Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe, Lancashire, England

Arma Christi Roll, English, ca. 1440 (poem late 14th century)
Text similar to London, Brit. Lib., Add. 22029, published by R. Morris, ed., Legends of the Holy Rood; Symbols of the Passion and Cross-Poems. Early English Text Society os 46 (London 1871), 171-93.

Twenty-four illustrations colored in pink, green and gold, in a naive style, and generally similar to those the Arma Christi Roll in the British Library, London, Add. 22029:
1, the Vernicle with the face of Christ in the center of a large cloth, geometrically divided; 2, knife for the Circumcision; 3, pelican in its piety; 4, thirty pieces of silver; 5, lantern; 6, sword and stave; 7, rod; 8 (image of a hand with strands of Christ's hair and the hand that slapped him not part of Stonyhurst Ms, but text is retained); 9, cloth to blindfold Christ; 10, dice and the unseamed coat; 11, two scourges; 12, crown of thorns; 13, pillar entwined with ropes; 14, standing Christ holding the cross; 15, three nails; 16, vessel; 17, rod with sponge; 18, spear; 19, ladder; 20, hammer; 21, pliers; 22, the face of Christ in the center with a Jew spitting at him from either side; 23, cross with a nail at each end; 24, sepulchre with Christ's body lying in it.

The Stonyhurst scroll is very similar to the Arma Christi Roll in the Huntington Library, Pasadena, California HM 26054. That roll was kept in a green silk bag with a drawstring. It was written in the second half of the fifteenth century and acquired by the Huntington Library at Sotheby's, 11 April 1961, lot 139. (J. Preston, "Medieval Manuscripts at the Huntington: Supplement to De Ricci's Census," Chronica: a Newsletter Published by the Medieval Association of the Pacific 21 (1977) 2-9)

The poem first appeared in Middle English before the end of the 14th century. More than 15 copies of the poem survive, testifying to its high popularity as an example of devotional literature. Eight copies of the poem are written on rolls, as is the Stonyhurst manuscript, most averaging 5 to 6 feet in length. No other religious text written in scroll form survives in more than one text, which indicates that the Arma Christi's function was clearly linked to the scroll's ability to present text and image in a continuous format. The evidence of comparative manuscripts strongly suggests that the roll was made for public use, to be "publicly displayed in churches to stimulate the devotion of the 'lewd' (ordinary) folk." (R. H. Robbins, "The 'Arma Christi' Rolls," Modern Language Review 34 (1939) 415-21, quote p.417)

The Fetternear Banner, about 1520 (National Museum of Scotland) is a processional banner showing Christ displaying his wounds and signs of the passion, like those on the Arma Christi rolls.

The following is a modernized text of sections of the poem, which develops in rhymed couplets. Often a couplet - or more - describes the objects associated with Christ's Passion and then following couplets instruct readers/listeners on how to consider Christ's sacrifice piously.


Early in the text the concept of Christ's sacramental blood nourishing the faithful is introduced by the often-used symbol of the pelican. (Compare Huntington Library HM 26054 Image 2) According to ancient texts, the pelican in times of drought would open up its breast and feed its young with its blood. The symbol became known as the Pelican in its Piety and was frequently illustrated in liturgical contexts such as on altar vestments. The poem explains:



The pelican his blood doth bleed
Therewith his birds to feed.
It betokenth upon the rood (cross)
Our Lord fed us with his precious blood.
Then he us bought us out of hell
In joy and bliss with him to dwell
And be our father and our food
And we his children meek and good.

Next appears the thirty pieces of silver that Judas accepted for betraying Christ.

The pence also that Judas told
Wherefore Jesus Christ was sold.
Lord shield me from treason and couetyse (covetousness)
Therein that I die in no wyse (way).

Another section shows the sponge, lance, adder and pliers. (Compare Huntington Library HM 26054 Image 6 & 7)

A sponge was lifted up for Christ to drink while on the cross.

When thou thirsted sore withall,
They gave the sponge with bitter gall.
All that I have drunk in gluttony,
Forgive me Lord, or that I die.

Soldiers pierced Christ's side with a spear to verify that he was dead.

Lord, the spear so sharply ground
That in they heart made a wound;
It quenches the sin that I have wrought
With all my heart full evil thought
And my stout pride also
And my onbuxumness (lack of meekness) there too.

Christ's followers must have used a ladder to remove his body from the cross.

The ladder that was climbed upon
When thou were dead to be taken down.
When that I am in sin
Lord, let me not die therein.

Tradition imagined that piers were used to remove the nails from Christ's hands and feet.

The pincers that drew the nails out
Of feet and hands all about
And loosened the body from the tree,
Of my sins loose thou me.














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