Medieval Ages Inscriptions
MEDIEVAL AGES INSCRIPTIONS
Name of Student
Subject Code, Topic
May 24, 2015
In the medieval ages, inscriptions were a very popular and symbolic mean to communicate with the onlookers from the part of buildings, sculptures or other artistic creations. They reflected the conditions of contemporary society, people, their cultural practices and religion as well. Inscriptions are the silent witness of the development of civilization and serve as the standard to adjudge the ethnicity of that place. Sometimes, it is not always about the place or people, it is about time and the free expression of an artist in pure artistry. In medieval ages, the idea of knighthood was very much glorified and Christianity was used to be considered as the ultimate way to reach salvation. This research paper will try to perceive the significance of inscriptions from an unexplored point to enlighten about the medievalism in entire Europe and its cultural conceptions and practices.
Earlier to Medieval ages, the Germanic used a special kind of alphabet named Runes. In fact, it was hugely used to for both religious and other non-religious creations. It was often personal in nature being a compilations of apparently easy and simple scribbling, at the same time, quite a troublesome for the linguists to decipher. It was very popular in Norway, Sweden, Scotland and other parts of North Europe. Apart from that, runes were also used as writing code language. There were two versions of runes, one was latterly developed as the language of Old English and other was associated with the languages of Vikings and Old Norse. Christianity loomed large on the Vikings much later of the Germanic people and the churches did not impose the official language of Christians that was Latin. This historical account adheres to the medieval inscriptions to be more pagan in nature. However, with time, Christianity became the principal concept.
The shift of medieval inscriptions from pagan to Christian was prolonged but not abrupt as there was not distinctive entry. The Latin alphabets was seen in the inscriptions around 11th century with the simultaneous use of runic alphabets in Old Norse. Initially, in Christianity the clergymen or religious teachers wrote prayers and other sermons using Latin alphabets. Interestingly, in the initial phase, many church authorities refuse to use runes on the walls, doors or in the frescos of churches. The formal introduction of Latin letters in medieval inscriptions was around 13th century but runic letters continued to exist strongly with the common people. Inscriptions were found later on bells, shrines etc. It was very much reflected in the literature of that time as well. William Chaucer, also known as the Father of Modern English, focused on the enshrined relics of Thomas á Becket through a journey, and enlivened with his mesmerizing poetic language.
However, talking of the history of inscriptions itself, it has been possible with the study of inscription that is epigraphy. Deciphering runes of early middle ages was very difficult for the epigraphers as it was the compilation of twigs and many types of lines and their numbers. Numerous artefacts from middle ages have various inscriptions in terms of languages, techniques and scripts and the pagan and Latin inscriptions are somehow interrelated with each other to signify and intensify each other. In fact, many Christian inscriptions were found to be written in runic letters. This specific discipline of epigraphy illuminates the vagueness about dates, languages, and characteristics of society as well as the core ethnicity strongly grounded on that place.
An interview session with the students of epigraphy at Institute of English Studies in London ascertains the importance of inscriptions in excavating history. According to them, learning about medieval ages in Europe is majorly depended on manuscripts and inscriptions as Caxton published first English printed book much later on 1476. More importantly, there were many sepulchral monuments inscribed with personal details of the buried persons. Brass inscriptions were very famous at that time due its durability and until the beginning of 14th century Old English was used for inscriptions. However, Norman Conquest around 11th century slowly overshadow Middle English with the language of French especially in sepulchral monuments. They say the process of deciphering a truthful account from inscriptions is very critical as many inscribed stones, shrines and walls were fragmented and disintegrated. Interestingly, label was a form of inscriptions practised in medieval Europe attached on a figure or coat of arms. To them, it carried the indication of higher rate of literacy in comparison to what was usually assumed for that time period. Apart from that, Roman numerals were largely integrated in early medieval inscriptions as the sign of Roman rule upon Germania. One interesting thing about Roman numerals and alphabets were they were equally largely used in oriental inscriptions as well.
From previous studies on medieval inscriptions, it can be known that inscriptions were very powerful in communicating with the mass. At that point of time, formal education in terms of learning Latin, French and other languages was not that widespread. Formal method of education was introduced the tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes much later with the Christian conversion. The liturgical texts were used to be taught in the churches by the clerics. People of that time preferred to interpret images and symbols rather than texts. However, interpretation of inscription is high associative and its authentications most of the time challenged as it sometimes involves individualistic influenced approaches. However, with the latest advancement in the epigraphy this factor of concern has been reduced.
In this research paper Ruthwell Cross has been chosen to explore various dimensions of inscriptions of medieval Europe. The monument of Ruthwell Cross is one of the greatest survivors of Anglo-Saxon artefacts. It inculcates the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon medieval artistry of sculpting at the same time it was a subject of inculturation of that time. Inculturation signifies a communication by which Christianity approached a newer culture and the method of receiving Christianity into the sphere of that cultural tradition. However, Christianity also tried to transform their values mainly regarding religion. Considering this, Ruthwell Cross was not sculpted with very rudimentary knowledge restricted within communal matters. It approved and highlighted the secularism of Anglo-Saxons as well. But, at the same, time there was an implicit attempt to introduce a newer vision to them. Christian spirituality was embossed within the tradition of communal worship.
