Harrowing of Hell

An Old English and Middle English term for the triumphant descent of Christ into hell between the time of His Crucifixion and Resurrection. The word first occurs in AElfric's homilies (1000), and is used by the Old English poets, Caedmon and Cynewulf, also in the Old English homilies and lives of the saints. It is the subject of the earliest extant specimen of English religious drama and is given a separate scene in the four cycles of the English mystery plays. It is also found in ancient Cornish plays. Its origin is traced to the well-known apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus (Latin) of the 2nd or 3rd century, which was familiar to English writers, e.g., Bede, and translated into English in the Middle Ages.

New Catholic Dictionary

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