HOME > Fantasy Items Index > Charlemagne cycle >

«Turpin's Crosse» / [item:staff] [charlemagne]

croce ("crosier" Ch.R) [OF]; kruchen [MHG]
croix ("crucifix, rood" Ch. Asper.) [OF]; kross [ON]

Turpin's crosier (bishop's staff), or alternatively, a hand-held crucifix.

There is reason to believe it was a crosier that Turpin carried (whether in substance or in spirit) to the Battle of Roncesvalles.
However, in the Chanson d'Aspremont, Pope Milon gives Turpin a portable crucifix to be carried into battle. This crucifix contains a piece of the True Cross upon which Jesus was immolated by Longinus. Turpin holds up the cross which burns bright and demoralizes the Saracens.

§ Ch. de Roland (ca. 1100)

When Turpin defeats Abisme, the owner of the devil-sent enchanted shield , the Frenchmen in unison hail Archbishop Turpin as befitting his crosier (croce*1 [OF]), the symbol of ecclesiastical authority.

1508    Dient Franceis: «Ci ad grant vasselage!
En l'arcevesque est ben la croce salve.»
(— laisse CXIV, ll.1508-9)
Then say the Franks: "He has great vassalage,
1670    With the Archbishop, surely the Cross is safe."
(— CXXVI, ll.1669-70, tr. Scott-Moncrieff)

While Scott-Moncrieff translates this as "the Cross" we may really talking about the pastoral staff also known as the "bishop's crook" tipped with a coiled ornament.

*1 In Nicot's Thresor (1606) croce was defined as lituus or "crooked staff", and an alternate spelling crosse was also cross-referenced to this entry. The Dictionnaire de l'Académie française defined crosse as "Baston pastoral d'Evesque, ou d'Abbé [the pastoral staff of the bishop or abbot]"

§ Rolandslied (ca. 1130)

The German rendition by priest Konrad, the Rolandslied, interposes an earlier pre-battle scene, where Turpin (Turpin uon Raines ) presides over the "Council by the pine-tree" (pinrat*1) on how to deal with the Saracens, and he leans on his crosier (* kruchen*2 [MHG] Rolandslied, line 1252. )

The artist who drew the manuscript illustration (right) makes it unmistakably clear that it is a crosier clutched in Turpin's hand in this section.

Unfortunately, during the Battle of Roncesvalles (Runzeual, Runcival ) itself where Turpin dispatches Abysse, we do not hear Frenchmen say anything about the bishop being worthy of holding the "crosse". Instead, we hear the bishop gloat: "Now you've really been gored!" ("nu hastu gar uerstochen!", RL ll.5490-).
*1Though the tree-name pin (pinboum) sounds like "pine", it is glossed as modern Germ. Fichte ="spruce, fur".

Turpin in council (detail). In the illustration to the Rolandslied, he is shown with a crosier in hand.
— Heidelberg manuscript fol.
(Cod. Pal. germ. 112)

*1 kruchen appears to be the Bavarian dialect for standard Middle-High German krücke, krucke and modern German krücke "crutch (or crook)".

§ Pseudo-Turpin (ca. 1150)

The Pseudo Turpin is purported to have been written, in Latin, by Archbishop Turpin himself. In this work, Turpin is considered to have been absent from the Battle of Roncesvalles.

But it is worth mentioning that the cover art of the codex Calixtinus shows Turpin holding a crosier. Pope Calixtinus II, Guy de Bourgogne, was a man greatly responsible for promoting the Roncesvalles/Santiago de Compostella cult, and probably author of parts of the Liber Sancti Jacobi and even the possible author of "Pseudo-Turpin" itself (Liber IV of Liber Sancti Jacobi).

