Veneration of the Holy Cross


The codex De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis (Veneration of the Holy Cross) held by the Complutense University is the oldest and best-preserved copy in Spain of a very famous work, highly praised in its time, edited in the year 815 by Louis the Pious (778–840). Its author, Benedictine monk Rabanus Maurus (circa 784–856), was a disciple of Alcuin of York and abbot of the monastery of Fulda, as well as bishop of Mainz. Besides his work as a theologian, poet, and scientist, Rabanus was an advisor to Louis the Pious and his successors Lothair I (795–855) and Louis the German (804–76). The work is divided into two books. The first is comprised of 28 graphic poems on the worship of the Holy Cross, accompanied by explanations on the opposite page. The second book is an annex to the explanations in the first book. The manuscript is without doubt one of the most important and famous collections of carmina figurata (pattern poems) of its time and one of the poetic and artistic highlights of Carolingian culture. It defines the topic of devotion to the Cross, which can be recognized in Carolingian art from 850 onward. This is the oldest codex in the Complutense Library. It was part of the first set of works that Cardinal Cisneros provided to the early Complutense University. As demonstrated separately by the scholars Elisa Ruiz and Manuel Sánchez Mariana, the codex had previously been owned by Queen Isabella, upon whose death it was sold to Cardinal Cisneros by Ferdinand the Catholic. The manuscript, written on parchment, is not dated and does not contain any indication of the copyist, the scriptorium where it was made, or its previous owners. Nonetheless, thanks to paleographic and documentary evidence, it can be traced to Salzburg (present-day Austria) and dated approximately to the first half of the ninth century. The poems and the commentaries are in Carolingian minuscule script; the texts superimposed on the illustrations and their corresponding transcriptions in the commentary pages are in capitals. The symbol of the Cross is presented as the central thread of the work and, with very few exceptions, constitutes the main element in the illustrations. The Cross is one of the most ancient and complex human symbols, dating back to the pagan interpretation of the intersection between energies and planes or the intersection of opposed entities, such as heaven and earth or time and space. To this must be added the extensive symbolic weight Christianity has given to the Cross over the centuries. Although the Cross is the basic element of most of the illustrations in the manuscript, some figurative representations of the topic of the poem, such as that of Rabanus Maurus worshipping the Cross, are also present.

Last updated: March 30, 2016