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The Waning Sword: Conversion Imagery and Celestial Myth in 'Beowulf'
More info and resources at: https://doi.org/10.11647/obp.0190

4. The Giant Sword and the Cross

© Edward Pettit, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0190.04

We have seen that the melting giant sword of Beowulf may well subtly suggest a melting candle, perhaps even the Paschal Candle. In this chapter I argue that the poet’s symbolism also intimates an even more important image of Christianity and of Easter: the Cross of Christ.1 For not only are swords cross-shaped, but plenty of evidence survives from Anglo-Saxon England and early medieval Scandinavia to indicate a close connection between swords, their hilts and the Cross.2 There is even a possibility that candle and Cross were combined at Easter in Anglo-Saxon England, as in later centuries at least the Paschal Candle was decorated with a prominent representation of the Cross, as it is in the Roman Catholic church to this day. Again, though, I stress that if the image of the Cross is relevant to the giant sword, this relevance is implicit in the poem’s ambiguous symbolism, not openly stated.

Support for this proposal comes from both inside and outside Beowulf. I first examine corroborative evidence external to Beowulf, before returning to the words of the poem.

The Cross in the Lake

Three Old English prose texts precede Beowulf in the Nowell Codex of Cotton Vitellius A.xv: The Passion of Saint Christopher, The Wonders of the East and The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle. They were written down by the same scribe who recorded the first 1,939 lines of Beowulf. Coincidentally or not, the second of these texts effectively primes its audience for the presence of a red cross in Grendel’s mere, thereby reinforcing the Beowulf-poet’s subtle evocation of the Harrowing of Hell.3 It does so through verbal and pictorial description of the Lake of the Moon.4

Thus, Wonders describes an unnamed Eastern land, populated by ða wyrstan men ‘the worst men’.5 In this land:

þar syndon twegen seaþas; oþer is sunnan oþer monan. Se sunnan seað, se bið dæges hat ond nihtes ceald, ond se monan seað, se bið nihtes hat ond dæges ceald. Heora widnes is .cc. þæs læssan mil-geteles stadia, ond þæs maran þe leones hatte .cxxxiii. ond an healf mil.6

there are two lakes;7 one is of the sun, the other of the moon. The Lake of the Sun, it is hot by day and cold by night, and the Lake of the Moon, it is hot by night and cold by day. Their width is two hundred of the lesser mile-measures called stadia, and of the greater, which are called leones, one hundred and thirty three and one half mile.

This passage is a close translation of the continental Latin original, which reads:

Sunt et alibi laci duo, unus solis et alius lunae: qui solis est die calidus nocte frigidus, qui lunae est nocte calidus die frigidus. Longitudo eorum .CC. stadia sunt, quae faciunt leuuas .CXXXIII. et dimidium miliarium.8

The source of this Latin passage is obscure. Although Anne Knock adduces an analogue in the De mirabilibis mundi ‘On the marvels of the world’ (chapter 29) by the third-century writer Solinus, which mentions an African spring boiling hot by day and icy cold by night, it is not associated with the sun.9 Knock remarks on the lakes in Wonders that:

The attribution of these lakes to the sun and moon respectively raises two possibilities. We may be dealing with an ancient, possibly pre-Greek myth …; the other possibility is that the single lake, as described by Solinus, has become confused in some way with the sun and moon trees consulted by Alexander as an oracle.10

At the risk of emulating certain ‘Wiltshire rustics [who], as the story goes, seeing the figure of the moon in a pond, attempted to rake it out’,11 I observe that the Lake of the Moon bears marked similarities to Grendel’s mere, in that:

  1. Like its counterpart, the Lake of the Sun, it is situated in the land of ‘the worst men’. Beowulf’s mere was rather similarly situated amid a dygel lond ‘secret land’ (1357) inhabited by Grendel and his mother, who, although giants, are also described in human terms. Grendel is described early in the poem as a wonsæli wer ‘unfortunate man’ (105), and later as a guma ‘man’ (973, 1682).

    He and his gender-ambiguous mother would broadly qualify for classification as ‘the worst men’.

  2. Whereas the Lake of the Sun is hot by day and cold by night, the Lake of the Moon is hot by night and cold by day. So, too, it appears, was Grendel’s mere. Before Beowulf descends into its waters to fight Grendel’s mother, Hroðgar describes the scene, including the marvel that Þær mæg nihta gehwæm niðwundor seon, fyr on flode ‘There, each night, one can see a hostile/waning/dark-moon(?)12 wonder, fire on [or ‘in’] the flood’ (1365–6). If fire was visible on, or in, the mere by night, we may infer that it was hot by night. We may also infer that its fire, and therefore heat, was absent by day, which would explain the frosted trees overhanging it and tie in with the analogy of the thaw when the giant sword melts.
  3. The mere’s chief inhabitants may very well have a lunar aspect. We have already adduced one parallel between Grendel’s mother and a Norse giantess called Mána ‘Moon’. I adduce further indications of a lunar side to Beowulf’s ellorgæstas ‘alien visitors/spirits’ (1349) in Chapter 14.13 This will include evidence indicating that the author of the Old English Letter of Alexander to Aristotle—whose conclusion focuses on the Trees of the Sun and Moon—saw reason to describe a monster with a moon-like head in terms suggestive of Grendel.

Given these parallels, it may be significant that, in Cotton Vitellius A.xv, both the Lake of the Moon and the Lake of the Sun are illustrated in Wonders by concentric circles surrounding a cross. Both crosses have a large central red circle, and each of their horizontal and vertical arms ends in a red semicircle. The Lake of the Moon’s cross is less red than the Lake of the Sun’s, doubtless to indicate the moon’s lesser brightness and heat. Additionally, the outer circle of the Lake of the Moon is white, presumably to indicate ice,14 whereas the Lake of the Sun’s is greyish-blue, presumably to denote flowing water.15

The crosses within both lakes resemble bejewelled Anglo-Saxon Christian crosses, such as the seventh-century example found on a Nottinghamshire farm in August 2008.16 They also recall the ancient image of the ‘wheel-cross’—a cross within a circle/wheel—which was established as a sun-symbol in northern Europe in the Early Bronze Age.17 In Anglo-Saxon England the image of the solar cross also found expression in sio reade rod ‘the red Rood’ that will shine over all on þære sunnan gyld ‘in place of the sun’ on Doomsday, according to the Old English poem Christ (1101–2);18 in the image of the Crux invicta ‘unconquered Cross’ used in hymns; and in the cross-shaped nimbus of Christ in late pre-Conquest iconography.19

In common with many other parallels adduced in this study, the precise relationship between Wonders’ Lake of the Moon, its manuscript illustration and Beowulf is obscure. I suspect, though, that the presence of such distinctive similarities in the same manuscript is not inconsequential.

Three Old English Heavenly Candle-Crosses

Other Old English poems attest to the close association of candle and Cross. If, as I have argued, the giant sword suggests a candle, this finding offers some support for the idea that it may also intimate the Cross. In fact, the two symbols appear mutually reinforcing.

Thus the Biblical poem Exodus describes the Pillar of Fire as a heofoncandel ‘heaven-candle’ (115) which dispels the shadows of night. In so doing, he implicitly identifies it with the Paschal Candle and the Cross.20

Another religious poem, Guthlac B, describes a miraculous luminescence, which replaced the sun’s light in order to dispel the shadows of night, as a heofonlic condel ‘heavenly candle’.21 It has been identified as ‘the sign of the Cross shining brightly in the night sky’.22

A union of Paschal Candle and Cross may also lie at the heart of Riddle 30b of the tenth-century Exeter Book. This poem reads:

Ic eom ligbysig  lace mid winde,

wuldre bewunden  wedre gesomnad,

fus forðweges,  fyre gemylted;

bearu blowende,  byrnende gled.

Ful oft mec gesiþas  sendað æfter hondum,

þær mec weras ond wif  wlonce gecyssað.

Þonne ic mec onhæbbe,  hi onhnigað to me,

modge miltsum,  swa ic mongum sceal

ycan upcyme  eadignesse.23

I am fire-busy/troubled, I contend/play with the wind, wound-about with brilliance, with weather united, eager for the way forth, by fire melted; a blooming grove, a burning ember. Very often companions pass me from hand to hand; there proud men and women kiss me. When I raise myself up, they bow down to me, spirited ones with humility, since I must, for many, augment the resurrection of blessedness.

