorrow distressed

a friend I was for that beautiful vision. I saw that dressed symbol

change covering and colour; at times it was with wetness bestreamed

soaked with blood flow, at times with treasure adorned.

However I long lay there, a long while

beholding the sorrowing of the Saviour’s tree,

until, I understood, I heard it speak.

To begin with the words spoken by the wood were great:

“That was very long ago ( I still remember)

When I was hewn, at the end of the wood,

Removed from my root. Taken away by strong foes

To become then on show, bid me to bear their felon.

Bearing me on their shoulders, until on a hill they set me

Fastened on me foes. I beheld the Lord of mankind

Made haste with great strength on me to mount.

There I then durst not over the word of the Lord

Bend or break, there I saw shake

The earth surface. I might have

Struck  foes down, however I stood fast.

Stripped then they the man (that was God almighty)

Strong and resolute; he ascended the gallows

Brave in many man’s sight, that he redeem the mocked.

Trembling I was embraced by the man, nor dust I bend to earth,

Or fall to earth’s surface. But I was obliged to stand fast.

Rood was I raised up. I lifted the powerful king,

Heaven’s Lord; bend I durst not.                 45

Piercing he and me with dark nails; on me the wounds are visible,

Open malicious wounds. Nor durst I injure no one.

Mocked were we both together. I all with blood wet

Sprinkled from this man’s side, when his spirit left him.

Indeed I on the mound endured this

Cruel event. I saw God

Stretched out. Clouds had

Covered the sky altogether. The Lord’s corpse’s

Its bright radiance, overcome,

dark in shadow. All creation wept

lamenting the King’s fall. Christ was on the rood.

However, there hastened from afar coming

Followers of the Lord. I beheld all.

Sore I was with sorrow distressed, bent down to their hands

Humbled by their mighty courage.  They took away the great almighty,

The followers lifted off the heavy torment, left me a sorrowful warrior

Standing moisture drenched, as if all with arrows wounded.

They lay down the weary limbs, standing at the body’s head;

Beheld him their heaven’s Lord, then to his brief rest,

Exhausted after the mighty struggle.  They began a grave to make.

Warriors of the slain vision; cut down the bright stone,

Set him therein, the triumphant Lord. There began to sing the lament

Wretched in the evening time; then would afterwards depart

Exhausted from great joining, rested with followers.

However, they wept there a good while

Stood in position, afterwards they up and departed

Their warrior, the corpse grown cold,

Fair body. Then men cut me down again

All to earth;  that was a terrible fate!

I was buried as a man in a deep pit. Nevertheless the Lord’s followers,

His friends found me , ………………………..

Girded me with gold and silver.

Now thou might adorn, bend dearly to me

That am honoured far and wide

By men over the earth and all this great creation

Worship they my beacon. On me God’s Son

Suffered for a time. Therefore I am glorious to you

I rise up to heaven, and I may heal

Everyone who alone is in awe of me.

Evil people were before in life’s path,

The right way of is for speech-bearers.

Listen to me in this, honour the world’s Lord

On the wood on the hill, heaven’s Guardian

And there his mother, Mary herself,                                                              92

Of almighty God, for all men

And on behalf of all woman-kind.

Now, I who make these dear comments to you,

That this vision tell to mankind,

Disclose these words of a glorious tree,

Who saw almighty God as he suffered

For mankind, for people’s sins

And Adam’s former act.

Death he tasted; but afterwards the Lord arose

With his great might to help man.

He then to heaven ascended. Here afterwards to come

To this middle earth mankind to seek

On doomsday the Lord himself,

Almighty God, and with his angels

In judgement, with the power to judge the wretched

Every one , for what he earlier here

In this transitory life deserved.

Not able anymore to be afraid

Because of the word of the Lord’s lament.

He asked for many where he saw men

So in the Lord’s name would die

Tasting bitterness as He had formerly died.

Who had been afraid, and feared to think

He to Christ is to begin to declare.

