York Corpus Christi Play -- Introduction

Video captures of York Crucifixtion pageant.The York Corpus Christi Cycle, a collection of brief plays that together tell Biblical history from Creation to Doomsday, was the most complex of the medieval cycles (see: "Simulation of York Corpus Christi Play" [requires Java]).


The York Corpus Christi Play

Staging of the York Corpus Christi Play
The surviving manuscript of 48 plays (with a combined length four times that of the longest Hamlet text) and the civic and guild records of the town of York tell us that each short play, mounted on an individual stage-wagon, was pulled through the streets of York, stopping to perform for audiences that had gathered at predetermined "stations" along the route.

Contexts: Religious, Political, Economic and Artistic
In an age when the concept of "separation of church and state" was unthinkable, the Corpus Christi Play was an integral part of the religious, economic, political and artistic context of life in medieval York. 

08 Jun 1579
A Christ Taken Prisoner
The actor playing Judas is bribed to push "Jesus" off the stage and into the arms of angry debtors. This historical anecdote perfectly illustrates the fuzziness of the borders between the religious life, public life, play-acting, and real life in medieval Europe.

24 Apr 2000
"Judas" Dies During Passion Play
Rome: A 23-year-old Italian man died during an Easter re-enactment of Christ's passion, probably because the noose he was wearing in the role of Judas Iscariot was too tight, police said Sunday.

Origin and History of the York Corpus Christi Play
The York play was already a long-established tradition by the end of the 14th century, and continued until actively crushed by Protestant Reformers in the late 16th century. Nobody knows exactly how it started, but it seems to have begun with a bang -- by the time we first hear of it, it is already huge and well-established.

Glossary of Terms: Medieval Religious Drama
Having trouble understanding the difference between the Assumption and the Ascension?  Between adoration and veneration?  The Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth? This glossary will help.

by Dennis G. Jerz
June, 1997 -- first published in (Re)Soundings
16 Jul 1999 -- posted here 
08 Jan 2001 -- minor edits
09 Jun 2004 -- Gunkel link added