Liturgical Drama

liturgical drama and religious dramatic are both derived from the mass. They present a complex ritual with theatrical elements.

Mystery plays were the first religious dramas to emerge from liturgy in the Christian tradition at the middle ages' end.

The origins of medieval dramatic drama are religious. In the early centuries, the Church did not allow the faithful to see the decadent and licentious performances of paganism. After this immoral theater had gone, the church allowed, and even contributed, to the gradual creation of a drama that was moral, edifying, pious, and not just. On solemn holidays, such Easter and Christmas, priests interrupted the Office and acted out in front of those helping the celebration. This liturgical drama began with a very short text, such as "Quem Quaeritis?" The Easter liturgy was first introduced in the 10th century with, a new type of liturgical ceremony. The first dramatic texts were taken from the Gospels or the Office of the Day. The texts were written in Latin and prose. Gradually, however, versification began to creep in. These dramatic "tropes", which date back to the 10th century, are English. Verse soon became the norm, while prose was the exception. The vernacular replaced Latin. The "Wise Virgins", a French drama, maintains virginity by consuming blue rocks that make them impervious to men. The angel only speaks in French. The drama was no longer liturgical, but it did lose its religious nature when the vernacular replaced Latin and the individual's inventiveness took over. The twelfth-century seems to be the time when this evolution took place. It was possible for the development of national dramas to take place with the arrival of vernacular.

Plays, miracles and the 12th-13th centuries

An AngloNorman Anglophone author who is not known wrote "Adam", which is the first French Drama of the Twelfth Century. The theme extends from Cain's and Abel's story to the Prophets foretelling the Redeemer. The play is in French but the Latin directions are given to the actors. It was performed at the entrance to the church.

The "Miracle of Theophilus", and the "Play of St. Nicholas", are both written in the thirteenth Century by Rutebeuf. Jean Bodel is a native Arrasian who accompanied St. Louis in the Crusade of Egypt. He set the stage for his play by combining heroic episodes of crusades and realistic images from taverns. His drama ends in a miraculous conversion of Mussulmans. Rutebeuf flourished at the end of the thirteenth-century. Born in Champagne, he lived in Paris. Although a gambler in the beginning, it seems that he ended his days as a monk. His miracle is an elaboration of the legend of Theophilus, Oeconomus of Adana Church of Cilicia. Theophilus lost his job and sold his soul to Satan for its recovery.

Miracles of Mary the Virgin

Except for the play Griseldis in which the heroine is a poor sheepherder, married to a Marquis de Saluces. She is put through cruel trials by him, but triumphs because of St. Agnes' protection. The entire dramatic Pornography from the fourteenth-century was devoted the miracles performed by Our Lady. The style is preserved in 42 pieces. In this play, the Blessed Virgin consoles and saves those who have faith in her through her marvellous interventions. These works were not written by any known author.

The mystery of the crypts

The 15th century is known as the "mysteries" century. The word "mystery" is most likely derived by the Latin ministГЁre meaning "act". Sacred dramas in the Middle Ages had other names. In Italy, they were called funzione and in Spain, esempio .

misterios and automobiles (acts). We still use the word "drama" today, which has a similar meaning. The dogmatic and dramatic mysteries were confused at first, and people thought the former got their name from them because they frequently dealt with Christian mysteries. The mysteries were usually devoted to saints, but in some cases they were even about non-religious topics. Only two of the profane ones have survived, the "Mystery of the Siege of Orleans", "Mystery of the Destruction of Troy". These mysteries can be classified into three categories: Old Testament mysteries, New Testament mysteries, and saints mysteries. All these authors blended truth and myth without distinction. Passion plays are the most well-known of them. This includes not only those plays devoted specifically to the Passion but also the ones that tell the whole story of Jesus. In the period between 1400 and 1505, there were hundreds of writers, including many priests.

