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Song of The Ruthwell Cross

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posted on 2022-12-14, 12:39 authored by Woruldhord Project Team

The Ruthwell Cross is an Anglo-Saxon (or more properly Northumbrian) stone sculpture, dating from the eighth (or perhaps seventh) century, and now housed in Ruthwell parish church in Dumfriesshire, although it may have once stood outside. Runic inscriptions on the cross record a poetic text, sometimes known as 'The Ruthwell Crucifixion Poem', some lines of which narrate the story of Christ's crucifixion from the point of view of the cross. Parts of this text share similarities with a longer poem on the same subject, known as the Dream of the Rood, and preserved in a tenth-century Anglo-Saxon codex known as the Vercelli Book. Literary critics often treat the Ruthwell text as it is an excerpt from the Dream of the Rood, although this is a contentious argument. The Cross was broken up during the Reformation, fragments of it being buried in the church pavement; it was partly reassembled and restored during the nineteenth century. The most important recent work on The Ruthwell Cross and its relationship to The Dream of the Rood is in Fred Orton, Ian Wood and Clare A. Lees' s book Fragments of History: Rethinking the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Monuments (2007) and Eamonn O'Carragain's book Ritual and The Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of The Dream of the Rood Tradition (2005). 'Song of the Ruthwell Cross' is not a 'translation' of either text, but a poem from the perspective of the stone cross, narrating its own vita or life, including its sojourn in the underworld, and subsequent 'resurrection'. It was published in The Oxford Magazine in 2005.


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Chris Jones


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