Corpus Christi in Durham (Public talk, 5th May)


A depiction of a medieval Corpus Christi procession

Landshutt Corpus Christi Procession, by Maria Ursula Hittlinger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

On 26 May, Durham Cathedral will be celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. This annual feast, celebrating the ‘Body of Christ’ represented by the bread and wine of the sacrament of Communion, has been a highlight of the Christian calendar for nearly 700 years, but it was celebrated very differently in the medieval period. Dr Mark Chambers takes us back to a time of great ceremony and pomp. Join us on 5th May, 14.00, in Durham Cathedral, Chapel of the Nine Altars.

In the medieval period, Corpus Christi day would be celebrated with an elaborate procession by clergy and assembled dignitaries. It would also include Corpus Christi plays, specially put on by the city’s trade guilds and fraternities. The famous York Corpus Christi plays are part of this tradition. In Durham, the assembled procession would carry the spectacular shrine of Corpus Christi from its resting place in St. Nicholas’ church in the Market Place, up the hill to the Cathedral, where prayers would be said, hymns sung and a special service celebrated. On the same day, Durham’s dozen or so trade guilds would each be responsible for putting on their ‘Corpus Christi play’ – each play presumably enacting a scene from Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.

In his talk, Dr Chambers will discuss the Corpus Christi festival in Durham, tracing its history before the reformation and highlighting evidence for the Corpus Christi plays. He will also investigate theories as to what plays were played, by whom, and how.

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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