An Intercultural Dialogue Set in Stone Lilla Kopár The Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C



Download 95.67 Kb.
Page1/2
Date conversion20.04.2016
Size95.67 Kb.
  1   2

Kopár


VIN Seminar I: Myth and Cultural Memory in the Viking Diaspora,

January 9-10, 2007, Leicester, UK

An Intercultural Dialogue Set in Stone
Lilla Kopár

The Catholic University of America,

Washington, D.C.

The conversion of the Scandinavian settlers in northern England was part (and ultimately the result) of a gradual process of social and cultural integration. The early phase of this process is powerfully attested in the visual medium of stone carvings. A detailed study of these Viking-age carvings as cultural documents reveals interesting aspects of the cultural integration as intellectual process and may help us understand the first steps towards the development of an Anglo-Scandinavian cultural identity.


The Corpus

The focus of the present paper is on a particular group of Viking-age stone sculptures, those with identifiable pagan iconography. They constitute only a relatively small percentage of all surviving monuments from the Viking period, but the total number of these carvings and their relatively wide geographical distribution suggests that we are not dealing with a unique local phenomenon. Monuments with pagan and secular iconography were probably subject to a greater degree of loss than purely Christian carvings, yet the corpus still comprises more than fifty monuments.

The somewhat arbitrary distinction between secular and pagan iconography, which is frequently used in scholarly literature, is based on the nature and explicitness of the Scandinavian iconographical material and our limited knowledge of the meaning of the carvings. In this context, secular images are horsemen, warriors, and male and female figures of Scandinavian style that we cannot associate with any known myth, as well as serpents and dragons that show Scandinavian influence in their designs but which cannot be clearly identified as mythological characters. The function of these figural elements was either commemorative or decorative. The majority of these stones served as grave markers or commemorative stones, and it is their (mostly cruciform) shape, their location, and sometimes elements of Christian iconography that suggest a possible Christian context. The value of these carvings as documents of the integration process lies in the fact that they indicate the adaptation of Christian commemorative and burial practices. Of course, this is not necessarily proof of the conversion of the Scandinavians, but it certainly indicates a degree of social and cultural integration.

It is the monuments with pagan iconography that are of special interest in the present context. These depict mythological and heroic stories and characters that we can identify on the basis of literary and visual comparative material. As opposed to the wide range of themes depicted, for example, on the Gotland picture stones, there are only a handful of topics that feature on these carvings, which suggests a strong interest in, or even fashion of, particular themes and narratives, and the total neglect of others. The mythological and heroic topics depicted are: the story of Weland the smith, Sigurd and the legend of the Völsungs, Ragnarök and related scenes, various depictions of evil (the Midgard serpent, Fenrir the wolf, the Bound Evil, etc.), Odin, the valkyries, and Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree. (For a list of monuments in thematic grouping, see Appendix.)

With respect to the present inquiry, a further division of the carvings with mythological elements can be made. The first group includes monuments with no clearly Christian scenes accompanying the mythological ones, while the second one comprises those where the pagan and Christian elements are consciously combined in the iconographical program of the monuments. Even though most monuments of the first group also show elements of Christian cultural influence in their shape and location, it is the latter group, the stones combining pagan Scandinavian and Christian iconography, that are of special interest for the present study. The evidence value of these artifacts goes beyond that of social and artistic integration, and they bear witness to the intellectual process of cultural integration.

The Process of Religious Accommodation in the Anglo-Scandinavian Communities

The religious aspect of the English-Viking intercultural encounter and the first phase of the integration process can be approached and defined in various ways. The terms contextualization, syncretism, and euhemerization may all reveal important aspects of the process, but at the same time ignore others. It seems that the cultural and religious integration in the Anglo-Scandinavian communities was primarily socially motivated, happened more or less spontaneously (i.e., no explicit missionary effort was involved), and was facilitated by the openness of the Scandinavian religious system and the intellectual readiness of the members of the communities. The ultimate (yet unconscious) goal of the process was to bring into concord conflicting views of the world in order to enable the settlers to adapt to the new social and political circumstances. It is, therefore, the word (religious) accommodation that describes this process most accurately, if we free this loaded term from most of its previous theoretical connotations.

The carvings, our visual documents of this cultural process, suggest that their sculptors, patrons, and audience were familiar with both the Scandinavian and the Christian religious systems in terms of symbolism and imagery, and they were willing to compare them. Since the monuments are primarily Christian by nature and most of them are associated with ecclesiastical sites, the accommodation process can be defined as an integration of the pagan gods and heroes (as well as certain heroic concepts) into the Christian system. This presupposes not only a conceptual and ethical, but also a temporal readjustment, and calls for a reconciliation of the Germanic and Christian concepts of time and history.

