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The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City

The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City

Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City
    Book Description:

    WINNER of the 2007 David Bevington Prize. The York Play is the earliest near-complete English civic mystery cycle. It evolved constantly throughout its long performance history, but the text that was recorded in the York Register shows that it was already a mature and elaborate civic festival by the time it was written down. This study uncovers the Cycle's connection with worship in York, in the sense both of devotional practice and of civic honour, informing a particular period in the cultural history of the city. The pageants in the Register show in their different ways how the community which devised and performed the Cycle regarded the celebration of the great summer feast of Corpus Christi. Moreover the principles of selection that give the Cycle its structure reflect the broader pattern of the liturgical calendar, with its other feasts and fasts. The Cycle bears witness not only to the practices of religious observance in York, but also to the ecclesiastical politics in which the city was caught up from the very beginning of the fifteenth century. PAMELA KING is Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Bristol.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-515-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Introduction Civic Drama and Worship
    (pp. 1-6)

    English medieval drama has been understood throughout most of the modern period to consist chiefly of two dominant categories of play. The categories ʹmystery playʹ and ʹmorality playʹ – also known as ʹmoral interludeʹ – were devised from the evidence of the few scripts which survive from the pre-Reformation period. Both categories are devotional in focus, treating aspects of the narrative of the Fall and Redemption of humanity. This narrative derives from orthodox Western European medieval theology and is reflected across the arts and culture of the later Middle Ages. Mystery plays present the narrative as biblical history. Four surviving...

  6. Part 1 Corpus Christi Play

    • [Part 1 Introduction]
      (pp. 7-9)

      From its first appearance in the records, the performance of what became the York Cycle is linked with the feast of Corpus Christi. This great summer moveable feast was a late arrival in the Churchʹs calendar, authorised by the papacy for universal use in 1264. It occurred on the last Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which could be any time between 23 May and 24 June. Corpus Christi celebrates Christʹs presence in the Host consecrated at the Mass, effectively an annual affirmation of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Both the feast itself and the festive events which clustered around it have been...

    • Chapter 1 The York Cycle and Corpus Christi
      (pp. 10-30)

      Various lay celebrations grew up around Europe to mark Corpus Christi Day, generally focused on the processing of the consecrated Host around or through the civic space. The route taken by such a procession, and the spaces included in and excluded from its compass, signified urban and/or ecclesiastical understandings of the nature of the city and the hierarchies governing it.¹ The line-up of groups accompanying the Host also reflected civic hierarchies, commonly separating the ecclesiastical from the lay. The laity was generally mustered according firstly to the hierarchy of central civic government, and secondly in confraternal organisations that processed in...

  7. Part 2 The Selection and Organisation of the Cycle

    • [Part 2 Introduction]
      (pp. 31-36)

      In the last chapter we saw how the York Cycle can be linked to the feast of Corpus Christi. In particular, the cultural moment of its emergence coincides with a return to sacramental orthodoxy, in the form of a reaffirmation of the doctrine of transubstantiation and a vogue for devotion to the Sacrament of the Altar. If we can accept the central motivating focus of the cycle as being essentially sacramental, because of the feast it was devised to celebrate and the devotional climate of its time, we can begin to move away from a view of the organisation of...

    • Chapter 2 From after Epiphany to Septuagesima
      (pp. 37-47)

      Epiphany, the celebration of the coming of the Magi, is the great feast which closes the Christmas season. Septuagesima is the seventy-day season which leads up to Easter, incorporating the forty days of Lent. The intermediary period in the calendar is variable, Epiphany being fixed, Easter moveable. Each day there are scriptural readings incorporated into the Mass. Their sequence, recorded in the Missal,¹ is set out in Table 1 (see pages 46–7). The Gospel texts for the first three Sundays after Epiphany relate the Baptism, Christ and the Doctors in the Temple, and the Marriage at Cana, and these...

    • Chapter 3 Septuagesima to Quadragesima
      (pp. 48-67)

      With Septuagesima the long preparation for the Passion commences. The extended Lenten season begins at this time, with its emphasis on annual confession. It is, therefore, also a time when the Church renews its affirmation of Christʹs continuing mystical presence through the sacraments. The pattern of readings in the Missal between Septuagesima Sunday and Quadragesima, the first Sunday of Lent, is set out in Table 2 (see page 67). Readings of gospel accounts of Christʹs Ministry continue, but the thematic focus of the readings changes, and begins to look forward to the Passion, with parables and other gospel texts in...

