REVIEW: The Legend of the Cross
A lot of stories have grown up around the Cross over the course of Christian history, and in a beautiful new picture book for young readers, Chrissi Hart has gathered some of these and woven them into an eon-spanning tale, from Adam’s death through to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.
She tells the story of the Cross in a straightforward manner. Adam is dying, and he sends his son Seth to beg some healing oil from the Archangel Michael, who guards the gates of Eden, to ease his passing. St. Michael gives Seth three seeds, but the young man returns too late. Adam has died, so instead the son plants the seeds on Adam’s grave, where they grow and intertwine into a unique tree comprising a cypress, a pine, and a cedar.
Chrissi traces the history of the tree, past the Flood and Solomon’s mistaken decision to cut the tree down for use in the temple, which the tree protested in an original and fascinating manner, to a vision vouchsafed to the Queen of Sheba when she attempts to cross a bridge made from the planks of the tree. She imparts her revelation of this vision to King Solomon and in the visit makes her own discovery of something far more important than Solomon’s wisdom.
We read of Solomon’s rescue of the wood of the tree, and its adornment as a part of the temple gate. After Solomon’s death, the beams are torn down and thrown into a deep pit which becomes the healing pool of Bethsaida until the Roman guards see the wood, which has surfaced just in time for Christ’s execution. They take the wood and use it as the Cross to which they nail him.
Orthodox tradition teaches us that Jesus is the new Adam – where Adam brought death into the world, and broke the communion between God and man, Jesus tramples down death by death, and restores the unity between Himself and His creation. But the link between them seems to jump eons and millennia. There is Adam, and centuries later, there is Jesus. The beauty of The Legend of the Cross is that it shows that in truth, just as the ripples of Adam’s mistake echo through the ages touching each of us, through God’s gift of the seeds of the tree, so do Love and Mercy ripple through the centuries, affecting everyone who encounters them.
The tradition of the cross, in the way that Chrissi tells it, is a straightforward story, but carries both that quiet message and the truth that God’s love and mercy aren’t found in rich, ostentatious, and prideful displays. They are found in humility and faithfulness, in the quiet and forgotten places, in dark, hidden pools. They extend continuously through history, from the sprouting of the seeds given to ease Adam’s death and planted in his grave, to become a humble bridge after Solomon cuts the tree down and is forced to cast it off. It teaches a pagan and haughty Queen humility which opens her heart to discover God in her visit to Solomon. The humble wood of the cross brings healing and peace when the planks, so beautifully adorned by Solomon, are stripped and cast away into a pit, which fills with water to become the source of miraculous healing for centuries before the Roman soldiers find and use it as an instrument of torture and death, which leads directly to the triumph of the Resurrection.
Niko Chocelli’s illustrations are gorgeous, rich and lush, detailed and realistic with wonderful grace notes all through them. They blend medieval influences and traditional iconographic touches with enough modern style to engage and delight children and adults. The colouring is cool, predominantly blues and greens, which echo the voice of the story and help to capture the scope of the legend: no less than the eons between Adam and Christ.
Definitely a book to make a great addition to any family’s library and one that isn’t just for small children who are being read to. This is a book any age can enjoy, whether adults read it aloud, or teens and younger children read it to themselves.
Legend of the Cross by Dr. Chrissi Hart illustrations by Niko Chocheli
Published by Xist Publishing
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-62395-529-8
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-62395-570-0