Bewcastle Cross

"thissig be(a)cn thun set(t)on hwa(e)tred waethgar alwfwolthu aft alcfrithu ean kuining eac oswiuing gebid heo sinna sawhula"

This, you are likely to agree, is gobbledegook.

These words are found on Bewcastle Cross, found in the churchyard of Bewcastle, Cumbria. It is the tallest cross in the country at nearly fifteen feet and dates to the seventh or eighth century. Wonderful that such an object has survived to the twenty-first-century after Christ.

I shall explain why the inscription is nonsensical. Firstly, not all the runes can be read, which is why the version quoted has bracketed letters.

Secondly, the language is no longer spoken. This Old English is archaic and very different to our modern speech.

Thirdly, and most significantly, it appears to betray an unsound understanding of the gospel. The most prominent translation attempt renders the runes thus:

This slender pillar Hwætred, Wæthgar, and Alwfwold set up in memory of Alcfrith, a king and son of Oswiu. Pray for their sins, their souls.

Although Hwætred, Wæthgar, and Alwfwold are quite correct is assessing their dead king Alcfrith’s sinful state, they are mistaken in their belief that yours or my prayers may alleviate their consequences. In the same way than Romanists urge the living to pray for the repose of the souls of the dead, so here the three subjects scramble around in an attempt to save their king’s soul. The living cannot save the dead. Only One can do that, and his name is Christ Jesus. He alone can deal with our sin and save our souls. He alone can take the blame and admit us to heaven. He alone can wash us whiter than snow, for Himself having been tarred with our iniquity. One may raise as high a cross as one is able; one may persuade millions to pray us out of judgement; one may try one's hardest to live a good and pleasing life. But if Christ doesn’t save, salvation is not found:

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12