14th of September – Rood Day

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 629. St Cormac, bishop of Cashel, 908. St Catherine of Genoa, widow, 1510.

Born. – Henry Cornelius Agrippa, alchemist and author, 1486, Cologne; Alexander Baron von Humboldt, celebrated traveller and natural philosopher, 1769, Berlin
Died. – St Cyprian, archbishop of Carthage, Christian writer and martyr, 258, Carthage; St Chrysostom, renowned preacher and writer, 407, near Comana; Dante Alighieri, great Italian poet, 1321, Ravenna; Pope Adrian VI., 1523; John Dominic Cassini, astronomer, 1712; Charles Rollin, historian, 1741, Paris; Louis Joseph de Montcalm, French commander, 1759, Quebec; James Fenimore Cooper, American novelist, 1851, Cooperstown, New York; Arthur, Duke of Wellington, illustrious British commander, 1852, Walmer Castle, Kent.


The discovery of the cross on which Christ was supposed to have suffered, by the Empress Helena, led to the sacred relic being raised or exalted in view of the people, in a magnificent church built by her son the Emperor Constantine, at Jerusalem; and this ceremony of the exaltation of the holy cross, which took place on the 14th September 335, was commemorated in a festival held on every recurrence of that day, by both the Greek and Latin churches, The cross was afterwards (anno 614) carried away by Chosroes, king of Persia, but recovered by the Emperor Heraclius, and replaced amidst circumstances of great pomp and expressions of the highest devotion. 

Many churches in Britain were dedicated to the Holy Rood or Cross. One at Edinburgh became the nucleus of the palace of the Scottish kings. Holyrood Day was one of much sacred observance all through the middle ages. The same feeling led to a custom of framing, between the nave and choir of churches, what was called a rood-screen or rood-loft, presenting centrally a large crucifix, with images of the Holy Virgin and St John on each side. A winding stair led up to it; and the epistle and gospel were often read from it. Some of these screens still remain, models of architectural beauty; but numbers were destroyed with reckless fanaticism at the Reformation, the people not distinguishing between the objects which had caused what they deemed idolatry and the beautifully carved work which was free from such a charge.

On this Day in Other Sources.

It is recorded that on Rood-day, the 14th of September, in the harvest of 1128, the weather being fine and beautiful, King David and his courtiers, after mass, left the Castle by that gate before which he was wont to dispense justice to his people, and issued forth to the chase in the wild country that lay around – for then over miles of the land now covered by the new and much of the old city, for ages into times unknown, the oak-trees of the primeval forest of Drumsheugh had shaken down their leaves and acorns upon the wild and now extinct animals of the chase. And here it may be mentioned that boars’ tusks of most enormous size were found in 1846 in the bank to the south of the half-moon battery, together with an iron axe, the skull and bones of a man. 

On this Rood-day we are told that the king issued from the Castle contrary to the advice of his confessor, Alfwin, an Augustinian monk of great sanctity and learning, who reminded him that it was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and should be passed in devotion, not in hunting; but of this advice the king took no heed. 

Amid the dense forest and in the ardour of the chase he became separated from his train, in “the vail that lyis to the eist fra the said castell,” and found himself at the foot of the stupendous crags, where, “under the shade of a leafy tree,” he was almost immediately assailed by a white stag of gigantic size, which had been maddened by the pursuit, “noys and dyn of bugillis,” and which, according to Bellenden, was now standing boldly at bay, and, with its branching antlers, put the life of the pious monarch in imminent jeopardy, as he and his horse were both borne to the ground. 

With a short hunting-sword, while fruitlessly endeavouring to defend himself against the infuriated animal, there appeared – continues the legend – a silver cloud, from the centre of which there came forth a hand, which placed in that of David a sparkling cross of miraculous construction, in so far that the material of which it was composed could never be discovered. Scared by this interposition, the white stag fled down the hollow way between the hills, but was afterwards slain by Sir Gregan Crawford, whose crest, a stag’s head erased with a cross-crosslet between the antlers, is still borne by his descendants, the Crawfords of Kilbirnie, in memory of that eventful day in the forest of Drumsheugh. 

Thoughtful, and oppressed with great awe, the king slowly wended his way through the forest to the Castle; but the wonder did not end there, for when, after a long vigil, the king slept, there appeared by his couch St. Andrew, the apostle of Scotland, surrounded by rays of glory, instructing him to found, upon the exact spot where he had been miraculously saved, a twelfth monastery for the canons regular of St. Augustine; and, in obedience to this vision, he built the noble abbey of Holyrood, “in the little valley between two mountains” – i.e., the Craigs and the Calton. Therein the marvellous cross was preserved till it was lost at a long subsequent period; but, in memory of St. David’s adventure on Rood-day, a stag’s head with a cross between the antlers is still borne as the arms of the Canongate. Alfwin was appointed first abbot, and left a glorious memory for many virtues.1

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.21-26.

1  “Memorials of Edinburgh Castle.”

On Sunday, the 14th of September [1561], in her chapel royal, “her grace’s devout chaplains,” said Randolph to Cecil, “would by the good advice of Arthur Erskine, have sung a high mass: The Earl of Argyle, and the Lord James so disturbed the quire, that some both priests, and clerks, left their places, with broken heads and bloody ears: It was sport alone, continues Randolph, for some that were there to behold it; others there were (the Queen probably) that shed a tear, or two, and made no more of the matter.’ It is a singular fact, which the historians of the Scotish reformation seem not to have noticed, that the first, who began reformation by violence, was the Governor, Arran, who employed his soldiers to deface the religious houses, and to expel the monks. But, it was reserved, for the prime minister and the justice general, to make a riot, in the house, which had been dedicated to the service of God, and to obstruct the service, in the Queen’s presence, as we learn, from Randolph’s intimations. It does not require any additional proof to show how little religion, how little morals, how little honour, any men could have, who acted thus in the house of God. 

– Life of Mary, pp.42-61.

The kirk session was particularly severe on “swearers, blasphemers, and mockers of piety.” By one of their minutes they appoint “some of their number to go through the toun on the market day, till the magistrates provide one for that office, to take order with banners and swearers.” Swearers are ordained to pay twelve pence (a penny), and for the second fault to be rebuked in church. 

But the kirk session did not confine themselves to morals and church matters. In the year 1598 we find the following curious entry: “The Session thinks good that the University, ministers, and Presbytery, take cognisance who are within the toun that pretend to have skill in medicine and hath not the same, that they who have skill may be retained and the others rejected.” And a message is sent to the town council “to see what course to take with such.”1

– Old Glasgow, pp.189-215.

1  14th Sept. 1598.

The original port was a considerable way back from the river, but in 1644 it was by a minute of council ordered to be taken down and “buildit of new nearer the water.” In this minute it is called “the Salt mercat port.”1

– Old Glasgow, pp.162-175.

1  Minutes of Council, 14th Sept. 1644.

Associated Words from Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary.

REID DAY, A day in September, before which wheat is generally sown. On Reid-een, or the eve of this day, the hart and the hind are believed to meet for copulation, Selkirks. Upp. Clydes. This is perhaps the same with Rude-day, the exaltation of the cross, which falls on September 14th. 

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