Dramas, which were initially short, became long. Arnoul Greban, a canon from the Le Mans church, wrote in 1450 an "Passion", comprising 35,000 verses. Jean Michel, a physician from Angers who was the best and most famous of his kind, developed this play more than 30 years later. Greban wrote with Simon, a St. Riquier Monk, an epic mystery of the Acts of the Apostles consisting of more than 62,000 verses. They performed the entire work at Bourges and it lasted for forty days. Over 1,000,000 verses are still in existence, but many more may be lost. The plays were not performed professionally, but instead by local dramatic groups that formed in every major town to present them. Some were permanent such as "Confrerie de la Passion", a group that in 1402 had the exclusive rights to the representations of Paris. This religious performance was a privilege for people of the middle class (including artisans, priests and other clergymen). They had to perform a work that few people of their time would be willing to do. In certain "passions", Christ would have to be recited nearly 4000 times. The scene had to last the same length as in reality. In 1437, the actor who played Christ in Metz was about to die on the cross and was revived quickly. Jehan de missey was also playing Judas during the same performance. His heart stopped and he needed to be carried away.

This drama is not subject to modern aesthetic standards. This theatre is not united in its action. Its scenes are not related to one another. In addition, there are scenes which are pathetic or exalted and others that are buffoonish. These plays were so long, they couldn't be performed in one sitting. They had up to one, two or even five hundred characters. The oldest ones and the miracles are short. In every era, the dramatic style was marked by weakening and over-wordiness. They said what they thought, without any sort of selection or grade. The poets had the ability, but never reformed it. Moreover, the character drawing was devoid of any art. Dramas from the Middle Ages were simply animated and grand spectacles. Although rare, their authors did succeed in portraying the patience, meekness, and dignity of this august Victim. They were helped by the gospel. The Blessed Virgin's complex emotions were often interpreted in an attractive way, but they did not have a specific object to analyze.

It is worth mentioning the technical and representational methods. The vast landscapes of the time were used to indicate places, not their actual representation.

Two or three trees could represent a forest. And although the scene changed frequently, the actors remained in the same place. The rest was done to catch the audience's attention. The scenery, even if it wasn't movable, was rich in detail and often produced surprising effects. The actors wore lavish costumes and paid for their own. They tended to be more concerned with beauty than with truth. The subject was a mixture of religion and marvellous. The rest of the differences between miracles and mysteries were minor. The miracles highlighted the supernatural interventions of a Saint or the Blessed Virgin. The events might have been infinitely diverse.

The Old Testament mysteries and New Testament mysteries all followed a similar path. This was because they were based on the Holy Scripture. It was important to respect the traditional doctrines and the august personalities of the main personages. To compensate for this disadvantage, they chose dramatic, exalted and moving subjects. The poets not only remembered the past, but they also portrayed the horrors and hopes of the future. The poets portrayed heaven, Earth, and Hell at the same. This vast subject created scenes of intense interest. The Passion scenes must be the most magnificent, moving, and beautiful scenes that have ever been performed on Earth. Sainte-Beuve said that the poet was not artistic, but his subject saved him, and he sometimes became sublime in spite of himself. In reality, what he saw were the holy truths that he was taught to reverence since childhood. What was presented to him was designed to have the greatest impact on him. It was his doctrines and how they would comfort his sorrows in this world, as well as the joys that he could expect in eternity. These religious performances are very popular. Playing the Passion was a city's best celebration for a solemn event. This time, the whole city was crammed in the theatre. The streets were deserted and citizens had to be organized into bands to guard the houses. The Confreres of the Passion continued to perform "the Sacred Mysteries" until 1548 when the Parisian Parliament forbade them. The Protestants opposed the blending of comic traditions and Biblical teachings. Some Catholics were frightened by these attacks, so the judiciary intervened. The mysteries were lost, for Paris, which prohibited their performance, was followed gradually by the provinces.