Turpinus holding a crosier (detail) — cover illumination of "Pseudo-Turpin".
Codex Calixtinus, Liber IV,
manuscript of the Historia Turpini,
the "Pseudo-Turpin"
. [local]

§ Chanson d'Aspremont (ca. 1190-1200)

This work*1 has been misidentified in the past as taking place in Spain*1a, but consensus nowadays is that it sets its stage in Italy, and that Aspremont "Bitter Mountain" is somewhere in the Calabrian Apenines, in the "heel" part of boot-shaped Italy.

At the outset, young Roland is not yet knighted or equipped with sword and armor, and not tried in battle.

Perhaps a brief note on the work is warranted. This chanson de geste invents the story of how Rollandin (* the diminutive suffix -in on his name indicates his youth and unknighted status.) experiences his first battle and wins his sword ⇒Durendal and other equipment.

The Saracen prince Aumon and his army of 100,000 is defeated and the fortification at Aspremont "Bitter Mountain" (* ) is taken by the Franks. The routed pagan survivors are off to report their defeat to the Saracen king, Agolant, whose campaign is based in the nearby city of Rise (* Reggio di Calabria).

Meanwhile Charlemagne presides over the division of spoils and the dubbing of many young fighters with newly won swords. Pope Milon then conducts mass for the French army, and after the speech they bring a Cross to him which the Frenchmen salute on bended knees:

La crois demande et on li aporta:
Une partie de cel saint fust i a
U Dex fu mis qant Longis le navra.
Quant il la virent, cascuns s'agenella
Chanson d'Aspremont, laisse 385, ll. 7671-4,
ed. Brandin
They take a Cross to him when he requests it;
This Cross contains of that Blest Beam a section
Where Christ was nailed when Longius did vex him;
When they see this they fall on their knees bended,
The Song of Aspremont, laisse 385, ll. 7671-4,
Michal A. Newth tr.

Back in Reggio, the Saracen king Agolant learns of the defeat but no one can tell him what became of his son Aumon. He dispatches Uliens and Galindres as an envoy bearing an olive branch (rain d'olive, l.7732). The terms of the high-handed diplomacy are as follows: the envoys preface their dialogue with a recounting of the ovewhelming forces they've amassed, he declares to Charles "You're trapped as surely as is the bird in lime!" (* Tot estes pris con li oisials em broi, l.7897). The Saracens demand payment of tribute and Charles's capitulation and conversion to Mahomet.
    On suggestion of Girart d'Eufrate (an irascible and harsh character), the French decide to send the severed head and arm of Aumon (the king's son) to serve as a wicked form of reply.

There is no question that a great battle is in store. The French begin preparing their mounts and arms. Pope Milon tries to find a fighters who will carry his Cross.
    A knight named Erengi declines to take "the Beam", indicating that a weapon will do him good but a cross would only be an encumbrance. Ysoré also declines but nominates the archbishop who is mounted on a warhorse to take up this task.

Torpins de Rains ne s'atarga noient
A l'apostole clina parfondement;
La crois reçut icel jor loialment.
Ibid., laisse 423, ll. 8490-3,
Turpin of Reims delays him not one jot;
He bows down low before the Pope Milon;
In loyal faith this day he bears the Cross;
Ibid., laisse 423, ll. 8490-3

The Frenchmen once again drop on their knees to worship the Cross. Soon, they see three knights come down the ridge of Aspremont. When Ogier approaches the one mounted on a white stallion (ceval blanc l.8512), and qui-vives him, he identifies himself as St. George (Yorge l.8517).
    St. George comes to young Roland as he is about to face Mandaquin, and tells him "Do not fear him that he is big my son; From this day on call out 'Saint George' for luck."
    Thus the Christian battle-cry of Cry "St. George" (Crie «Sains Iorge») is here suggested by an apparition of the Saint himself.

The cross in Turpin's hand glows bright and keeps Saracens at bay. In the Pope's words,

En cele crois se laissa travellier,
Veé le la reluire et flamboier,
Que cil d'Alfrique n'i puënt aproismier.
Ibid., laisse 455, ll. 9294-6
..Upon that Cross the pains of death He bore;
Behold it there, it shines and blazes forth,
And bars approach by any Infidel
Ibid., laisse 455, ll. 9294-6
Turpin then temporarily returns custody of the cross back to the Pope in order to enter the fray with his weapon.

