Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The 7th Century Song of the Holy Rood by St Caedmon, and the Ruthwell Rood (Cross)

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I love this feast, for it draws our attention once again to the great paradox of the Christian faith, which in my estimation, once accepted would convince any person, without exception, to convert to Catholicism. When we die and put on Christ, through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion, our gift is Christian joy, the greatest happiness available to humanity. This happiness is deeper, more permanent, and more powerful than any human suffering.

Last week I focused on the Eastern troparia that celebrate this wonderful feast. Today, I want to direct you to a contemporary setting of an Old English poem, the Song of the Holy Rood. (“Rood” is a medieval English word for the Cross; h/t Gina S.) The Song (or Dream) of the Holy Cross is thought to have been written by a 7th-century English poet from the northeast of England, St Caedmon, although this is not certain. The musical setting was composed by Mr. Dallas Gambrell and was commissioned by Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia. To hear the recording performed by this humble church choir, go this webpage and scroll to the bottom.
One verse and chorus presented here encapsulate this mystery of the Cross which spans the divide between lamentation and glory:
Rood: I bore the Wielder’s pain and death,
and bracing felt His final breath.
Now came forth men abandoned, lost,
and saw what wage of sin had cost.
I knelt and freed the Lord from chains,
arms lifted Him from off my frame.
With heavy hearts they gave us rest
beneath the earth a stone cold nest.

Lamentation: Oh, oh…

Chorus: Let all Creation sigh and weep
for the Lord of Life doth sleep.
Lamentations now let us sing
for Christ, our great and fallen King.
Yet, this is wondrous victory
for Him who died upon the tree.

Gloria, Gloria, Gloria, Gloria…
The poem is long, over 150 verses, and is a dialogue between the cross and the chorus (or narrator). The cross speaks as though suffering with Christ. A large proportion of it is inscribed, in Latin and runic, on an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon cross which is at Ruthwell in southwest Scotland, dating from when that area was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. The cross itself was smashed into pieces in the 17th century by Presbyterian, that is Calvinist, iconoclasts and then pieced together again in the 19th century. It now resides in Ruthwell Church.
Ruthwell Church

The washing of Our Lord’s feet

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