Electronic Theses and Dissertations


The Devotional Significance of the Cross in Medieval Literature

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in English



First Advisor

Mary Hayes

Second Advisor

Steven Justice

Third Advisor

Gregory Heyworth

Relational Format



The cross is the most widely recognized symbol of Christianity. The necessary instrument of Christ's crucifixion, the cornerstone of Christian belief, the cross's basic form and shape has been easily adapted to various uses, media, and symbolism. It exists throughout the medieval period as a symbol of Christ, his crucifixion, and his sacrifice celebrated in the consecration of the Eucharist. The cross, then, is not only a symbol of the crucifixion and redemption, but it invokes Christ through its physical proximity to his crucified body and its role as a relic of the crucifixion, almost as a relic of Christ himself. This diachronic study of the role of the cross argues that both the physical and symbolic changes of the cross demonstrate a gradual move toward the cross's symbolism of the Eucharistic mysteries by using the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood, Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea, and the York Play of the Crucifixion.

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