However, the phenomenon taking place in the Anglo-Scandinavian communities of northern England goes beyond euhemerism, which only grasps the process from a Christian point of view. In addition to the integration (or temporal reconciliation) of pagan gods and heroes and Christian history, parallels are drawn between them and the Christian tradition, finding correspondences between the two systems, approaching one system in terms of the other by accommodating and contextualizing elements of one tradition in terms of those of the other tradition. The uniqueness of this intellectual process reflected on Viking-age carvings was recognized early in the scholarly literature. Sophus Bugge called it "pagan iconography of Christian ideas," Richard Bailey (1981, 87, commenting on the 'Fishing Stone') described it as "radical theological speculation" and a "commentary from one theological system on another." Hilda R.E. Davidson (1950, 124), pointing out the difficulty of determining the borderline between pagan and Christian in cases of obvious parallels between some incidents from the Christian tradition and others from pagan myths, noted that "the sculptors themselves may have rejoiced in such parallels, and may have used them deliberately, turning a pre-Christian story to a new use." It seems beyond dispute that craftsmen like the Gosforth Master or the carvers of the Leeds crosses were aware of obvious parallels between heathen legends and Christian teaching.

The comparison of characters and stories in search of shared patterns and references and the confirmation of a sense of unity by finding parallels recall the Christian interpretative strategy of typology, an approach that was well-known in Anglo-Saxon England and has long shaped the organization and iconographical program of Christian works of art. Its early presence in the British Isles in the context of art—in fact, the first reference to visual typology in early medieval Western art—is recorded by the Venerable Bede in the Historia abbatum, where he describes pictures brought back by Benedict Biscop from Rome to Jarrow and set up on the walls of the church arranged in typological concordance (cf. Plummer 1896, I, 373). Typology was of course an interpretative and exegetical tool of "educated" Christians, thus it can hardly be applied to explain the Viking-age monuments. Similarities and differences between typology and typological thinking and the intellectual background of the accommodation process that took place in the Anglo-Scandinavian communities should therefore be explored next.

Typology and/versus Figurative Thinking
Typology, Type, and Antitype

Typological interpretation is based on the idea of the unity of history through God's plan of salvation. Since salvation history is documented in the two Testaments of the Bible, traditionally types are taken from the Old Testament and antitypes from the New Testament. These scriptural types are the instruments of prophesy which point towards the fulfillment of the promise of salvation. Typological prophesy occurs throughout the Bible1 and can be considered the "normal" way that the prophets, including Jesus, spoke of the future. The unity of events in redemptive history is manifested in patterns recurring according to God's plan. The Greek word týpos meaning 'pattern, model' grasps this concept of shared patterns. The real model is actually in the antitype, which is not only "pre-figured" in the type, but it also fulfills it, completing the divine purpose implicit in the earlier events.

Even though typological interpretation commonly focuses on links between the Old and the New Testaments, types can also be found outside the Old Testament, and even outside the Scripture. Coping with cultural traditions of various origins and trying to justify the legitimacy of non-biblical traditions (primarily Hellenic and Roman), the early Fathers soon discovered a number of links between the Bible and their native traditions and interpreted non-biblical narratives and historical events as types. To describe these special cases of Christian typological thinking, Friedrich Ohly introduced the terms halbbiblische Typologie (semi-biblical typology) for the cases when either the type or the antitype is non-biblical, and außerbiblische Typologie (non-biblical typology) for the cases when neither the type nor the antitype comes from the Bible, yet the basis of their relatedness lies in Christian (biblical) teaching.2 Ohly's two terms have been criticized for being illegitimate and incompatible with theological teaching. Whether we insist on using the word typology for describing this phenomenon or not (which in my opinion is legitimate since it is inspired by biblical typology and follows the same principles even as it leaves the cultural and historical boundaries of the Scripture), it is unquestionable that an analytical thinking with respect to shared patterns did exist already among the early Fathers and in their communities that had to cope with different cultural heritages.

Ohly's semi-biblical typology seems to be a tempting approach to explain the iconography of the Viking-age monuments discussed above, however, it does not describe the phenomenon perfectly. Similarly to typology, the organizing thought behind the choice of images on the sculptures is centered on establishing links and cross-references and finding parallels between biblical and non-biblical phenomena. However, it is not nearly as systematic as typology, and the biblical parallel or "antitype" does not necessarily fulfill the non-biblical "type" in which it is prefigured, or rather by which it is paralleled. Therefore, it is more appropriate to see the iconography of the sculptures as evidence of a particular type of thinking which is based on the recurrence of patterns. Using the well-known word figura3 for these patterns, I suggest the term figurative thinking to describe this intellectual phenomenon.


