43. DIUMA AND Company
It is much easier to ask questions about Diuma than to answer them. His name shows that he was Irish, and, when we first meet him he is a monk of Lindisfarne. So we may wonder whether he was one of those who came over with Aidan, or one of those sent soon afterwards by the reinforcing party from lona. We must assume that all these Irish monks were active in the mission one way or another.
Diuma was one of four priests chosen to begin a new and difficult mission.The others were Adda and Betti, about whom we know nothing, and Cedd, about whom we later hear a good deal. The new situation was created when Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia and, under his father, sub-king of the Middle Angles, had accepted Christianity as part of a marriage agreement with King Oswy of Northumbria's daughter, and then asked for missionaries to take back to the Middle Angles, and these four were chosen. Diuma appears to have been either the most senior or the most successful, as he was eventually chosen to be bishop and consecrated by Bishop Finan: a sign that he still owed allegiance to Lindisfarne. When that die-hard old pagan Penda of Mercia died Diuma ended as bishop of both the Middle Angles and the Mercians. He died among the Middle Angles and according to a later tradition was buried at Charlbury, Oxfordshire.
We are told nothing about Diuma's character, but we can guess quite a lot.Obviously he was well-trained in the Irish tradition of a strongly disciplined ascetic life, and obviously capable of adapting to new people and situations. There must have been something very attractive about his way of preaching the gospel,for Bede says that he and his companions 'were listened to gladly'.
The conversion of England was not done solely by our major saints! So we are happy to remember Diuma and many others like him.
The Dream of the Rood is an early Anglo-Saxon Christian poem. We don't know the name of the author, but the poem is considered to be one of the greatest and most remarkable to come from Anglo-Saxon England, and the indications are that it is Northumbrian in origin.
If you visit the church at Ruthwell, not too far from Dumfries, you will find inside, carefully preserved and displayed, a stone Anglo-Saxon cross. On it are carved in runes (Germanic letters used by the Anglo-Saxons) some lines which have a very close relationship to the developed and presumably later full text of the poem. Unfortunately earlier damage to the Cross has destroyed some of this writing.
But the full text, as preserved in a parchment manuscript, shows a Christian mind which has thought long and hard about the purpose and meaning of Christ's crucifixion, and how this meaning can be conveyed to the Anglo-Saxon people. The poem strikes us as brilliantly original. The 'rood' is the Cross of Christ, and the poet falls asleep and dreams that he sees and hears the actual cross of the Crucifixion come alive and tell him what it was really like to be that cross, from the time when 'he' was a tree in the woods to the time when 'he' was dragged out from his temporary grave and embellished with jewels, crowned with honour.
The cross describes Christ as a young warrior coming to mount him, to fight his final battle with the spiritual forces of evil, to rest awhile after the conflict and then to be resurrected to glory. The cross describes 'himself' as a faithful retainer, who longed to strike down the Lord's enemies, but in loyalty to his Lord's will has actually to allow himself to be the instrument of that Lord's death, but then has a share in the victory and the glory.
The poem then may give us some understanding of how the early missionaries presented the Christian faith to the Anglo-Saxons in terms they could understand, in terms of their own culture, as missionaries have always had to do. Christ is the heroic conqueror; the tree is the very loyal follower. But the extent to which the poet has sought to arouse the love of Anglo-Saxon Christians for their Lord, by showing that his apparent defeat was a victory and a sign of his love for them, is very striking.
If you do not know the poem do read it in its entirety. You can find it translated in any collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry.
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Lindisfarne, our early Saints: DIUMA AND CO. and THE POET OF THE DREAM OF THE ROOD