The York Crucifixion of Christ (4 of 4)

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 piety.
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.)

Next: The Road to Emmaus

June, 1997 -- site first published in (Re)Soundings
16 Jul 1999 -- site posted here 
08 Jan 2001 -- page last modified