The Concept of Figurative Thinking

Figura, figurative thinking, and figural interpretation are by no means new terms in medieval scholarship. For decades the study of typological interpretation has been dominated by Erich Auerbach's essay "Figura" and his definition of figural (i.e. typological) interpretation. The Auerbachian understanding of figural interpretation heavily influenced the understanding of the term in the study of medieval exegesis and literature.4

Auerbach's understanding of typological interpretation is characterized by four major features (after Emmerson 1992, 9ff). (1) First of all, Auerbach operates with a strict definition of typology, according to which it is an exegetical method with types taken from the Old Testament and antitypes from the New Testament, even though there are New Testament types as well as profane and pagan examples known from the early Fathers on. Auerbach also dismisses symbols as prefigurations (e.g. the brazen serpent that Moses raised before the Israelites, which often features in medieval art as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion). (2) He privileges historical events (over literary symbols and prophetic images) found in historical narratives (rather than in poetic, prophetic, and other literary forms). (3) He emphasizes the type over the antitype, even though from a Christian point of view it is the truth revealed by the antitype that matters. (4) And finally he makes a radical distinction between figural interpretation and other forms of exegesis such as allegory and the other levels of biblical interpretation. This distinction makes sense for modern interpretative purposes, but it was not valid in the Middle Ages, since there was no pure form of typology, and medieval exegetical practice was characterized by a terminological jumble. Common allegory was also termed figura, while historic prefiguration was also termed allegoria as well as figura and typus.

To differentiate between Auerbach's concept of figural interpretation and our understanding of the intellectual process discussed, let us make a terminological distinction between the Auerbachian figural interpretation (as it is used in the 1959 English translation of the originally German article) and our figurative thinking in the context of Viking-age Northern England. While Auerbach's figural interpretation is based on strict biblical typology, and thus operates in type-antitype relations and the fulfillment of the earlier type in the later antitype, figurative thinking establishes connections between biblical and non-biblical events and characters with little or no emphasis on their temporal sequence and no fulfillment of a prophesy in the typological sense.

Both Auerbach's figural interpretation and figurative thinking share the idea of certain patterns being repeated in history, which creates a coherence of history and connections between events and people separated in time. But while figural interpretation presupposes a teleological concept of history (the grand plan of salvation), in the more general figurative understanding it is the coexistence, unity, and interrelation of past, present, and future that is emphasized, instead of the linearity of time. According to Auerbach's definition, "[f]igural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons, the first of which signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second encompasses or fulfills the first. The two poles of the figure are separate in time, but both, being real events or figures, are within time, within the stream of historical life" (Auerbach 1984, 53). In terms of typology, the types in the Northern English context would be the Scandinavian narratives, and the antitype the Christian salvation story. The Scandinavian narratives, however, function as parallels rather than as prefigurations, thus the antitypes do not encompass or fulfill these types, but are "illustrated" or enriched by them. As far as the temporal relation of the two poles are concerned, they are both located in historical time (according to the belief of the Viking-age observers), but the temporal sequence is often ambiguous. For example, Christ's crucifixion is clearly a past event, but whether the Ragnarök is yet to come is unclear. When compared to biblical typology, figurative thinking suggests an even more intertwined coexistence of past, present, and future where the past becomes a melting pot of culturally different narratives. In the process of religious accommodation the Christian salvation story becomes the "core narrative" and the other narratives participate in it by their shared patterns. This is a process of understanding and a method of explanation, but not biblical exegesis in the traditional sense. It is directed more towards the understanding of a special cultural situation than the Scripture.

Figurative thinking is based on the natural human desire to compare and relate new events, people, or phenomena to well-known things in order to understand them. The question has often been raised in connection with Viking-age sculpture (especially the 'Fishing Stone', the Gosforth cross, the Nunbornholme cross, and the two Leeds crosses) whether the mixed iconography represents an attempt to reconcile the pagan and Christian traditions—that is, the parallels between the pagan and Christian stories are emphasized—or whether they represent a conscious opposition of the two traditions with the stories being juxtaposed and the superiority of Christianity emphasized. Following the logic of figurative thinking, the emphasis is on the recurrence of patterns, thus juxtaposition and parallels essentially fall into the same category, since they are both based on the fact that the stories share certain narrative elements. Therefore, it makes little sense to try to determine whether, for example, on the Gosforth 'Fishing Stone' or on the Nunbornholme cross the "message" was to rule out the pagan tradition by showing negative examples, or whether they were seen as parallels. For the contemporary observer all stories formed part of one and the same "system," that is one historical tradition. The pagan mythological stories had lost their mythological status by then and the stories were no longer about gods who were being venerated but about heroes of the past. The relationship between these narratives of different cultural origin became a dialectic one where one story involved or referred to another by sharing elements that linked them.



Similarly to biblical typology, the elements shared between the stories and their characters vary greatly, and they suggest different levels of association. From the recurrence of simple objects to shared ethical concepts and narrative patterns, various elements can promote the interconnection of different narratives. The links can be created by similar characters (e.g. the Midgard serpent and Leviathan, both nautical monsters, the representations of evil), comparable roles in history (Viðar and Christ, the savior sons of god/God), shared narrative structures (fishing for the nautical monster; or suffering self-sacrifice by being hung on a tree), common characteristic features (Weland's association with angels through his flight), recurring natural phenomena (the darkening of the sun or an earthquake taking place at the Crucifixion, the Apocalypse, and the Ragnarök), or general ethical concepts (the fight between good and evil). Due to the composite character of the Germanic gods, characteristics and episodes of the lives of several different gods get equated with Christ on various levels (Odin, Thor, Viðar), instead of there being a one to one correspondence between a particular god and Christ (or any other biblical character or saint). The following chart, which summarizes my findings based on a detailed survey of the corpus of stone carvings, provides an overview of the possible points of pagan-Christian overlap. (The chart presents only the main points of overlap. Further possible, but less probable, links have been discussed in my dissertation.)