Torpins de Rains ne volt mie lassier:
"Sire apostles, ne vos doit anuier:
Or vos revuel la sainte crois ballier,
Car j'ai hauberc et si ai bon destrier,
Espee çainte et cler iaume d'achier
Et arcevesques sui ge et chevalier.
Ibid., laisse 455, ll. 9312-16
Turpin of Reims, likewise would not default:
"Milon my lord, pray do not be annoyed!
I would give back this holy Cross of yours;
For I've a hauberk and a good horse of war,
A bright steel helm and at my side a sword;
I am an archbishop and knight withal;
Ibid., laisse 455, ll. 9312-16

But later on we see Turpin acting once again as the holy flag-bearer, blinding the Saracens and sapping their morale. (* Again, the stock phrase is used: "The holy Cross which blazes forth and flames, La sainte crois reluire et flamboier l. 9402).

«Male aventure ait cis confanonier !
Son confanon voi al ciel atochier.
Veés le la dedevant tot premier?
Veés le la reluire et flamobier
9760   Que li solaus en laisse son raier ?
Tote nos fait la vëuë cangier.
A itel gent nos fait mal tornoier;
Nos n'i poon nule rien gaagnier.»
Ibid., laisse 475, ll. 9755-
"A curse upon this gonfalonier!
Where we look, his flag to heaven waves.
Behold it there up front in pride of place!
Behold it there, it blazes forth and flames
9760   So that the sun gives off a lesser ray!
It blinds us all when we upon it gaze,
And blights our luck against this Christian race;
Against its power we fight to no avail."
Ibid., laisse 475, ll. 9755-

A picture of this cross (above right) can be seen in an engraving in Leon Gautier's La Chevalerie, a tome in which he describes, among many other things, "La Croix Miraculeuse" containing "le bois de la vrai croix."

*1 The Song of Aspremont, tr. Michael A. Newth 1989 / La Chanson d'Aspremont, ed.Louis Brandin 1919.

*1a This is largely due to the fact that King Agolant in the Ch.d'Aspremont is modeled on Agolandus in Pseudo-Turpin.
  Moreover, the placename "Pass of Aspre" (les) porz d'Aspre occurs in Chanson de Roland l.1103 (porz d'Espaigne in Oxford Digby 23). This place name also occurs in the Old French translation of Pseudo-Turpin (XXII, L, etc., see index in Walpole ed.), where earlier Agolant uses the pass to travel from Tailleborg to Pamplona, and is later the scene of the Saracen ambush of the French rearguard.
  But since aspre is related to mod. Fr. aspérité, and means "rugged, steep" so it could easily apply to many such landscape.

*2 St. George (Sains Iorge 8540; Saint Iorge 8586, 9393; Sains Iorges 8526, 8547,8599,8602;Sains Yorges 8537; Saint Yorge 8814; Yorge 8517) is accompanied by St. Mercure(Sains Mercures 9394, Saint Mercurie 8587; Sains Mercuries 9394, Mercurie 8587, ) their flag-bearer and St. Domin (Dominste 8586, Domis 8599, Domins 9394).
In Karlamagnus saga IV, Chap. 66 etc., which incorporatees the Ch. d'Aspremont, the stai

*3 La Chevalerie, Leon Gautier 1890. Also in English translation by Henry Frith 1891, but the local library copy has gone missing.

Turpin holding up the Miraculous Cross (detail)
— illustr. Édouard Zier
"Pendant la Bataille -- La Croix Miraculeuse,"
in Léon Gautier, La Chevalerie, Pl. XXI
Illus. depicting the passage in Aspremont,
Bibl. Nat., fr. 25529 fol. 65v



  • HOME > Fantasy Items Index > Charlemagne cycle >