Various solutions to this riddle have been proposed, the most widely accepted being OE beam in various senses, notably ‘tree’, ‘log’, ‘ship’ and ‘cross’.24 However, since none of these things characteristically melt, it is hard to reconcile them with the verb gemylted ‘melted’, which, following precedent,25 I favour as the lectio difficilior over the alternative gebysgad ‘troubled’ of the variant Riddle 30a—a riddle answered as ‘Crux invicta’, the Sun-Cross, by one scholar,26 and as ‘the Cross’ by another.27

Briefly, my proposed answer to Riddle 30b is similarly ‘the Cross’. I tentatively suggest that the Cross is imagined first as represented on the Paschal Candle.28 Secondly, the Cross appears separately in the hands of worshippers who kissed it on Good Friday. Thirdly, it appears raised from a horizontal position of seclusion and stands openly on high in a symbolic re-enactment of Christ’s Resurrection.

More specifically, I suggest, Riddle 30b begins with the image of a burning, melting Paschal Candle flickering in the wind, decorated with images of (or surrounded by) flowers,29 and laden with an ember of incense. This image combines with that of the radiant, blooming Tree of the Cross—also seen in the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood and the associated Ruthwell Cross30—a tree perhaps assailed by the fire of a windy lightning-storm. The burning cross-candle is, at any rate, somehow wedre gesomnad ‘united with the weather’, a notion that may call to mind Beowulf’s linking of the melting candle-sword (if this concept is accepted) to the vernal thaw; the traditional use of the Paschal Candle to prevent bad weather may also be recalled.

The riddle’s second half may allude to the ritual in which members of a Roman Catholic congregation successively kiss the Cross on Good Friday.31 It may also refer to the Cross’s subsequent elevation from a concealed horizontal position,32 in a symbolic re-enactment of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, an event also symbolized by the Paschal Candle.

That this is a tenable interpretation of Riddle 30b is suggested by the Easter liturgical theme of the preceding seven poems of the Exeter Book, as detected by its most recent editor.33 These poems include The Descent into Hell, an account of the Harrowing of Hell in which references to the unbinding of Hell’s captives merit comparison with the unbinding of the world’s waters in Beowulf. They also include Pharoah, a fragmentary poem about God’s destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Riddle 30b appears not just to continue this Easter theme in the Exeter Book, but to mark its climax.34

Sword-Hilts, Sword-Blades and Crosses

If Riddle 30b blends Paschal Candle with Cross, this blending may find parallel in Beowulf. The giant sword—a cross-shaped weapon which Beowulf found hanging on the wall of the giants’ lair (like a crucifix?)35—may, I have proposed, be implicitly likened to a burning candle, perhaps especially the Paschal Candle. Furthermore, after the sword’s blade had melted, Beowulf was left holding just its hilt with (I presume) its crossguard. I suggest this development is interpretable on one level as a revelation of the weapon’s spiritual significance for Christians, its physically martial aspect being dispensed with after the blade has done its job of beheading the two devilish giants; in other words, the sword is not so much destroyed as transmuted to—from a Christian perspective—a higher level of religious significance. For especially if Beowulf were composed in the seventh or eighth century, the sword’s handle would resemble a tau-Cross, a type known from ecclesiastical contexts in Anglo-Saxon England.36 Such an image would also accord with the broad theme of ‘the remnant’ as a signifier of salvation, which was familiar to Anglo-Saxons from its prominence in the Easter Vigil.37

Archaeology supplies clearer evidence of a close connection between sword and cross (not always Christian) in Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Scandinavia. It comes in the form of swords with cross-decoration on their hilts.38 Before identifying examples of these, though, I should mention a recently excavated aristocratic or royal burial mound at Prittlewell, Essex, which probably dates from the late sixth century.39

The Prittlewell grave-mound contained the coffined body of a man upon whose eyes, it appears, two small gold-foil crosses had been placed and then probably covered by a piece of cloth made of gold braid. Outside the coffin, and markedly separate from the man’s body, but on a level with his westward-facing head, there lay on the floor of the burial chamber, at roughly right angles to the coffin, a large sword in an ash-wood, wool-lined scabbard. This sword had a pattern-welded blade and a hilt made from animal horn ornamented with gold. I suggest that this extremely unusual placement implies a distanced association—or a partial dissociation—between the golden and obviously Christian crosses on the man’s eyes and the cross-shaped sword, especially its gold-adorned hilt, which is nearer than its blade to the coffin and therefore to the crosses.40 If this arrangement symbolizes the subordination by an early Christian convert, or at least his buriers, of the sword to the Cross, it would be in keeping with (as I see it) the fundamental meaning of the symbolism of the melting giant sword in Beowulf, which I propose in Chapter 16.

Probably somewhat later, from the seventh century, is the famous ship-burial in Mound One at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, which provides my first example of a sword-hilt bearing a cross or crosses. Among this burial’s many riches is a sword with a gold-plated hilt which has quatrefoil/cross-shaped garnets on its pommel; there are also scabbard-bosses bearing cross-decoration.41 Potential connections between this burial and the world described in Beowulf have long been discussed.42 The burial’s grave goods suggest a culture in which Germanic paganism and Christianity were in contact.

The seventh-century Staffordshire hoard from Mercia supplies a wealth of evidence for a close sword-cross connection among its many pommels and other sword-fittings. Most strikingly, one side of the gilded pommel of a ring-sword (like the giant sword) is decorated with a large cross (probably the Cross) that features a red centre and arms in a blue setting—a likely sun-Cross.43

Another much later English instance of a sword decorated with a cross is a late ninth- or early tenth-century weapon recovered from a stream in Gilling West, North Yorkshire (see Figure 1). Its pommel bears, between two bars of roughly vertical ornamentation, the image of an enclosed and encircled cross—a sun-cross. It is shown either set on a plinth or, rather, I think, radiating light down toward the blade.44 Similar, and clearly related, is the imagery on some other Anglo-Saxon pommels of similar date. One from Grønneberg, Norway, which was most likely made in England, bears a cross with four bifurcated arms within a circle.45 Another sword from Heggestrøa, Steinkjer, Norway bears an Anglo-Saxon pommel adorned with similar decoration, including a circle divided into eight equal sections—potentially a radiant solar cross.46 Also noteworthy in this regard are a comparable pommel from Dolven, Norway, which seems to have lost its sun-cross design,47 and the pommel of a sword from Fiskerton, Lincolnshire, England, although again its sun-cross is missing.48 I return to the imagery on these hilts in Chapter 16 in relation to a most important pommel from Bedale, North Yorkshire.

Figure 1. Pommel of the Gilling West Sword. © York Museums Trust, https://yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk, CC BY-SA 4.0.

From Scandinavia we also have an early ninth-century sword recovered from a bog in Bjørnsholm, north Jylland, Denmark. Its hilt is covered in ornamental crosses.49 Additionally, there is the crossguard of a Viking Age sword from Hedeby, which bears images of two crosses, along with images of a snake and a bird.50 More remarkable, though, is a sword discovered in a grave in Norway in 2011.

This late Viking Age weapon, found at Langeid in the south of the country, bears what are surely Christian crosses, various other symbols and mainly Latin letters in gold inlay on its hilt (see Figure 2). As it was found alongside a penny of Æthelred II (978–1016), there are grounds for thinking that one of King Canute’s warriors brought it to Norway from England, where it may have been made. It will reward examination in some detail, even if a full understanding eludes me.51

On one side, the top of the pommel shows a hand holding a Cross, next to which is a sign interpretable as the letter S, a combination that has been tentatively interpreted as representing X(ristos) S(alvator) ‘Christ the Saviour’. Alternatively, or additionally, the S could be a rotated Anglo-Saxon Sigel-rune () representing the sun.

Immediately below the Cross and the S is a stylized face. Its most obvious features are two swirling designs apparently representing extremely large eyes, which are possibly intended to appear fiery or mesmeric. Between them at the bottom is an angular design presumably representing a nose, perhaps below a furrowed brow at the top. The nose surmounts an ungilded arc that curves upward at either end; it may suggest both a moustache and an upper jaw.52 Beneath this arc is what looks like an open mouth of a curious angular design; it might be described as a fusion of two Anglo-Saxon Ing-runes (), one upright, one horizontal—I think it not wholly inconceivable that the design here alludes to, and subsumes, the identity of Ing. The mouth is flanked by two downward-facing letter Es, which possibly double as rudimentary representations of a beard and as abbreviations for Emmanuel (from the Hebrew for ‘God is with us’) or Ecclesiae ‘to/from/of the Church’. In turn, these are flanked by crosses which may double as ears. Below is another ungilded arc, although this one extends upwards and around the face, apparently forming both the lower jaw and the cranium. Its wide separation from the upper arc may strengthen the impression that the face’s mouth is open.

