Worms, stags, and other folk performances (Public talk, 21st April)


The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, by Diego Sideburns, reproduced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence. The Abbots Bromley horn dance in Staffordshire continues to this day. But what traditions like this were there in the North East, which have now been forgotten?

By Diego Sideburns, reproduced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence. The Abbots Bromley horn dance in Staffordshire continues to this day. What traditions like this once took place in the North East?

The North East is full of now-forgotten ceremonies and folk rituals. For instance, traditionally after Christmas young men from the region used to impersonate the plough oxen and collect money for drink, while Lord Neville of Raby claimed the right to kill a stag on the high altar of Durham Cathedral each year. Join Professor John McKinnell on Thursday 21st April at 14.00, in Durham Cathedral, Chapel of the Nine Altars, to find out more about these intriguing ceremonies.

Folk performances and ceremonies make up one of the most interesting categories of early dramatic activity, although the low social status and illiteracy of most of their performers means that they are rarely recorded; however, late medieval records from the North-East are particularly rich in references to them. Some reflect popular legends and beliefs about dangerous animals, while others, such as bringing in the plough on the day after Epiphany or the competitive May games, mark particular turning points of the year.

This talk will outline some of the evidence for popular ceremonies and entertainments in our region and make some suggestions of what they were really ‘about’.

This talk is attached to the exhibition Plays, Processions, and Parchment: Discovering Festive Traditions in the North East, which runs from 19th April to 22nd May in Durham Cathedral, Chapel of the Nine Altars.

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