No need then anymore to be afraid

He who before his heart bears this good symbol.

But he who durst the rood see reaching the kingdom

From earth each soul

With the Ruler dwells henceforth.”

Biding then by the tree made joyful

much strength there I alone strove

I of a small company. Strong  in spirit

urged on to depart, endured

a time of longing. I beheld now life’s hope

that of the tree of victory may he seek out

often alone, by all men

to be fully honoured. It was my desire though

the great heart, and protection as well,

I directed to the rood.  I possessed no great power

nor friends on earth. They were away from here

departed from the delight of the world,

they sought the glorious King,

a new life in heaven with God the Father,

to dwell in glory; and I hoped for

every day when I to the Lord’s rood,

which I here on earth formerly saw,

on this transitory life I fetched upon

that I bring from there great bliss,

joy of heaven,  of the Lord’s folk

a place at the feast, there I afterwards may

live in glory, fully with the holy

in joy partaking . To be the Lord’s friend.

he who here on earth before suffered

on the gallows tree for every man’s sins.

He us redeemed and our lives granted,

is home in heaven.  Gladness is to be renewed

with blessedness and bliss for they that endure suffering

the Son triumphant on his journey,

mighty and successful, then he among many came,

a multitude of spirits, on God’s ascent,

Lord Almighty, angels of bliss

besides all the holy, besides they in heaven before

dwelling in glory – to the Ruler came

almighty God, there his abode was.

One other important  point about the central section is it begins with the tree on the edge of the wood, cut down and taken away by enemies. The paralleling device helps us see in turn the end of the section where the tree is, in reverse, found by Friends, and put upright. Around it we glimpse a new wood, the Followers: the tree was at the edge of the wood, now becomes the Rood/Cross fronting the growing wood of Followers. The tree is a metonym as the tree of all trees, and as the growth of Christianity. There is also a deliberate supplanting of the Ash Tree of Scandinavian myth, whose roots are in Hel and crown in Asgard, in the Rood/Cross reaching up to Heaven for the believers.

The Dream of the Rood, edited by Michael Swanton, Manchester University Press, 1970

Introduction

I keep coming across comments where people state their adversity to religious writing, specifically Christian. Some declare they cannot read an author because of his religious concerns, see Geoffrey Hill’s work. One commentator writing of a senior Buddhist called him ‘deluded’. I was appalled – here once again just slightly under the surface lurked Western cultural arrogance. And Christian writing? It would be like saying you could not read or appreciate anything earlier than mid 20th century writing. To lose any of that would be cultural suicide. And so I am making an effort to re-appreciate our religious history, the magnificent spaces of the psyche.

Note: none of my concerns are to do with the legitimacy of religion or religious belief. Those were and are facts of our cultural histories, and as such need to be treated fully. Religion has also afforded us with deep psychological insights, has cemented cultures over long periods of transition and change. Religious wars are usually cited as religion’s true heritage. Does anyone really think people would not have killed one another without religion?

1

The Cult of the Cross

In about 350 AD, Cyril of Jerusalem remarked upon the discovery of a cross. Prior to this the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, allegedly found the True Cross on a visit in 326 AD. There was a legend also that three crosses had been found, deep in the ground, together with iron nails, and also the plaque that had been placed above the head of Jesus. Fragments of this cross were sent out to different places across the Christian world.

These were legends, and yet were wholly accepted; the Western church of Anglo-Saxon England took on the legends, and Anglo-Saxon poem Elene relates the tale. There are also later prose homilies on the subject.

By the 7th century the cult of the cross had taken off. Bernicia/Northumberland proved to be a responsive centre. It was here near what is now known as Hexham that Heavenfield was established, the victory of Christianity over the last pagan rulers, as recorded by Bede in his history of the Church.

