Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Rood boy

© Copyright JThomas and licensed
 for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Cooped up in Ruthwell Church, the Ruthwell Cross was the 8th century's Angel of the North (made for the open air)

The Cross is the bearer of an extract from a poem that may be the earliest written poem in an English dialect  (Northumbrian, thought to be a fore-runner of Scots*). [That may is due to doubt about its having been written before the cross was made. It may have been added some time later.]

The poem may, for all I  know (next to nothing in this case) even have been written specifically for this cross. It is, after all, The Dream of the ROOD  (rood meaning "cross"); I imagine the word can still be seen today,  fossilized in the vocabulary of church architecture: rood-screen.

The poem is an amazing piece of anthropomorphism, with the cross itself reflecting on the crucifixion; it feels guilt about being the instrument of the Saviour's torture and death but finds a kind of solace in the thought that the sacrifice is necessary for the redemption of mankind. [I suspect the anthropomorphism breaks down a bit here; is the poet a man – caring about the fate of Mankind – or a cross {an unusually altruistic one}?]

In the late  '80s (or maybe early '90s– there are sadly no written records) I sang with the University of Reading's  University Chorus. We sang Howard Ferguson's 1958 setting of The Dream of the Rood. He was at the time an old man; he died in 1999, but he came to the concert; and at the dress rehearsal he pooh-poohed the notion that his music was "modern": "It's about as modern as the design of the Morris Minor". This was fairly accurate if he meant the Minor 1000 , designed in a 1956 update; but the Morris Minor was, says Wikipedia, "conceived in 1941" and first saw the light of ...erm ... Motor  Show in 1948 (fully ten years before Ferguson's piece). 

The Ruthwell  Cross was covered in Melvyn Bragg's the Matter of the North  (in the second episode, broadcast last week   though the whole series will be available on iPlayer for about a year). It is an extraordinary example of the strength  of multiculturalism even so early. He speaks to Dr Chris Jones, of the University of St Andrews, who lists some of the many influences that come together in the Cross: an Anglian poem, runic script, elements of Greek and Roman and Celtic design...

The whole series mérite un détour.


PS Here are a few clues:
  • Interminably hunts for something to eat (7)
  • Principal reason for buying after conjunction's onset of astrological borderland (4)
  • Unrestrained colt or filly for Dr Spooner's cornucopia? (5,4)
And a special 50th anniversary clue:

Spock's not atypical response to hearing "the one about `American soldier goes into a pub... '" (7)

Update 2016.09.07.16:25 – Added footnote

* This is a bit of a throwaway. In particular, "thought to be a forerunner" is a gross over-simplification. The history of Scots is not something I've studied, but I put in a link to Scots so that you can follow this up if you want to know more. Wir Ain Lied ("Our own language") is the most authoritative source of information on Scots that I've found.

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