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Play 12, The Annunciation to Mary and the Visitation


1 God the Father will grant salvation in the midst of the earth, etc.

2 Because in thy seed shall all the nations be blessed, etc.

3 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, etc.

4 Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, etc.

5 I will be as the dew, Israel shall spring as the lily

6 Lines 119–20: The scepter shall not be taken away from Judah / till he come that is to be sent.

7 Lines 134–35: Behold I send my angel before thy face, / who shall prepare the way before thee.

8 Lines 140–41: I indeed baptize you in water, but you will be / baptized in the Holy Spirit.


ABBREVIATIONS: AV: Authorized (“King James”) Version; Meditations: Meditations on the Life of Christ, trans. Ragusa and Green; MED: Middle English Dictionary; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; RB: Richard Beadle, ed., York Plays; REED: Records of Early English Drama; YA: Davidson and O’Connor, York Art; York Breviary: Breviarium ad usum insignis ecclesie Eboracensis; York Missal: Missale ad usum insignis ecclesiae Eboracensis.

References to the Ordo paginarum are to REED: York, 1:16–27.

The long opening monologue in twelve-line stanzas with interpolated Latin quotations by the Doctor serves the purpose of introducing the prophecies of the Incarnation from the Old Testament and is related to the Ordo Prophetarum in the liturgical drama. The quotations from the Vulgate in Latin that are included in the text are brief and are glossed in English. John Clerke’s notation on the first page that “this matter is newly mayde wherof we have no coppy” perhaps refers to revisions in the Doctor’s speech that were never entered in the Register. However, since no reference to the Doctor appeared in the Ordo paginarum, this speech hence would appear to have been added after 1415. The body of the play treats the Annunciation and the visit to Elizabeth in two scenes, written in eight-line stanzas, with a variant form chosen for the conclusion of the Visitation. These events form the Gospel readings for Wednesday and Friday of the third week in Advent. The pageant was sponsored by the Spicers, a mercantile guild, at one time joined by the metal-working craft of Founders.

15 prophet Amos. The quotation at line 17 has not been identified.

25 foule fende begyled. The Incarnation was designed to beguile the beguiler Satan and hence to trick him, thus depriving him of his right to possess all the descendants of Adam. See especially the Temptation pageant and explanatory notes in this edition, and additionally, for background though with qualifications, see Marx, Devil’s Rights, pp. 114–25.

26–27 fedd / Be tyne. Satan’s anger blinds him to the truth, and will continue to do so in the New Testament plays in which he appears.

34 Quoniam in semine . . . etc. Genesis 22:18.

43 Rorate celi desuper. The incipit of an Advent introit, from Isaiah 45:8: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let the earth be opened, and bud forth a savior.” See the York Breviary, 1:47, though it is hard to imagine that this Latin extra-metrical quote and those that follow were sung. The dew was held to represent the Holy Spirit (lines 51–52); compare the famous fifteenth-century lyric “I syng of a myden that is makeles”:
He cam also stylle ther his moder was
As dew in Aprylle, that fallyt on the gras.
          (Brown, ed., Religious Lyrics, p. 119)
59 Propter hoc . . . etc. Isaias 7:14.

64 Ecce virgo concipiett . . . etc. Isaias 7:14; compare Liber usualis, p. 356.

71–72 On David sege. As a descendent of King David, he will sit on his throne as a Great High Priest who delivers judgment and separates truth from falsehood.

73 Zelus domini faciet hoc. Isaias 9:7.

75–77 Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who brings reconciliation.

80–89 Egredietur virga de Jesse . . . bees borne. Isaias 11:1. This prophecy is the inspiration for the Jesse tree, which appears frequently in iconography, including very damaged examples in the York parish churches of St. Denys and St. Michael Spurriergate. An early fourteenth-century example in the Minster has a restored Jesse at the bottom, from whose body a vine grows; this vine is the genealogical tree illustrating Christ’s lineage. In the center at the top are the Virgin and Jesus, the latter conventionally represented as a Child within the flower (YA, p. 33, and Inventory of the Historical Monuments, vol. 5, pls. 52–53 and 62).

94 Ero quasi ros . . . lilium. Osee 14:6. The attribution to Joel in line 90 is incorrect.

97 lelly floure. The lily, separating Gabriel and the Virgin at the Annunciation, is part of the standard iconography, which appears, for example, in York parish churches and in the Bolton Hours (see YA, p. 44, fig. 9). An example in York Minster glass places a crucifix on the lily, which makes the connection between the Incarnation and the sacrifice on the cross, both of which were believed to have taken place on the same day, March 25 (YA, pp. 39–40).