Out of possibly thousands there remain two magnificent stone crosses from the period, one at Bewcastle in Cumberland, and the other thirty miles away in Dumfriesshire, the Ruthwell Cross. Let us be clear about this thirty miles: at the time of construction of the crosses in the 7th century the region of both crosses was known as  Galloway, and formerly spoke a form of early Welsh.  The region became known as a conglomerate Anglo-Saxon area called Bernicia in the 7th century. As a united region Dumfriesshire shared a cultural heritage with Northumberland as far south as Newcastle.

The craftsmanship of both Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses is of a particularly high standard; it is accepted that both were carved by the same master craftsman’s team.

260px-Ruthwell_002

The Bewcastle Cross differs from the Ruthwell Cross in that though both are crosses with figurative reliefs, scenes from Christ’s life and death, and inscriptions, the Bewcastle inscriptions tend to be more commemorative.  Ruthwell Cross was originally 18ft high, tapered to the cross section. It also contains along its outer edges runic text. When this text was eventually translated it was discovered to be the text of a poem about the fate of the tree that became Christ’s cross. Only one other example of his text existed, on an 11th century cross fragment in Brussels. Text from the same source-poem.

The Ruthwell cross was dismembered as too Papist under the dissolution of the monasteries, and later the Commonwealth, and its parts embedded in the church floor, other parts left outside. Weathering and wearing became extensive over time.

2

In 1748 Guiseppe Bianchini of Verona transcribed extracts from texts he came across at the Cathedral of Vercelli in northern Italy. Some of this proved to be a fuller version of the texts found on the Ruthwell Cross. Further investigation brought out Anglo-Saxon texts stored at the cathedral. The Vercelli cathedral had been a staging post on the route to Rome, and travelled by all Western church officials. Upon closer examination these texts proved to be 12th century, in good condition, and containing a variety of matter. They also contained a full version of what is now known as the Anglo-Saxon alliterative poem, The Dream of the Rood.

The Ruthwell Cross and Brussels’ fragment contained excerpts from the central portion of The Dream of the Rood.

150px-Ruthwell.Cross.inscriptions

The poem is 155 lines in length, and is constructed in three sections: the first introduces the narrator, and his dream one night of the cross of the crucifixion. Part two begins (line 28) when the cross addresses the dreamer, and tells him its tale, from its being hewn down at the edge of a wood, to bearing the body and death of Jesus; then it was buried in the ground, and rediscovered and venerated by Christ’s followers. It ends with a demand that the dreamer tell the story. The last part returns to the sleeper (line 122), but is written in a different mode to the opening section; all there is veneration and glorification.

The first and last parts are only roughly of equal length, whilst the central section is substantially longer.

Michael Swanton in his Introduction to his book on, (original text, and translation of the Dream of the Rood) draws our attention to the opening and middle sections, and how they accord with Latin and, as we see in the Exeter Book, Anglo-Saxon riddle-forms. The first is a ‘I see this, what is it?’ type, the other a ‘What am I?’ type. The answer to each has major repercussions. He writes of ‘(… )the popular type of (… ) riddle in which an enigmatic object is made to describe itself in oblique terms.’ Also, ‘The riddle genre seems to have been particularly popular in the seventh and eighth centuries.’ He also notes that there are Latin cross-riddles from 716 at Jarrow-Wearmouth. Several Exeter Book riddles, LIV ‘Battering Ram’, and LXXII ‘Spear’ follow the same life-history pattern as the cross of part two.

The text of the Dream of the Rood in Anglo-Saxon or translation was not publically available until the 19th century.

Ruthwell_Cross,_North_Face,_Figure_of_Christ_II

The questions now become: 1 – is the 12th century Vercelli version an expanded version of the 7th century cross-cult poem?

2 – Were the runic excerpts added later than the time of carving and erection of the Ruthwell Cross?

1 – Parts one and two are most definitely of a piece, composed together. Some commentators have found the last part of the poem ‘cruder’ than the foregoing. Indeed, the last part does rely a lot on expostulations of religiosity (‘almighty God’) rather than what we might term the examinations of faith of the foregoing. But then the last part is the culminative part, the expression of faith, after faith has been planted and established in the fore parts.

