Gosforth Cross

At Gosforth in Cumberland is another tall, ancient cross, not unlike Irton and Bewcastle, about which I have already written. A thousand years old, it is older than the church in whose shadow it stands. I find the carvings too worn and high up to be easily admired, but Charles Parker in the nineteenth century was able to identify tales from Norse mythology among the images, such as the binding of Loki and Thor’s fighting Jörmungandr the serpent. It is worth questioning why such pagan myths were enshrined on what is so obviously a symbol of Christianity. Were the carvers syncretists, carelessly lumping together all religious tales, believing the different religion’s gods to all basically be the same? Or were they trying to cleverly coax more Norsemen away from their paganism by drawing parallels between the old Scandinavian legends and the Biblical accounts? For example, Christ, as well as Thor fought the serpent, but the former with considerably better success; Ragnarök, the Viking end of the world, could be seen as a version of the Christian apocalypse.

Much as converts to gospel truth need not dispense with their own cultural heritage and identity, Christ has no match or competition from any other stock of gods or heroes. He is the Creator, the Maker of heavens and earth. The Norse gods were mighty and valiant beings only suffering one major disadvantage- they lacked existence. I enjoy reading the old tales and legends, but the Lord Jesus Christ suffers neither rival nor contender, for His alone was the victory on the cross; He alone crushed Eden’s serpent:

“I have trodden the winepress alone,

And from the peoples no one was with Me.

For I have trodden them in My anger,

And trampled them in My fury;

Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,

And I have stained all My robes.

For the day of vengeance is in My heart,

And the year of My redeemed has come.

I looked, but there was no one to help,

And I wondered

That there was no one to uphold;

Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;

And My own fury, it sustained Me.

I have trodden down the peoples in My anger,

Made them drunk in My fury,

And brought down their strength to the earth.”

Isaiah 63:3-6