Monday, March 31, 2014

Another Library Cache

The good thing about researching a book about a local subject is that there are lots of books on the topic at the local library.  So many, in fact, that every is


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chester Mystery Plays

I devoted last weekend to a study of Chester's Mystery plays.  As usual, Chester library came up trumps and a helpful librarian carted (literally, in an old supermarket trolley) a heap of ancient books from the store.  They were reference only for the most part, but I found two books on the subject as well as a DVD of last year's cycle in the nave of the cathedral.  

The plays were originally carted around the city by guilds during Whit (and before that during Corpus Christi).  Each guild was allocated something appropriate.  The Flood was the responsibility of the water drawers, for instance (Chester was never big on wells), while the Murder of the Innocents was taken on by the guild of goldsmiths and mercers since they could afford to do a good line in velvets and green taffeta for King Herod.  The spectacle lasted three days, the people gathered on the rows to get a good view.  In 2013 they were condensed into a single evening.  

Since I was able to follow a version of the plays in print 

it was interesting to see what had been changed.  Many plays were missed out completely and each seemed to be considerably shortened, even so it seemed to me that the intent of the plays was preserved (a combination of didacticism and entertainment).  Setting the plays in the nave was inspired too - coloured lights picking out the ribs of the stone ceiling - and the whole thing set cunningly to music.

The parts I found most moving were the 'slaughter of the innocents' where the bundles the women are carrying are unfurled to reveal flags - an effective reminder of the slaughter of the innocents today, and the film footage which seemed to be a nod to the 'Simon the Leper' play.  In answer to a child asking 'How can we be sure?' we were presented with Christ in the the modern city.  While children sang, he blessed today's tramps who still sleep in doorways.
The plays were first performed in 1375, and the last full version was probably played in 1577.  They were falling out of favour then, associated rather too much with dangerous Catholicism perhaps.  In their place came games and the fairground, and in 1595 he first professional players arrived in Chester to perform a morality play.

The Mystery Plays were always amateur productions - and this must have been part of the charm.  In a city with a population of a few thousand, the audience probably knew or at least recognised the cast, and I looking at this DVD I too saw faces that I knew, and to one or two could even give a name.  Everyone who wanted to take part could take part - and the same holds true today.  

Friday, March 07, 2014

St Nicholas's Chapel.

Unwrap me
and strip away my modern stone facade.

Step back
and behold my outsize roof - a pennant of brick.

Walk through my tunnel of light
and you will see nothing of me.

I am not what I seem.
Not Tudor Gothic music hall

nor Theatre Royal.

That corn market phase 

blew away like chaff.

The Common Hall alteration turned out to be a temporary adventure.
I didn't want it.

No, what I was, what I am and what I always will be is this:  
place of song

and prayer for Simon de Albo.

A whiff of incense in my walls.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Best Note Pads for Hodmandods

Look what I was given today.  Not just snails on the outside...

but snails on the inside too!

Like a stick of rock or a tree trunk.  I'm going to enjoy scribbling all over these.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Portpool Way

In Medieval times

the Northgate from the city

was a larger affair - with towers, a debtor's prison and dungeons underground

from where convicted men (and women) were led over a bridge to the chapel over the ditch (then stinking with fishy entrails and meaty offal, and sighed

before being carted to the gibbet to the east.

The chapel of St John's was then a hospital

for  the 'Sillie' people - or perhaps the most wise -

with 13 beds reserved for the poor

and then a school for blue-coated boys (but never girls).

Out of the city then, into the suburb,  the abbott's parish

where the taverns and inns of Bag Lane (now Canal Street)

served smuggled fish, and easy-going girls

and PortPool Way

(now Garden Lane) led

inexorably down

past cottages

now student digs.

There is still a sense

of the open air

not just the canal

but the place where the river pooled and spread

and ships from Gascony, Spain and Germany

dispelled their wine, flax and iron

in exchange for salt and skins

where today there are sheds, onions, cabbages

and a different sort of haven.