Friday, November 07, 2014

Knapsack 11-13-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-13-14
Jeff Gill

Public words and private thoughts

Rounding out my reflections on public inscriptions, most of them carved in stone around Granville, many hidden in plain sight or at least overlooked through being seen too much, I have a few thoughts about some words in a semi-public, quasi-permanent place.

It's in the front of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, beneath the mural of Christ enthroned, lamb about his neck, rainbow at his feet, and patron saints adoring on either side.

These words I cite are painted, but painted in a very public way in a space where many of us even non-Catholic folk might pass by and read them, for events and gatherings and commemorations. Some of my Catholic friends have expressed their uncertainty about the phrases, having a vague sense that they aren't Biblical lines (though they have that general quality), but not sure where they come from.

For a church building dedicated to one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, it makes sense that these words are from Old English, or Anglo-Saxon the tongue. The mural inscription uses the start of a set of lines in "Crist" or Christ in Old English, a set of three poetic constructions, of which "Crist I" is also known as the "Advent lyrics," because this first part is actually twelve poems in Anglo-Saxon about Christ's advent, his coming.

"Come now, King of heroes. Do not delay too long. We have need of mercies, that you free us…" In Robert Boenig's translation, he goes on to say "…and faithfully give us the healthful gift, that ever after we may always thrive in the thing that prospers among the people – your will."

"Crist" is an acquired taste, in Old English or in a 20th century translation, but it has a more modern association that might please some who have no other connection to Wessex kings or Roman rite. The entire three part assemblage was translated in the earliest part of the 20th century by a young man who went on to be a very respected scholar of early English and Germanic literature at Oxford, greatly honored in old age.

His honors, however, were more for his fantasy writings, his literary achievements in his own right. His name was J.R.R. Tolkien, and he wrote "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" and much more in Middle Earth.

His first step into middle earth, though, was in translating a line in Anglo-Saxon found elsewhere in Crist A, in the Advent Lyrics, which goes:
"éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended"
"Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, over Middle-earth to men sent"

Tolkien wondered who Earendel was, a word that was a form of address to the Morning Star, but with more mythic meaning. Finding little information about those meanings, he began to create some of his own, and so began Middle Earth in the fall of 1914, one hundred years ago.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has a fondness for Anglo-Saxon art in all forms. Tell him your quirky pasttimes at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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