Below the pommel and the grip, on the downward-angled crossguard, the mouth-design is repeated but with the addition of a vertical line in the centre, which makes it somewhat resemble an eye (albeit of very different type from those swirling above). However, this would be a rather surprising identification, and therefore the design may instead represent a pendant worn by the male whose head is the pommel and whose neck is the grip. Alternatively, it may represent his navel. Multiple significances need not be unintentional.

The ‘pendant’ is flanked on either side by three letters, followed by a snail-like swirl similar to those forming the eyes on the pommel. Each swirl has two small horns and ends in two terminations suggestive of legs and feet. These encourage interpretation of the crossguard’s twin branches as the man’s arms and legs. In that case, the weapon’s blade could represent a huge phallus, a sword being a potentially phallic symbol.

The letters to the right of the ‘pendant’ are possibly DNE, with the N inverted and two small horns on the D (also present on the crossguard’s swirls) perhaps indicating a contraction. These letters could be the standard abbreviation for Latin d(omi)ne ‘(O) Lord’. But perhaps more likely they stand for the battle-cry D(eus) n(obiscum) e(st) ‘God is with us’ or for D(eus) n(obiscum), E(mmanuel) ‘God is with us, Emmanuel’. Then again, if the N is rather an S, or doubles as one, we may have D(eu)s e(st) ‘It is God’ or D(eu)s, E(mmanuel). Alternatively, if the N is rather a Sigel-rune, or doubles as one, we may have D(eus) s(igel) e(st) ‘God is the Sun’. Again, multiple meanings may be intended.

The sequence of letters to the left is a reverse symmetrical D+E, with the D again ‘horned’. The difference might be explained by the similarity of the Cross to the Anglo-Saxon Nyd-rune ().53 If so, we have the equivalent of DNE.

The hilt’s other side has a similar overall design, but with some clear differences. In place of the hand-held Cross at the top of the pommel, the face has what may be a golden crown. The face’s nose is now a cross (or a nose-guard?), the direction of the eye-swirls is reversed, and the four X-like corners of the mouth have been filled in, giving a fuller impression no longer suggestive of the fusion of two Ing-runes. The same is the case with the ‘pendant’ on the crossguard, which, in addition, now contains a cross. The flanking letters on either side show some differences, too. On the right we have again have DNE or DSE, but with the ‘horned’ D reversed. To the left, more puzzlingly, we have NHE or SHE.

Whatever the meaning of the letters on the hilt,54 two further points may be made. First, the anthropoid design of the sword’s ornamentation confers on the weapon the identity of a man or god55—recall the ambiguity of secg ‘man’/‘sword’ with regard to the giant sword in Beowulf (1569). Second, the hand-held Cross depicted on the pommel is implicitly identifiable with the hand-held sword on which it is inscribed. If so, the sword is conceived of as a divine weapon, being both the sword of Christ (and Ing?) and in some sense Christ (and Ing?) himself.56 Since it also seems possible to interpret the design as showing a sword emerging from the face’s open mouth, especially relevant may be the reference in Revelation 1:13–6 to the Christ-like figure resembling the Son of Man, who has eyes like fire, a sharp, two-edged sword emerging from his mouth and a face that shines like the sun; also, in Revelation 19:11–6, to the righteous crowned Word of God. In any case, if, as seems clear, the Langeid sword, and especially its golden hilt, is closely linked with the Cross as the figurative sword of Christ and possibly with the sun, it merits comparison—despite the chronological gap—with Beowulf’s giant sword, which, in my view, is implicitly likened to a Cross-like, solar candle of divine justice.

Figure 2. The Langeid Sword. © Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Norway, CC BY-SA 4.

Other Viking Age swords bear inscribed crosses on their blades and occasionally the Christian inscription In nomine domini ‘In the name of the Lord’.57 One tenth- or eleventh-century instance taken from the Thames, England has a cross flanked by triple bars on one side and the inscription Ingelrii on the other.58 Some other swords have a plain cross preceding the same name.59

Although it has not survived, a sword more intimately connected with the Cross (but again postdating Beowulf) was reportedly that of the Emperor Constantine the Great, which the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelstan received as a gift from Hugh, king of the Franks, in 926. William of Malmesbury’s description, apparently based on a tenth-century Latin work (at least partly poetic),60 reads:

ensem Constantini Magni, in quo litteris aureis nomen antiqui possessoris legebatur, in capulo quoque super crassas auri laminas clauum ferreum affixum cerneres, unum ex quattuor quos Iudaica factio Dominici corporis aptarat suplitio.61

the sword of Constantine the Great, on which the name of its ancient owner could be read in gold letters; also on the hilt,62 on thick plates of gold, you could see fixed an iron nail, one of four which the Jewish faction had prepared for the tormenting of the Lord’s body.63

One could scarcely ask for a closer identification of an inscribed gold-plated sword-hilt with the Cross.64

Implicit equations, or close associations, of sword/hilt and Cross are made elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon literature and visual art, as further examples will show.

A complex Old English cure for ælfadl ‘elf-sickness’, in which signs of the Cross feature prominently, climaxes with the instruction to writ mid sweorde ‘inscribe with a sword’ four such signs around the medicine.65

When the Old English prose Life of Guðlac describes how the fen-demon-fighting saint of Crowland gewæpnode mid þan wæpne þære Cristes rode and mid þam scylde þæs halgan geleafan ‘armed [himself] with the weapon of the Cross of Christ and with the shield of the holy faith’, it seems implied that the Cross-weapon is a sword.66

The Dream of the Rood conceives of the Cross as a bloody, golden, radiant beacen ‘beacon’ (compare a burning candle). It is also imagined as a tree with the power feondas gefyllan ‘to fell enemies’ (38), a weapon that the warrior-Christ clasped about him like a sword.67 Also, rather as, when Hroðgar gazes on the giant sword’s golden hilt, the Beowulf-poet reveals that the hilt was inscribed with the origin of fyrngewinnes ‘ancient strife’ (1689), so too The Dream of the Rood’s dreamer perceived þurh þæt gold ‘through the gold [of the Cross]’ earmra ærgewin ‘the ancient/early strife of wretches’ (18–19), which is thought to refer to ‘the ancient hostility of God’s primeval adversaries’.68 In that case, we may also note that Grendel was earmsceapen ‘wretch-shaped’ (Beowulf 1351) and that his death would be earmlic ‘wretched’ (807).69

A fragmentary late ninth-century stone grave-marker from Lindisfarne, best known for its depiction of Viking(?) raiders with raised swords and axes, is less well-known for the imagery on its other side. This less familiar side shows a Crucifixion or Doomsday scene dominated by a large standing Cross (now missing part of its shaft) flanked by a full sun to the left and a waning, almost supine, crescent moon to the right (see Figure 3).70 Two figures appear in supplication below the Cross, one on the left and one on the right. Additionally, two hands—doubtless those of God or Christ—are depicted, one on either side of the Cross, at the height of its crosspiece. They seem to be about to grasp the Cross by its hilt-like top, perhaps to wield it like a sword against sinners such as the warriors shown on the slab’s other side.71

Figure 3. Grave-Marker from Lindisfarne.© Historic England Archive.

An illustration on folio 6r of London, British Library MS Stowe 944, the Liber Vitae ‘Book of Life’ of Newminster and Hyde (c. 1031), shows King Canute placing a large golden cross with four red terminals on the monastery’s altar. He holds the cross in his right hand; his left grasps the hilt of his prominent sword, which has a straight crossguard.72 A connection between the cross and the sword seems implicit.

Finally, in later centuries at least, it seems to have been common practice in England to swear oaths on swords, a custom presumably encouraged by cross-shaped hilts.73

(See also the Supplementary Note at the end of this book for mention of the decoration on a pommel from Dinham, Shropshire and on a sword-grip from Fetter Lane, London.)