2 – The runes used were not the Futharc Scandinavian runes of later Viking settlers, but more of the type used in Britain previous to this.

Structurally there are a number of significant parallelings throughout the poem. Lines 12 and 82 repeat their phrasings to the letter. The centre/heart of the poem is Christ’s death upon the cross. This event transforms the cross’ self-identification as wood/tree, to that of venerated object, adorned in gold and silver. The transformative medium is the blood of Jesus on the cross as Jesus’ spirit left his body. The cross identifies with Jesus at several points, because the nails that pierced the flesh of the man also pierced the wood of the cross. They are both mocked together, and both are buried in the ground; both also are retrieved from their place of burial: Jesus in assuming his Christ role, and the cross by being dug up and venerated by followers.

The central section, as we can detect here in the transformative identity of wood/tree and cross, has a chiasmic character. At two points does the cross speak of being hewn down, firstly as a tree in the wood, and latterly as the cross on the hill. We see the tree growing at the edge of a wood, and the cross in stark company on the hill. It is upright in both places, and also felled in both places. What happens in between is the crucifixion, the joining of man and tree, and the veneration of spirit and cross. The ambiguities inherent in these positions are readily recognised in the text. Throughout the tree addresses itself as wood, that is a speaking tree, as a symbol, and later as a venerated symbol – venerated because it was present, indeed the vehicle, of the death of Jesus. Jesus’ blood is at one point termed sweat of the tree, and as the weeping of the tree.

There is of course an overall chiasmus: the two narrator parts 1 and 3 are changed by the central part, 2. In 1 the narrator addresses the reader/audience. He tells of a dream he had. This in itself is one narration encapsulated within another: addressing the audience, and describing the dream.

Do we find a similar construction in part 3? There is a two-part construction to part 3: the first part immediately after the cross has finished its address continues the theme of the cross and its role in the religion.  The latter part (line 131 onward) builds up to a vision of Christ’s entrance into heaven. As the central part, the cross’ recital states, Christ’s ascension will be followed by his appearance back on the earth on doomsday to judge the populace. It can be read then as a reiteration/paralleling.

The central section forms its own chiasmus, beginning with the tree being felled and stripped, and ending with it being resurrected as the follower’s cross/rood, and adorned. The two instances of Jesus climbing upon the tree in vigour, and being taken both in death parallel each other. There are also several instances where the tree says it’ durst not’ bend or break no matter what terrors it is to be a part of. The only time it does bend is the figurative one of letting down the body. The tree could have saved the crucifying man and killed his tormentors, but ‘durst not’ ie because it was part of a larger purpose/story that would result in the saving of all mankind.

There are two instances of the use of the term ‘speech-bearers’ for men, lines 3 and 98. It is an important  term: the tree instructs the dreamer to tell the tale of its experiences and fate. This poem is that instruction made manifest. We must also remember the importance of telling and speech for the majority of the audience of the time. And here we see another ambiguity: the Ruthwell Cross carried the excerpts of the poem in runes, written form. This would emphasise the purpose of the cross as a teaching device.

Also inherent in this phrase in the notion of the ‘witness’ of Christ: the tree is the obvious example, but to be a believer, devout, one must be witness to Christ, to declare oneself. The latter half of the poem is concerned with this, particularly the narrator’s part in part 3. In part 1 he confessed himself a sinner and unworthy of the vision, in part 3 he was witness to Christ’s entry into heaven – he had been ‘saved’ by the vision and dream of the rood. The speech the ‘speech-bearers’ bear, of course, is the Word of God.

This poem, in effect, is designed as vehicle for redemption: whoever reads it with diligence and attention becomes a witness, and so saved. The recitation of the poem, then, must have been important: the real time of recitation having a liturgical function. Was it to be a part of the Easter service?