Miracle Plays
Wow, check this out -- what went on in late medieval miracle plays. What an extravaganza this particular play was! The following is from the "scriptorium" of the website "Medieval Women"


In 1536, the inhabitants of Bourges performed in their old Roman amphitheatre a "Mystery of the Holy Acts of the Apostles" which was perhaps the most elaborate ever recorded. It lasted forty days, and it was so admirably acted (as a contemporary historian assures us) "that the greater part of the spectators judged it to be real and not feigned." The performance began by a procession of the 494 performers from the Abbey of St Sulpice to the arena, in costumes which modern pageant-masters can only envy at a distance. "A demoniac, clad in green satin brocaded with golden apples, was led on a gilt chain by his father in yellow satin. A blind man and his varlet were in red and grey satin. A paralytic had a shirt of orange satin. The blind men, 'rascals,' and other beggars were clad in silk... After the Apostles came, 'in habit of humility, 62 [sic,? 72] disciples clad in robes of velvet, crimson satin, damask and taffeta, made in strange and divers fashions, some with embroidery and others with bands of ribbon or silk, all after the ancient fashion'... 'After all this devilry came a Hell fourteen feet long by eight feet broad in fashion of a rock crowned with a tower ever burning and belching flames, wherein Lucifer's head and body alone appeared... vomiting flames of fire unceasingly, and holding in his hands certain kinds of serpents or vipers which writhed and belched fire'... 'At the end of the procession came a Paradise eight feet broad by twelve feet long."'

Baron de Girardot printed in t. XIII of Didron's Annales Archéologiques, pp. 16 ff., a manuscript which contained a list of the "properties" required for this performance. Everything was as realistic as possible: the flaying of St Bartholomew was made visible by a "nudity, or carnation" which he wore under his apparent skin; the beheading of Simon Magus was managed by the sudden substitution of alive sheep, which supplied the necessary blood; to out-devil the devil, "we must have a pair of spectacles for Satan." The following extract gives the properties required for the Virgin Mary's death, funeral, and assumption; see the whole description in the Golden Legend (Temple Classics, vol. Iv, p. 234), or in Myrc's Festial.


We must have a palm sent from Paradise for Gabriel to bring to Mary. There must be a thunder-clap in Paradise; and then we need a white cloud to come fetch and ravish St John preaching at Ephesus, and to bring him before the door of the Virgin Mary's abode. We must have another cloud to catch up all the Apostles from their divers countries and bring them all before the aforesaid house. We must have a white robe for the Virgin Mary to die in. We must have a little truckle-bed, and several torches of white wax which the virgins will hold at the said Lady's death. Jesus Christ must come down from Paradise to the death of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by a great multitude of angels, and take away her soul with Him. At the moment when He cometh into the said Virgin's chamber, we must make great fragrance of divers odours. We must have the holy soul ready (1). We must have a crown encircled with twelve stars to crown the aforesaid soul in Paradise. We must have a bier to bear the said Lady's body to the tomb. We must have a tomb. There must be sent down from Paradise to the tomb aforesaid a round cloud shaped like a crown, wherein are several holy angels with naked swords and javelins in their hands; and, if it may be, we must have these living, that they may sing. Belzeray, prince of the Jews, and others set off to go and prevent lest the body of the said Lady be laid in the tomb. The Jews strive to lay hands on the Virgin Mary's body to tear her from the Apostles; and forthwith their hands are withered and they are blinded with fire thrown by the angels. Belzeray laying hands on the litter whereon the Virgin Mary is borne, his hands remain fixed to the said litter, and much fire is cast down like unto thunderbolts, and the Jews must fall blinded to the earth. Belzeray's hands must be severed and joined again to his arms; then he is given a palm which he beareth to the rest, and whereby such as would believe were enlightened; then he brought back the said palm. We need a tomb wherein to lay the said Lady's body. Such as would not be converted are tormented by devils; some must be borne to hell. God purposeth to send to our Lady's tomb, to raise her and bring her up to Paradise, body and soul. St Michael should present the soul to Jesus Christ. This done, they come down accompanied by all the orders of angels in Paradise; and so soon as Jesus Christ is come to the tomb, a great light must be made, whereat the Apostles are amazed. Gabriel must raise the tombstone and the soul laid therein, so that it be no more seen. The soul is reunited to the body, and Mary riseth having her face clearer than the sun: then she must humble herself before Jesus Christ. Jesus, Mary, and all the angels must mount up; and in mounting they must stay awhile here and there, even as the Orders shall speak. Mary, for the doubt that St Thomas had, casteth him her girdle. A cloud must cover the Apostles: then let each depart underground and go unto his own region.

(1) Probably in the shape of a little naked child issuing from the dying person's mouth, according to the usual medieval convention.

(Coulton II, p.138-140)

Miracle plays have fascinated me for years.  It's such a shame the custom died out.  I never saw that in the scriptorium before, they must have added new things since I was last at the site.  Thanks, Vox!
I admit, I don't really know too much about these. But they're awesome.
Medieval Women is one of my favorite sites. I keep the link in my tool bar. I especially like "The Nunnery." Fun stuff.
Interesting about Miracle Plays. We all missed out. Ah, maybe they'll make a comeback.
- Lisa


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