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Arrest of Christ, in a Cornish Passion Poem

Arrest of Christ, in a Cornish Passion Poem

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1450

Shelfmark: Harley MS 1782

Item number: f.6v

Length: 17.1

Width: 12

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Thought to have been found in Sancreed church, this manuscript contains a Passion poem in Middle Cornish. The people of medieval Cornwall loved Passion plays, and there can be no doubt that the words of this poem were enacted and recited many times over the years. Its verses are marked for reading aloud using square brackets at the ends of lines to indicate the parts of the characters. The lower margins of eleven of its pages bear illustrations of the action or themes of the play. The coloured drawings represent a version of 15th-century manuscript decoration as produced outside major centres such as London and Oxford. The play is a valuable document of the variety of language, culture and religion in late medieval Britain.

The Passion story is told with sections of narration interspersed with dialogue. There would have been a narrator or possibly a chorus to recite the moralising verses and sections carrying the plot forward, with actors to play the parts of the dialogue. The story of Judas' kiss and the arrest of Jesus fills out the dialogue as presented in the Gospels. In the lower margin, Judas embraces Christ (identifiable by his halo with a cross in it) while men in medieval armour grasp him.

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