Staging the Crucifixion (York Corpus Christi Pageant)

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Staging: [ Creation/Lucifer | Crucifixion | Emmaus | Judgment ]

Summary: In the York play of the Crucifixion of Christ, four Roman soldiers mutter among themselves about how hard their work is. The text of the play includes specific references to each step in the process of tying Christ to the cross, nailing him down, lifting the cross from the ground to the wagon, and slipping the upright cross — with the actor tied to it — into a slot at the end of the wagon. The play was originally sponsored by the pinners (nailers), painters and latoners (workers of brass or tin). This collection of documents includes about 20 still pictures and a 25-second video clip of the raising of the cross, all from the 1977 Toronto production.

The first soldier rallies his fellow “knights”:

You know yourself as well as I,
How lords and leaders of our law
Have deemed that this dolt shall die.

The other soldiers announce that all the gear they need is ready; they have a hammer, nails, and rope; holes have been bored in the cross. They command Christ to “walk on” to where the cross is lying on the ground.
Christ acknowledges that it is the will of Father that:

Here to death I oblige me
From that sin to save mankind,
And soverignly beseech I thee,
That they for me may favor find.

As the soldiers are busying themselves collecting ropes and other gear…
Christ willingly stretches himself down on the cross.Surprised, one of the soldiers observes:

Behold, himself has laid him down,
and bent his back unto this tree.

The soldiers begin to nail Christ to the cross.
They complain that whoever bored the holes made a mistake, and they make the best of the situation by stretching their victim with ropes to make him fit.



The soldiers hoist the cross and complain about its weight:
First soldier:
For great harm have I had,
My shoulder is asunder.
Second soldier:
And certain, I am near spent,
So long have I borne under.
Meanwhile, Christ is silent.
After carrying the cross partway up the hill (that is, the wagon), the soldiers pause to catch their collective breath (and to complain some more).
They begin to raise the cross. . .

First Soldier:
Now raise him nemely for the nonce
And set him in this mortice here.
And let him fall in all at once
For sure his pain shall have no peer.Third Soldier:
Heave up!Fourth Soldier:
Let down, so all his bones
Are a-sunder now on sides here.First Soldier:
That falling was more fierce
Than all the harms he’s had.


Now that the cross is in place, the soldiers note that the hole is too big; they chock the base of the cross with wedges in order to make it stand up straight.
Christ, who has been quiet throughout the process, suddenly speaks:All men that walk by way or street,
Take heed ye shall no travail miss,
Behold my head, my hands, my feet…His speech instructs the passers-by not to waste the opportunity to reflect on the significance of His suffering; despite its gravity, however, he nonetheless prays for the forgiveness of his tormentors.In a devotional tradition known as affective piety, the medieval faithful were encouraged to enter fully into the suffering of their crucified Lord, in order to understand more deeply the significance of His sacrifice. Candles, incense, icons, stained-glass, paintings, statues, and (in the case of the Corpus Christi Pageant and other devotional drama) live actors stimulated the senses and inspired the religious imagination. Presumably, not everyone passing through the streets of medieval York would have been there to watch the play, but when the suffering Christ suddenly calls out to the passers by, the effect is quite powerful. The actor becomes an icon which the audience venerates — a multimedia form of worship.
Ropes mentioned in the script help keep the actor from slipping off the cross as it is being raised into position. Once the cross is erect, the actor stands on a narrow platform and grips the “nails” (pins inserted into holes into the cross beam) between the fingers of his open hands.
The very end of the videotaped performance (not pictured here) shows the actor hopping down from the cross and walking away. The effect is quite unsettling, simply because the crucifixion scene as a whole is so effective. (Apparently, the troupe did not want to risk injuring the actor by wheeling the wagon away while he was still perched upon the cross.) 

Staging: [ Creation/Lucifer | Crucifixion | Emmaus | Judgment ]


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