13. The Purification of Mary


1 Here begins the purification of Mary

2 Then [bells] shall ring

3 The angels sing “Simeon, just and devout” (see note)


ABBREVIATIONS: Chester: The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. Lumiansky and Mills (1974); CT: The Canterbury Tales, ed. Benson (1987); DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language; Elliott: The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. Elliott; EP: The Towneley plays, ed. England and Pollard (1897); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (“the Towneley manuscript”); N-Town: The N-Town Plays, ed. Sugano (2007); OED: Oxford English Dictionary; REED: Records of Early English Drama; SC: The Towneley Plays, eds. Stevens and Cawley (1994); s.d.: stage direction; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

The Purification of Mary and Presentation in the Temple are celebrated at the Feast of Candlemas on 2 February, which follows both Epiphany (6 January) and the Feast of the Holy Innocents (28 December) in the liturgical calendar. This may explain the placement of this play here as in Chester (where it is paired with the episode of Christ and the Doctors, as it is in the Coventry Weavers’ play as well). Chronologically, however, the play belongs earlier: as stated in lines 115–120, based both on Luke 2:21–39 (where it immediately follows the visit of the shepherds) and the law as laid out in Leviticus 12, the visit to the Temple occurs forty days after the birth, and thus prior to any sojourn in Egypt. The play is incomplete, due to the loss of two leaves (the bifolium at the center of the K-signature gathering) which also contained the beginning of the play of the Doctors. As it stands, the play of the Doctors likely lacks the equivalent of at least one full page of text (roughly 50 lines; see the headnote to play 14 below), which means that up to three full pages (and approximately 150 lines) may have been lost from the Purification play, almost certainly including an appearance by the prophetess Anna (see Luke 2:36–38, as well as other dramatic versions of the episode), along with the Purification ceremony itself, and the presentation of the infant to Simeon, who utters the well-known Nunc dimittis (“Now dismiss . . . ”; see Luke 2:29–32 and the note to 22.57–60) — a liturgically familiar Latin canticle that is clearly sung in at least two versions of the episode (see the stage directions following Chester 11.166 and N-Town 19.146; the Coventry version is missing a leaf at this point). The opening speech by Simeon and the final extant stanza, spoken by Angel 1 are written in 8-line, tail-rhymed stanzas, while the intervening dialogue (lines 73–132) is written in a similar 6-line stanza form.

6 on held. The phrase literally means “downhill” or “on an incline” (see MED helde (n.1)); compare helden (v.), senses 2–3). Simeon, like virtually all old men in medieval English drama, complains at length of his infirmity.

8 Lord Adonay. See 4.1 and note.

13–14 Abell, Noye, and Abraham, / David, Daniell, and Balaam. Simeon’s brief list of “old elders” (line 10) includes five figures who are physically represented in this collection (Abel, Noah, and Abraham in their respective plays, and both David and Daniel in 7.a), along with the prophet Balaam (see 10.205 and note) who appears as a character only in the Chester plays (see Chester 5).

18 Of all thy sond thou has me sent. That is, for everything you have sent to me; see also line 66. The word sond can mean either the action of sending or, as here, what is sent, specifically by God’s dispensation; see MED sonde (n.), senses 1a and b.

34 Myn and is short; I want wynd. Both nouns here mean “breath,” but in slightly different senses, the first referring to breathing, the second more to the air breathed in; see MED onde (n.2) and wind (n.).

87 When that he seys tyme. That is, when God says that Simeon’s time has come to die.

90 And no longer hyne. That is, not after that time. Simeon rejoices that he will live to see Christ, as requested, but can then die in peace.

102 That was slayn thrugh syn. That is, all humankind, who were condemned to die through Adam’s sin.

106–08 Now certys . . . . all shall wyse. That is, I cannot understand why the bells are ringing, unless almighty God, who shall guide us all, has come (as the infant Christ). The ringing of the bells here is miraculous — see line 114.

125 Thise turtyls two to oure offryng. For those who cannot afford to bring a lamb, this is the minimal offering required by Levitical law prior to the purification ceremony of a woman, forty days after giving birth to a male child; see Luke 2:24 and Leviticus 12:8.