Beowulf and Christ as Bearers of the Sword-Cross

Aspects of the poet’s portrayal of Beowulf and his actions strongly call to mind Christ and Old Testament ‘types’ of Christ. These strengthen the possibility that the giant sword intimates the Cross, especially after its blade has melted, leaving only the hilt with crossguard. In addition to the imagery used during Beowulf’s adventure in the mere, which evokes Christ’s death on the Cross, the Harrowing of Hell and baptism, scholars have drawn parallels between Beowulf and Moses, Samson and David—three Old Testament prefigurations of Christ.74 Significant, too, is the description of Beowulf in the poem’s final lines as manna mildust ‘mildest/most benevolent of men’ (3181). This phrase is used elsewhere in Old English and Old High German poetry only of Moses and God.75

On this basis, a parallel potentially arises between Christ as the bringer of a sword (Matthew 10:34) and Beowulf as bringer of the giant sword’s hilt to Hroðgar. Furthermore, although Hroðgar, like Beowulf, is a heathen, and therefore unable fully to comprehend the hilt’s potential Christian significance, by its acquisition he seems infused with some of the language and precepts of Christianity.76 As many other commentators have observed, his resulting speech to Beowulf is reminiscent of a Christian homily: it refers, for instance, to sawele hyrde ‘the soul’s keeper’ (1742) and the devil’s arrows (1743–6).77

That this ‘sermon’ was inspired by Hroðgar’s examination of the hilt seems implied by the rhyming juxtaposition within the line Hroðgar maðelode, hylt sceawode ‘Hroðgar made a speech, beheld the hilt’ (1687), which is followed not immediately by his speech but by the detailed description, in the poet’s voice, of that hilt, which continues until line 1698. Only then does the poet reintroduce Hroðgar’s speech—in effect framing the description of the hilt—with the words Ða se wisa spræc / sunu Healfdenes; swigedon ealle ‘Then the wise man spoke, the son of Healfdene; all fell silent’ (1698–9). And it is only subsequently, in line 1700, that we finally come to the words of Hroðgar’s speech, a full thirteen lines after its initial introduction.78

The Battle-Standard and the Cross

Many correspondences also exist between Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother and subsequent return to Hroðgar on the one hand, and Beowulf’s fight with the dragon and its immediate aftermath on the other. Collectively, they imply a parallel between the hilt of the giant sword which Beowulf brings to Hroðgar after slaying the giants and the battle-standard which Wiglaf brings to Beowulf after the slaying of the dragon. Both objects may be interpretable by virtue of their shape as symbolic intimations of the Cross, the weapon with which Christ defeated Satan. Some of these fights’ similarities are as follows.79

Both fights pit the hero against hot nocturnal monsters in environments with elements in common. The fiery water of Grendel’s turbulent mere and the walls of his lair—in which resides his dragon-skin bag—echo in the fiery, surging stream issuing from the dragon’s stony home (2542–9).

As the fine sword Hrunting failed Beowulf against the head of Grendel’s mother, so the fine sword Nægling ‘Descendant of Nail’ failed him against the dragon’s skull (2575–80, 2677–87).80

As the waters of the mere through which Beowulf swam were purged of serpents after the giants’ death, so there was no sign of the dragon in its abode, the mound, following its death (2771–2). Additionally, after slaying the dragon, Wiglaf splashed Beowulf with reviving water (2720–3, 2790–1), an act reminiscent of the purifying baptism intimated by Beowulf’s immersion in and emersion from Grendel’s mere.

As Grendel’s lair contained abundant treasure on its grundwong ‘ground-plain’ (1496), so did the dragon’s den on its grundwong (2770). Spoils were taken from both. The young Beowulf took Grendel’s severed head and the golden sword-hilt to the old and righteous King Hroðgar, who then hylt sceawode, ealde lafe ‘gazed on the hilt, the old “leaving”’ (1687–8) and made a wise speech to Beowulf. The young Wiglaf took shining bowls and dishes, but more prominently a single golden battle-standard, to the similarly old and righteous King Beowulf, who then gold sceawode ‘gazed on the gold’ (2793) and made a wise speech to Wiglaf.

The implicit parallel between the giant sword’s golden hilt and the golden battle-standard merits closer attention.81 The poet reports that inside the dragon’s lair:

Swylce he siomian geseah  segn eall gylden

heah ofer horde,  hondwundra mæst,

gelocen leoðocræftum;  of ðam leoma stod,

þæt he þone grundwong  ongitan meahte,

wrætte giondwlitan.  Næs ðæs wyrmes þær

onsyn ænig,  ac hyne ecg fornam.

Ða ic on hlæwe gefrægn  hord reafian,

eald enta geweorc,  anne mannan,

him on bearm hladon  bunan ond discas

sylfes dome;  segn eac genom,

beacna beorhtost. (2767–77)

Likewise he [i.e., Wiglaf] saw hanging an all-golden standard, high over the hoard, the greatest of hand-wonders, locked by the crafts of limbs [i.e., by skilful hands]; from it light shone [lit. ‘stood’], so that he could make out the ground-plain, look over ornaments. There was not any sign of the snake there, but the edge/sword had carried it off. Then, I have heard, one man [i.e., Wiglaf] plundered the hoard, the old work of giants, in the mound, loaded his chest with cups and dishes according to his own judgement; he also took the standard, brightest of beacons.

Rather as the giant sword’s hilt was wundorsmiþa geweorc ‘the work of wonder-smiths’ (1681)—and therefore itself wondrous—and the enta ærgeweorc ‘earlier work of giants’ (1679), so the battle-standard is hondwundra mæst, / gelocen leoðocræftum ‘the greatest of hand-wonders, locked by the crafts of limbs’ (2768–9) and part of the eald enta geweorc ‘old work of giants’ (2774). Also, as Beowulf took the sword from where it hung on the wall of Grendel’s lair (1662), presumably above the other treasures therein, so the standard hung above the other treasures in the dragon’s den.

Furthermore, the culminating phrase in the passage just quoted, beacna beorhtost ‘brightest of beacons’, appears only twice elsewhere in Old English poetry, with striking significance.82 Once it describes the dawn sun rising like a candle from the darkness of the ocean’s depths. And once it describes the towering, blood-red Cross shining in place of the sun, which suppresses darkness on Judgement Day.

The former instance comes from Andreas, a poem, which, we noted earlier, may well be indebted to Beowulf. It comes immediately before the appearance of a ship containing God and two angels:

         Þa com morgentorht

beacna beorhtost  ofer breomo sneowan,

halig of heolstre,  heofoncandel blac,

ofer lagoflodas. (241–4)83

Then came the morning-splendid brightest of beacons hastening over the sea, holy from darkness, the shining heaven-candle, over the sea-floods.

The second instance occurs in the Exeter Book’s poem Christ:

Ne bið him to are  þæt þær fore ellþeodum

usses dryhtnes rod  ondweard stondeð,

beacna beorhtast,  blode bistemed,

heofoncyninges  hlutran dreore,

biseon mid swate,  þæt ofer side gesceaft

scire scineð.  Sceadu beoð bidyrned

þær se leohta beam  leodum byrhteð. (1083–9)84

It will not be as an honour to them [i.e., sinners] that there, present before alienated peoples, will stand our Lord’s rood, brightest of beacons, wetted with blood, with the pure gore of the heaven-king, sprinkled with ‘sweat’, so that over [this] broad creation it shines brightly. Shadows will be concealed where the radiant tree shines for peoples.

There is a parallel between the ‘heaven-candle’ shining over the seas in Andreas and Beowulf’s giant sword, which, I have suggested, shone like the ‘sky’s candle’. Similarly significant is the correspondence between the radiant, bloody and sweaty Cross of Christ and the radiant, bloody and sweaty giant sword.

Another indication of an imagistic connection between the giant sword and the battle-standard in Beowulf is an echo of the words Lixte se leoma, leoht inne stod ‘The radiance shone, light stood within’ (1570), used, I have argued, with reference to the giant sword in Grendel’s lair. These words echo in the phrase of ðam leoma stod (2769), used with reference to the standard in the dragon’s lair.

Outside Beowulf, further evidence indicates an association between standards and crosses, including the Cross.

Although our knowledge of early Germanic standards is sketchy, it appears from the survival of a variety of lexical terms and representations on coins that they took several forms. A common variety was essentially cross-shaped, sometimes of tau or tau-like form.85

Whatever the standard’s physical shape, the word used to describe this object in Beowulf, namely segn (from Latin signum), literally ‘sign’, also appears in the Old English poem Exodus (127) denoting a divine cloud-pillar imagined as a fana battle-standard’ (248). It incorporates a prefigurement of the Cross and is suggestive of an ecclesiastical banner.86 The related Old English verb segnian commonly means ‘to make the sign of the Cross’, and a segnung is a ‘blessing, consecration’.

