Worship and theatre

ND de Paris 1

για Ελληνικά κάνετε κλικ εδώ

The unity of the Christian world

Summarizing the spirit and tendencies of the Middle Ages, which we have been examining during the past few months, we can ascertain that they are totally linked to the conditions of the social life of the times and they evolve simultaneously. Society’s frame of reference is the Church and faith and her teaching inspired the faithful whose life follows the rhythm of her practice and her feasts.

Knowledge is, at first, concentrated to the men of the Church, the clerics, and to whom they educate. The monasteries, with lots of monks and a robust economy, guard the precious manuscripts handed down from antiquity and are the centres of the intellectual life and civilization.

The secular world consists of the nobles and the non-nobles. The nobles live in their castles, surrounded by their vassals, fight for or against their neighbours or the king, and during periods of peace encourage the Fine Arts.

Amid the nobles a select body stands apart, an order: the knights.

Knighthood had a religious character and its members were committed by oath. Their duty was to serve a high ideal!

The non-nobles are the inhabitants of the cities (bourgeois), the traders and the artisans. In the countryside there are the peasants. Their humble life full of labour gets animated and made joyful by the religious feasts, the pilgrimages and the dramatic representations.

These centuries of faith organize, for the man created in “God’s image”, the Christian world and establish a civilization whose best expression remains the Cathedrals.

Whatever useful was there for man to know, the world’s history since its creation, the dogmas of religion, the examples of the saints, the hierarchy of virtues, the variety of science, art and professions, were taught to him through the stained glass windows of the church and through the statues at the entrance.

The simple folk, the uneducated, all these whom they called “God’s holy people”, were learning through their eyes almost all they knew concerning their faith.

Medieval KnightLike in Ancient Greece, so during the Middle Ages, the theatre was born from the religious worship. Initially from the dialogues from scenes of the Gospel at the services within the Cathedral, during the great feasts (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter).

Then the liturgical drama is formed; it gets out from the interior space of the church at its entrance, at the square, and is played by lay actors.

Two types of religious theatre is developed: the miracles and the mysteries. The “Miracles” put on stage episodes from the life of the saints and the Virgin Mary. The “Mysteries” get their thematology from the Ancient Testament, the Gospels and the acts of the Apostles. They, mainly, are inspired by the Gospel narratives of the Passion of the Lord.

The performances take place on the occasion of religious feasts or in honour of an important visitor. The group consists of amateurs, the “colleagues”, who come from all the social classes (artisans, students, clerics, citizens, nobles). They play in attire of their own times and they put up on stage, one next to the other, all the props for the different acts. The simplest arrangement is  the following: At one end Paradise, in the middle the Earth and at the other end Hell, symbolized by a dragon with a gaping mouth. The actors move successively from one prop to the next.

The performances last three or four days, often even longer. In our days this tradition continues with the annual representations of the passion of Christ in many places, as in Oberammergau in Bavaria, in Nancy (France), in the Philippines and many more places. Even in our Paphos parish we revived this custom since 2014.

The Modern European Theatre has its roots in the Medieval “Mysteries”.

Did you know…

The word drama comes from the Greek verb δρω / dro (=to be active, to get activated).  From the Indo-European root dra– (=to work), Lithuanian darau (=to do, to act), Sanskrit  dhàrma (=law, order).

Contrary to its Greek synonym πράττω / pratto (=to do), the verb dro expresses the idea of a service rendered as well as the responsibility that this entails.

In Ancient Greece τα δρώμενα / ta dromena initially meant a dramatised sacred show, a religious ceremony; it later meant a theatrical performance or other public show.

The word drama in its negative connotation of a sad event is due to the ancient tragedies.

In the Middle Ages the liturgical drama has a teaching and catechetical character, i.e. it is closer to the original meaning of the word, for a responsible service rendered to the people of God.

for Greek click here





3 thoughts on “Worship and theatre

  1. Hello. I like the words you use in the opening paragraph ‘Society’s frame of reference is the church ….’ It got my attention straight away because it got me considering what my frame of reference is in my day to day life.

    Liked by 1 person

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