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Legend of Waltham Holy Cross



Amongst the Harleian MSS. preserved in the British Museum, are two tracts which illustrate the history of the Abbey of Waltham; one entitled ' Vite Et Miracula Haroldi Quondam Regis Angliae '; the other which concerns us more nearly, ' De Inventions S Crucis de Waltham '. They are in the handwriting of the twelfth century and were once in the Abbey library. The first is imperfect in the end. From the first we learn that Tovi, or Tofig, Standard-Bearer to King Cnut, was the first founder of a religious house at Waltham, which he built for two priests. A cross with a figure of our Saviour upon it, which had been found at Montacute and had been transported thither, gave a name and sanctity to the place and was believed to work miracles; one of which, as stated in the first tract, was performed upon Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, who having been attacked by a stroke of palsy, was effectively healed of the disorder by a visit to the cross. In gratitude for his recovery he rebuilt the church, which he furnished with an ample endowment and increased the number of secular priests to twelve.

The story of the finding of the cross, as narrated in the second tract, presents us with an admirable picture of the customs and manners of the times and of the religious sentiment inspired by the agency of such a miracle and of the way in which this miracle was performed.

A literal translation of the whole of this most interesting MS, written as it is, in old monastic Latin, would be tedious to give here; but the substance of it may be gathered from the following story, which I have briefly thrown together under the title of "The Legend of Montacute."


The village of Montacute [formerly - Logwarsborough or Leogaresburh; by which name it appears in the Waltham Book, 'De Inventions' and William of Malmesbury's 'History of

Glastonbury' being named after one of the twelve monks of Glastonbury, whose name was Logar.]

It was 1035, when a village blacksmith, was Sexton of the Church, and lived in Bishopston or Bishopstown, as it was then known, which is the oldest part of Montacute; a street reaching down from the north of the Church.

This was in the time when King Cnut reigned over the land. His standard-bearer had lands here, as well as in Essex. He is known here as Tofig, and Tovy in Essex.

This blacksmith was a man of good reputation, but a very poor man. At the Church he was in charge of the fire, light, and water. It was to this man, so pure in heart, before God, that Jesus the Gentle, the lover of purity, revealed a secret treasure, long hidden from the eyes of man.

It came to pass that, on a certain night there appeared to him in a vision, a majestic figure of great beauty, encircled by a halo of bright light, which in sweet accents, gave him a message, which, at early morn, when the sun was up and his duties called him to the church, he was to give to the priest, in obedience to a Divine Command. He was to call together all the parishioners, and after admonishing them, to prayer, fasting, and confession, lead them to the top of the hill, and there dig the ground at a spot which would be pointed out to them; until they should find a cross, the sign of our Lord's Passion.

On waking from his slumbers the smith was comforted by the apparition he had seen, but afterwards thinking it was only a fantastic dream, he neglected to obey the mandate he had

received, whereupon in due time the Heavenly Visitant appeared to him again, and reproving him for his disobedience and rejecting his proffered excuse [that the presbyter being a man of good renown and wealth, would disdain to receive such an injunction from so mean an instrument] desired him to fear nothing, but to go to the Priest and deliver to him those things which had been revealed, threatening him at the same time, in case of delay, with the measure of punishment which such obstinacy would desire.

Startled by this visitation the smith told his wife of all the strange things that had happened to him, but the good woman, like other silly women, who speak at random, advised him to take no heed of such dreams, and he listened to his wife. There was some danger of the miracle miscarrying by reason of the weakness of the agent and so for the third time, the same Form appeared to him again and seizing him by the arm, gripping with such force as to make the nails penetrate the flesh, and thus disabling him from wielding the hammer, exclaimed:

" As you have chosen not to execute the commands laid upon you except you be pricked like an ass, now at length, beaten like a slave, OBEY, and by the marks impressed upon your body, you will be able to show that credit must be given to your behest. "

Smarting with pain and trembling all over with fear, lest worst consequences might follow, the smith ran with all speed to the Church and gave the Priest the message he was ordered to give, and, baring his arm, showed the still bleeding marks of the nails, in proof of its truthfulness. The Presbyter, giving credence to his words, instantly prostrated himself upon the ground and prayed that according to the Lords mercies the issue might attest the truth of what he had heard, that the Name of the Lord might be glorified and much known for ever and ever.

