How can Jesus be linked to Wayland?
Why would both Wayland’s story' and the Adoration of the Magi be depicted on the front panel of the casket? Scholars agree that the direct juxtaposition of two fundamentally different subjects must be deliberate, and that the carver must have correlated the two motifs and tales. The most obvious link is in the birds in both parts of the picture: to the left, long-necked birds are being caught, and to the right, an identical animal leads the three Magi to Bethlehem. On both sides, the presentation of an object plays an important part: to the left, the ominous potion offered to the unsuspecting princess, and to the right, the reverential gifts of the three wise men for the God incarnate and saviour. The Magus in front, who is proffering a kind of cup, kneels in front of the Blessed Mother, and in a similar manner, Wayland’s legs are also slightly bent (and his head bowed as well), as if he too was offering the drink with a gesture of reverence.
It frequently has been suggested that this was a case of contrastive juxtaposition: Wayland, the child murderer from a pagan past, is vindictive and cruel, whereas the God of the Christians is merciful. The killing of the king’s children is contrasted with the adoration of the divine child by the Magi, the violation of the princess to the virgin birth of Christ. The pre-Christian principle of revenge is being contrasted with God’s love and grace. This juxtaposition points towards the overcoming of the Heroic by the new faith - an interpretation formulated by Schneider and convincingly presented by Haug.24
Meanwhile, a new position appears to prevail, which considers the Wayland on Franks Casket as a positive and Christian figure and thus interprets the adoration by the Magi of the infant Jesus in a complementary instead of a contrastive way. This primarily is based on the Old English poem Deor.25 In it, Wayland appears as a suffering victim, not as an offender, and there is no mention of any atrocities committed by him. Ellis Davidson takes the view that the image of Wayland on Franks Casket alludes to the birth of Wayland’s heroic son (Old English IVidia, Old Norwegian Vidga, Middle High German IVitege) with the king’s daughter. This son could be understood as a prefiguration of Christ.26
Bradley not only includes Dear, but also the translation into Old English of Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophia by Alfred the Great (f899) as well as Bede’s (J735) commentary on the Book of Kings.27 In the commentary, it says that the smiths of Jerusalem were taken captive by the Babylonians, and Bede develops an allegorical significance of the smith in general who should be considered a wise master and guardian of Christian doctrine. Alfred mentions Wayland by name und uses him as an example for the position that nobody can be deprived of his Godgiven craftsmanship and strength. Webster points out that Wayland’s flight could be taken as a symbol of Christian salvation.28 It also has been noted that on occasion in Old English and Old Norse literature, Christ is described as a smith or son of a smith.29 There existed a positive image of Wayland known to the Christian Anglo-Saxons, which focused on his skills and wisdom, instead of on his acts of revenge.3" According to Lang and Yorke, Wayland was even seen as an avenger worthy of veneration, because his acts of violence were in fact legitimate means in his quest for justice. The villain of the story was not Welund, but Nidad, who abducts the smith.31 Abels concludes:
The scenes on the front panel are more plausibly interpreted as complementary' than adversarial [...]. The images of the revenge of Weland and the Adoration of the Magi [...] represent two aspects of reciprocity, vendetta and gift giving, and two models of lordship, the good lordship of the Lord Christ contrasted with the bad lordship of King Nidad.32
These positive interpretations of the image of Wayland on Franks Casket are, however, problematic. They presuppose that child murder and rape were accepted practices among the elite of Anglo-Saxon society. In fact, however, murder and infanticide were considered a crime and punished severely: the legislation of King
Aethelberht from the early phase of the Anglo-Saxon mission is characterised by high regard for human life - which constitutes an innovation as well as Christian influence - and renounced capital punishment for homicide.33 The synod of Birr in AD 697 prohibited the killing of women and children in the event of war, and von Padberg has argued that ‘Part of the increased protection of human life as a result of Christianisation was the fight of the Church against abortion and infanticide’.34 Similarly, Anglo-Saxon law carried severe penal provisions for rape and clearly demonstrates the intention to protect women from assault. Again, according to von Padberg: ‘Compared to pagan social standards, the position of women [...] and the protection of children were improved’.35
Both the designer of Franks Casket and their audience belonged to a Christian elite that carried those social, ethical, and legal processes. Is it reasonable to suppose that these people would have accepted child murder and rape, ignored or even glamorised Wayland’s crimes?
The poet of Dear and Alfred the Great completely ignore Weltinif s atrocities. This stands in sharp contrast to Franks Casket, where the acts of revenge are given centre stage. Neither Wayland’s wisdom or his captivity nor his ability to fly are visualised, but the rape and infanticide he committed. Millet argues that the images of his violence had been necessary for the iconographic identification of Wayland, but without the need to attribute any special significance to them.36 However, the designer of Franks Casket surely would have been quite able to depict Wayland without the dead bodies of children; that is, if he had indeed intended to portray Wayland as a positive figure. Instead, Wayland’s drastic acts of violence appear to have been important to the artisan, as he made them the central theme of the scene.