In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ruthwell Cross

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • General
  • Antiquarian Studies
  • Identity and Gender

Medieval Studies Ruthwell Cross
Catherine E. Karkov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0180


The Ruthwell Cross is a freestanding stone cross, or high cross. It was carved and erected at some point in the 8th century at what is thought to have been an early monastic site near Ruthwell (Dumfries) in what is now southwestern Scotland near the shore of the Solway Firth. The cross was carved from two differently colored blocks of sandstone, possibly from two different quarries, leading to debates over whether the two parts of the cross (the upper and lower stones) were carved at the same time. It is likely that the cross was originally painted, which would have masked the difference between the two stones. Despite being located in Scotland, the cross is a work of Northumbrian sculpture associated with the expansion of the Northumbrian church and kingdom north and west into the ancient British territories of Rheged and Strathclyde. It is especially important because of its early date, classicizing style, complex iconographic program, and the runic poem on the crucifixion inscribed on its original north and south faces. Because of its stylistic and iconographic similarities with the contemporary Bewcastle Cross (Cumbria), and the relationship of its runic poem to The Dream of the Rood and the verses inscribed on the 11th-century Brussels reliquary cross (Cathedral of Saints Michel and Gudule), it is often studied alongside one or more of these works. The Ruthwell Cross was pulled down and partially buried at the time of the Reformation, and then it was reconstructed in the 19th century, first in the garden of Ruthwell Manse and then in a specially built apse inside the church. Some parts of the cross have never been found, and the top arm of the cross head has been put on back to front. On the basis of its iconographic similarities to the Bewcastle Cross, which still stands in its original location, it is believed that the two broad sides of the cross originally faced west (the side with Christ over the Beasts at its center) and east (the side with Mary Magdalene at the feet of Christ and its center). For information on the historical and sculptural contexts of the cross see the Oxford Bibliographies entries High Crosses and Anglo-Saxon Sculpture.


All published bibliographies devoted exclusively to the Ruthwell Cross are now woefully out of date, but several annual bibliographies are listed below, all of which can be accessed and searched electronically. Cassidy and Kiefer 1992 and Werner 1984 are good for older publications, while the annual bibliographies of Anglo-Saxon England and the Old English Newsletter will include more recent work. The International Medieval Bibliography covers the whole of the Middle Ages.

  • Anglo-Saxon England.

    The preeminent journal on all aspects of Anglo-Saxon England. The annual bibliography includes a section on sculpture. Available by subscription.

  • Cassidy, Brendan, and Katherine Kiefer. “A Bibliography of the Ruthwell Cross.” In The Ruthwell Cross. Edited by Brendan Cassidy, 167–199. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 1992.

    Not a comprehensive bibliography, but the only one focused exclusively on the cross. Good for the pre-1992 publications.

  • International Medieval Bibliography.

    The most complete annual bibliography available. It also provides greater coverage of European scholarship than the other entries in this section. Available by subscription.

  • Old English Newsletter.

    Provides information on research projects and publications, conference opportunities, etc., alongside short articles. The annual bibliography is limited and often does not include articles appearing in the journals of local archaeological societies, but it does provide a brief review of each entry, whereas Anglo-Saxon England does not.

  • Werner, Martin. Insular Art: An Annotated Bibliography. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984.

    Now out of date but still a convenient guide to the pre-1984 sources. It includes entries on pre-10th century Anglo-Saxon art (including Ruthwell) along with entries on the early medieval art of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland.

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