2nd September

The Dream Of The Tree

Jesus went out, carrying his cross, and came to ‘The Place of the Skull’… There they crucified him… Pilate wrote a notice and had it put on the cross. ‘Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews’ is what he wrote. John 19: 17, 19

The large wooden cross beam on to which Christ was nailed was often called a tree; another term for this was rood. Celtic Christians understood that this tree, like all creation, was affected by the crucifixion of Christ, which had cosmic significance. In the ninth century their imagination produced deeply moving poetry that expresses this idea. The eighteen foot high Cross that stands inside the church at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, has carved on its sides words spoken by the Cross. Some one took those few words and expanded them into one of the great Christian poems in English literature, known as The Dream of the Rood. In this first extract the poet speaks:

Wondrous was the tree of victory
and I was stained by sin, stricken by guilt.
I saw this glorious tree
joyfully gleaming, adorned with garments,
decked in gold; the three of the Ruler
was rightly adorned with rich stones;
yet through that gold I could see the agony
once suffered by wretches, for it had bled
down the right hand side. Then I was afflicted,
frightened at this sight; I saw that sign often change
its clothing and its hue, at times dewy with moisture,
yet I lay there for a long while
and gazed sadly at the saviour’s cross;
until I heard it utter words;
the finest of trees began to speak.
From The Dream of the Rood Trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland

In the name of the Father it is I come to rest
lying on my bed in your name
O noble King…
I place the tree upon which Christ was crucified
Between me and the heavy-lying nightmare
Between me and each evil thing.
From County Cork, collected by Douglas Hyde

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