Pagan elements

Associated Christian material or Christian context

Points of overlap

Weland


  • [pre-Viking evidence: Deor: Christian conclusion (consolation); Franks Casket: Adoration of the Magi]




  • angels; eagle of St. John

  • ability to fly; wings

Sigurd and the Völsung Legend

  • certain aspects of Genesis

  • serpent; act of eating illicitly and gaining knowledge; tree associated with knowledge

Sigurd the dragonslayer

  • St. Michael (and the Serpent of the Apocalypse) [later also St. George]

  • slaying a serpentine monster; victory over evil

Meal of Sigurd and Regin

  • Eucharistic meal

  • miracle of the blood; initiation where special knowledge is gained

Thor 's hammer, Mjöllnir

  • [both cross and hammer shaped pendants worn as amulets]




Thor's encounter with the Midgard serpent

  • fishing for the nautical monster representing evil

Midgard serpent

  • Leviathan

  • Serpent of the Apocalypse

  • serpentine (nautical) monsters representing evil

Fettering of Fenrir by Tyr

  • Satan bound / Bound Evil

  • evil bound by fetters

Odin's fight with Fenrir

  • fishing for Leviathan

  • encounter of (main) god and the monster of evil

Odin's death by being devoured by Fenrir

  • Jonah in the whale and its typological parallel in the Harrowing of Hell

  • god swallowed by monster

The bound Loki

  • Satan bound / Bound Evil

  • evil bound by fetters, but breaks free at the end of time

Ragnarök

  • Crucifixion

  • Apocalypse

  • end of an era; "bordering events"

  • overlap includes the association of both Viðar and Odin with Christ; the bound evil breaks free; fire and earthquake; Heimdall's horn and the trumpets of the Apocalypse; horsemen and the Apocalyptic riders, etc. [further links listed in the discussion of Ragnarök in chapter 3]

Odin

  • Christ

  • chief god

  • self-sacrifice on a tree; wounded / killed by spear

  • associated with the (positive) otherworld

Yggdrasil

  • Christ's cross

  • tree of life / cosmic tree

  • place of the (main) god's self-sacrifice

Valkyries

  • [possibly Resurrection symbols]




In most cases the mere survival of a pagan iconographical element or story is in itself the indication that a legitimate pattern was found to integrate it in the newly encountered cultural tradition. (Cf. for example the survival of stories about Sigurd and Weland late into the Middle Ages.) Of course we cannot exclude the possibility that some of the carvings that display only secular or pagan iconography were created by pagans ignorant of the Christian teaching or only superficially in contact with Christian culture.



The Structure of Time

The principle behind typological exegesis is that God has always had the same purpose in history, and he is consistent in his plan of salvation manifested in human history. Typology is based upon a chronological sequence, a progress in history, where the type precedes the antitype, but at the same time it also disregards chronology and emphasizes the significance of conceptual links that connect different temporal layers. Especially in elaborate high and late medieval works of art relying on the principle of typology we find ante legem and sub lege types for every sub gratia antitype, which creates a network of references between different epochs of history. But in spite of the fact that typology, as Christianity in general, is based on a teleological concept of history, as an interpretative method it only works backwards in time, that is, retrospectively. Typological "proofs" are ineffective if they are read in "the order of time" (i.e. type  antitype), they can only be read "in the order of knowledge" (i.e. antitype  type). Similarly to typology, figurative thinking also disregards chronology, and instead of observing chronological links or those of cause and effect, it promotes a non-teleological understanding of time. This temporal aspect is clearly one of the most interesting features of figurative thinking, and it is the understanding of the structure of time that underwent the most dramatic changes since the Middle Ages. The discussion of figurative thinking and typology would not be complete without a brief survey of the understanding of time which underlay and enabled these ways of thinking and interpretation.

The Middle Ages had no single view of time, but a number of competing notions inherited from various cultural traditions.5 Time was understood as a combination of "line + cursus + figura," three opposing yet coexisting temporal structures. From a human perspective the most natural perception of time is cyclic. Everyday life is determined by a number of different temporal cycles (cursus), the predictability of which gives a routine and a feeling of security. The cyclic understanding of time is based on a rhythm in events which is repetitive and recursive, and thus predictable. The recurrence is not always well defined or regular in interval, but it is in its content. There are three main types of cursus: (1) natural cursus, based on repetition in nature (e.g. days and nights, the seasons, or the pattern of growth and decay); (2) liturgical cursus, manifested in the daily routine of the canonical hours and the commemorative purpose of liturgy to recall biblical history each year; and (3) metaphorical cursus which accounts for recurring patterns in history. Unlike the first two, the third is not based on regularity. Like the Wheel of Fortune, it promises change and allows for an anticipation of a future different from the present, but the change is temporally unpredictable. The cyclic view of time is based on the experience of past generations and it is essentially past-oriented, since it is the past that is reflected (and repeated) in the present.

