Public defence: Kaja Hagen

Kaja Hagen will defend her doctoral dissertation: ““O holy cross, you are all our help and comfort”. Wonderworking Crosses and Crucifixes in Late Medieval and Early Modern Norway.”, for the degree of Philosophiae Doctor (PhD) at the Faculty of Theology.

Time of trial lecture

The trial lecture will take place December 10, 2021 at 13.15 - 14.00.

Image may contain: Necklace, Forehead, Hair, Nose, Smile.Adjudication committee

  • Professor David Morgan, Duke University, USA (first opponent).
  • Associate Professor Margrethe C. Stang, NTNU (second opponent).
  • Professor Stig Frøyshov, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo. 

Leader of the disputation

Supervisor

About the dissertation

This dissertation explores the potential for understandings, experiences, and functions of wonderworking crosses and crucifixes in late medieval and Early Modern Norway. In late medieval society, crosses and crucifixes were not only the prime symbols of the Christian faith and aesthetic works of art, but all crosses and crucifixes could also potentially offer healing to the pious and serve as protective shields. Some images had, however, gained a reputation for being particularly powerful. These crosses or crucifixes were understood as agents capable of influencing and altering the life of the pious and were subject to extra-liturgical cultic veneration.

During the later Middle Ages, written and material sources show that over 45 crosses and crucifixes in Norway owned land or other valuables, they received pilgrims and gifts, and/or they were explicitly referred to as miraculous or wonderworking. The crucifixes from the churches of Fana and Røldal and the cross from Borre Church are the only three still extant that were either explicitly referred to as miraculous and/or were pilgrimage sites. For that reason, these three objects have received particular attention in this study. 

How could a cross or a crucifix be understood to work miracles? Were they made to evoke particular responses? Did their material aspects allow for understandings which transgressed the purely symbolical or allegorical? Were they understood as more than a representation of the prototype, to embody some form of divine presence? In this study, the iconography, formal and stylistic solutions, as well as the materiality of the three objects are analysed. The rituals connected to them, and their placement  and staging within the church space are also explored.

A wide variety of textual and material sources are examined to illustrate how the image of the cross and crucifix obtained its unparalleled status in the Latin West. Through a close reading of Christian legends, canonical and apocryphal texts, as well as poems and textual amulets from late medieval Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, new light is shed on the role and understandings of the miraculous crosses and crucifixes in liturgy and private devotion in the northern corner of Western Christianity.

With the Reformation came a revised attitude towards miraculous crosses and crucifixes. Image cults were dismissed as idolatry. To believe that crosses and crucifixes could work wonders was considered superstition and such images were either to be removed or destroyed. At the same time, the cross remained the prime symbol of the Christian faith and the crucifix was still an image of the incarnate God. Even the most image-hostile Lutheran theologians allowed for images of crosses and crucifixes — as long as they were not venerated.

What happened to the miraculous crosses and crucifixes after the implementation of the Lutheran teachings? In the subsequent decades and centuries following the Reformation, what was the potential for understandings and experiences of these objects? When did the extra-liturgical veneration of the wonderworking crosses and crucifixes truly end? Was the Reformation the turning point that altered the understandings and practices surrounding the miraculous crucifixes/crosses? These, among others, are questions which will be addressed in this dissertation.

Published Oct. 27, 2021 1:33 PM - Last modified Nov. 18, 2021 10:02 AM