Cross

Many trees share the odium of supplying the wood of which the Cross was made. It was said to have been made of four woods - cypress, box, cedar and pine. In the Eastern tradition, olive and palm are substituted for box and pine (Child & Colles). The OLIVE supplied the wood for the tablet above Christ's head on which the title was written. ASPEN is another, and its constant shivering is explained in folklore by that belief, making it a cursed tree in some areas, notably in the Scottish Isles, since not only was the Cross made of its wood, but it refused to bow down during the procession to Calvary (Carmichael). Such belief was held too in the west country and Wales, as well as on the Continent. Another tradition has it that the ELDER is the tree of which the Cross was made:

Bour-tree, bour-tree, crookit rung, Never straight, and never strong, Ever bush, and never tree,

Since our Lord was nailed t'ye. (Chambers). (Bour-tree is one of the Scottish names for elder). "We don't cut elder in a copse, nor do we burn it. They say the Cross was made of it" (Goddard). That is the reason for the superstition that the elder is proof against lightning - it never strikes the tree from which the Cross was made. In the Greek islands it is the HOLM OAK that is the unlucky tree. The story went that a miraculous foreknowledge of the Crucifixion had spread among the forest trees, which (almost) unanimously agreed not to allow their wood to serve. When the foresters came, they either turned the edge of the axes or bent away from the stroke. Only the Ilex (the Holm Oak) consented, and passively submitted to being felled. So now the woodcutters will not soil their axes with its bark, nor desecrate their hearths by burning it (Rodd). An Irish belief says that the true Cross was made of OAK (O Suilleabhain).

There is a medieval Jewish tale in which it was told that every tree had sworn it would not bear Christ's body, except for a CABBAGE stalk, and it was on this that he was crucified. There were English traditions according to which Christ was crucified on a MISTLETOE (Turville-Petrie). It was christianized in Europe under the name of Sanctae Crucis Lignum, the wood of the Holy Cross. As the tree that had borne Christ, it had dwindled to a lowly shrub, yet had acquired a sacred force (Grigson. 1955). In Brittany, it was until recently still looked on as the tree of the Cross (Friend. 1883) (cf the Scandinavian myth of the killing of the god Baldur by use of an arrow of mistletoe).

There is an old legend that EARLY PURPLE ORCHID grew under the Cross, and received spots of Christ's blood on its leaves, retaining the spots to this day. The Cheshire name Gethsemane (see Britten & Holland) is an echo of the legend. Jessamine, recorded in Warwickshire (Grigson. 1955) looks strangely out of place for an orchid name, but makes sense if the word is a variation of Gethsemane. Cross-flower, a Devonshire name (Britten & Holland), is also a reference to the legend. An old legend tells how BASIL helped St Helena find the true Cross. She came to a place where a lot of basil was growing, and the plant's scent guided her to the right place to find the relic. At the feast of the Invention of the Cross (originally 14 September, now 3rd May), Greek women bring basil plants to the church, and the priests distribute twigs to the congregation. (Argenti & Rose).

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