Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West

Article excerpt

Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West. Edited by Juliet Mullins, Jenifer Ni Ghrádaigh, and Richard Hawtree. (Dublin: Four Courts Press; distrib. ISBS, Portland, OR. 2013. Pp. xiv, 370. $74.50. ISBN 9781-84682-387-0.)

The cross has long been the prime symbol of Christianity; yet this was not always so. Early Christians, especially during persecution, generally favored cryptic symbols such as the anchor, the dove, the chrismon or chi-rho, and the fish-the ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters IX0YS in a backronym/acrostic that translates as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." With Constantine's vision of the cross and his mother's amateur archaeological discovery of its burial place, the instrument of torture became (as the Dream of the Rood so movingly relates) the crux gemmata-bejeweled symbol of salvation.

Crucifixion iconography does occur in early Christian art, including the earliest dated illuminated manuscript, the Syriac Rabbula Gospels of 586, but its rise in popularity stems from the Monothelete controversy, which caused schisms in the Christian Orient and spread to the West, contributing to Pope Gregory the Great's decision to help evangelize the Anglo-Saxons and to subsequent attempts to draw the British and Columban churches into the international Orthodoxy of Chalcedon. The Synod of Whitby (664), with its focus upon the dating of Easter, was not merely an Insular affair but also part of international church politics. The Sixth Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 681 (and preceded by the council in Hatfield in 679), proclaimed that the divine and human wills were united in Christ who, being incorruptible, never conflicted with the divine will, his incorruptibility stemming from his conception from the Virgin by the Holy Spirit. Iconographies of the Virgin and of the cross, symbolizing the key moments of conception, redemption, and integration of the wills, thereafter assumed wider popularity in Eastern art, rapidly pervading the West.

There has been much recent scholarship on the subject and the editors of the volume under review have done a fine job in assembling contributions that range across Europe from fifth-century Rome to twelfth-century Parma. As the volume's title indicates, its primary purpose is to situate the contribution of early-medieval Ireland in establishing the iconic status of the cross and in exploring its spiritual, exegetical, liturgical, and aesthetic potential. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.