127–29 Joseph . . . . fulfyllyd in me. Joseph, I wish full well to do this, so that I fulfill every part of the law. In Christian tradition, Jesus and his parents are often anachronistically treated as Christians rather than as observant Jews; however, Christ is said to be the fulfillment of the law (see Matthew 5:17–18, Romans 10:4), so Jewish law must nonetheless be properly observed in relation to him.

132, s.d. Angeli cantant "Simeon iustus et timoratus." The antiphon that begins “Simeon, just and devout” (based on Luke 2:25 and echoed in line 133) is sung at Lauds on the Feast of the Purification.


ABBREVIATIONS: EP: The Towneley Plays, ed. England and Pollard (EETS, 1897); Facs: The Towneley Cycle: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 1, ed. Cawley and Stevens; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MS: Huntington MS HM 1 (base text); SC: The Towneley Plays, ed. Stevens and Cawley (EETS, 1994); s.d.: stage direction; Surtees: The Towneley Mysteries, ed. Raine; York: The York Corpus Christi Plays, ed. Davidson (2011).

37 That shortly mon. So SC. EP: Bot shortly mon. MS: That is written in a different hand over an erasure; mon is in another hand over another word, crossed out and now illegible.

41 I may wyrk. MS: another hand has written haue he in the top margin above this.

59–72 In a madyn . . . . with myn ee. MS: no Maters ben as sade — that is, no matters are as said — has been scrawled upwards in the margin beside these lines, in another hand. SC suggest that these words “may voice a Protestant objection” (p. 532n59–72) to the content here, yet that content has at least as firm a biblical basis as virtually anything in these plays. Nor is it likely that the marginalia refers to later textual revision (as is the case at several points in the York manuscript, where the city clerk has noted deviations from the official script with marginalia such as “this matter is newly mayde”; see for example Davidson’s headnotes to York 12 and 18), although it might conceivably refer to a difference between the text and a remembered text or performance. It is worth noting that the lines that follow, through to the final extant stanza of the play, are written in a different stanza form — a likely sign of revision of the original text prior to the compilation of this manuscript.

77 dede. MS: final e smudged and unclear.

110 and I have. MS: I inserted above the line.

117 Delyverd. SC: Delyuerd. EP: Delyuer. MS: Delyu with an ambiguous flourish.

125 turtyls. MS: the misspelling tutyls is crossed out before this word.

132 to thee. The word to is written in darker ink by a different hand above an ink blot.

132, s.d. Angeli cantant "Simeon iustus et timoratus." MS: the stage direction is worn and faint but still legible (contrary to EP).

140 thou wold. MS: all but the first and final two letters are badly worn.

141 Thou has desyryd it most of all. MS: this is the final line on a full page of writing; as explained in the headnote to the play in the Explanatory Notes, the next two leaves, which included the ending of this play and the beginning of the next, are missing.

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13. The Purification of Mary

from: The Towneley Plays  2017

[fol. 60v]










[fol. 61r]












[fol. 61v]














Angel 1
Angel 2

Incipit purificacio Marie. 1

Mightfull God, thou us glad,
That heven and erthe and all has mayde;
Bryng us to blys that never shall fade,
As thou well may,
And thynk on me that is unweld.
Lo, so I hobyll all on held
That unethes may I walk for eld;
Now help, Lord Adonay.

Bot yit I mervell, both evyn and morne,
Of old elders that were beforne,
Wheder thay be safe or lorne
Where thay may be:
Abell, Noye, and Abraham,
David, Daniell, and Balaam,
And all othere mo by name
Of sere degré.

I thank thee, lord, with good intent
Of all thy sond thou has me sent,
That thus long tyme my lyfe has lent,
Now many a yere;
For all ar past now, oonly bot I.
I thank thee, Lord God almyghty,
For so old know I none, sothly,
Now lyfyng here.

For I am old Symeon:
So old on lyfe know I none
That is mayde on flesh and bone
In all medyll erd.
No wonder if I go on held:
The fevyrs, the flyx make me unweld;
Myn armes, my lymmes ar stark for eld,
And all gray is my berd.

Myn ees ar woren, both marke and blynd.
Myn and is short; I want wynd.
Thus has age dystroed my kynd
And reft myghtys all.
That shortly mon I weynd away;
What tyme ne when I can not say,
For it is gone full many a day
Syn dede began to call.

