A Christ Taken Prisoner

Jerz > Theater > York Pageant [ Staging | Context | Simulator | Glossary ]

This historical anecdote illustrates the close connections between the church, the legal system, and theater in medieval Europe. See: Cultural Context of the York Corpus Christi Play

From Seville, the 8th day of June 1579.

Of news we have none of import to give you these days [1]. But a curious occurrence recently took place five miles from here, in a village, St. Ginar by name.

An inhabitant thereof took refuge in the church to escape his creditors. But whereas, according to custom, on the day of the Blessed Sacrament, all kinds of entertainments were to take place before the Procession of the Blessed Host, some inhabitants had erected a cart, on which they wished to hold a mystery play showing how our Lord Jesus Christ was captured by the Jews as he was kneeling on the Mount of Olives. But they stood in need of a stately and beauteous man and knowing of none more worthy or better looking, they craved of the man, who had taken refuge in the church because of his debts, that he would play the part of the Lord God in their play. He resisted for a long time as he dared not leave the church on account of those to whom he owed money, but the others gave him the assurance that they would bring the cart, on which the play was to be held, in front of the church; where he could mount and descend and need not harbour fear [2]. Thereupon the latter consented.

But when one of his creditors learnt this, he bethought himself of many ways in which he could have his debtor seized and thrust into prison. To that end held counsel with an Alguazil[3], who informed him that he had a good friend who would play the part of Judas in the said performance. This man he would present with half a dozen ducats [4] and instruct him that, when they arrived on the Market Place, and Judas gave our dear Lord the kiss, he should likewise give him a strong push, so that he might fall from the cart. Once he touched the ground he would immediately be made prisoner. This proposal pleased the creditor greatly. He thereupon gave the Alguazil some money and promised him more as soon as he had got his debtor into prison.

Thus, when the procession reached the market, where the Alguazil and his minions were lying in wait, Judas at once strove to carry out his purpose, and with the Jews proceeded to approach the Lord, whom he took to the tail of the cart, where he gave him so forcible a kiss and a push, that he fell to the ground. The Alguazil captured him then and there; but as the good Lord was looking most woefully at his disciples, St. Peter, who stood next to him with his sword, took pity upon him and almost cleft the Alguazil’s head in twain. Thereupon a great turmoil ensued in the whole village, so that the Justice intervened and arrested St. Peter, the Lord, and Judas with all his Jews.

Thereupon the Judge proclaimed: sententia, Firstly, Judas to be given the birch for a scoffer of God. Secondly, the Alguazil to have himself physicked [5] at his own cost. Thirdly, St. Peter to be set free, as a pious and faithful apostle, and the Lord likewise. The merchant to forfeit that which the Lord owes unto him and to make no further claims upon him for all eternity.

Of this, for lack of better news, have I wished to give tidings unto you.

See also: “Judas” Dies in Easter Passion Play


[1] The writer was a sort of medieval financial and political reporter for the Fugger banking family. The Fuggers spread their agents across Europe, in order to gather intelligence of political or social events that would affect trade relationships. [Up]

[2] The inside of a church was a safe zone, where creditors could not arrest their debtors. Apparently the “cart” serving as a stage counted as church property, and therefore offered the handsome fugitive the same protection. [Up]

[3] alguazil: constable. [Up]

[4] ducat: a unit of money. [Up]

[5] physicked: doctored; healed. [Up]

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