Posted by: kljolly | October 4, 2018

Croziers: history and use

My short foray into croziers in my previous post has led to a deeper dive into the history and use of this item, which turned out to be more complicated than I imagined, and with more Irish than Anglo-Saxon leads in some cases.

The kinds of evidence for crozier use include:  artifacts (actual croziers and pieces); illustrations of croziers in manuscripts; liturgical rites in which it is mentioned; linguistic evidence of terms for crozier (dictionaries and glossaries); and narratives referring to crozier in use, as for example in a life of a bishop saint.  Piecemeal as it is, these bits add up to a picture of a crozier as it might have been used in tenth century Northumbria.



Piecemeal:  the Setne knop fragment

I focused initially on the British Museum’s Irish Kells Crozier and Anglo-Saxon Alcester Tau Crozier head, and the Northumbrian Setne knop found in a Scandinavian grave.  The work by Murray on the latter leads to a number of magnificent Irish croziers and fragments that are the focus of his work on insular croziers, but still the conspicuous absence of Anglo-Saxon croziers is curious.

A search of the British Museum’s online collection for croziers 100-1200 A.D. turned up five Irish fragments made of similar materials as the Kells, that is copper alloy over wood, with silver or gilt (which Murray confirms as the norm for these crook-headed croziers).  But the search only turned up two Anglo-Saxon examples already noted, one the Alcester tau-head, and the other the walrus ivory fragment with the BVM, both late Anglo-Saxon, and of different style and materials than the Irish ones.  This doesn’t mean there are not Anglo-Saxon croziers surviving outside the British Museum, but the ratio of Irish to Anglo-Saxon is borne out by Murray’s work as well.

One might conclude the Irish had their own peculiar tradition of croziers, crook-headed, metal over wood, if it were not for the Setne fragment and other illustrations.


Manuscript images show a variety of shapes for a staff held in the hand of a churchman, some crook-headed, some tau-headed, some with a knob on top.  In general, the crook-headed croziers doesn’t seem to become iconic until the 11th century and later, and by the central and later Middle Ages, it is a common symbol of a bishop on coats of arms and such.

I initially searched using Ohlgren’s Insular and Anglo-Saxon Illuminated Manuscripts: An Iconographic Catalogue, c. a.d. 625 to 1100, concentrating on those clearly identified as a crozier, rather than more generic staff, rod, scepter, or cross-staff.


MacDurnan Gospels Luke

The ninth century Irish MacDurnan Gospels (London Lambeth Palace L MS 1370) passed into the hands of tenth-century Anglo-Saxon King Æthelstan.  Matthew holds his crook-headed crozier cross body, while Luke holds his straight up.


Two other manuscripts show Benedict of Monte Cassino with a crook-headed crozier, presumably as abbot:  Orleans Bib Municipale MS 175, fol. 149v; and the Arundel Psalter (BL MS Arundel 155, fol. 133).  We also have Gregory the Great in full pontifical regalia with a crook-headed crozier in Oxford Bodl MS Tanner 3, fol. 1v (11th cen).

Then there are images of supposedly tau-headed croziers in a similar artistic style, more like wiry fleur-de-lis:  Durham Cathedral Library MS B.III.32, fol. 56v (DigiPal image) and BL Cotton Tiberius A.III, fol. 2v.  The latter shows King Edgar flanked by possibly Ethelwold of Winchester in the vestments of a bishop or abbot, with crozier in right hand, and  Dunstan of Canterbury in bishop’s vestments, staff in left hand.


BL Cotton Tiberius A.III fol. 2v


Last, is an image of a bishop consecrating a church holding a knob-headed staff, in the Lanalet Pontifical, Rouen MS A.27 (368).  Gittos has a reproduction of it (fig. 78).  In another manuscript image of a church consecration in Ben. Æthelwold, BL Additional MS 49598, fol. 118 (Gittos, fig. 6.5), the bishop is not holding a crozier, although liturgical evidence, up next, suggests it had a function in that ceremony.

What we don’t have in these illustrations is an unambiguous picture of an Anglo-Saxon bishop holding a crook-headed crozier.


A crozier or other staff belonging to a bishop turns up in liturgical rituals:  a blessing of the item, probably as part of episcopal ordination; the giving of the crozier as part of the the ordination or installation of a bishop; and the consecration of a new church by a bishop.