On rising to his feet, the Priest hastily collected together his people and exhorted them to humble themselves before God, and with contrite hearts to invoke the compassion of the Lord, in order that He might visit them with prosperity, and might deign to prolong the joys of the promise given to them of being adopted as His children through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that thus they might be prepared to visit the hilltop.

The scene now changes. The morning of the eventful day has arrived. The sun is just beginning to climb the eastern sky. The little village of Montacute is all astir. The inhabitants are assembling. Their numbers are swelled by the many persons coming from remote parts. Led by the smith they soon begin to move and in lengthened procession wind up the steep heights of Leogaresburgh, chanting the " Litany Humili Preces. "

They arrive at the peak where, after a prayer, they begin to dig at the spot pointed out to them. Forty cubits space is soon cleared by willing hands when a stone of immense size impeded further progress. The rubble is quickly removed from about it. A yawning fissure is discerned in the midst and lo! -- suddenly there appears in their wondering gaze the priceless image of the crucified Saviour, carved in black flint. [Fex atro silice]. So exquisitely is it wrought, so perfect in all its alignment, that it might be deemed to have emanated from the hands of the Highest Artificer Himself. Under the right arm of the larger lay another, smaller crucifix; on the left side a bell of ancient workmanship, and a black text-book of the Gospels, which the Church of Waltham possesses to this present day. [This has since been lost]

Loud acclamations of praise follow this wonderful discovery.

The people press forward with excitement and with one accord their voices burst forth in song, chanting the "Cantate Domino Canticum Novum." Some are seized with remorse at the remembrance of their former sins; many beat their breasts in token of their unworthiness, while others stand petrified with amazement and know not what to do. Copious floods of tears stream from the eyes of widows and virgins as, looking on Him, they are reminded of His words :

"Daughters of Jerusalem weep not for me!"

No profane hand dares touch the sacred symbol. The weather is inclement. Tents are soon raised around the spot. Religious watch and ward is kept by persons of both sexes, appointed for the purpose, while trusty messengers are dispatched with all haste to acquaint Tofig Le Prude [The Brave], the Lord of the Soil, with the intelligence of this supernatural event.

At this time Tofig, who was first "stabbere" and Standard-Bearer to the King, and only second to him in ruling the Kingdom, was engaged upon royal affairs in a far distant part of the land, when the joyful news was brought to him. Setting aside everything else, old and feeble as he was, his youth was restored like the eagle’s and he fled with all possible speed to Leodgaresburh. On arriving at the summit of the hill and beholding the Image of the Lord, laying as it were in the sepulchre, he was overcome with emotion and as the tears flowed from his eyes, lifted up his voice and said:

" 0 Lord, Father, Creator of heaven and earth, who didst make the world out of nothing and all things whatsoever that are contained within the circuit of the sky, Thou art Lord of all things.

0 Lord, who for the salvation of the world didst offer Thy body and blood to the Father upon the altar of the Cross as a victim holy and acceptable to God, who for the redemption of the faithful wast willing that the crown of thorns should be placed on Thy head, having drunk vinegar and gall and didst sweeten Thy thirst for our salvation by the bitterness of that draught, and who in the finishing of that cup didst renew for nations the letter of the law by the freshness of Thy Spirit, I praise Thee. I adore Thee. I glorify Thee. I give thanks to Thee, for that Thou hast deemed me worthy of being illuminated by the graciousness of Thy favour. May my exultation, the peace and joy of my heart, the enlightenment of my spirit, the strength given to my joints and my limbs, the rekindling of my soul, the hope and salvation of my life; may all this be to Thy glory for ever and ever."

At the conclusion of his prayer, this great man pondered as to what place was the most worthy to receive these wonderful objects of veneration. It was, however, decided for the

present that they should be brought down into the valley for the sake of more convenient removal hereafter and deposited at the entrance of the Church. Tofig, by the unanimous advice of all, decided eventually, that the smaller crucifix should remain in the Church at Montacute and that the rest should be carried to withersoever it might please Divine Will. A wagon was thereupon

prepared and the larger crucifix, the bell, and the book placed upon it, together with many beautiful ornaments.

Twelve red oxen, with as many snow-white cows, were then yoked to it, and drivers, with goads, appointed to conduct them, with abundant provisions for the journey.

