The collapse of the Roman Empire left a void of performance in Europe. Western Theater owes its rebirth to the rebirth of Christ: the first recorded theatrical ritual of the early Medieval age is an Easter Feast celebration.

One of the most important documents of the English Benedictine Reform was the Regularis Concordia, sanctioned by the Council of Winchester in 973. A synod had been called by Archbishop Æthelwold of Winchester to construct a common rule of life to be observed at all monasteries.

The portions of the manuscript for the Regularis Concordia dedicated to the rites of Holy Week and Easter are the most comprehensive and detailed. It describes alternating song to performed as the Church’s liturgy shades into re-enactment of the resurrection of Christ at the monastic hour of Nocturns on Easter Day. The Concordia explains the importance of ritual as a visual aid for those unable to understand or read Latin.

The Concordia says a Cross should placed somewhere suitable before the performance begins. At Nocturns, an abbot began a series of readings, psalms, and antiphons by first saying “O Lord, open our lips.” What follows is the oldest documented theatrical ritual of the early Medieval ages:

“When the third reading is being read, let four brothers clothe themselves, one of whom, clothed in white and as if about to do something else, should go in and secretly be at the burial place, with his hand holding a palm, and let him sit quietly. And while the third responsory is being sung, let the remaining three follow: all clothed with cloaks, carrying censers with incense in their hands, and with footsteps in the likeness of someone seeking something, let them come before the burial place. And let these things be done in imitation of the angel sitting on the tomb and of the women coming with spices, so that they might anoint the body of Jesus.

And when the one remaining has seen the three, wandering and seeking something, approach him, let him begin, with a moderate voice, to sing sweetly: ‘Whom are you seeking?’ When this has been sung to the end, let the three respond with one voice: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. To whom he should say: ‘He is not here. He has risen, as he said before. Go, announce it, because he has risen from the dead.’ With this command, let those three turn around to the choir, saying, “Alleluia, the Lord has risen.’ When this has been said, let the one sitting turned back, as if calling them back, say this antiphon: ‘Come and see the place’.

Saying these things, let him rise and lift up the veil and show them the place devoid of the cross, but with the linens placed there which with the cross had been wrapped. When they have seen this, let them set down the censers which they were carrying in the same tomb, and let them take the linen and spread it out in front of the clergy, and, as if showing that the Lord has risen and is not wrapped in it, let them sing this antiphon, ‘The Lord has risen from the tomb’, and let them lay the linen upon the altar.”

Photo credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
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