Saturday, 11 August 2012
'Heavily gazing at heaven's chieftan' were those who looked on Christ on the cross, the cross itself knowing whom it carried and saying 'bow me I durst not'. The Dream of the Rood is one of the earliest poems in English, and here lines from it are written in runes down the side (left in the picture) of the cross, the earliest record of the poem we have.
It is something we had long wanted to see, and were able to do so as we travelled from Carlisle towards New Lanark. This face shows Christ in Majesty (standing on beasts, as the more conventionally written Latin inscription indicates), and the picture also shows how the cross now stands in its restored position behind the Communion table in Ruthwell Kirk.
As the Taliban had the Buddhas of Bamiyam blown up, so the seventeenth century Church of Scotland had most such crosses destroyed; later on our holiday, at Govan, we were shown another cross literally de-faced (its surfaces chiseled smooth) which drove home the sense of how much has been lost. But at Ruthwell they saved their cross by burying it, so we can still find images on it like these Desert Fathers breaking bread together .