That is just rood.

True-Cross-and-Templars

Jerusalem marches behind the true cross: Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott

For Good Friday here is the oldest known Christian poem written in English.  The “rood” is the name given to the Cross of Christ, the holy relic found by Empress Helena, Mother of Constantine the Great.  This was in 328 AD a mere 295 years after the events central to the Christian faith.  Helena found 3 crosses, that of Jesus and the two thieves.  It was “revealed” to her by divine inspiration which was the true cross.

In 614 AD the Sassanid Persian Emperor Khosrau II sacked Jerusalem and brought the relic back to his capital as part of the spoils of war.  The Byzantine emperor Heraclius defeated Khosrau in 628 AD and brought the reliquary back to Constantinople.  There is much debate about what was in the reliquary when it returned to Christian lands.  By the time it was returned to Jerusalem two years later the rood had returned to its rightful place.

The “True Cross” was lost again during the crusades, taken by the Victorious Saladin at the battle of Hattin and brought to Damascus.  It was never seen again.  Or was it?

From “The Dream of the Rood
Anglo-Saxon, 8th century, trans. Richard Hammer (1970)

The Rood speaks:

“It was long past – I still remember it –
that I was cut down at the copse’s end,
moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
told me to hold aloft their criminals,
made me a spectacle. Men carried me
upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
a host of enemies there fastened me.

“And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
upon me. I durst not against God’s word
bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
the surface of the earth. Although I might
have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.

“Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
bold in the sight of many watching men,
when He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

“A rood I was raised up; and I held high
the noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
the scars can still be clearly seen on me,

the open wounds of malice. Yet might I
not harm them. They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
which poured out from his side, after He had
sent forth His spirit. And I underwent
full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
black in the darkness. All creation wept,
bewailed the King’s death; Christ was on the cross….

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
that I have suffered deeds of wicked men
and grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
that far and wide on earth men honor me,
and all this great and glorious creation,
and to this beacon offers prayers. On me
the Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
and I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Chi-Rho

ChiRho

Diocletian stabilised Rome in the third century by establishing the Tetrarchy.  His system of four rulers, Senior (Augustus) and Junior (Caesar) in both Eastern and Western halves of the Empire allowed Rome a respite from internal conflict.

Almost as soon as he died the stability of his system began to fray.

Diocletian was also very set against Christianity and was responsible for some of the worst persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.

Constantine was not a Christian himself, but his Mother Helena certainly was.  We must evaluate her role in the preparations for the battle of Milvian Bridge on Oct 28th 312 CE.  On the night before the battle Constantine instructed his troops to mark their shields with the Chi Rho symbol, the first two letters in the Greek name for Christ.

According to the Christian Church this was because Constantine had a vision from God.  My interpretation is that he probably had a visitation from the Christians of Rome.  Many of his troops were already Christian converts who could not be open about their faith in the Diocletian era.

Many of his rival’s troops were also Christian.  We could question how many of the troops led by Maxentius refused to engage once they encountered the Chi-Rho banner, the promise of freedom to practice their faith.

I believe that Constantine, through the negotiations of his Mother, was able to swing the battle in his favour by declaring his “acceptance” of Christianity.

Constantine won the day and went on to become Constantine “The Great”, founder of the Byzantine Empire.  The system set up by him endured for another 900 years.

Sailing to Byzantium; by WB Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.