The Latin term used is baculum, but sometimes cambutta, or both.  Earlier, these may have referred to two different kinds of staff.  I captured this nugget of information and some of the quotes below and other leads from a three-volume nineteenth-century dissertation by Daniel Rock that I found in googlebooks, but have not tracked all of them down to more current editions.

That the bishop should receive a baculus when consecrated, and what it signifies, is established by Isidore of Seville: Huic autem (episcopo) dum consecratur, datur baculus, ut eius indicio subditam plebem vel regat, vel corrigat, vel infirmitates infirmorum sustineat (S. Isidori, De Eccl. Officiis, lib. ii, cap. v).

The most common statement giving the baculus to a bishop at ordination is similar in tone, some variation on “accept this baculum of pastoral office….”  The Egbert Pontifical (Paris, Bib nat. MS Lat. 10575) has the formula:

Cum datur baculus haec oratio dicitur:  Accipe baculum pastoralis officii et sis in corrigendis uitiis. seuiens. in ira iudicium sine ira tenens. cum iratus fueris misericordiæ reminiscens.

This formula is also found in the Dunstan (Sherborne) Pontifical; Lanalet Pontifical; the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert; and the Leofric Missal.  The latter two late manuscripts have some alternatives and elaborations.  For example, the Leofric Missal (ed. Orchard) offers this longer variant (also found in the Ben. of AB Robert):

2341 HIC DANDVS EST BACVLVS.  Accipe baculum sacri regiminis signum, ut inbecilles consolides, titubantes confirmes, prauos corrigas, rectos dirigas in uiam saluits aeternae, habeasque potestatem erigendi dignos, et corrigendi indignos, cooperante domino nostro ihesu christo qui cum patre in unitate spiritus sancti cui est, honor et imperium per omnia secula seculorum.  Amen.

Embedded in some of these ordinations are blessings of the baculum, some of them poetic.  Egbert and the Ben. AB Robert have these verses before the giving of the item (Banting, p. 146;  fol. 180-180v; quires added at Evreux, c. XI; cf p. xiv).


Tu baculus nostrae et rector per secula uitę.

Istum sanctifica pietatis iure bacillum.

Quo mala sternantur. quo semper recta regnantur.

The Ben. of AB Robert also has a second ordination ritual that includes elaborate instructions for preparing beforehand  vestments and items like the crozier (HBS 24, p. 160), and this additional and more extensive blessing (HBS 24, p. 165):

Benedictio baculi

Omnipotens et misericors deus. qui ineffabili bonitate uotis supplicantium assistis. quique ex tuę pietatis habundantia affectum petendi attribuis. baculo huic quem ad pastoralis officii signum in tuo nomine dedicamus. tuae benedictionis uim copiose infunde. ut eo pastor insignitus. sic populum tuum sollicite custodiat. quatinus ab unitate aecclesię nullatenus deuiare permittat. sed infractum redintegret. quassatum consolidet. seque una cum grege suo integrum tibi atque immaulatum conseruet. per.

These same liturgical books (“pontificals” is the later term) also include the episcopal consecration of churches that might involve actions using the crozier or some other kind of staff in the bishop’s hand.  In the Dunstan (Sherborne) Pontifical, it appears to be used as the bishop approaches the door and asks to enter (Pontificale S. Dunstani, ed. Martene, De Ant. Ecc. Rit. t. ii, lib. ii, cap. xiii, p. 255).

Tunc ingrediatur unus ex diaconibus ecclesiam, & clauso ostio, ante ipsum flet, ceteris omnibus præ foribus remanentibus, & pontifex ter super liminare ecclesiæ cambuta sua aut baculo percutiat dicens:  Tollite portas principes vestras, et elevamini portæ æternales, et introibit rex gloriæ.

Otherwise, the main event where the bishop might use his staff is in tracing the alphabet crossways on the church floor, first one diagonal, then the other, a ceremony explicated by Helen Gittos (p. 233).  The Lanalet Pontifical (HBS 74, p. 7; see also Ben of AB Rob, HBS 24, p. 78) has:

Deinde incipit pontifex de sinistro angulo a oriente scribens per pauimentum cum cambuta sua .a.b.c.darium usque in dexterum angulum occidentalem. et dicit. hanc antiphonam.

Fundamentum aliud nemo potest ponere preter illud denique quod positum est a christo domino . Psalmus. Fundamenta eius.

Et a dextero angulo orientali scribat similiter .a.b.c.darium usque in sinistrum angulum occidentalem basilicę canendo antiphonam.