[Waltham Abbey, Essex]


It was the design of Tofig to devote these precious gifts to one of the great Episcopal Sees, or some Abbey, in England, such as Durham, Winchester, Glastonbury or London and he gave orders accordingly; but to the consternation of all beholders the wagon refused to move, not withstanding the combined efforts of the oxen and the men. This being taken as a sign of heaven's disapproval Tofig next named Reading where he had an abode, that they might be sent there, to be a protection and an ornament to himself and his successors, vowing that he would devote the whole place and all his belongings to it, and to the servants of the Holy Cross; but neither to this appeal did he receive any assent. The wagon remained fixed and even additional oxen were unable to move it. Remembering at last a poor hunting-lodge he was building in a place now called Waltham, by a stream, the Lea, full of fish, he resolved that he would enlarge that new benefaction, if God should be willing for him to transfer them there. No sooner was the name Waltham pronounced than, marvellously to relate, the wagon not only began to move; but moved so easily that it appeared rather as if it were driving the oxen than they were dragging it.

Multitudes followed the Cross, which was now journeying under the happy guidance of Heaven.

Such is the story of the Holy Cross of Leodgaresburh and Waltham.

Of the many miraculous cures it performed by the way of its arrival and elevation at Waltham, of the adoration of Tofig and the rich gifts he bestowed, of the blood that issued from

the right arm of the Image, and the golden crown presented by Glitha, Tofig's wife, together with a girdle and jewelled footstool, and of how it fell into King Harold's hands after the death of Tofig, we leave the historians of Waltham to narrate. [See ' Foundation of Waltham Abbey ' by W. Stubbs M.A.]

The important part which this Cross played in the last struggle for the English freedom against the Norman oppressor is so graphically described by the vigorous pen of the

historian of the Norman Conquest that we must be allowed to quote it in full.

"The Cross of Waltham" in our eyes, rather the Cross of Leodgaresburh, became the special object of devotion of Harold's life, and the rallying cry of the men who fought around his

standard. It was before that Cross that the King knelt in the great crisis of his life, on his march from his northern field of victory to his southern field of overthrow and it was from the Awful Form wrought on the sacred stone, that he received -so men deemed -- the mysterious warning, which told of his coming doom, and it was that Cross which gave England her war cry. It was at the name of the Holy Cross of Waltham and Leodgaresburh that men's heart rose high on the day of battle. It was in its name that Englishmen clave through the Norwegian shield-wall by the banks of the Derwent, and that they bore up around their chosen King against the charges of the Norman horsemen and the more fearful thunder-shower of the Norman arrows.

And we may deem, that no hearts beat higher to its call; that on no tongues the war-cry rose more loudly than those men who marched from the first resting place of the Holy Rood to fight and die for England, on the far South Saxon Hill, and before long the war-cry of the Holy Cross was heard around the spot where the Holy Cross itself had been first revealed to the eyes of men".

The last battle against the Norman fought at Montacute around St Michael's Hill was fought 1068. The Saxons were defeated. The rebellion was crushed by Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutance.

At one time Alfred the Great owned Leogaresburgh. It was handed down from Alfred's grandfather and father. In his will he left it to his elder son, Edward. Alfred endowed Athelney Abbey with Long Sutton, Ilton, and Bossington [near Porlock].

Henry II enlarged the Abbey at Waltham, by bringing stone from Caen, France, in penitence for the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in 1170. In fact he enlarged the Church to three times its present size. He also had a lot of stone from the Weald in North Kent, called Kentish Ragstone, and some from Reigate and Merstham, in Surrey.

The wording in the two rectangles in the following illustration read as follows:

"The first historical mention of Waltham refers to the ownership of a hunting-lodge by Tovi Le Prude, Staller, responsible for the Royal Stables to Cnut [1016-1035]

A stone crucifix was discovered, amongst other things, on a hill at another of Tovi’s estates, in Montacute, in Somerset. In an attempt to discover the Divine Will in this revelation this Cross was place upon a wagon to which were hitched twelve red oxen & twelve white cows, while Tovi pronounced the names of various holy places in England. Nothing happened until he finally mentioned his own estate at Waltham. The wagon moved of its own accord to Waltham, where it effected many miraculous cures. Tovi adorned the Cross with jewellery, gold and silver, but when an attempt was made to fix the metal to it by means of a nail, blood gushed forth. Deeply moved by this miracle, Tovi devoted himself to the service of the Cross. An 11th-Century turf-walled hall excavated at Waltham in 1970 was interpreted as Tovi’s."