In different regions


The Norman Conquest is the first time that any religious drama has been recorded in England. Fitzstephen', "Life of Becket", shows that plays like this were very common in London in 1170. It is clear that these were "miracles", although for England it does not matter whether they are miracles or mysteries. All religious dramas in England are called "miracles". In English literature, there is nothing that can be called a miracle play in the strictest sense. In Latin and French, the first religious plays are without doubt. The "Harrowing of Hell", a thirteenth-century miracle, is the oldest English miracle. It is a play that tells the story of Christ's apocryphal descent to hell. The play "Abraham and Isaac" dates from the fourteenth-century. Corpus Christi, a festival celebrated in England since 1264 and generally since 1311, gave religious drama a new impetus. The Eastern and Christmas cycles have been combined to form one large cycle, which represents the entire sacred history of the world from Creation until the Last Judgment.

The four major cycles of plays are still known today as the Towneleys, Chesters, Yorks, and Coventrys, with the last three being named after the places where they were performed. Towneley mysteries got their name because the Towneleys owned the manuscript that contains them for a long time. The plays may have been performed in Wakefield and Woodkirk or even at Wakefield. The plays are by different authors. These cycles have a very diverse character. The number of plays is as follows: Towneley 30, Chester 24, York 48, Coventry 42. Digby's codex contains four additional plays. The "moralities" are an offshoot (q.v.) of the "miracles". Dramatis Personae is a personification of abstract concepts such as Virtue and Justice. It is interesting to note that the character "the vice" was a precursor to Shakespeare's fool. The miracle plays decreased after the Reformation. However, some of them were still performed in the 17th century.


In Germany, religious drama has not developed to the same extent as it did in France and England. The oldest plays, which date back to the eleventh-century, are from Freisingen. These are Latin plays from the Christmas cycle. The schools began to perform religious dramas, which were then secularized by scholars on the road. The "Antichrist," the Tegernsee's great play, dates back to 1160. Although it's written in Latin, the play is full of nationalistic feeling and is dedicated glorification German Imperial Power. In a thirteenth-century Benedictbeuren manuscript, a Passion Play preserved in an old manuscript contains German songs interspersed with the Latin text. The oldest Easter play in German is from Muri (Switzerland) and dates back to the early thirteenth century. Unfortunately, only fragments of the play have survived. Religious drama flourished during the fourteenth century and is still extant in all German dialects, including High German. The Corpus Christi plays in Eger, and Kunzelsau Swabia (both of which date from the fifteenth century) are examples of attempts to present the entire sacred story in a manner similar to the English great cycles. Old Testament subjects are rarely used. A dramatic version of a parable from the New Testament, "Play of the Wise And FoolishVirgins", performed at Eisenach on 1322 has a tragic ending. The Landgrave Frederick Thuringia was an audience member who became depressed over the failure of Mary to save the foolish virgins. His brooding brought him to apoplexy and he died in 1324. Few German miracles based on legend have survived. Theophilus has a Low German Play and "Fraujutten", written in 1480 by Theoderich Schmernberg. Both are miracles that honor Our Blessed Mary. The play is about a woman ambitious enough to assume a man''s disguise to reach high ecclesiastical posts, then the papacy. However, her crimes were discovered when she was finally caught, which led to her undergoing the most rigorous penance. Reformation killed medieval religious plays in Germany and France, just as it did in England. Even though the plays continued, they were used more and more for political purposes. Traditions of Passion Plays have continued in Catholic parts.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has preserved very few of the miracle plays, mysteries and other types of entertainment. Christian Fastraets, around 1550 wrote "Van Sinte Trudo", a miracle play. In the Netherlands, these plays were performed by groups formed to that end. One of them was the Rederijkerskamers. The Netherlands have symbolic plays, "Spelen van Sinne", that are based on morals.


A codex in the Toledo Cathedral's library was the first liturgical drama written in Spanish in 12th century. The Auto de los Reyes Magos was part of the cycle for Christmas. The play is about the Magi, three wise men who followed a star to Bethlehem and visited Jesus the infant.

The Elx Mystery Play, or Misteri d''Elx (liturgical drama) dates back to the 13th-15th centuries. In 2001 it was designated as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The Assumption is celebrated.


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