Haec aula accipiat a deo gratiam benedictionem et misericordiam a chrsto ihesu. Psalmus. Magnus dominus.

It is unclear, though, what exactly the implement is that he uses, whether a crozier or a shorter staff of some kind.

All told, the liturgical uses of the baculum establish that it is a key symbol for the bishop’s office and duties, but there is no strong sense of its meaning linked to a shepherd’s crook shape.


The following stories involving croziers are anecdotal, in the sense that I did not do a complete search but tripped across them along the way.  These first few are taken from Daniel Rock’s seemingly exhaustive catalogue of ecclesiastical regalia and implements, including the pastoral staff (pp. 181-92).

  • Life of Caesarius of Arles, 6th cen:  that a clerk carried the bishop’s staff before him on ceremonial occasions and into the church.
  • Life of Dionysius, 9th cen:  that bishop’s staff was hung over his grave, as appeared in a miracle story.
  • A Carolingian bishop apparently tried to take the king’s scepter as his staff.
  • Odo of Bayeux, according to Symeon of Durham, stole the Durham crozier.
  • Bishop Wulfstan, when deposed by Lanfranc, staked his staff into the grave of Edward the Confessor to make his point.

More specific to pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon England are a few references in Old English:

  • In an Old English list of saint’s resting places (Secgan be þam Godes sanctum þe on Engla lande ærost reston) in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 201, bottom of p. 150, Milton Abbey has the arm and staff (crycc) of St. Samson, sixth century Bishop of Dol.  One wonders if the arm is holding the staff….
  • The Old English Martyrology recounts a miracle of St. Ambrose (April 5) in which a Roman general facing an overwhelming host prays to the saint and then has a dream in which the bishop thrusts his staff (crycc) three times on a particular hill in a field, saying Hic, hic, hic, helpfully translated into Old English, her, her, her.  Needless to say the general found the location and won the battle.  London, British Library, MS. Cotton Julius A.X, fol. 76v-77r or see Rauer, pp. 78-79).
  • Crycc, which can mean crutch or staff, is thus used in these two instances to refer to a bishop’s staff.  The OE term bisceopstæf also occurs twice in late Old English, once as an error for bisceopsetl (seat).  OE hæcce as a translation of Lat. baculum appears to be post-Conquest.

These stories establish that bishops carried, or had carried for them, a staff that is more than likely the baculum given them at ordination as a sign of their office and authority.  In some cases it appears to be a substantial item, akin to a walking staff, rather than something held like a scepter and not touching the ground.  Whether it was topped with a ball, tau, or crook is not evident.

Back to the Kells Crozier

I am left wondering, then, whether the Kells Crozier is typical and can be used to visualize these episcopal activities.  I am still convinced that this style of crozier would be possible in Northumbria in the tenth century.

As I circled the glass case in the British Museum, crouching low and peering high, I began to ask some questions about how the thing would be held and carried. At a little over 4.36 feet, its a bit tall to use as a walking staff, especially given the ornateness of its crook. More likely it was carried or held, perhaps cross body like MacDurnan’s Matthew, above.  Where might one hold it?  Between the first and second knops, as in MaDurnan’s Luke, or nearer the middle, between the second and third knops, like Matthew?  The Kells Crozier has crosses hammered onto the shaft between the first and second knops, and between the third and bottom knops, but a cross is either missing or never placed between the second and third knops, midway, a likely handhold.

One can also imagine a bishop holding his crozier out away from his body to use in a blessing, perhaps even signing the cross with it.


