The Legend of the Holy Cross.


The Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross - Nave
Photo © Richard Croft, 19 August 2008

THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY CROSS.

The populous parish of Waltham Holy Cross had been healed of various bodily diseases by a wonder-working cross. This cross gave the title of "Holy Cross" to the parish of Waltham. Relative to this miraculous crucifix, which, as the legend goes, had been found at Lutegarsbury, a place owned by Tovi (Tofig).

Leland says:-" I redde in the boke of the antiquities of Glessenbyri that this town was caullid in the Saxon tyme Logaresburch," now known as Montacute, in Somersetshire.

With regard to ascertaining the date of the discovery of the cross there is some difficulty. The writer of the 'De Inventions Sanctce Crucis Nostras' considers it to have taken place before the death of Cnut, in 1041-2. However, there may have been an elapse of time between the discovery and the translation, or between the translation and the decoration of the cross by Githa. She

"presented a splendid golden and jewelled crown, besides the circlet which she wore in common with all noble women, which was fixed round the thigh of the image, while her bracelets and other jewels were fashioned into a subpedaneum, into which was inserted a wondrous stone, which was to emit rays during the night, and thus afford light to travellers."

Tovi, her husband, enriched the church with various gifts of gold and silver. The cross was adorned with the figure of our Saviour upon it, which, after it was transferred to Waltham, gave a name to the place. The legend of the cross was written in the twelfth century, and is preserved among the waltham MSS. It was first Anglasized by Larnbarde (1536–1601), a trustworthy writer of the sixteenth century, who gives it thus :

THE LEGEND.

In the time that King Canute reigned in England, there lived at a place called Lutegaresbury, in French Mountague, a simple man by occupation a carpenter and by office Sexton of his parish to whom that night appeared a vision of Christ crucified, commanding him that as soon as day-break he should go to the parish priest, and will him, accompanied by his parishoners in solemn procession, to go up to the top of the hill adjoining, and to dig, where (if they would beforehand make themselves by confession, fasting, and prayer, worthy of such a revelation) they should find a Cross, the very sign of Christs passion. This plain man, supposing it a fantastical dream, took at first no great heed, save that he imparted it to his wife, who also thought it but an illusion.

Wherfore the image appeared again, and so gripped him by the hand that the dint of the nails remained in his hand to be seen the day following. Being thus pricked forward, he went to the priest and disclosed the whole matter: He arranged his Parish, displayed his banners, put on copes and surplas, and set the Carpenter foremost, as his Captain, they dig awhile and soon they find a great Marble, having in it of black flint the image of the Crucifix so artificially wrought, as if God himself had framed it.

Under the right Arm of this Crucifix there was a small image of the same form, a little Bell also, and a black book containing the text of the four Evangelists. All this they signified to Tovi the Proud then Lord of the Land, Standard Bearer to the King and his Chief Councelor; who came to the place in great haste, and by the advice of his gents, left the small cross in the Church there determining to bestow the greater in such place as God should appoint. Forthwith therefore he caused to be yoked 12 red oxen and so many white cows, and layed the stone in a wagon, meaning (if God so will) to carry it to Canterbury; but the cattle could not by any force be compelled to draw thitherward. When he saw that, he changed his mind and bade them drive toward his house at Reading, wherein he had great delight; but still the wagon stood immoveable, not withstanding that the oxen did their best.

At length he remembred a small house that he had begun to build at Waltham for his Disporte, and commanded them to make thitherward. Which words he had no sooner spoken, but the wagon of itself moved. Now in the way many were healed of many infirmities; amongst the which threescore and six persons vowed their labour toward the conveyance of this Cross and were the first founders of Waltham Town where was nothing before but only a simple house for this Tovi to repose himself at when he came thither to hunt, not­withstanding that he had thereby divers lands, as Enfield, Edelmentum, Cetrehunt, Myms, and the hole Barony that Geoffrey of Mandeville, the first of that name had. Now when the Cross was brought thither, Tovi commanded it to be set up, and while someone by chance pierced it with a nail, the blood issued out of the flint in great abundance. Where at Tovi being greatly amazed, fell down and worshipped it, promised before it to free his Bondmen, and to bestow possessions on it such as should serve it.

Legend of the holy cross, Anglasized by Larnbarde from the 'De Inventions Sanctce Crucis Nostras' Transcibed into modern English by M.A.Linton.