York Corpus Christi Pageant

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PSim: York Corpus Christi Pageant Simulator

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).

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.”

This website is intended to provide a gentle introduction to the York Corpus Christi Play, so that readers may better understand the significance of the computer simulation I conducted. This is also the document I would have liked to have read, before I began my own study of the York plays as a graduate student.

On this Site: PSim (Pageant Simulator) 2.1 for Java, a teaching aid and research tool, is computer software that models the motion of pageant wagons during a simulation of medieval England’s York Corpus Christi Pageant. Dots representing individual wagon-mounted plays move from station to station on a color map of the city, while the computer displays elapsed time. PSim comes with several default data sets that illustrate elements of different production theories, as developed by some of the modern scholars who have tried to reconstruct the medieval performance. The program was originally written for Windows 3.x, but a Java (web) version of PSim is now available — although it may load very slowly on some systems. I suggest that you first visit the PSim screen shots, which cover in detail what PSim does.The program can be used to demonstrate, for instance, the effect of varying the number of performance stations, or the cumulative effect of backups and gapsduring the performance. A more ambitious PSim user (Windows 3.x version only, at present) can create custom configurations, by specifying such data as which plays participate in the cycle, the performance length of each individual play, the location of stations, and the travel times between them.

Java Simulation of the Motion of Pageant Wagons in the York Corpus Christi Play
Push a button and watch dots representing individual play-wagons as they move across a map representing the medieval city of York, England. Labels indicate which play is performing at what time. (See: About the PSim program.)

"I am the Alpha and the Omega" says God, during the creation of the universe. -- ego-sum.jpg (7698 bytes)Staging, Context and History of the York Corpus Christi Play
The Corpus Christi Play was an annual outdoor event, involving hundreds of actors; it was already a long-established tradition by the end of the 14th century, and continued until suppressed by the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th century.


  • A Christ Taken Prisoner
    The actor playing Judas in a sixteenth-century play is bribed to push “Jesus” off the stage and into the arms of angry debtors. This historical anecdote perfectly illustrates the fuzzy borders between the religious, public, and theatrical spheres in medieval Europe.
  • Modern Corpus Christi Procession
    Corpus Christi Processions
    A Franciscan Brother’s website devoted to the modern practice of the religious display that was the occasion for the creation of the York plays.

  • “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.

  • Oberammergau Passion Play tries to exorcize its anti-Semitic flavor

    Oberammergau
    , Germany:  Conceived as a talisman against the plague, corrupted by politics through the ages and conscripted by Adolf Hitler to vilify Jews, the controversial Passion Play staged once a decade by this Bavarian hamlet unveiled a radically reformed millennial performance yesterday exorcised of anti-Semitic intonations.

  • ‘Jesus’ Struck by Lightning While Filming Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion Of Christ’
    “I’m about a hundred feet away from them when I glance over and see smoke coming out of [Jim] Caviezel’s ears.’ See also The Couch, editorializing on Gibson’s film: “That’s What You get…

Medieval English Drama Books

Original site published & archived by the electronic journal (Re)Soundings, June, 1997.

Special thanks are due to Alexandra F. Johnston and the staff at the Records of Early English Drama, for introducing the York plays to this student of 20th-century American literature and teacher of technical writing; and to Allen Forsyth, Ian Graham, John Bradley, and Rudy Ziegler of the University of Toronto Information Commons, for technical and moral support.

Medieval Drama Bibliography

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