The finite nature of individual human life also promotes another, a linear concept of time, one which emphasizes a distinct beginning and end. This linear concept of time projected onto the history of mankind goes back to the Hebrew sense of history, and it is commonly understood to be the predominant Christian (or we should rather say Augustinian) concept of history and time.6 Christianity turned history into "salvation history" with God acting through his agents, and it introduced the ideas of the origin of time at Creation by separating day and night and the end of time on Judgment Day, which served as the two endpoints of liner time as it is perceived by humans. Since history is the unfolding of God's plan of salvation, it is teleological, shaped by design, and proceeds towards an end. The well-defined end and purpose of history makes it a future-oriented understanding with events that cannot be repeated.

The future-orientation of linear time and the past-orientation of cyclic time are united in the third model, figurative time, which was provided by (or underlay) the tradition of figural interpretation. In the figurative perception of time "past and future are fused in the present of the figure, filling it with meaning, while the meaning of the figure itself is diffused throughout all time" (Higgins 1989, 248). Thus unity of time is created and temporality is dissolved. (The figurative relation between events separated by time is more important then their chronological relationship.)

It is the lack of interest in chronology and the interrelatedness of past, present, and future which also characterizes the old Scandinavian perception of time and history. In general Old Norse mythology and literature show little concern for time and chronology. The study of the concept of time in Norse mythology is usually connected to the analysis of the structure of space in the mythic world. The sources reveal little descriptive detail of the mythological space. The mythic world has been described in scholarly literature by the binary opposition of two spatial axes, horizontal and vertical (cf. Meletinskij 1973-74 and Hastrup 1985, 50ff and 1990, cited in Clunies Ross 1994, 229f; cf. also Bauschatz 1982, 119-154). The two poles of the vertical axis are the heavens and the underworld connected by Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree, with the "well of fate" (Urðarbrunnr) at its root. In temporal terms it expresses the irreversibility (and linearity) of time. The horizontal axis comprises the habitats of the gods, giants, and men, and "concerns what one might call a 'steady state' relationship between the gods and the giants, in which negative reciprocity is taken as an unchanging given" (Clunies Ross 1994, 229). This "reversible" time (Margaret Clunies Ross' term), where change brings about no significant development, guarantees that the cosmological order remains constant. The idea of a clear-cut opposition between the vertical and the horizontal models and the related concepts of irreversible and reversible time have been criticized by Jens Peter Schjødt, who pointed out, on the one hand, that Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree, was also associated with the notions of renewal, repetition, and return, and on the other, that the conflicts between gods and giants were in fact decisive in determining the cosmic order (1990, 54ff).

Similarly to the Christian Middle Ages, the perception of time in the North was also a combination of linear and cyclic structures. The linear aspect of mythic time can be detected in the succession of distinctive periods. The time span of Norse mythology can be divided into four major eras, but the chronology of the individual eras is often unclear. The four eras are (1) the mythical prehistory of the creation, that is, Ymir's age; (2) the mythical present "which bears aspects of eternity as is stressed by the constant youth of the gods who eat Idun's apples to achieve their longevity;" (3) the eschatological end of time called Ragnarök; and finally (4) the distant future of the new world which will be created after the destruction of this world (Simek 1993, 334). It is the mythological present, the long period of Odin's reign (and the temporal framework of the majority of the myths), initiated by Ymir's murder, which is the most vague chronologically. Most events are said to have happened í árdaga 'in days of yore'. The sequence of related myths is relatively easy to determine, but the chronological relationship between these groups of myths is hard to establish. Even the Snorra Edda, which shows strong euhemeristic tendencies, seems "timeless": it only offers an occasional systematizing of myths, and the arrangement is topical rather than chronological. This expandable framework of myths made it possible to easily accommodate new gods and myths (Ciklamini 1963, 138ff).

The chronology of Ragnarök on the other hand is relatively simple. It consists of three stages: (1) pre-Ragnarök; (2) the invasion of Asgard and the destruction of the world; and (3) the rebirth of the universe and the establishment of a new social order, which introduces the mythical future. The duration of the individual phases and the sequence of particular events, however, are less clear. There is some sense of temporal linearity reflected in this vague chronology, a course of events running from Ymir's age to Ragnarök, but unlike in Christian history, creation is not necessarily a terminal event in a temporal sense. There are three creations involving the gods: (1) the creation of the universe of the fertile world from the body of Ymir; (2) the creation of men and dwarfs after the disruption of the golden age of gods following the creation of the universe; and (3) the creation of the new world after the destruction of the earth and the death of the gods at Ragnarök. The three creations suggest some sense of repetition, the idea of renewal and return. The assumption of a new world after Ragnarök speaks against an apocalyptic-linear expectation of the end of time and suggests an eschatological-cyclic concept of time (Simek 1993, 334).

On a daily basis the life of the Scandinavian communities was also determined by cyclicity through the change of natural cycles. But instead of a mechanical measuring of its length, the reckoning of time was based on content. The words tími 'time', tíð 'time, tide', and ár 'year' did not mean merely a particular duration of time but always had some specific content. Tími and tíð designated the seasons of the year and periods of uncertain duration, while ár also meant 'harvest, crop, abundance' (Gurevich 1969, 48). The old Scandinavian's perception of time was man-centered and filled with human substance.7 The dependence on nature and its cycles also influenced the view on history. Instead of change and progress the emphasis was laid on recurrence and stability. Events and actions that were regularly repeated had more significance than the unique, and their heroes excelled by repeating the actions previously performed by others (Gurevich 1969, 49-50). (In heroic literature, for example, the significance of a hero's deeds is demonstrated by being compared to those of others in the past, and it is his share in the tradition and the manifestation of long-standing heroic ideals that make him an outstanding man, not his uniqueness.) The veneration of tradition oriented the minds of the old Scandinavians towards the past, and ensured stability and continuity in their communities. Participation in the past through acts in the present secured the way to the future, and at the same time connected the three temporal layers (past, present, and future) by repetition and recurrence.

The conversion to Christianity necessitated a gradual change in this perception of history. The euhemerized Norse gods left the realm of the mythical present and were integrated into the undefined temporal space of the past together with the semi-historical heroes of heroic tales. The wide and capacious notion of the past allowed for an easy integration of different traditions without any perceived conflicts in terms of chronology. The past, the storehouse of stories of outstanding individuals, became expanded and absorbed other stories and heroes through shared features (figura). With the conversion the historical framework of the past (as well as the well-defined future8) became the biblical history recorded in the Scriptures, and the Norse gods found their way into it through figurative patterns. By being integrated into history, the pagan gods and heroes acquired a new prestige and were not competing with the Christian God.



Narrative Representation in Sculpture

We can now turn once again to our sculptures, which provide visual evidence for figurative thinking through their unique way of narrative representation. As opposed to verbal story telling, which necessarily forces some degree of chronology on the story by being linear in time (words and sentences have to be uttered one after the other and their sequence is determined by the speaker or writer), visual storytelling does not necessarily require linearity and allows for some freedom of reception for the observer. Both Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon art is characterized by the predominance of a non-linear structure of story telling. On the Gotland picture stones, for example, stories are presented iconically, that is, a longer narrative is evoked by a single characteristic scene or a combination of several scenes in one image. The representations of different episodes as well as different stories are grouped in cause-and-effect relations or around particular characters, but not in chronological order. This type of representation characterizes, for example, the hogbacks, the Skipwith slab, and even the Gosforth cross to some extent. Of course, the physical nature of a cross-shaft necessarily imposes some linearity upon the narrative, as opposed to the relatively unorganized surface of a picture stone or slab, but the lack of paneling allows for some freedom and variation of interpretation.

This freedom of interpretation is required when combining pagan and Christian stories in the iconographical program of a monument, or utilizing a pagan iconographical representation in a Christian context on a Christian monument. It invites the observer to create his own reading of the images, find connections between them, and interpret the visual program of the monument. This interpretation often means the reinterpretation of traditional iconography. In a few cases (e.g. Weland's association with angels) we witness the moment when an image, originally depicting a mythological narrative, is slowly detached from its original textual background and becomes associated with another narrative based on similarities, either between the two narratives or their visual representations. In some cases, the two associated narratives get blended and the one image unites the two texts, e.g. in the case of Dearham 1, a representation of the Cross and Yggdrasil as the cosmic tree. This interpretative process requires an active observer who is not only knowledgeable about both pagan and Christian iconography but who is also willing to engage in the interpretative process. Now we should turn our attention to the possible audience of the sculptures and investigate the function of these monuments.

Functions and Patrons

The most difficult task of a scholar dealing with ancient artifacts is to determine their function and contemporary reception. Anglo-Saxon stone carvings, many of which have been removed from their original context, are no exception. In the pre-Viking period, stone sculpture was primarily an ecclesiastical art form, which also determined its functions and audience. With the emergence of secular patronage in the Viking period the function of stone carving as public art underwent some changes.

In the pre-Viking period, most stone monuments were carved crosses that presumably served as liturgical stations, especially marking burial grounds. In Northumbria, there had been a tradition of stone funerary sculpture in the pre-Viking period, and there is some continuity in style into the Viking period. Pre-Viking carved stone crosses and slabs were not necessarily used to mark individual burials, except for those of saints,9 and they were usually associated with monastic sites (Stocker 2000, 193). The funerary nature of at least some of the Viking-age monuments was proven by carved pieces (hogbacks) marking burials found in situ at York. As opposed to the earlier carvings, which were ecclesiastical in nature, these monuments marked the graves or commemorated the death of individuals of the local secular elite.

In addition to being funerary monuments, hogbacks have also been suggested by David Stocker (2000, 198-99) to be conversion monuments, with the facing bears at the two ends of the stones representing the church (cf. the bear licking her cubs to life as a symbol of conversion). On these carvings the cubs are replaced by the lord's hall (indicated by the shape of the monument and the frequent appearance of a tile-like pattern on the top) representing a newly converted individual or family. While it seems probable that the hogback, an exclusively insular type of monument, developed under the influence of Christianity and Christian art (e.g. house-shaped shrines), it is unlikely that all hogbacks were meant to demonstrate the new faith of the deceased. In fact, many of the hogbacks lack the bear iconography and display clearly pagan iconography in dominant places.

In spite of the growing secularity of stone carvings, the involvement of the church in the production of stone monuments did not cease. Stocker suggested the direct involvement of the Archbishop of York in the production of stone sculpture in Deira, which, with its mixed iconography, represented "a novel type of hybrid Christianity" which the Deiran church was comfortable with. According to Stocker, the archbishop and his subordinates were therefore largely responsible for defining the hybrid Christian culture of Deira, which found its visual expression in stone sculpture. "Far from being provisional or transitional in character, these monuments could be seen as the mark of a new, self-confident Deiran nationalism." (Stocker 2000, 196) This statement is only true as for the erection of these monuments as grave markers of a secular elite in Christian graveyards, but not for the mixed iconography displayed on them. The iconographical programs of the carvings are by no means end products of an assimilation process, but mark medial steps thereof. The fact that the Church tolerated these pagan traits in mixed communities does not mean that they would have propagated them in the form of public art.

The educational and devotional purpose of stone carvings is reflected in the possible function of stone crosses with elaborate iconography as preaching crosses. The term is used mostly for early (pre-Viking) crosses, generally for those in Ruthwell, Bewcastle, and Easby. The only Viking-age cross of similar character is the Gosforth cross, which combines images of the Ragnarök with a depiction of the Crucifixion. People gathered at preaching crosses to hear preaching and to take part in religious ceremonies (e.g. baptism and confirmation) if there was no church in the neighborhood. The preachers might have referred to the images on the monuments in their talks, but they could have also been used for private devotion and meditation.

The custom of praying at high crosses in the pre-Viking period, as well as the early involvement of the secular elite in the erection of these monuments, is attested in the Hodoeporicon of Saint Willibald, written before 786 by the Anglo-Saxon nun Huneberc of Heidenheim. She relates how the parents of Willibald "offered him up before the holy cross of our Lord and Saviour" when he was taken seriously ill as an infant, and "this they did not in a church but at the foot of a cross, such as it [was] the custom for nobles and the wealthier men of the [Anglo-]Saxon people to have erected on some prominent spot in their estates, dedicated to our Lord and held in great reverence for the convenience of those who wish[ed] to pray daily before it" (transl. by C.H. Talbot in Noble and Head 1995, 146; cf. DuBois 1999, 148). The custom probably continued throughout the Viking period, and references in the twelfth-century Icelandic Homily Book, in an early version of the Jóns saga Biskups, as well as in the Guðmundar saga indicate that the prayer at outdoor standing crosses was pursued also in medieval Iceland (DuBois 1999, 152).

The Viking-age sculptures discussed in the present paper could fulfill a number of different functions. The majority of the stones were probably memorial monuments for individuals (although not necessarily funerary monuments) or events, such as landtaking, settlement, conversion, or a victorious battle. Depictions of heroic legends (about Sigurd and Weland) and warrior figures (some of which might have been associated with the cult of Odin) were probably used to commemorate an ancestor or an outstanding warrior. Illustrations of the Weland legend might have also commemorated an artist or artisan through his interpretation as the archetypal craftsmen.

Other stone monuments could mark sacred places or Christian ground. If there was no church yet, a cross might have been erected first at the site where later the church was to be built. In cemeteries the owner or donator of the land may have been commemorated by a cross. Similarly to pre-Viking monuments, most of the Viking-age stone sculptures are associated with ecclesiastical sites. Lancaster and Leeds were also major pre-Viking political and administrative centers, thus their taking over by the Vikings was of major significance, therefore some of the stones could indicate ownership of land by a Viking settler.10

The discussion of function necessarily evokes the question of patronage. The decline of monasteries and the division of their lands into new land-holdings resulted in the emergence of parish churches under the control of secular landowners who also became patrons of art. Their motives and interests in subsidizing stone monuments varied. According to D.M. Hadley (1997, 94), the combination of Christian motifs and pagan Scandinavian ornaments and iconography, as well as the mixture of religious and secular scenes, represents "either the patronage of a Scandinavian lord trying to record his presence and to legitimate his authority by establishing links with the past and with native traditions; or it was the product of native patronage, by a lord seeking to express newly formed allegiances, and perhaps to understand something of the society of the newcomers; or perhaps it was encouraged by someone whose origins were less certain but who was aware that his existence was something to do with the arrival at an earlier date of Scandinavian settlers."

Whatever the intention of the individual patron (and artist) was, whether justification of power or the exploration or demonstration of origins, the significance of these carvings lies in the fact that they are the products of culturally mixed communities.11 They were motivated by an interest to bridge differences in culture and origin, and they reflect the intellectual consequences of everyday coexistence. The ability to relate the different traditions, the pagan Scandinavian (or Hiberno-Norse) and the Christian Anglo-Saxon one, and the need to do so suggest an acquaintance with both traditions to a degree which could only be characteristic of individuals or communities who have already taken major steps in the process of cultural integration and towards a shared cultural identity. If these carvings should be read as manifestations of cultural identity, then, instead of "Englishness" or "Scandinavianness," they represent that of an Anglo-Scandinavian community.

The carvings with mixed iconography were the result of the mingling of traditions, where everyone contributed something from his or her cultural heritage. It was not the incompatibility of two religious systems, but the compatibility of different cultural traditions which the sculptors of these monuments perceived and represented. The iconographical material of different origins was considered to be of equal importance, and the pagan figural elements were featured on the prominent sides of the monuments, together with the Christian ones. Thus it is highly improbable that the purpose of these carvings would have been to promote the superiority of Christianity over the pagan gods. The pagan gods appear as victorious heroes and brave adversaries of monstrous creatures representing evil, even though most of the fights resulted in the death of the gods. But heroic death was admirable, just like Christ's sacrifice on the cross (often depicted in heroic terms). The gods and heroes who ultimately underwent euhemerization and became inserted into history were not seen as the enemies of the Christian faith but as equal partners whose achievements are comparable to those of Christ and the Christian heroes.



Audience and Reception

The functions of Viking-age stone monuments suggested above were based on a perception of the sculptures as public monuments, and could be best defined as the "social" functions of art. There is, however, another aspect of functionality which needs to be considered in connection with the reception of these monuments, particularly the iconography of the carvings. This aspect of functionality concerns the "intellectual" function of the artifacts. It is this type of functionality that Pope Gregory the Great had in mind when he defined the role of visual art as "books for the illiterate." If for Gregory books for the literate meant primarily a storehouse of codified knowledge and information (in the form of both primary and secondary texts), some of the carvings examined here are clearly more than visualized books or stories.

The iconic representation of both Christian and heathen subject matter was to activate a pre-existing knowledge of the narratives depicted. While the iconography of the carvings was necessarily based, at least to some extent, on traditional "codified" representations (more in the case of Christian subject matter and much less in the case of the pagan material), it allowed for some variation in the corresponding texts that they recalled in the minds of the observers. The visual evidence also suggests that the emphasis in certain pagan narratives (e.g. the Weland story) shifted under the influence of Christianity. Similarities in the visual representation also invited cross references between different narratives and in some cases resulted in the mixing of different stories (cf. the overlap between the Weland and Sigurd stories).

The monastic environment of early sculptures defined a particular audience, well-versed in Christian matters, which was not only familiar with Christian iconography, but also capable of deciphering complicated iconographical programs, as represented for example on the famous Bewcastle and Ruthwell crosses. The full understanding of these programs required an active engagement of the observers in an act similar to the monastic practice of ruminatio, that is prayerful reading, contemplating on, and interpreting of Christian texts (cf. Bailey 1996b, 26). Viking-age monuments with an elaborate program of mixed (pagan and Christian) iconography (e.g. the Gosforth cross, the 'Fishing Stone', the Halton cross, the two Leeds crosses, the Dearham cross) required a similar intellectual engagement from the observer. These carvings were intended to be illustrative and contemplative at the same time, and in that they remind us of riddles which are also both descriptive and contemplative. As "visual riddles" the carvings inspired the observer to discover new meanings of well-known stories by putting them in a new light through allusions to Christianity, suggested by iconographical references in the visual context. The reinterpretation of the familiar provided a way to deal with the encounter of different cultural traditions. Every single attempt to interpret the iconography of these monuments was a step on the path of religious and cultural integration, and it was enabled by a mental disposition to search for similarities and to find shared patterns.

The production of sculptures with mixed iconography came to an end (at the latest) in the first half of the eleventh century. the knowledgeable audience was gone and the pagan iconographical elements gradually lost their meanings. The carvings ceased to fulfill their original function. Many of them were reused as building material or architectural ornaments in later churches, while others were destroyed or forgotten about. The cultural integration reached a new level in the Anglo-Scandinavian communities.

  1   2


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page