Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections
Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections

The legend of the Holy Cross of Breda

Legends and miracles of the Holy Cross of Breda. Dutch. Parchment, 20 ff., 240x160 mm. Breda, second half 15th or first half 16th century. Breda, GA : Archieven Barbaraparochie Breda, afd. III-103. ms. 144

On her way to her marriage with the Scottish king, a young and beautiful Danish princess fell gravely ill and she died soon after. Not wanting to continue the journey with a dead woman on board, the ship’s crew decided to bury her at sea. Afraid of the vengeance of both the Scottish and the Danish king, chief Godevaert gave orders to take flight to Brabant and establish a stronghold. The Danes sailed over the river Mark to Breda, where they discovered an estate with a large, beautiful tree, surrounded by tables and benches. The men hastily built their stronghold on the spot and because of lack of space the beautiful tree had to give way. The Danes tried to use the wood in the construction of the stronghold, but found that it did not really fit anywhere. At the end of the day the carpenter made a cross out of the wood, which was placed it in the stronghold's chapel.  

The people of Brabant were not very pleased with the impudent and looting Danes, and under the command of their duke they cunningly managed to conquer them. After tearing down the stronghold, the citizens of Breda transferred the cross to their church, where it has performed many miracles ever since.

This legend of the Miraculous Cross of Breda is an exceptional and unique combination of a regional saga about a number of Danes establishing a stronghold in Brabant and elements of the story about the origin of the Holy Cross of Christ. As it happens - as we are told, for instance, by the Legenda Aurea - the Holy Rood, like this tree, was originally meant to be used in a building: the temple of Salomon. However, the wood kept changing its size and therefore it was discarded. After many miraculous fortunes that foretold the extraordinary destiny of the wood, it was rediscovered and used as a cross for Christ.

The rhymed legend of the Danish Cross of Breda, together with ten corresponding miracles, is found in a medieval manuscript which consists of twenty parchment leaves in a 16th-century blind stamped binding. The poem was probably read aloud at special occasions and feast days to promote the devotion for the Holy Cross.


See also

  • A psalter from Royal libraries

    Psalter. Latin, Parchment, 185 ff., 245x177 mm. Northern England, 1190-1200. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 76 A

  • Flemish surgical instruments

    Small manual for a surgeon, based on the Cyrurgie by Meester Jan Yperman (incomplete). Flemish. Paper, 130x95 mm. Flanders, last quarter of the 15th century. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 3094

  • The Zwolle bible

    Bible. Latin. Parchment, 6 volumes, c. 530x390 mm. Brethren of the Common Life, Zwolle, 1464-1476. Utrecht, UB : Cat 31 and 15.C.11

  • The Utrecht Psalter

    Psalter. Latin. Parchment, 91 ff., 330x255 mm. Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, Hautvillers near Reims, c. 820-835. Utrecht, UB : Cat. 32 / 1

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