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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

Supplementary Note

Too late for inclusion in the body of the text, there came to my attention two early Anglo-Saxon artefacts important for my discussion, in Chapter 4, of the close association of swords, and especially hilts, with the Cross in pre-Conquest England.

On close inspection, one side of a gold and garnet cloisonné pommel from Dinham in Shropshire, which dates from the early seventh century, reveals a Crucifixion-scene with a tall central Cross flanked by two smaller crosses, doubtless those of the two thieves. At the base of the Cross are the heads of two open-mouthed beasts, one on each side, which appear to attack the shaft. The Cross’s shaft would have been in line with the sword’s grip and blade, which might therefore have been imagined together as a continuation of the Cross. The pommel’s other side presumably relates to the same scene: it shows a large Cross-roundel (suggestive of a sun-Cross and a haloed Christ) flanked by two smaller cross-roundels (suggestive of parhelia and the two thieves). Additionally, the pommel’s sloping, hill-like shape may suggest Golgotha. For photographs and discussion, see L. Webster, ‘Visual Literacy in a Protoliterate Age’, in P. Hermann (ed.), Literacy in Medieval and Early Modern Scandinavian Culture (Viborg, 2005), 21–46 at 32–3 (figs. 7 a and b); also C. Fern, T. Dickinson and L. Webster (ed.), The Staffordshire Hoard: An Anglo-Saxon Treasure (London, 2019), 114 (fig. 2.86), an important book which should be consulted regarding the pommels and sword-fittings from this hoard that I mention in Chapter 4 (note especially the book’s discussion of cross-symbolism on 253–5).

Webster, ‘Visual Literacy’, 32, 34–5 (figs. 8 a and b) also draws attention to the remarkable decoration of coiled snakes amid vegetation on an eighth-century, gilded-silver sword-grip from Fetter Lane, London. She suggests that ‘the chi-like configuration of the creature [on one side of the grip], encircled in its own halo of thorns, may even at some level, be intended as an emblem of the redemptive message of Christ’s Crucifixion’ (32). I would also raise the possibility of an allusion to the concepts of the eclipse-dragon and heaven’s wood. Webster goes on to observe, in relation to the description of the inscribed hilt of the giant sword in Beowulf, that ‘Even though this is of course a poetical description of a symbolic object, the very fact that a sword might carry—or be thought to carry—complex religious iconography lends credence to the likelihood of reading other such concealed messages in weaponry and indeed, other secular artefacts’ (36).

Also too recently for consideration in this book, there appeared the final volume (in two parts) of the Frankfurt commentary on Old Norse Eddic poetry, which treats some of the important mythological poems that I examine (Vǫluspá, Hávamál, Vafþrúðnismál and Grímnismál): K. von See, B. La Farge and K. Schulz, Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda, Bd. 1/I, 1/II: Götterlieder (Heidelberg, 2019).