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Christ Carries the Cross, in a Cornish Passion Poem

Christ Carries the Cross, in a Cornish Passion Poem

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1450

Shelfmark: Harley MS 1782

Item number: f.14v

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.

Embellishments to the Passion story appear throughout the poem. For example, on this page, Jesus' coat which is stripped from him is a miraculous item which his mother had made for him in his infancy and which grew as he did. Another extra-scriptural story tells of the withering of the hands of the smith who made the nails for his Crucifixion. In the lower margin, Christ is shown carrying the cross. All the illustrations are based on conventional pictures and are not original inventions showing, for example, the smith and his wicked wife.

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