The Celebration of the Corpus Christi Festival in York

Beginnings: Pope Urban IV
Beginnings: York
Twelve Stations
Pageants in Corpus Christi Play
A Single Text
Moving Stages
Economy and Order
The Corpus Christi Guild
Resolving a Controversy
Corpus Christi Guild Play
Guild Dissolved
Craft Guilds Continue Pageants
Coming to an End

Robert Davies was the Town-clerk of York. In 1834 there was in inquiry into the Corporation of the City of York that required him to look at the very tall stacks of records from past centuries. And that turned him on. For the next nine years he worked on the municipal records of York.

In 1843 he published a book, Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York. The first 224 pages of the book are extracts from the records. The first section is extracts from the time of the reign of Edward IV, and the original records were in latin. The left page gives the latin, and the right page gives a translation. The next two sections are extracts from the time of the reigns of Edward V and Richard II. Their 14th century version of English is reproduced. The last section of the book is bits of historical narrative written by Davies. The longest of these is his description of the Corpus Christi celebration in York, which is 54 pages long.

This is the earliest account of the Corpus Christi pageants of York. Lyle Spencer (1911) wrote a more general account of the Corpus Christi pageants in England, but he drew most of his information about the celebrations in York from the Davies book. The Surtees Society published a collection of documents from the Guild at York. The preface by Robert Skaife (1872) provides some additional information about the Guild. Most of the book is devoted to the list of members, who numbered more than 16,000. However, other documents are included in the book. These include founding documents and documents from the dissolution giving descriptions of the property owned by the Guild in the middle of the 16th century. There is also a full description of the shrine of the Guild. Then in 1885 Lucy Toulmin Smith published a manuscript of the plays (York Plays) that originated between 1415 and 1430 (Smith, 1885). In 1979 a two volume collection of documents relevant to the Corpus Christi pageants and the few other religious pageants of the period was published (Johnston and Rogerson, 1979). They did a thorough search in the documents of all the relevant organizations to find references to the dramas. The documents they found are published in the two volumes.

Davies quoted liberally from the municipal records in writing his history of the pageants. The spelling is quite different, but if you "sound it out" it is almost all comprehensible. There are a few words that seem to no longer exist. It also makes checking spelling something of a problem. Not only is the spelling different from current spelling, they were also not very consistent with their spelling. There are probably more typographical errors in that text than I would like.

The original text was not divided into sections. I added the sections, which is the reason the section titles are enclosed in []. It makes it a bit easier to find what you want to look at in the text.


Davies, Robert (1843) Extracts From The Municipal Records of the City of York, B. Nichols and Son.

Johnston, Alexandra and Margaret Rogerson, ed. (1979) York, University of Toronto Press.

Skaife, Robert H. (1872) The Register of the Guild of Corpus Christi in the City of York, Surtees Society vol. LXII.

Smith, Lucy Toulmin, ed. (1885) York Plays; The Plays Performed by the Crafts or Mysteries of York on the day of Corpus Christi in the 14th, 15th, and 16 Centuries, Oxford.

Spencer, M. Lyle (1911) Corpus Christi Pageants in England, Baker & Taylor Company.