The Emperor Constantine reportedly had a labarum ‘standard’ that represented the victorious shining Cross. The earliest surviving representation of this standard shows it piercing a wriggling serpent, thought to represent Constantine’s rival Licinius but perhaps also Leviathan/Satan.87 This tradition was known in Anglo-Saxon England.88

Additionally, an association of Christ’s glittering royal battle-standards with the Cross is found in the first stanza of a hymn by Venantius Fortunatus, the sixth-century bishop of Poitiers whose work was known in early Anglo-Saxon England:89

Vexilla regis prodeunt,

fulget crucis mysterium,

quo carne carnis conditor

suspensus est patibulo.90

The king’s banners advance, the mystery of the Cross flashes, by which the Creator of flesh was suspended in flesh from a forked gibbet.

This hymn, which presumably describes the image of the Cross glittering on banners, was used in the Easter ritual of the Regularis concordia.91

Old English texts similarly identify the Cross as a shining beacen ‘beacon, standard’. It is so described repeatedly, for example, in The Dream of the Rood (6, 21, 83, 118). Furthermore, the Cross, like the segn of Beowulf, is often described as golden. Some golden Anglo-Saxon crosses survive to this day.

Finally, an association between early English Christian crosses, banners and candles is apparent from an account by an eleventh-century hagiographer, Goscelin of Saint-Bertin. It tells how a visitor to the old minster of East Dereham, Norfolk, in the late eleventh century saw the local people process, with priests and other clergy, cum uexillis et crucibus, cum cereis ‘with banners and crosses, with candles’.92

Wiglaf as Sword-Bearer and Cross-Bearer

A further implicit connection between the giant sword’s hilt and the Cross-like battle-standard taken from the dragon’s den may well be encapsulated in the name and actions of the standard’s bearer, Wiglaf. He is unknown outside Beowulf, and in the opinion of at least one commentator his name is ‘probably a kenning, and certainly a metaphor’.93

The name Wiglaf is, like so much else in the poem, engagingly interpretable in more than one way. The most obvious interpretation, as ‘Battle-Leaving’, identifies its bearer as:

  1. ‘Survivor’, not just in terms of the dragon-fight, but also of being the last surviving member, the endelaf ‘end-leaving’ (2813), of Beowulf’s kin.
  2. ‘Sword’, a sword conceptually being the iron ‘left behind’ after the ‘battle’ waged against it by a smith’s hammer-blows.94 It was Wiglaf who subdued the dragon with a glittering, gold-adorned blade. We may recall the implicit identity of Beowulf and giant sword as secg ‘man/sword’ during the mere-episode. We may also call to mind how the giant sword was recovered after the battle with Grendel’s mother, and especially what remained of it—the hilt, the ‘leaving’ (lafe 1688) which Beowulf presented to Hroðgar, and which the latter gazed upon, rather as Beowulf beheld the standard and, at the same time, Wiglaf.
  3. ‘Heirloom’/‘Spoils’, a meaning that reinforces Wiglaf’s link with the standard he took from the dragon’s den,95 and that again recalls the giant sword and its hilt.

    A fourth possible interpretation of Wiglaf is:

  4. ‘Holy Leaving’,96 which invites a Christian interpretation.

I therefore suggest that the figure of the standard- and sword-bearing Wiglaf evokes, upon reflection, a blended image of the Cross-like standard and the giant sword’s Cross-like hilt. Like the young Beowulf before him, the valiant Wiglaf foreshadows Christ, himself a sword- and Cross-bearer who conquered the devil-serpent.97

On the foregoing basis, it seems to me likely that both the golden-hilted giant sword and Wiglaf’s golden battle-standard are interpretable as intimations of the glittering Cross of Christ. This appreciation not only encourages perception of a more obscure association between the giant sword and another prominent Christian symbol, the Paschal Candle. It also colours in retrospect our view of both the segen gyldenne ‘golden standard’ (1021) which Hroðgar presented to Beowulf along with the sword of Healfdene, and the segen gyldenne (47), erected much earlier amid other treasures, in Scyld Scefing’s burial-ship. The Beowulf-poet, it seems to me, may intimate symbolically the presence of the Cross not only at the centre of Beowulf, but also at its beginning and end.98

1 I am not aware that a link between the giant sword and the Cross has been proposed before, although the scholarly literature on Beowulf is so extensive that I cannot be sure.

2 Cf. also an episode from the Armenian epic Sasna Crér analogous to Beowulf’s adventure in the mere. It records that the hero Sanasar descended into Blue Lake (Lake Van). There, finding himself on dry land, he obtained a lightning-sword, a marvellous horse (not paralleled in Beowulf) and, following a dream-vision of the Mother of God, a chapel’s ‘Battle Cross’. Angels placed this cross on his right arm—in other words, on his sword-arm and therefore above the hilt of his radiant sword. See A. K. Shalian, David of Sassoun: The Armenian Folk Epic in Four Cycles (Athens, Ohio, 1964), 44–8; Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 131. This Cross was radiant and also known as the ‘Victory Cross’; L. Surmelian, Daredevils of Sassoun: The Armenian National Epic (Denver, 1964), 75 n. 3, 184.

3 Additionally, it may be noted that The Passion of Saint Christopher describes how a heathen king prepared to subject the saint to torture on an iron bench above a fierce fire, only to find that, at Christopher’s words, the bench became eallswa geþywed weax ‘just like pressed wax’. The king promptly collapsed oð ða nigoþan tide ‘until the ninth hour’ and declared that he would kill Christopher the following day at the same hour; see R. D. Fulk (ed. and trans.), The Beowulf Manuscript: Complete Texts and The Fight at Finnsburg (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010), 2, 4.

4 In addition to the Anglo-Saxon lunar knowledge and traditions mentioned in the following pages, there is an extensive body of pre-Conquest prognostic and computistical lore concerning the moon, which, however, does not seem relevant to Beowulf; see L. S. Chardonnens, Anglo-Saxon Prognostics, 900–1100: Study and Texts (Leiden, 2007), https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004158290.i-608; R. M. Liuzza (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Prognostics: An Edition and Translation of Texts from London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius A.III (Cambridge, 2011); P. S. Baker and M. Lapidge (ed), Byrhtferth’s Enchiridion, EETS s.s. 15 (Oxford, 1995). Anglo-Saxons’ interest in the moon and the sun is also apparent from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; see O. Brazell, ‘Astronomical Observations in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’, Journal of the British Astronomical Association 101 (1991), 117–8; on one particular eclipse mentioned therein, see A. P. Smyth, ‘The Solar Eclipse of Wednesday 29 October AD 878: Ninth-Century Historical Records and the Findings of Modern Astronomy’, in J. Roberts, J. L. Nelson and M. Godden (ed.), Alfred the Wise: Studies in Honour of Janet Bately on the Occasion of her Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Cambridge, 1997), 187–210.

5 Fulk, Beowulf Manuscript, 24.

6 Fulk, Beowulf Manuscript, 24. See also Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 194; A. E. Knock, ‘Wonders of the East: A Synoptic Edition of the Letter of Pharasmanes and the Old English and Old Picard Translations’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of London, 1981), 482–4, https://kclpure.kcl.ac.uk/portal/files/2927963/336701.pdf

7 OE seað normally means ‘pit’; see Knock, ‘Wonders’, 92.

8 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 178.

9 Knock, ‘Wonders’, 791; J. White (ed.), ‘Caii Julii Solini De Mirabilibus Mundi, Capitula xxiii—xxxiv’, in The Latin Library, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/solinus3a.html

10 Knock, ‘Wonders’, 791.

11 OED s.v. ‘moonraker’—a jocular explanation from 1787 of why natives of Wiltshire were called ‘moonrakers’; EDD, s.v. ‘moon’ (13). See further J. Cashford, The Moon: Myth and Image (London, 2003), 83–7 on the theme of the ‘moon in the water’, as manifest in, for example, the Lincolnshire folk-tale The Dead Moon which I discuss in Chapter 14.

12 See my discussion of OE nið(-) in Chapter 14.

13 Similarly, Grendel is an ellorgast (807) and the blood which melts the giant sword’s blade comes from an ellorgæst (1617; also ellorgast 1621).

