IN Medieval times the religious Services of Christmas and Easter were supplemented with Latin playlets, performed by the clerics, to visually portray their beliefs and doctrines.
In turn, ordinary people, who did not understand Latin, also wished to express their faith.
They did so in their native tongue, English, and thus the
famous Mystery Play cycles of York, Cheshire, Coventry, etc were born. The individual plays within the cycle were undertaken by the Guilds of professional people in the city, demonstrating the relationship of God to mankind, the Creation to the Crucifixion.
The amateur productions, which were generally associated with the city's Corpus Christi procession, demanded intense commitment from all those involved and called for the highest dramatic and visual standards to ensure that the prestige of each guild and the city itself was upheld, in all its glory, to the attentive audiences.
The tradition is to be revived, leading up to Easter, at The Crescent Theatre, Brimingham, with the production of John Rowen's modern version of the Mystery Cycle — The Fall and Redemption of Man.
Noel Alexander, the director, has recreated the atmosphere of the Mystery Plays in more understandable English and has been as insistent as the Guilds of Medieval times on maintaining the high standards set in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
In travelling from the dawn of man to the death of Christ some fifty seven different characters are encountered, some familiar and some not so familiar, portrayed by a cast of twevle.
An unusual, theatrical and religious experience for Eastertime which can be seen from April 4 until April 18 at the Crescent Theatre, Cumberland Street, Birmingham, each evening at 7.30pm.
THERE has only ever been one woman who was admitted into the French Foreign Legion and she was an Englishwoman. Her name was Susan Travers. Athletic and adventurous, she was the daughter of a Royal Naval officer who had retired to live in France. In 1940 Susan joined the Legion and saw fearsome action at close range, chiefly driving cars and ambulances, at the famous North African engagement at Bir Hakeim in 1942.
It was a fierce battle in which the Free French and the Foreign Legion covered themselves with glory. No less formidable a story-teller than Tony (Who Dares Wins) Gerachty brings it into his gripping account of the Legion, March or Die (published by Grafton Books).
Susan Travers remained attached to the Legion as a driver for the rest of the war, seeing action in Italy, Southern France and on the FrancoGerman border. Her application for formal membership of the Legion did not come till the end of the war.
In making so notable an exception in her case, the high command slightly fudged the appointment on paper referring to their courageous new recruit as Monsieur Travers.
As such she became an Adjutant-Chef (Sergeant Major) and went with her regiment to Vietnam, finally marrying a Legion veteran and settling down with him to a quiet postwar life near Paris.
SOME weeks ago I wrote about the agonising slowness with which English Catholics, after Emancipation, were finally allowed to attend the Universities. Now an excellent History of the Cambridge Chaplaincy has been written by Peter Gregory-Jones.
Catholics have been banned from Oxford and Cambridge ever since the Reformation; but this ban had been lifted by the 1929 Emancipation Act.
The Universities themselves abolished all religious Tests in the 1870's. But the English bishops, backed by the Congregation for Propoganda in Rome, still disallowed Catholics to matriculate.
As Gregory-Jones puts it, "The pill which the Hierarchy made the laity swallow was a bitter one, and in the latter's eyes, illogical." It is thus that this interesting history runs only from 1895, when the Roman ban was lifted, and continues until 1965.
It was in that latter year that the famous and widely loved Mgr Alfred Gilbey finally retired as chaplain to the male undergraduates. The female undergraduates had had their own chaplaincy at Lady Margaret House in Newnham. But they were few in number, there being many more at Oxford where there was a mixed chaplaincy with a happy and healthy social life, many meetings ending in idyllic marriages.
When Fr Gilbey, as he then was, first became chaplain at Cambridge, he made a distinction, which some misunderstood, between women sutdents and male undergraduates.
This was, strictly speaking if very strangely, quite true. Since 1921 women attending Girton and Newnham had only been allowed "titular degrees." They did not achieve full undergraduate status until 1941. (Oxford was more enlightened.) The great Alfred Gilbey was chaplain from 1932 until 1965. He is still flourishing I am glad to say and I met him recently at his London club where he was about to say (Tridentine of course) Mass in his private chapel.
It was thanks almost entirely to the efforts of Mgr Gilby that the historic site of Chaplaincy, Fisher House, was saved from the bulldozers when the centre of Cambridge came to be transformed some twenty years ago.
Raised Tankards a
CHAUCER'S famous tale of a pilgrimage from London's "south works" — hence Southwark — to Canterbury will be 600 years old this month.
It is sad to see that British efforts to celebrate the anniversary have met with almost universal indifference at home. Americans, however, have been talking about if for months and were surprised to discover the absence of any British government-backed effort to mark the occasion.
Fortunately an enterprising Reader in early English at Birkbeck College, Paula Neuss, has spent almost a year trying to find sponsors to mount some appropriately commemorative event. Thanks to certain, mostly small, firms, something will now be done.
Two weeks after the actual anniversary, on May 2, the legendary Miller will tell his tale at the delectable Trafalgar Tavern hard by the Thames at Greenwich. This will be followed by a flurry of activity.
Eight costumed actors will speed by minibus to take in Rochester (Wife of Bath), Faversham (Pardoner), Kent University (Canon Yeoman) and finally St Augustine's Abbey on the next day (May 3) to hear the tale of the Prioress.
Strange, perhaps, that there have been no public gestures toward this literary colossus who established the Southern English dialect as the literary language of England.
The Miller's story is the bawdiest of the Canterbury Tales and-will no doubt have many a lusty tankard raised in praise at that excellent tavern by the river.
And congratulations to Ms Neuss for her initiative.
LAST week, at the beautiful London church of St Mary le Bow, there was an unusual service, the first of its kind in the Church of England.
Female ministers (deaconesses) joined with the priests in offering a joint service. Many were pleased to think that such services will now become more general. Others mind terribly.
Michael Novak, when writing an article for the American periodical Commonweal as long ago as 1976 (called "Dual-Sex Eucharist,") was surely right in forecasting a long period for public opinion to assimilate the idea of Mass being concelebrated by a man and a woman, despite the appealing symbolism of such a possibility.
What he actually wrote was: "For myself, I envisage a time, perhaps generations from now (for symbols sometimes come to express reality fully only in the slow ways of organic life), when the Eucharist will commonly be celebrated by two central figures, equal in symbolic power although different in their relation one to another, one vicar of Christ and the other representing the church, both together celebrating the oneness of Christ and his Church."