Journal Article

Conversion, Justice, and Mercy at the Parousia: Liturgical Apocalypses from Eighth-Century Northumbria, on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses

Éamonn Ó Carragáin

in Literature and Theology

Volume 26, issue 4, pages 367-383
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/litthe/frs054
Conversion, Justice, and Mercy at the Parousia: Liturgical Apocalypses from Eighth-Century Northumbria, on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses

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The earliest surviving Northumbrian high crosses at Ruthwell and Bewcastle associate the Second Coming of Christ not only with Judgment but also with mercy. Each high cross has a sequence in which Christ in majesty is recognised by animals, once evil but now converted to good. Christ blesses the scroll of the Book of Life, which he holds: by implication he also blesses the converted animals. On both crosses, a panel representing John the Baptist holding the Agnus Dei (Christ seen as the Lamb of God) comes just above the panel of Christ acclaimed by the beasts. The Agnus Dei panels refer to the heavenly liturgy, in which the Lamb appears in glory, and also to the Latin ‘Agnus Dei’ chant (‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’) recently introduced from Rome to accompany the breaking of bread at Communion. At Ruthwell, where the crosshead partially survives, the programme culminated in another scene of the Apocalypse, in which the four evangelists, each with his symbolic attribute, surrounded another image of Christ in glory. The remarkably optimistic images of the Second Coming of Christ on these two monuments indicate that the highly educated commissioner was familiar with versions of the early Christian liturgies in which the Second Coming of Christ was ardently desired, not feared.

Journal Article.  7523 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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