Ther is no warke that I may wyrk,
Bot oneths crall I to the kyrk;
Be I com home, I am so irk
That farther may I noght,
Bot settys me downe and grankys and gronys
And lygys and restys my wery bonys,
And all nyght after grankys and goonys,
On slepe tyll I be broght.

Bot nevertheles, the sothe to say,
If I may nather by nyght ne day
For age nather styr ne play,
Nor make no chere,
Yit if I be never so old,
I myn full well that prophetys told,
That now ar dede and layde full cold,
Sythen gone many a yere.

Thay sayde that God, full of myght,
Shuld send his Son from heven bright
In a madyn for to light,
Commen of David kyn,
Flesh and bloode on hyr to take
And becom man for oure sake,
Oure redempcyon for to make,
That slayn were thrugh syn.

Bot Lord that us thy grace has hight,
Send me thy sond both day and nyght,
And graunt me grace of lyfys light,
And let me never de
To thou sich grace to me send
That I may handyll hym in my hend
That shall com oure mys to amend,
And se hym with myn ee.

Thou, Symeon, drede thee noght.
My Lord that thou has long besoght,
For thou has rightwys beyn,
Thyn askyng has he grauntyd thee,
Withouten dede on lyfe to be
To thou thy Cryst have seyn.

Than, Symeon, harkyn a space;
I bryng thee tythyngys of solace.
Forthy ryse up and gang
To the temple; thou shall fynd thore
Godys Son thee before
That thou has yernyd lang.

Lovyd be my Lord in wyll and thoght
That his servant forgettys noght,
When that he seys tyme.
Well is me that I shall dre
Tyll I have sene hym with myn ee
And no longer hyne.

Lovyd be my Lord in heven
That thus has by his angell steven
Warnyd me of his commyng.
Therfor will I with intent
Putt on me my vestment,
In worship of that kyng.

He shal be welcom unto me.
That Lord shall make us all fre,
Kyng of all mankyn,
For with his blood he shall us boroo,
Both fro catyfdam and from soroo,
That was slayn thrugh syn.

Tunc pulsabunt. 2

A, dere God, what may this be?
Oure bellys ryng so solemply
For whomsoever it is.
Now certys, I can not understand
Bot if my Lord God all-weldand
Be commen, that all shall wyse.

This noyse lyghtyns full well myn hart.
Shall I never rest, and I have quart,
Or I com ther onone.
Now well were I and it so were,
For sich noyse hard I never ere.
Oure bellys ryng by thare oone!

Mary, it begynnys to pas
Fourty dayes syn that thou was
Delyverd of thy son;
To the temple I red we draw
To clens thee and fulfyll the law,
As oure elders were won.

Therfor, Mary, madyn heynd,
Take thi chyld and let us weynd
The tempyll untyll,
And we shall with us bryng
Thise turtyls two to oure offryng;
The law we will fulfyll.

Joseph, that wyll I full well,
That the law every deyll
Be fulfyllyd in me.
Lord, that all myghtys may,
Gyf us grace to do this day
That it be pleassyng to thee.

Angeli cantant “Simeon iustus et timoratus.” 3

Thou, Symeon, rightwys and trew,
Thou has desyred both old and new
To have a sight of Cryst Jesu
As prophecy has told.
Oft has thou prayd to have a sight
Of hym that in a madyn light.
Here is that chyld of mekyll myght;
Now has thou that thou wold.

Thou has desyryd it most of all


make glad

hobble; bent over; (see note)
hardly; age
(see note)

(see note)


gifts; (see note)



bent over
fevers; dysentery; feeble
limbs; stiff

eyes; worn; dim
breath; lack breath; (see note)
destroyed; nature
must; (t-note)

Since death

work; do; (t-note)
crawl with difficulty; church
That I may not go further
groan; groan

neither; nor

remember; that which




Until; such



Therefore; go

long yearned for


(see note)

hereafter; (see note)

angel’s voice

captivity; sorrow
(see note)


(see note)
Unless; almighty

sound cheers
health; (t-note)

heard; before
on their own

say; go

accustomed to do


turtledoves; (see note); (t-note)

(see note)
every part

is almighty


(see note); (t-note)


much power
desired; (t-note)



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