    • Chapter 4 Quadragesima to Palm Sunday
      (pp. 68-86)

      The episodes included in the York Cycle from Christʹs adult life after his Baptism complete the bridging of the narrative gap between Christmas and Easter. All are drawn from the liturgy for Lent itself, with an increasing concentration at the beginning and at the end.¹ The beginning of the Lenten season is marked in the Missal by the account of Christʹs forty-day Temptation in the Wilderness (Matthew 4: 1–11). The Gospel text is accompanied by an Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 6: 1–10, on the need to demonstrate steadfastness in adversity. The two combined signal the origin of...

  8. Part 3 Feast of Feasts

    • [Part 3 Introduction]
      (pp. 87-92)

      In the previous chapters the case has been made for the uniqueness of the York Cycle as a dramatic phenomenon, our only surviving text of a full cycle of fifteenth-century Corpus Christi pageants, modelled on patterns of lay worship and with a particular sacramental focus. Of the great urban cycles, it is the earliest and the most obviously liturgical in its influences and resonances. We have seen firstly how the Play as a whole is connected with devotion to Corpus Christi, fashionable amongst the York urban élite who managed its production, and how that accords with contemporary fashions in eucharistic...

    • Chapter 5 The Christmas Season
      (pp. 93-129)

      The Nativity sequence in the York Register begins with the Spicersʹ pageant (XII) of The Annunciation and the Visitation. This is followed by the Pewterersʹ and Foundersʹ pageant (XIII) of Josephʹs Trouble about Mary, then by the Tilethatchersʹ Nativity (XIV), and the now incomplete Chandlersʹ pageant of the Shepherds (XV). There is then a complex co-operative pageant of Herod and the Magi, presented respectively by the Masons and Goldsmiths (XVI). After that, the Hatmakers, Masons, and Labourers contributed the long pageant XVII, The Purification, followed by the Marshalsʹ brief Flight into Egypt (XVIII). The sequence concludes with the Girdlersʹ and...

    • Chapter 6 Holy Week and After
      (pp. 130-168)

      After the long fast of Lent, Holy Week is the climax of the Churchʹs year. It begins with Palm Sunday and Christʹs entry into Jerusalem to fulfil his destiny. It contains the Last Supper from which the ritual of the Mass derives. It tells of Christʹs betrayal by Judas, and of his trials before Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, then Pilate again. It reaches its climax as it follows the way of the Cross to Mount Calvary for the Crucifixion on Good Friday, and finishes with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, the fulfilment of Christʹs covenant to humankind and the...

    • Chapter 7 The Sacraments of the Church
      (pp. 169-180)

      In the preceding two chapters we have seen how the York Cycle is influenced by the special festive liturgies of Christmas and of Holy Week in its presentation of the events which those feasts celebrate. Up until now, we have been concentrating on the liturgy, on worship, as a communal experience governed by a calendar. There are, however, liturgical forms and occasions for worship which also influenced the cycle and which are neither part of the regular annual cycle, nor communal. They are the sacraments of the Church, of which communion is only one of seven. They are also festal,...

  9. Part 4 … or Feast of Fools

    • [Part 4 Introduction]
      (pp. 181-183)

      In the York Cycle as it survives in the Register, biblical and liturgical text is rewritten for performance in rhymed English verse. The material from which it is shaped remains, as we have seen, demonstrably theologically orthodox, although it may imaginatively embellish the causal patterns of its narrative sources. Its orthodoxy derives from the material of worship, liturgy, and preaching by which sacred text and commentary were mediated for the whole community of believers. The clerics who wrote the pageants can, however, also be seen drawing on other fields of experience to convey how and why events happened in the...

    • Chapter 8 Feast of Fools?
      (pp. 184-204)

      The civic and ecclesiastical communities of medieval York have been widely studied, but it is perhaps worth reviewing here the make-up of the ecclesiastical capital of the North. In addition to its Minster, sixty-odd parish churches, and small guild chapels such as the one dedicated to St Anne on Foss Bridge, medieval York hosted a number of houses of the endowed and mendicant religious. Just outside the walls was the huge Benedictine Abbey of St Mary. Benedictines also lived in Holy Trinity Priory in Micklegate, an alien dependency of Marmoutier near Tours. There was a small house of Benedictine nuns...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 205-216)
  11. Index of References to Liturgical Material
    (pp. 217-228)
  12. General Index
    (pp. 229-246)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)