Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West is a new publication from Four Courts Press, edited by Juliet Mullins, Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh and Richard Hawtree. It represents the first fruits of a project entitled ‘Christ on the Cross: Representations of the Passion in Early Medieval Ireland’, which was funded by the much-missed IRCHSS (now amalgamated into the Irish Research Council). The book arises from a conference held in 2010, at which scholars from a range of countries and disciplines came together to think about representations of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion in medieval art and literature.
My own contribution to this volume is an essay on ‘Sacrifice and Salvation in Echtgus Úa Cúanáin’s Poetic Treatise on the Eucharist’. The poetic treatise which is the subject of my essay was written in Roscrea in the late eleventh or twelfth century, by a poet who identifies himself as Echtgus Úa Cúanáin. Drawing on the Latin treatise De corpore et sanguine Domini by the Carolingian scholar Paschasius Radbertus, the poem is an extended exposition on Eucharistic theology. However, what might otherwise be a rather dry work of doctrinal verse is enlivened by narrative episodes, most strikingly with an anecdote (taken from Paschasius) about a Eucharistic host being transformed into the Christ-child on the altar. My essay in Envisioning Christ on the Cross represents my thoughts-in-progress on Echtgus’s poem, as I am currently working on a new edition and translation of it. In ‘Sacrifice and Salvation’, I place the composition of the poem within the wider context of Eucharistic controversies in eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe, and I read the poem in relation to the Eucharistic writings of Lanfranc of Canterbury and the depiction of an Irish Eucharistic controversy in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of Malachy of Armagh.
Envisioning Christ on the Cross is a beautiful book: lavishly illustrated, luxuriously produced, and full of fascinating studies from historians, art historians and literary scholars on depictions of the Passion in a wide range of medieval cultures and contexts.