RILL HARPE'S choreographed Mass which is
to be staged at the opening of Liverpool Cathedral next year is a welcome revival of a type of religious drama which was a feature of life in Europe for hundreds of years.
But we haven't seen any Miracle Plays (or Mystery Plays as they were sometimes called) for some centuries. These dramatisations of Biblical stories and the lives of the saints are known to have existed as early as the 4th century, but they reached their peak in popularity in the 12th and 13th centuries. Although never part of the liturgy. they were often incorporated into it for those who did not understand Latin.
The actors also toured the streets. performing to bystanders. Corpus Christi became throughout Christendom a great occasion for the Miracle Plays and at Chester, for example. 24 plays were per
formed in one day on wheeled stages, moved. play by play, to different streets.
Often the trade guilds were responsible for staging the plays, and each guild performed a subject appropriate to the trade of its members. The Shipwrights, for instance, performed the play of the building of the ark. The Mariners did one about the voyage of the ark while the Vintners were responsible for the Wedding Feast at Cana where Our Lord turned water into wine.
Although the Miracle Plays have now more or less disappeared. one or two still survive. The Oberammergau Passion Play is one, and the Pastorales of the Basques are another.
This little poem by Barnahe Googe (1540-15941 gives a most attractive description of the kind of singing, dancing and acting Ns hich went on in one parish at Christmas in those days.
"Three Masses every priest Huth sing upon that solenme day. With oflerings unto evert. one, that so the more may play. This done a wodden chalk in clewtes is on the altar set. About the which both bows and eyries do duanre and And fi in prayse o/ Christ, and. for to help them the organs answer every verse with :twee and solernne
Tceheh priests do core aloud: and round about their parents stand
To see the sport, and with their voyce do help them and their handy."