On pilgrimage in Cumbria a couple of years ago, I visited Gosforth in the west of the county; there, I was eager to see what must be the village’s most notable feature, its tenth century Viking Cross. Sculpted in stone and put in place in about 940 when the site of the current parish church was already a long-established place of worship, the 4-metre-high cross is decorated with carvings which blend Norse mythology with Christian teaching. Dating from the era when Vikings were beginning to settle in this coastal region of the north of England, it is an illustration of how the newcomers were learning to accept Christianity and embrace the message of the Gospel.
Today, tourists and pilgrims such as myself often visit Gosforth to view the cross and the other Viking artefacts within the church, which include two magnificent hogsback gravestones. With these visitors in mind, the church has a small, informative leaflet available with the title Have You Come Here Today to Look at the Cross? In this, as well as a few sentences of explanation as to the history of the cross and the symbolism contained in the characters and scenes found on it, the central beliefs of Christians as to meaning and purpose of Jesus’s death by crucifixion are also expounded.
The leaflet continues: The Cross shows us how completely God became human like ourselves; it shows the extremes to which God’s love will go for you and me. By accepting this immeasurable love into our lives, we become children of God, and our sin is washed away by his forgiving love. THAT IS WHY CHRISTIANS ARE PROUD TO PROCLAIM THE CROSS OF CHRIST TO ALL WHO PASS BY.
As 21st century people we need the message of the cross of Christ just as much as tenth century Vikings did and during this season of Passiontide and Holy Week the eternal and universal message of the Gospel, with its story of a crucified Saviour, is proclaimed anew as it is every year and in every generation. We must all not only pass by but also stay to gaze in wonder on the cross of the Christ who became human like ourselves and died so that we might become God’s children and know his gracious and boundless love.
The little leaflet about the Gosforth Viking Cross ends with this prayer, which perhaps we all can share at this special time:
O Saviour of the world, who by your Cross and Passion has redeemed us,
Save us and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord. Amen