ruthwell7.jpg (15407 bytes)

It is easy to unknowingly pass by the village of Ruthwell in the sense that you need to know where it is and why you should visit. Let me put you in the picture. Ruthwell  is a village on the minor road (B724)  that skirts the coast of the Solway Firth. If coming from England the road runs parallel to the main Stranraer road (A75) from Gretna Green to Dumfries. Why you should visit - is the opportunity to see the magnificent Runic Cross that dates from the early 8th century.

Ruthwell CrossThe cross is thought to have been carved while the area was located  in the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria and a symbol of the Latin church (Rome) as opposed to the Celtic church. At the end of the 7th century there was a revival of stone carving and efforts were made to do so `in the Roman manner.` As it happened the carvings soon took on their own distinctive character and the twirling vine motif was that of Northumbria. The work itself was probably commissioned by the burning enthusiasm of its converts and may have been a protest against Roman domination. of the church. Some authorities suggest that it was set up at the behest of Colman, Bishop of Lindisfarne and, importantly, it made the church of St Columba and St Aidan the first Protestant church in the British Isles. But this ignores the presence in 342 AD of St Ninian and his Candida Casa at Wigtown. 

The cross may have been in a monastery or perhaps used as a teaching aid when the monks would relate the story of Christ by reference to the many carvings on it. There are inscriptions in two languages and two alphabets. The south and north faces are inscribed in Latin and relate to panels next to it.

The engravings are :
On the South side:
 ruthwell1.jpg (37401 bytes)                                      St John the Evangelist and the Eagle
                         The Archer
                         The Visitation or Salutation of Mary 
                                                   and Elisabeth
                         The washing of the Saviours feet
                         The healing of the blind man
                                       The Annunciation
                                       The Crucifixion

On the North side:
                               The bird - possibly the Dove of Peace
                               Two evangelists
                               John the Baptist with the Agnus Dei
                               Christ in Majesty, standing on the heads of swine -                                   - believed to represent victory over
                                    vice and  uncleanliness.
                              Meeting of Paul and Antony in the desert
                              The Flight into Egypt.

The other two sides are written in the ancient runes and tell the story of the Crucifixion as seen by the Cross. The runes were deciphered in 1840 as being an Anglo Saxon poem - "The Holy Rood: a Dream" written by the monk Caedmon in the seventh century who was a herdsman at the Abbey of Whitby.

The translation by a Professor Stephens goes thus:

Girded him then
God Almighty
When he would
Step on the Gallows.
Fore all mankind
Mindfast, fearless,
Bow me durst I not.

Rood was I reared now
Rich King heaving
The Lord of Light realms
Lean me durst I not.
Us both they basely mocked and handled,
Was I there with blood bedabbled,
Gushing grievous from his dear side
When his ghost he had uprendered.

Christ was on Rood tree,
But fast from afar
His friends hurried
to aid their Atheling (prince).
Everything I saw.
Sorely was I with sorrows harrowed.
Yet humbly I inclined
To the hands of his servants
Striving with might to aid him,
With streals (shafts) was I. All wounded
Down they laid him limb weary,
O`er his lifeless head then stood they,
Heavily gazing at Heaven`s chieftain.

The cross has led a chequered life and recent history is that it was in the church at Ruthwell about 1640. However, the General Assembly of Dedication Plate the Church of Scotland ordered the removal and destruction of idols from the churches. The then minister, Rev. Gavin Young, reluctantly complied but preserved much of it by burying within the kirk and using portions for benches. In 1771 the two largest pieces were taken outside and it was in 1802 that the Rev. Henry Duncan had the pieces, along with another piece he had found, erected in his garden. The incomplete cross stayed there until 1823 when the Rev Duncan commissioned repairs to be made. The cross was finally restored to the church and placed in the well that was specially constructed apse in 1887, under the care of the Rev. James McFarlan.

The story of Ruthwell does not stop at the Cross as the Rev. Henry Duncan was more than a minister but also founder of the Savings Bank movement.

But please take care when using the steps by the church gate to mount or dismount from your horse !

Next Dumfries to Kirkcudbright

Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact