Never is a very long time
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
For whose coming does she await?
This gold and garnet Christian cross was found with the remains of a young Anglo-Saxon woman who was buried atop her bed about 1,300 years ago in what is now Cambridgeshire in England. A pectoral cross of such quality could only have been owned by a member of an aristocratic or even royal family, according to information released by Cambridge University archaeologists. In some crosses contemporary to this piece, the gems came from as far as India, and the gold from melted down coins from Constantinople. The photograph was provided by Cambridge University. My first thought when learning of this girl-woman was of George Gordon, Lord Byron's poem, "She Walks in Beauty." But, this one lies in beauty. So, who next does that bring to mind? Possibly, this ....
Never is a very long time
"Your Highness," said he, "more than fifty years ago I heard my father say that in this castle lies a princess, the most beautiful that has ever been seen. It is her doom to sleep there for a hundred years, and then to be awakened by a king's son, for whose coming she waits."
An excerpt from:
"The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood"
by Charles Perrault
Never is a very long time
Never have I worn a cross around my neck.
I have worn a bullet -- a .44 magnum cartridge, to be precise. It had symbolic meaning.
I have worn a St. Christopher's medal. It was given to me by a woman.
I have worn Thor's Hammer. My ancestry is primarily Norwegian, and the Old Norse have fascinated me in many ways -- as warriors, as explorers and, obviously, for their religion.
For about a decade now, I have worn an 1876 United States ten-cent piece -- a dime. This is because I often have wished that I could have been present and accounted for that year and have lived through that vibrant era.
But, I never have worn a cross.
The reason I am writing about this is because of an article I read a few days ago concerning the discovery of the remains of a young woman who has been wearing one for the past thirteen hundred years.
Those of you who read me here and know me a bit might recall that archaeology is one of my "interests." I have written that if I could be a college boy again, I might study to become an archaeologist, that I have participated in two "digs" as an amateur volunteer (Michigan and Wyoming) and that I have had a couple of articles related to archaeological finds published in the quarterly journals of state associations.
Moving right along, I recently read this news report:
The dead are often described as sleeping, but archaeologists in Cambridgeshire have uncovered a bed on which the body of a young Anglo-Saxon woman has lain for more than 1,300 years, a regal gold and garnet cross on her breast.
Three more graves, of two younger women and an older person whose sex has not yet been identified, were found nearby.
Forensic work on the first woman's bones suggests she was about sixteen, with no obvious explanation for her early death. Although she was almost certainly a Christian, buried with the beautiful cross stitched into place on her gown, she was buried according to ancient pagan tradition with some treasured possessions including an iron knife and a chatelaine, a chain hanging from her belt, and some glass beads which were probably originally in a purse that has rotted away.
The field where she lay, now being developed for housing at the edge of the village of Trumpington on the outskirts of Cambridge, hid a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement. It may have been a wealthy monastic settlement -- more of it probably lies under the neighboring farm and farmyard -- although there are no records of any church earlier than the 12th century village church which overlooks the site.
Pectoral crosses from the dawn of Christianity in England, and bed burials -- where the body was laid on a real bed, now traced only by its iron supports, centuries after the timber rotted -- are both extremely rare.
Well, there you have it. It is not unusual to uncover graves from past millennia which contain weapons, treasure, food, tools and all manner of material to assist the deceased find the Netherworld or to establish themself once there.
Frankly, I long have had plans to be buried with at least one handgun, a few hundred rounds of ammunition, my Marine Corps k-bar (combat knife) and a bottle or two (or three) of brandy. (Why take a chance ??) On the other hand, I never have thought about going into a grave with any manner of jewelry or ornament. No Thor's Hammer, no 1876 dime, no rings, no bracelets, no necklaces and, most certainly, no crosses of jewels or any precious metal would accompany me.
Do you understand the difference? If not, it is not important.
Still, it is sweet that this young woman would be buried according to the ancient customs and traditions of her tribe, but with a bit of golden treasure in the form of the symbol of the relatively new Christian religion then spreading throughout the Western world. Thinking of her, just maybe, I would allow a cross to accompany me.
Do you understand why? If not, it is not important.