Ruthwell Cross is one for the few
artistic treasures to have survived
from the Angles conquest and
settlement of southern Scotland.
- The Angles who carved
out the Kingdom of Bernicia were pagans,
worshipping Gods like Woden, similar
to the Odin of Norse mythology. All
this changed, however, when, in 635AD,
two brothers, Oswald and Oswui, returning
from exile at the monastery on the
holy Isle of Iona, reclaimed their
kingdom and brought Gaelic missionaries
the mid 6th century the Angles had
slowly been pushing westwards to the
Solway and the rich trade routes of
the Irish Sea. Oswui furthered this
expansion - taking the lands around
Ruthwell as far as Galloway from the
Britons in the mid 7th century.
Ruthwell Cross is a symbol of the
Angles' control of this area, but
also of their Christian faith and
cultural contacts. The cross stands
5.2 metres tall and is beautifully
carved with sophisticated imagery.
It was probably erected in the reigns
of King Aldfrith or Osred around 700AD,
and it would have originally stood
outside an Anglian church on the site.
was designed as a preaching cross: using the carvings as
a picture book for the humble. The on the broad
faces of the cross are carved scenes that illustrate Christs
divinity, the Holy Trinity and the four Evangelists who
wrote the gospels - Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.
inscriptions around the carvings tell
the story of what is pictured on the
cross, although this was probably
for the use of monks - the only people
who would have had a Latin education.
- A second
set of inscriptions are carved in runes, used by Germanic
peoples like the Angles and Vikings. These are fragmentary
quotations from one of oldest of Old English poems ever
written: The Dream of the Rood - where rood
means cross, as in Holyrood in Edinburgh.
cult of the Holy Cross was one of
the newest Christian devotional cults
to emerge out of the Mediterranean
in the late 7th century.
runes may have been for those with
no knowledge of
Latin, but who possibly knew the poem
by heart. They tell the story of the
Crucifixion from the perspective of
the Cross. It mixes bloody warrior
imagery, of a kind the Angles would
have appreciated, with an understanding
of Christs suffering.
Dream of the Rood,
God almighty stripped himself,
when he wished to climb the Cross
bold before all men.
to bow (I dare not,
but had to stand firm.)
held high the great King,
heavens Lord. I dare not
Men mocked us both together. I
was slick with blood
sprung from the Mans side
was on the Cross.
But then quick ones came from
nobles, all together. I beheld
I bowed (to warrior hands.)
they laid him, limb weary. At his
bodys head they stood.
They that looked to (heavens
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