Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Saxon Easter

The Heliand was a 9th Century Saxon language poem retelling the Gospel narrative in a Germanic context. The following is from the Resurrection narrative in the Heliand as translated into English prose by G. Ronald Murphy S.J.
Warriors were picked from the Jewish battle-group for the guard. They set off with their weapons and went to the grave where they were to guard the grave of God's Son. The holy day of the Jews had now passed. The warriors sat on top of the grave on their watch during the dark starlit night. They waited under their shields until bright day came to mankind all over the middle world, bringing light to people.
It was not long then until: there was the spirit coming by God's power, by the holy breath, going under the hard stone to the corpse! Light was at that moment opened up, for the good of the sons of men; the many bolts on the doors of Hel (Hell) were unlocked; the road from this world up to heaven was built! Brilliantly radiating, God's Peace-Child rose up! He went about, wherever He pleased, in such a way that the guards, tough soldiers, were not at all aware of when He got up from death and arose from His rest.
Fr. Murphy's commentary points out a couple of interesting inculturation elements in this account. The grave is described as dug into the ground and covered by a stone upon which the guards sat. This style of grave is similar to the mound type burials familiar to the Saxons. Light emanating from the tomb creates a road to heaven. This is an allusion to the bifrost, the shimmering bridge that allowed the Germanic gods to travel between Earth and Asgard.

I like to read the Heliand and imagine Saxon warriors hearing its recitation in their mead halls. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt.

Happy Easter!
Christus Resurrexit!


  1. I know translations are never perfect, but I can't help wondering how it would come across if Fr. Murphy had kept the poetic form in the translation.

    1. I wondered the same. I think there must be some translations in verse, Fr. Murphy's prose translation happened to be the only one available to me.