14 Cf. King Alfred’s reference to snaw-cealdes weg, / monan gemæro ‘the snow-cold one’s way, the moon’s boundary’; Irvine and Godden, Old English Boethius, 364–5 (Metre 29, lines 8–9).

15 See the colour facsimile in A. S. Mittman and S. M. Kim, Inconceivable Beasts: The Wonders of the East in the Beowulf Manuscript (Tempe, 2013), MK 6r; also folio 103r, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=cotton_ms_vitellius_a_xv_f094r. For a different depiction of these lakes, without the crosses, in a late Anglo-Saxon scientific miscellany, London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B V/1, fol. 83r, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=cotton_ms_tiberius_b_v!1_f002r

16 See ‘Amateur Treasure Hunter Finds £25,000 Bejewelled Cross in Field with Metal Detector’ (6 August 2008), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1042082/Amateur-treasure-hunter-finds-25–000-bejewelled-cross-field-metal-detector.html

17 See e.g., A. Andrén, Tracing Old Norse Cosmology: The World Tree, Middle Earth, and the Sun in Archaeological Perspectives (Lund, 2014), 135; M. Cahill, ‘“Here Comes The Sun…”’, Archaeology Ireland 29 (Spring 2015), 26–33; D. Panchenko, ‘Scandinavian Background of Greek Mythic Cosmography: The Sun’s Water Transport’, Hyperboreus: Studia Classica 18 (2012), 5–20, figs. 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 13; A. Lahelma, ‘The Circumpolar Context of the “Sun Ship” Motif in South Scandinavian Rock Art’, in P. Skoglund, J. Ling and U. Bertilsson (ed.), North Meets South: Theoretical Aspects on the Northern and Southern Rock Art Traditions in Scandinavia (Oxford, 2017), 144–71 at 163–4.

18 B. J. Muir (ed.), The Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry: An Edition of Exeter Dean and Chapter MS 3501, 2 vols (Exeter, 1994), I, 90.

19 J. Ritzke-Rutherford, Light and Darkness in Anglo-Saxon Thought and Writing (Frankfurt, 1979), 139–41. See also the Anglo-Norse Gosforth Cross (discussed in Chapter 10) and the impressive heads of certain Celtic stone crosses, such as Muiredach’s Cross in Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland, which dates from the ninth or tenth century. Of interest, too, is an instance of a ‘pyramid’ (a form of sword-harness or scabbard decoration), possibly from Anglo-Saxon Norfolk, which bears a four-armed cross between the arms of which appear two (divine?) faces—one smiling, one frowning—and two designs which might each represent a solar eye; see SASE5–7, 275–7, 282–3.

20 See P. J. Lucas, ‘Old English Christian Poetry: The Cross in Exodus’, in G. Bonner (ed.), Famulus Christi: Essays in Commemoration of the Thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede (London, 1976), 193–209 at 203–4; P. J. Lucas (ed.), Exodus, rev. edn. (Exeter, 1994), 94; cf. P. Portnoy, The Remnant: Essays on a Theme in Old English Verse (London, 2005), 199. A direct equation between the Paschal Candle and the Pillar of Fire appears in Mirk’s Festial, a work composed in the 1380s which ‘can be relied upon to give us the commonplaces for the Christian year’ (E. G. Stanley, ‘Light for Oxford’, in K. P. Clarke and S. Baccianti (ed.), On Light (Oxford, 2013), 5–24 at 9): þys paschall bytokeneþe þe pyler of fure ‘this Paschal (candle) betokens the Pillar of Fire’; T. Erbe (ed.), Mirk’s Festial: A Collection of Homilies, by Johannes Mirkus (John Mirk), Part I, EETS e.s. 96 (London, 1905), 127.

21 Roberts, Guthlac Poems, 121, line 1290.

22 Lucas, Exodus, 94 n. to line 115.

23 Adapted from Muir, Exeter Anthology, I, 355.

24 C. Williamson (ed.), The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill, 1977), 231.

25 See R. M. Liuzza, ‘The Texts of the Old English Riddle 30’, JEGP 87 (1988), 1–15 at 6.

26 Ritzke-Rutherford, Light and Darkness, 219–25.

27 A. Talentino, ‘Riddle 30: The Vehicle of the Cross’, Neophilologus 65 (1981), 129–36.

28 There is no evidence from Anglo-Saxon England for the decoration of the Paschal Candle with an image of the Cross, but this practice was customary in later centuries, as it is to this day. Girard, Textual History, thinks the practice a later innovation.

29 Cf. Freeman, ‘Lighting’, 197, 199; MacGregor, Fire and Light, 379–81.

30 Swanton, Dream of the Rood; B. Cassidy (ed.), The Ruthwell Cross: Papers from the Colloquium Sponsored by the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University, 8 December 1989 (Princeton, 1992).

31 Cf. Symons, Monastic Agreement, 44 (§45); J. Hill, ‘The Liturgy and the Laity’, in G. R. Owen-Crocker and B. W. Schneider (ed.), The Anglo-Saxons: The World Through Their Eyes (Oxford, 2014), 61–7 at 64–5.

32 Cf. Symons, Monastic Agreement, 44 (§46), 49 (§50).

33 Muir, Exeter Anthology, I, 26.

34 For another attempt to relate this riddle to the liturgy of Easter, see J. E. Anderson, Two Literary Riddles in the Exeter Book: Riddle 1 and the Easter Riddle with Full Translations (Norman, 1986), 138–44.

35 Cf. the hanging above a Christian altar of the gold-adorned sword Hneitir ‘Cutter’ in Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (ed.), Snorri Sturluson: Heimskringla, ÍF 26–8, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1979), III, 369–70; M. Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects, SPSMA 7 (Turnhout, 2007), 48.

36 See e.g., J. Backhouse, D. H. Turner and L. Webster (ed.), The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art (London, 1984), 119–20, nos. 120 and 121. Swords with straight guards are characteristic of the fifth to eighth centuries; curved guards are thought to be a later English development that spread to Scandinavia; see P. Bone, ‘The Development of Anglo-Saxon Swords from the Fifth to the Eleventh Century’, in S. Chadwick Hawkes (ed.), Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1989), 63–70 at 66. Additionally, the pommel of an upright hilt might suggest a suppedaneum. Cf. Horowitz, ‘Sword Imagery’, 151.

37 See Portnoy, Remnant, 123. Portnoy, however, takes an entirely different view of the significance of the melting sword and its hilt by arguing that they emphasize ‘decimation and destruction’ (125), not the promise of resurrection: ‘the “remnant” in Beowulf describes a downward trajectory of doom and annihilation in comparison to the Book of Enoch, where the “remnant” is an uplifting signifier of promise and eternal life’ (92).

38 See also SASE5–7, 262 for a photograph of a reproduction of a sword from Niederstotzingen, Germany, which has a cross-design at the centre of its pommel. On the association of swords and crosses in Anglo-Saxon England, see also M. D. Cherniss, ‘The Cross as Christ’s Weapon: The Influence of Heroic Literary Tradition on The Dream of the Rood’, ASE 2 (1973), 241–52, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0263675100000454. Generally on the Cross as a weapon in pre-Conquest England, see D. F. Johnson, ‘The Crux Usualis as Apotropaic Weapon in Anglo-Saxon England’, in C. E. Karkov, S. L. Keefer and K. L. Jolly (ed.), The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England (Woodbridge, 2006), 80–95.

39 See S. Hirst and C. Scull, The Anglo-Saxon Princely Burial at Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea ([n.p.] Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), 2019); MOLA, ‘Prittlewell Princely Burial’ (2019), https://prittlewellprincelyburial.org/museum; L. Webster, ‘The Prittlewell (Essex) Burial: A Comparison with Other Anglo-Saxon Princely Graves’, in T. A. S. M., Panhuysen (ed.), Transformations in North-Western Europe (AD 300–1000): Proceedings of the 60th Sachsensymposion 19.-23. September 2009 Maastricht (Hannover, 2011), 266–72.

40 Cf. remarks in Hirst and Scull, Anglo-Saxon Princely Burial, 94 on the potential significance of this sword’s exceptional positioning in comparison with other graves in which, when a sword is present, it is almost always placed beside or on the body, or even hugged by it.

41 R. Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, 3 vols (London, 1975–83), II, 290, 292, 295, 303. On scabbard-crosses, see also SASE, 92–3, 113; SASE5–7, 192.

