De spinea corona

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by Lars Boje Mortensen

This brief legend tells the story of how the Norwegian king Magnus VI the Law-mender (1263-1280) through his legate, archbishop Jon Raude (1268-1282), received a piece from the Crown of Thorns in 1274 as a gift from the French king Philip III (1270-1285) and installed it for worship at the Church of Apostles in Bergen.

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Title

We have no manuscript evidence for a title of the work (see Medieval reception and transmission); STORM printed it under the title De spinea corona.

Incipit

Regnante in monarchia Norvegiae...

Explicit

... quinto Idus Novembris agitur.

Size

As we know it, the text comprises two modern printed pages, but a longer version may have existed (see Composition and style).

Editions

  • Breviarium Nidrosiense (1519), ff. zz vi-vii.
  • TORFÆUS, T. 1711: HRN 4, 359-60.
  • • STORM, G. 1880: MHN, 159-62.

Date and place

The piece of the Crown of Thorns was handed over to Archbishop Jon in Paris in 1274, as stated in the text. STORM reckoned that the legend was composed immediately after it had been received in Bergen, i.e. in the winter 1274/75. He argued that King Magnus and Archbishop Jon are mentioned as alive (d. 1280 and 1282) and especially that the plans in 1275 for a new Church of the Apostles are not known to the author. Although the text is not quite as explicit on these points as STORM assumes, the immediacy of the literary task is apparent (see Purpose and Audience) and STORM’s date cannot be far off the mark. The Legend bears every stamp of being (a version of) the official text composed in Bergen for the occasion.

Summary of contents

The text opens with praise for King Magnus the Law-Mender who enjoyed the blessings of the Lord to such an extent that he not only obtained peace at home, but also became renowned abroad. When Archbishop Jon had attended the general church council of Lyon (1274) he stopped over in Paris on the way home. Here he was summoned by the French King Philip who decided to entrust a piece of the Crown of Thorns to the Norwegians. It was cut off in the presence of the king and placed in a beautiful reliquary which is described and interpreted in some detail. In the latter half of the text the focus shifts to the process of receiving the relic in Bergen. Due to terrible weather (!) the procession was held up for days and could only be completed on the Friday – very fittingly coinciding with the weekday of crucifixion. The date of translation thus became 9 November, and the remainder of the text (about a third) is devoted to a discussion of that as a feast day: when probing into the calendar it was realized that this was also the day celebrated in Rome and many other places for the miracle that happened in 750 in Beirut when an icon of the suffering Christ was observed bleeding because it had been mishandled by its Jewish owner. The blood was collected in an ampulla and given by converted Jews to the Saviour’s Church in Rome. The coinciding feast of two relics relating to the Passion made the choice of 9 November obvious – it is implied.

Composition and style

The piece is divided into nine brief lectiones, but the division is somewhat awkward, especially between seven, eight and nine (the Beirut miracle). Also the ending reads rather abruptly. The style is dense and written in a rhetorically high register. The density and the somewhat unsatisfactory transitions could partly be explained by assuming that what we have transmitted in Breviarium Nidrosiense is a compressed version of a longer and more logical text. That such is the case with other legends of similar transmission is well attested (St. Hallvard, St. Olaf, St. Sunniva).

Sources

The Legend opens with the words Regnante in monarchia Norvegiae illustri Magno quarto.... This must be an allusive borrowing from the by far most widespread legend in Norway, that of St. Olaf from the twelfth century which begins: Regnante illustrissimo rege Olavo apud Norvegiam... The rhetorical ambitions of the legend of the Crown of Thorns also match its model – though not its length in the version we know.

It is possible that the description of the reliquary (and perhaps of the celebration in Paris in Chapelle Royale on August 11) relies on a contemporary French text, but this remains to be investigated.

The only explicit reference to another text is in the Beirut miracle sections where the dating to 750 is warranted “as we read in the chronicles” (ut ex chronicis habetur). As identified by STORM, this is a piece from Legenda Aurea (ch. 131 De exaltatione sancte crucis, 70-88, ed. G.P. Maggioni, vol. 2, 934-935, Firenze 1998). This is a rather early use in Norway of the Legenda Aurea of which a first version had been completed in Northern Italy by Jacobo da Voragine in the early 1260s. The paraphrased passage may have come through an intermediary French source, but it is not impossible that Dominicans in Norway already possessed copies of the Legenda Aurea in the 1270s. Apart from written sources, an oral report from Archbishop Jon or someone in his entourage and the author’s own observations in Bergen probably formed the basis of the account. The anonymous author may also have taken part himself in the proceedings in Lyon and Paris.


Purpose and audience

The legend should serve as official document and authentication of the relic. It is clear from the text that the authenticity of the transmission of the relic was warranted through the presence of the French king, high standing ecclesiastics and Archbishop Jon himself. (The relic in its entirety had been pawned by Baldwin II, Latin emperor of Constantinople to the Venetians and bought (?) by King Louis in 1238, who had initiated the feast for 11 August, in 1239. In the 1240s he had erected the Chapelle royale to house this and other relics of the Passion. This background is not referred to in the Norwegian legend, except for a comment on the felix copia of relics of the Passion in Paris). The legend was written at a moment of great momentum in the imitation of royal French ways, as Magnus also proceeded to build a new Church of the Apostles in Bergen (destroyed in 1530). With royal and archiepiscopal power behind, the legend and its surrounding songs and tales is likely to have had some impact in Bergen as well as in other Norwegian ecclesiastical centres.

Medieval reception and transmission

The event of the reception of the relic had a certain resonance in the Nordic countries. It is mentioned several times in the Icelandic annals (cf. STORM 1880, XXXXV-XXXXVI) and offices for the relic have survived (see e.g. Brynjolf Algotsson, bishop of Skara, who received a piece of the piece from the Norwegian king in 1304). The text of the legend is only known from the printed Breviarium Nidrosiense (1519) in which much unique textual material is gathered, often in an abbreviated form. As mentioned above, a fuller legend may have existed in the thirteenth century, but we have no direct evidence for it now.

Bibliography

  • SCHÜCK, H. 1918: “De spinea corona,” Samlaren 39, 30 f.
  • STORM, G. 1880: MHN, XXXXV-XXXXVII.