The designers of Ruthwell cross used two stones. The second type of stones used in building the top of cross-shaft and along with the hands of the cross head. However, this stone was fragmented and in the 1642, the Protestant iconoclasts pulled it down. Even, their audacity made them to bury a large disintegrated part into graveyard of parish church of Ruthwell. Later on, Henry Duncan who served as the Presbyterian minister at Ruthwell, revived the cross with great care. It is to be mentioned that Ruthwell Cross was coherently connected with another contemporary cross called Bewcastle Cross. Thus, thematically varied treatment in the context of theology can be noticed in the constructions of designers between these two crosses. The cross consists of a large base and later on a panel of crucifixion was added on its top. It was actually the first broad side and comes directly above the panel of Annunciation. This cross was installed in eighth century of the medieval timeline. It is assumed that the cross had been designed and constructed at least before two centuries.
Unlike Bewcastle, the designers eliminated the sundial considering the future moving of the cross if needed. This cross epitomizes the synthesis of both Celtic and Roman traditions. Apart from that, the motif of Mediterranean Tree Life is centralized by commenting on vernacular ekphrasis. Tituli were provided to all the panels of Ruthwell Corss. Unlike, the conventional tituli, in Ruthwell they do not consist of names of people or subject of art rather they instil ekphrastic narrative or theological commentary to inform people (Anderson, 1972). Moreover, these tituli were suggestive about the contexts of panels of Ruthwell and conditioned the responses of the onlookers. The panels provided extensive spaces to accommodate the extended tituli so that the descriptions got never interrupted. In fact, the Ruthwell tituli were quite different from Bewcastle Cross and other sculptures of Pictish, Irish, Anglo-Saxon and British origins. The upper stone and vine-scrolls at first board side and narrow sides respectively consist of tituli written in runic alphabets. It is often tentatively considered as an inspiration from Bewcastle. But, along with it, there is vast use of Latin as well. Roman capitals were used to write Latin. What makes Ruthwell Cross exceptional is its inscription of one Latin titulus was written in runes.
The lower stone was used by the designers for the implanted vine-scrolls and it tells about the heroic demise of Christ narrated in runes as well as English. The narrated parts were originally placed in North as sunshine were bright on that side only in summer and comparatively slanted in rest of the time. North was considered in middle Ages as dark and ominous and to prevent demonist power to harm, they placed the cross in that way. The narrative was very much original in nature as it differed in storyline of four Gospels. It represented Christ as brave enough to choose death and delineated the Cross to be a silent follower of its Lord which remained loyal to Christ while embracing death. In a way, this vernacular narrative made the Cross a sort of traitor. Using a theophany (the naarative begins with as Christ stripping himself to the choose death) to initiate the narrative was quite a radical approach because as per the Germanic tradition, the warriors to express protest usually armed themselves instead of unarming. The narrative simultaneously echoes some important Christian liturgical texts such as Philippians 2:5-11, Phil 2:7 etc.
Implicitly, Ruthwell Cross has been conceptualized upon Bewcastle Cross. The absence of sundial is compensated by the liturgical proclamations of Christ-event by the seasonal course of sun (equinoxes and solstices). Moreover, the quotidian actions of sun have also been recorded in this monumental sculpture. This monument reformed the idea of pre-Christian tradition about standing stone as in comparison to that it was quite sophisticated and educative as well. Most importantly, along with Christ, Ruthwell Cross had also glorified the unimportant beings and incidents of their lives. Common people here got a chance to relate to the being of divinity through a blind man, a sinned woman, monks emphasizing mutual feasting, pregnant mothers etc. God suddenly started characterizing humane qualities such as forgiving, healing and blessing. Women were figured as protagonists unlike the pagan text of Beowulf. There were five images of surviving women. Tree of Life is seen to be used by the animals for feasting, symbolizing the absolute harmonic life of Ruthwell community.
In spite of the apparent function of both the Crosses of Bewcastle and Ruthwell being devotional, they differ in devotional strategy. Christ was a majestic figure struggling for truth to be told and in course of action, dedicated his life. Ruthwell reflects simplistically the adversity of blessing beings. Moreover, it elaborately accounts the life of Ruthwell community and its greatness in terms of aqua et sanguis from John 19:34. Monastic life has been focused extensively and their way of community worship. Lastly, it can be said Ruthwell Cross is an important survivor medieval inscriptions of Europe, inculcating its history.
Anderson, James M. Pre Indo-European Hispanic Inscriptions: The Alcoy Lead Tablet. Linguistics. 1972. 10 (93).
Bailey, R.N. The Ruthwell Cross: A Non-Problem. Antiq. J. 1993. 73: 141-148.
Boughey, A. H. F. Inscriptions Upon Medieval Bells. Archaeological Journal. 1919. 76 (1): 74-83.
Greenwood, Timothy. A Corpus Of Early Medieval Armenian Inscriptions. Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 2004. 58: 27.
Lindberg, Carter. Handbook Of European History 1400â€“1600. Late Middle Ages, Renaissance And Reformation, II: Visions, Programs And Outcomes. J. Eccles. Hist. 1997. 48 (03): 559.
Meyvaert, Paul. Necessity Mother Of Invention: A Fresh Look At The Rune Verses On The Ruthwell Cross. Anglo-Saxon England. 2013. 41: 407-416.
Oloughlin, Thomas. Insular Inscriptions By David Howlett. Early Medieval Europe. 2006. 14 (4): 514-515.