42 See e.g., R. Frank, ‘Beowulf and Sutton Hoo: The Odd Couple’, in C. E. Karkov (ed.), The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England: Basic Readings (New York, 1999), 317–38 and references therein; also now Gräslund, Beowulfkvädet.

43 See ‘Staffordshire Hoard Reveals Yet Another Helmet and Rare Pommel’ (28 May 2015), https://www.medieval.eu/staffordshire-hoard-reveals-yet-another-helmet-and-rare-pommel, which observes: ‘Its [i.e., the pommel’s] central garnet and glass inlaid disc can be seen to form an early Christian cross and on the other side is a motif formed of three serpents. So both Christian and pagan beliefs may be represented’; also C. Fern, A. Osinska, L. Martin and G. Evans, ‘The Catalogue Part 1: Pommels and Sword-Rings’, Staffordshire Hoard Catalogue (2017), no. 76 [K98 et al.], https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2457–1/dissemination/pdf/10_Catalogue/Cat_1_Pommels_web.pdf. For other instances of (often golden) pommels from this hoard that bear crosses of various types, see ibid., nos. 37 [K1228], 39 [K349], 41 [K465], 49 [K674], 52 [K284, K327], 53 [K145, K808, K1167] (swastika), 54 [K355], 57 [K27, K358] (boar heads terminate the arms of a cross), 63 [K306, K1826], 71 [K514, K1684, K1901], 74 [K5, K596, K597, K604, K1374, K1968] (swastika). Also on pommels from this hoard, see S. Fischer and J. Soulat, ‘The Typochronology of Sword Pommels from the Staffordshire Hoard’, in Portable Antiquities Scheme, https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/svantefischerandjeansoulat, and note the design on the sixth- or seventh-century pommel from Hög Edsten, Sweden, illustrated therein. At least two hilt-collars from the Staffordshire hoard display crosses; see C. Fern, A. Osinska, L. Martin and G. Evans, ‘The Catalogue Part 2: Hilt-Collars’, Staffordshire Hoard Catalogue (2017), nos. 166 [K660], 178 [K380], https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2457–1/dissemination/pdf/10_Catalogue/Cat_2_collars_web.pdf. Fragments of hilt-plate from the hoard bear crosses; see C. Fern, A. Osinska, L. Martin and G. Evans, ‘The Catalogue Part 4: Hilt-Plates and Hilt-Guards’, Staffordshire Hoard Catalogue (2017), no. 360 [K320, K1063, K1250], https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2457–1/dissemination/pdf/10_Catalogue/Cat_4_hilt_plates_and_guards_web.pdf. Additionally, pyramids and buttons from the hoard display crosses; see C. Fern, A. Osinska and L. Martin, ‘The Catalogue Part 7: Pyramid and Button Fittings, and Personal Items’, Staffordshire Hoard Catalogue (2017), nos. 574 [K107], 575 [K1201], 576 [K450], 577 [K565], 578 [K451], 579 [K1166], 580 [K302], 581 [K382, K676, K849, K999, K1254], 582 [K675], 583 [K1425], https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-2457–1/dissemination/pdf/10_Catalogue/Cat_7_pyramidandbuttonfittings_web.pdf.

44 See J. R. Watkin, ‘A Late Anglo-Saxon Sword from Gilling West, N. Yorkshire’, Medieval Archaeology 30 (1986), 93–9.

45 SASE, 70 and fig. 41b.

46 A. M. Heen-Pettersen, ‘Insular Artefacts from Viking-Age Burials from mid-Norway. A Review of Contact between Trøndelag and Britain and Ireland’, Internet Archaeology 38 (2015), §3.6 and fig. 22, https://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue38/2/toc.html

47 SASE, 70 and fig. 41a.

48 A. White, Lincoln Museums Information Sheet, Archaeology Series 13, Antiquities from the River Witham, Part 2: Anglo-Saxon and Viking (Lincoln, 1979), 4–5, https://www.thecollectionmuseum.com/assets/downloads/IS_arch_13_antiquities_from_the_witham_anglo_saxon_and_viking.pdf; ‘Fiskerton Sword’, http://www.vikingage.org/wiki/index.php?title=File:Sword_fiskerton.jpg

49 K. Randsborg, The Viking Age in Denmark: The Formation of a State (New York, 1980), 113.

50 J. Graham-Campbell and D. Kidd, The Vikings (London, 1980), 146–7.

51 For an illustrated description of this sword, see V. Vike, ‘The Ornate Sword from Langeid’ (21 September 2017), http://www.khm.uio.no/english/research/collections/objects/02/langeid-sword.html

52 Cf., perhaps, the arc on the Bedale sword-pommel and its relatives, which, in Chapter 16, I suggest represents a solar barque.

53 Cf. K. Meling, ‘The Cross as a Principle in the Formation of Certain Old English Runes’, NM 80 (1979), 36–8 at 37.

54 The sword’s blade also bears inscriptions, which have yet to be interpreted.

55 Cf. Pearce, ‘Spirit of the Sword’. For earlier ‘Celtic’ short swords with X-shaped anthropoid hilts, see R. Pleiner, The Celtic Sword (Oxford, 1993) and A. P. Fitzpatrick, ‘Night and Day: The Symbolism of Astral Signs on Later Iron Age Anthropomorphic Short Swords’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 62 (1996), 373–98. Fitzpatrick observes that some of these swords’ blades bear designs interpretable as lunar symbols.

56 A silver pommel with gilding from the Staffordshire hoard (K711) shows on one side a male face with staring eyes and ears into which, it seems, two creatures (birds?) are speaking. The face might be that of the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, but the other side of the pommel depicts two boars’ heads, which might also, or alternatively, link the sword with Ing, see Æ. Thompson, ‘Sth711: Woden’s Pommelcap’ (17 May 2012), http://thethegns.blogspot.com/2012/05/sth-711.html; Fern et al., Catalogue Part 1, no. 68 [K711].

57 I. G. Peirce, Swords of the Viking Age (Woodbridge, 2002), 9, 110.

58 J. Lang and B. Ager, ‘Swords of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Periods in the British Museum: A Radiographic Study’, in Chadwick Hawkes, Weapons and Warfare, 85–122 at 104 (no. 5). Analogous are Viking Age Swedish axeheads that are open in the middle except for a (doubtless Christian) cross; see N. Price, ‘Belief & Ritual’, in G. Williams, P. Pentz and M. Wemhoff (ed.), Vikings: Life and Legend (London, 2014), 162–201 at 185.

59 Peirce, Swords, 9.

60 S. Foot, Æthelstan: The First King of England (New Haven, 2011), 253.

61 R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom (ed. and trans.), William of Malmesbury: Gesta regum Anglorum, 2 vols (Oxford and New York, 1998–9), I, 218.

62 Mynors, Thomson and Winterbottom, William of Malmesbury, I, 219 translates ‘scabbard’.

63 Furthermore, among the relics claimed by Anglo-Saxon Exeter was, according to one text, in addition to a piece of the True Cross, part of þære candele, ðe Godes engel ontende mid heofenlicum leohte æt ures Drihtenes sepulchre on easteræfen ‘the candle which God’s angel kindled with heavenly light at our Lord’s sepulchre on Easter Eve’; Bedingfield, Dramatic Liturgy, 153.

64 Additionally, on the link between gold and the divine, see C. Behr, ‘The Symbolic Nature of Gold in Magical and Religious Contexts’, in Portable Antiquities Scheme, https://finds.org.uk/staffshoardsymposium/papers/charlottebehr; K. M. Briggs, ‘Symbols in Fairy Tales’, in H. R. E. Davidson (ed.), Symbols of Power (Cambridge, 1973), 131–55 at 140: ‘Gold is a Sun symbol in itself’; P. Dronke and U. Dronke, Growth of Literature: The Sea and the God of the Sea (Cambridge, 1998), 40: ‘Gold is the symbolic metal of the sun’.

65 O. Cockayne, Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, 3 vols (London, 1864–6), II, 344–7, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139168809

66 See J. Roberts, ‘Guthlac of Crowland and the Seals of the Cross’, in Karkov et al., Place of the Cross, 113–28 at 115.

