Sunday, 10 February 2019

Robert P.C. Brown: Outsourcing holiness? : Cuthbert, the High Crosses of Northumbria, and the sanctification of creation

In his recent paper ‘The Latin West in the Period of Transition from “the Late Roman Empire” to “Early Medieval Europe”: Consolidation and Innovation’[1] T O’Loughlin claims that the introduction of monasticism in early medieval Europe produced a two-tier Christianity in which ‘holiness’ was ‘outsourced’ to monks. This paper argues that a much closer alignment with Cassian’s vision of the pastoral role of the contemplative bishop in the wider community is found in Bede’s Life of Cuthbert than this assessment allows, and to briefly suggest that the Northumbrian high crosses at Ruthwell and Bewcastle acted not just as sanctifying icons, but also as foci of monastic preaching and contemplation for the purpose of communicating the Gospel to the surrounding lay communities. Subtle differences in the iconographies of the two crosses, such as the location of the inhabited vinescrolls on the (presumed) north and south faces of the Ruthwell cross contrasted with the single vinescroll on the east face of the Bewcastle cross, and the seven scrolls of the Ruthwell vines compared with the eight of the Bewcastle vine, may suggest differences in the purposes of the crosses while demonstrating inculturation and communicating the same theological telos of the transformation of all creation through baptism and the Eucharist.

[1] A Companion to Religion in Late Antiquity, First Edition. Edited by Josef Lössl and Nicholas J. Baker-Brian. 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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