  • Banting, H. M. J, ed., Two Anglo-Saxon Pontificals (the Egbert and Sidney Sussex Pontificals), HBS 104 (London:  Boydell, 1989)
  • Dunstan (or Sherborne) Pontifical  (Paris BN MS lat. 943), ed. ), Ordo quomodo domus Dei consecranda est, Pontificale S. Dunstani, ed. E. Martène, De antiquis Ecclesiæ Ritibus, 2nd ed.,  t. ii, lib. ii, cap. xiii, p. 255.
  • Gittos, Helen.  Liturgy, Architecture, and Sacred Places in Anglo-Saxon England.  Oxford, 2015.
  • Johnson R., “On the Dating of Some Early-Medieval Irish Crosiers,” Medieval Archaeology 44 (2000): 115-58.  Marzinzik ref.
  • Lanalet Pontifical, Rouen MS A.27 (368), ed. Doble HBS 74
  • Leofric Missal, 2 vols., ed. Nicholas Orchard, Henry Bradshaw Society 113-114 (London:  Boydell, 2002).
  • Marzinzik, Sonja.  Masterpieces:  Early Medieval Art.  British Museum Press, 2013.
  • Miles, George. The bishops of Lindisfarne, Hexham, Chester-le-Street, and Durham, A.D. 635-1020. Being an introduction to the ecclesiastical history of Northumbria. London: W. Gardner, Darton & co, 1898.
  • Murray, Griffin.  ‘Insular crosiers: an independent tradition?’ in C.  Newman, M. Mannion & F. Gavin (eds) Islands in a Global Context: Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Insular Art. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2017, pp 167-77.
  • Murray, Griffin. ‘Christian Missionaries or Viking Raiders? Insular Crosier Fragments in Scandinavia’ in O. Owen, V. Turner & D. Waugh (eds) Proceedings of the 17th Viking Congress, Shetland 2013. Shetland Heritage Publications, Shetland, 2016, pp 173-79.
  • Murray, Griffin. ‘Insular Crosiers from Viking-Age Scandinavia’ Acta Archaeologica 86 (2015), 96-121.
  • Murray, Griffin. ‘Insular-type crosiers: their construction and characteristics’ in R. Moss (ed.) Making and Meaning in Insular Art: proceedings of the fifth international Conference on Insular Art. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2007, pp. 79-94.
  • Palazzo, Eric.  “The Image of the Bishop in the Middle Ages.” In The Bishop Reformed:  Studies of Episcopal Power and Culture in the Central Middle Ages, ed. John S. Ott and Anna Trumbore Jones.  Aldershot, 2007.
  • Rauer, Christine, ed. and trans.  The Old English Martyrology: Edition, Translation and Commentary (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013).
  • Rock, Daniel. Church of Our Fathers as seen in St. Osmund’s Rite for the Cathedral of Salisbury, vol. 2 (London: C. Dolman, 1894), pp. 181-98.
  • Wilson, H. A., ed.  Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, HBS 24 (London: Boydell, 1903).






  1. In his ‘Bishops of Lindisfarne’ George Miles devoted a long footnote to croziers in the chapter on Tilred (page 238). The context is the battle of Corbridge where in your novel Aldred’s father was seriously wounded:
    ‘In 918 the Scots and Northumbrians again united in an effort to overthrow the Northmen. The Scots carried the crozier (c.f. footnote) of St. Columba into the battle of Tinemoor, near Corbridge-on-Tyne. Their victory was ascribed to the presence of this pastoral emblem,..’

    The preservation of the ‘Cambo Kentigerni’ at Ripon shows that croziers were venerated as relics in Northumbria as well as Ireland.
    Interestingly, especially in regard to Tilred, the footnote finishes:
    ‘…Columba was not a bishop. Abbots therefore used staves at an early period. When they were granted episcopal insignia, no mention is made of the staff, as it was already in use.’

    • Miles must have gotten that story of the crozier carried in battle from a fragmentary Irish annal, Duald Mac-Pirbis, Fragment III. I found a translation in A. O. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History A.D. 500-1286 vol. i (1922). , on pp. 407-08. I have not found it in other annals that record the 918 battle of Corbridge or Tinemore, including Irish, Pictish/Scots, Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, or Symeon of Durham.

      • Interesting term ‘cathbuaid’: Michelle of Heavenfield refers to it presumably on the basis of the same source, which she finds in ‘Fragmentary Annals of Ireland FA429’.
        I notice Anderson, writing from a Scottish perspective, suggests ‘Tynemoor’ could be on the Haddington Tyne in the Lothians, now in Scotland but back then in Northumbria.
        Ancient river names predate Anglo-Saxon settlement, but let’s not forget that in Old Northumbrian ‘mor’ was used to gloss Latin ‘mons’, ‘montem’ etc. Just outside Ormiston on the Tyne Water there is an area called Tynemount. Could this be the Old Northumbrian ‘*Tinamor’? Pure speculation; great fun!

  2. Thanks, James. As usual, you find great connections. I need to follow up Miles’ references.

  3. The place names do raise some interesting questions about the location of the battle, similar to, but not as fraught as, Brunnanburh. The dating is also up in the air, whether one or two battles are being referenced, both in this fragmentary annal and in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto.

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