67 Cherniss, ‘Cross’.

68 Swanton, Dream, 112. That is, unless the surviving text is a corruption of *earmræ ærgiwinn ‘most [literally ‘more’] wretched former struggle’, a reference to the Crucifixion, as proposed by A. Bammesberger, ‘Earmra ærgewin (The Dream of the Rood 19a)’, NM 100 (1999), 3–5.

69 The latter word especially may pun on ‘arm-ly’, Grendel having lost an arm (earm) to the strength of Beowulf’s arm.

70 Also R. Cramp, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. Volume I: County Durham and Northumberland (Oxford, 1984), part 1, 206–7 (no. 37), part 2, pl. 201 (1132–4); R. N. Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture in Northern England (London, 1980), 162–70 and pl. 48. On this scene and the association of the sun and moon with the Crucifixion and Doomsday in pre-Conquest English art, see E. Coatsworth, ‘The Iconography of the Crucifixion in Pre-Conquest Sculpture in England’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Durham, 1978), 42–6, http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/1862; B. C. Raw, Anglo-Saxon Crucifixion Iconography and the Art of the Monastic Revival (Cambridge, 1990); Cashford, Moon, 328 also notes the frequency of such imagery in depictions of the Crucifixion.

71 See further the section entitled ‘The Lunar Head and the Solar Head’ in Chapter 14.

72 http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=stowe_ms_944_f006r. See also T. A. Dubois, Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (Philadelphia, 1999), 163–5.

73 See E. C. Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, new edn. (London, 1900), 1194 (‘Swear by my Sword’), https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780198609810.001.0001; J. Gray, ‘“Swear by My Sword”: A Note in Johnson’s Shakespeare’, Shakespeare Quarterly 27 (1976), 205–8.

74 See Horowitz, ‘Sword Imagery’, 93–112; S. H. Horowitz, ‘Beowulf, Samson, David and Christ’, Studies in Medieval Culture 12 (1978), 17–23; Orchard, Critical Companion, 142–5; F. McFarland, ‘The Warrior Kings and Their Giants: A Comparative Study of Beowulf and King David’ (unpublished masters thesis, University of Eastern Washington, 2016).

75 See Wieland, ‘Manna Mildost’. Cf. F. Klaeber (ed.), Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, 3rd edn. (Lexington, 1950), li: ‘We might even feel inclined to recognize features of the Christian Savior in the destroyer of hellish fiends [i.e., Beowulf] …. Though delicately kept in the background, such a Christian interpretation of the main story on the part of the Anglo-Saxon author could not but give added strength and tone to the entire poem’. The poem’s final word on Beowulf, lofgeornost (3182), should be interpreted not as ‘most vainglorious’ (which would obviously undermine any connection with Christ), but as ‘most eager to practise praiseworthy giving’, according to D. Cronan, ‘Lofgeorn: Generosity and Praise’, NM 92 (1991), 187–94.

76 Note that the blessing of the Easter Candle in the Missal of Robert of Jumièges includes the words Huius … sanctificatio noctis … curuat imperia (Wilson, Missal, 91), translatable as ‘The sanctification of this night … bends/moves commanders’; these words recur in the Sarum Missal; Legg, Sarum Missal, 118.

77 See notes in KB, 213–6.

78 Cf. Pope Gregory’s reference to a benign sanctæ prædicationis gladius ‘sword of holy preaching’ (Moralia on Job 34.17, PL 76, column 726); Horowitz, ‘Sword Imagery’, 17, 103–5, 118.

79 For further parallels and links between these episodes, which both hinge on the use of an ealdsweord eotenisc ‘ancient giantish sword’ (1558, 2616), see Fontenrose, Python, 531–2; Horowitz, ‘Sword Imagery’; W. Helder, ‘Beowulf and the Plundered Hoard’, NM 78 (1977), 317–25; D. Cronan, ‘The Rescuing Sword’, Neophilologus 77 (1993), 467–78. Note also my subsequent proposal that all three of Beowulf’s main monstrous opponents could be creatures of the dark moon.

80 Contrast the sword of Sigemund which effectively ‘nailed’ another hot dragon to a wall (890–1). Additionally, the term wællseax for the weapon with which Beowulf killed his draconic foe is a hapax legomenon whose first element appears significantly polysemous, especially as the æ may be long or short. OE wæl(l) with short æ can mean ‘slaughter’, which is presumably the principal sense here, but it can also mean ‘wall’, which would momentarily associate this weapon both with the sword with which Sigemund pinned his dragon to a wall (wealle 891) and with the giant sword which Beowulf took from a wall (wage 1662) of Grendel’s cave. An association with the giant sword taken from the mere may be reinforced by the suggestion of OE wæl(l) with long æ, which means ‘whirlpool’, ‘eddy’, ‘sea’, ‘flood’ (a sense that might also denote the wavy designs on a pattern-welded blade); cf. Beowulf’s wægsweord ‘wave-sword’ (1489).

81 See also Abram, ‘New Light’, 214–5.

82 Note also the reference to a fana … scir ‘shining standard’ of the Goths in Irvine and Godden, Old English Boethius, 4–5 (Metre 1, lines 10–11).

83 Brooks, Andreas, 8; see also North and Bintley, Andreas, 130, with discussion of the poet’s likely allusions to Beowulf on 62–81.

84 Muir, Exeter Anthology, I, 89.

85 For discussion of Anglo-Saxon royal standards, a surviving instance of which might be among the grave-goods found in Mound One at Sutton Hoo, see R. Bruce-Mitford, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology: Sutton Hoo and Other Discoveries (London, 1974), 7–17 and note fig. 2g; Bruce-Mitford, Sutton Hoo, II, 428–31. It has been suggested that the Sutton Hoo object might rather be a flambeau, but this may be an unnecessary distinction. Possibly certain standards were lit in some way; near the top of its vertical shaft the Sutton Hoo object has what might be a metal basket for combustible material. For descriptions of different types of Roman standard, including the signum, some of which had crosspieces, see A. Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army (London, 2003), 134–5; M. E. V. Schmöger, ‘The Roman Vexillum’, in J. O. Engene (ed.), Proceedings of the XX International Congress on Vexillology, Stockholm, 27th July to 1st August 2003 (Bergen, 2004), 511–42.

86 Lucas, Exodus, 96, 110.

87 P. Stephenson, Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor (London, 2009), 185 and fig. 41.

88 See I. Wood, ‘Constantinian Crosses in Northumbria’, in Karkov et al., Place of the Cross, 3–13.

89 See M. Lapidge, ‘Knowledge of the Poems of Venantius Fortunatus in Early Anglo-Saxon England’, in M. Lapidge, Anglo-Latin Literature 600–899 (London, 1996), 399–407. Any future researchers in this field, and others covered by the present book, will want to review the huge body of Christian Latin literature known in Anglo-Saxon England, which I am conscious of having largely neglected. For a recent discussion of some key works, see P. McBrine, Biblical Epics in Late Antiquity and Anglo-Saxon England: Divina in Laude Voluntas (Toronto, 2017).

90 F. Leo (ed.), Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortvnati presbyteri italici opera poetica, MGH, auctorum antiquissimorum 4 (Berlin, 1881), 34.

91 Symons, Monastic Agreement, 42–3 (§44). On this poem and its use in the Monastic Office in pre-Conquest England, see I. B. Milfull, ‘Hymns to the Cross: Contexts for the Reception of Vexilla regis prodeunt’, in Karkov et al., Place of the Cross, 43–57.

92 R. C. Love (ed. and trans.), Goscelin of Saint-Bertin: The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely (Oxford, 2004), 60–1.

93 Lee, Gold-Hall, 60.

94 For instances of laf denoting swords in Beowulf, see KB, 404 (glossary entry for this word).

95 Cf. ON ‘standard’.

96 OE wig, cognate with Gothic weihs ‘holy’ and OHG wih ‘holy’, is associated with the divine or supernatural in the sense ‘idol, image’; also in Old English compounds like wiggild ‘idol’, wigle ‘divination’ and wigweorþung ‘idol-worship/honour’ (Beowulf 176). Note especially the related weak noun wiga ‘holy one’, probably used of the Holy Spirit, in the Old English poem Elene (937); see P. O. E. Gradon (ed.), Cynewulf’s ‘Elene’, rev. edn. (Exeter, 1977), 61.

97 In this light, Wiglaf’s splashing of Beowulf with water looks even more like an intimation of baptism, one that echoes Beowulf’s earlier emergence from the purified mere.

98 Cf. Nicholson, ‘Literal Meaning’, 188.