“The descent from the cross at Externsteine in Germany. A beautifully complex if much eroded depiction of the descent from the cross combined with the harrowing of hell and the Resurrection. All creation weeps, as it once almost did for Balder, as the sun and the moon above hide their faces in mourning cloths. Mary and John have been displaced to the left and right as the focus shifts to the figure of Joseph of Arimathea with the body of Christ bent over his shoulder. Nicodemus leans in sorrow and exhaustion on the cross while standing on the “great pillar,” the Irminsul that represents Yggdrasil, as it bows to the ground, enabling Nicodemus to reach the crossbar and lower the body of Christ onto Joseph. There is no ladder in this version of the descent. The pillar of Yggdrasil, echoing the wish of the Rood, bows down, and becomes the ladder, so that Nicodemus can reach up and put his one arm around the cross while lowering the body of Christ to Joseph with the other. Down below, underneath the earth line, just below the conjoined bases of the Irminsul and the cross, the Nidhogg serpent is releasing its grip on the kneeling figures as it flees off to the right. Meanwhile Christ rises invisibly above the scene, blessing all.”
Picture and text from G. Ronald Murphy’s fascinating book Tree of Salvation : Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North (Oxford University Press).