Rood of Grace

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The Rood of Grace was a crucifix kept at Boxley Abbey in Kent in southeast England. It was a mechanized likeness of Jesus, described by one Protestant iconoclast as an ingenious contraption of wires and rods that made the eyes move like a living thing,[1] and considered spiritually inspirational and a destination for pilgrimages by many of the faithful, including a young Henry VIII.[2] After the dissolution of the monasteries, the newly Protestant government used the Rood as an occasion to denounce the Roman Catholics.

According to tradition, the Rood was brought to Boxley Abbey on a stray horse. Considering that a miracle, the monks of the abbey took the crucifix. William Lambarde, in his 1570 book, Perambulation of Kent, describes how the Rood was created by an English carpenter taken prisoner by the French in order to ransom himself. According to various reports, the Rood was able to move, shed tears, foam at the mouth, turn and nod its head, and make various facial expressions.[3]

After the dissolution of the monasteries, the Rood was paraded around various market towns, including Maidstone, Kent. On 12 February 1538 John Hilsey, Bishop of Rochester, denounced the Rood of Grace as a fraud, exhibited its machinery and broke it to pieces.[4] The Rood was eventually burned in London along with numerous other statues of Roman Catholic saints.

According to Reilly, sermons and reports by the Protestant iconoclasts who attacked the Rood presumed that the Catholic authorities were misrepresenting the Rood; however, "Catholic audiences had seen mechanical theatrical mirabilia or miracles in the medieval cycle plays for generations." (Reilly notes an animated serpent winding around the tree in the garden, mechanical jaws of hell, and cords used to make a dove descend at Pentecost.).[5] The Protestant iconoclasts who presented the Rood as a fraud perpetuated by deceitful monks on gullible followers stood to gain politically from spreading that version of the story, yet Groeneveld argues the Rood was, in its time, "acknowledged, even advertised, to be a mechanical marvel".[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Geoffrey Chamber, in "Original Letters Illustrative of English History" (1970), ed. H. Ellis, New York, AMS Press, pl 168
  2. ^ Gail M. Gibson, The Theater of Devotion: East Anglican Drama and Society in the Late Middle Ages (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995) p. 15
  3. ^ Kara Reilly, "Automata and Mimesis on the Stage of Theatre History" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) p 20; 23
  4. ^ Robert Hutchinson, Thomas Cromwell (2007), pp. 162-163.
  5. ^ Kara Reilly, "Automata and Mimesis on the Stage of Theatre History" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) p. 21
  6. ^ Leanne Groeneveld, '"A Theatrical Miracle: The Boxley Rood of Grace as Puppet," Early Theatre 10.2 (2007):11