PSim: York Corpus Christi Pageant Simulator

This image, modified from John Speed’s map of Yorkshire, England shows the walled city of York — the site of the brilliant annual spectacle known to its medieval performers and spectators as the “Corpus Christi Play”.

Dozens of short plays, mounted on pageant wagons, began with a performance at the Trinity Priory (red dot, lower left) and moved through the city streets, stopping at pre-arranged performance locations known as stations (white dots). –PSim: York Corpus Christi Pageant Simulator ( 1997)

According to the liturgical calendar, tomorrow is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the body of Christ). During medieval times, it was an important feast, especially in England, where the colder climate didn’t exactly encourage outdoor celebrations during Easter.

This site, the first version of which was published in the online journal (Re)Soundings in 1997, presents a Java simulation of one component of the outdoor celebrations that the medieval town of York, England used to present during the late middle ages.

I’m pleased to see that — on my version of the Java Virual Machine, anyway — the program still seems to run just fine.

I had originally written the simulation from scratch, for a PC, as a final project in a course on the York Corpus Christi Play. I ported it over to Java as part of a non-credit course I took on humanities computing. My first presentation at an academic conference and my first peer-reviewed publication both came from this project, so I have a special fondness for it.

The York Corpus Christi Play (also known as the York Cycle) is a series of short religious plays that were performed as part of a very complex outdoor festival in the late middle ages. They were wildly popular in England until the Protestant Reformation. Performed back-to-back, the cycle takes about 12 hours. Since these plays were performed at staggered intervals along numerous stations in York, the whole event from start to finish took about 19 hours.

There are lot of variables to consider when you try to estimate something that complex, which meant that