The Vegetable Saint
Paper by Greg Bryda
Given at The Tree of Life: Interconnecting Religions, Artistic Traditions, and Scientific Knowledge Conference, held at the University of Connecticut, on April 27, 2023
Excerpt: My talk today explores the relationship between the True Cross, its legendary history and the category of miraculous carved crucifixes made from trees growing in a German countryside in the 14th century. It seeks to return the local objects to their context of spring rituals through which they then re-sacralized the Earth.
Greg Bryda is an Assistant Professor of Art History at Barnard College, where he specializes in the art and architecture of medieval Europe. His book The Trees of the Cross: Wood as Subject and Medium in the Art of Late Medieval Germany, explores the fraught relationship between the medieval church and plants in late medieval Germany. It brings together a wide array of visual and literary sources to demonstrate how the church instrumentalized the wood of the cross as medium in numerous cultural techniques—in laying the cross over trees, maypoles, herbal medicines, and agricultural technologies—to attempt to put nature in its place, to recode or invert its positive and potent qualities, and, finally, to displace them onto Christian agencies.
Top Image: Photo by Ceving / Wikimedia Commons