99 hegh Haly Gaste. In iconography the dove of the Holy Spirit often accompanies rays of light extending between heaven and the Virgin Mary, but the rather heterodox representation of Jesus’ soul as a small nude child also with a cross descending appears in the Biblia Pauperum (p. 48) and in the miniature cited above in the Bolton Hours, a work associated with the rich Blackburn and Bolton merchant families at York. See lines 190–93.

104 hir clene liffe. Mary is a perpetual virgin, both before and after the birth of her Son; see, for example, the antiphon Alma redemptoris mater: “You who . . . who gave birth to your own sacred Creator and yet remained a virgin afterward as before” (trans. A. Davidson, Substance and Manner, pp. 21–22; and see also Raby, History of Christian-Latin Poetry, p. 226). Alma redemptoris mater is the little clergeon’s song sung in Chaucer’s Prioress’ Tale (Canterbury Tales VII[B2]518ff). Mary is the porta clausa of Ezekiel 44:2, widely accepted as prophetic by medieval theologians, including St. Thomas Aquinas (see Gibson, “Porta haec clausa erit,” pp. 143–50).

114 Godhed, maydenhed, and manne. Asserting Mary’s role as the Mother of God (Theotokos), as affirmed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 C.E. See especially the discussion of the Virgin Mary by Gibson and her illustration of a devotional image of Mary that, opened, contains a Trinity with Jesus on the cross in her womb (Theater of Devotion, pp. 137–76; esp. p. 145, fig. 6.2).

119–20 Non auferetur . . . est. Genesis 49:10a. An introit or responsory.

125 Et ipse erit expectacio gencium. Genesis 19:10b.

134–35 Ecce mitto angelum . . . ante te. Mark 1:2.

140–41 Ego quidem baptizo . . . spiritu sancto. Matthew 3:11. Responsory verse.

157 s.d. Tunc cantat angelus. Late stage direction by John Clerke, referring to the Ave Maria (Luke 1:28); the English paraphrase beginning in line 158 may not have been sung in earlier years. The Latin chant may have been added at some point, possibly as a replacement for the English text.

158 Hayle. On the gestures involved in this scene, see Palmer, “Gestures of Greeting,” esp. pp. 130–34.

165 s.d. Tunc cantat angelus, Ne timeas, Maria. See Luke 1:30. The English paraphrase follows. If the Latin chant was used, possibly here only a short segment would have been adopted, with the angel then speaking the remainder of the item in English.

172 bodword. The message that Gabriel brings concerns the gift of God’s grace extended to Mary in her pregnancy with the Son of God. The Annunciation will be the first of the Five Joys of the Virgin.

190 The Holy Gast in thee sall lighte. Based on Luke 1:35. The moment of conception, promised above, seems to have followed at the end of this speech. The event is conventionally depicted by means of rays extending down from heaven, where the Father is positioned. In some cases pyrotechnics were used, as in the famous Florentine Annunciation of 1439 in which “a fire comes from God and with a noise of uninterrupted thunder passes down the three ropes towards the middle of the scaffold . . . rising up again in flames and rebounding down once more, so that the whole church was filled with sparks” (Meredith and Tailby, Staging, p. 245). A stage direction in the N-Town collection specifies that “the Holy Gost discendit with three bemys to oure Lady, the Sone of the Godhed nest with three bemys to the Holy Gost, the Fadyr godly with three bemys to the Sone. And so entre all three to here bosom” (ed. Spector, Play 11, line 292 s.d.). The Conception was considered a most significant event for all of history, for this was the time when the Incarnation was effected (see C. Davidson, From Creation to Doom, p. 68).

198–205 Thou aungell, blissid messanger / Of Goddis will I holde me payde . . . saide. In this speech Mary accepts the gift of the Son. The Conception has occurred.

206 The beginning of the Visitation portion of the pageant in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist. This scene also was popular in the visual arts as a devotional image — e.g., a fine sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Cheetham, English Medieval Alabasters, p. 176, no. 103) — though there is little extant evidence for York (YA, pp. 43 and 45).

218–21 Blissid be thou anely . . . nere. Derived from the Ave Maria.

253 s.d. Tunc cantat Magnificat. The pageant ended with the singing of the Magnificat, or much more likely a portion of it; see Luke 1:40–55: “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” etc. Technically Mary should be the singer; the actor was most likely a boy soprano.


ABBREVIATIONS: Bevington: David Bevington, ed., Medieval Drama (1975); Köbling: E. Köbling, “Beiträge zur Erklärung und Textkritik der York Plays”; LTS: Lucy Toulmin Smith, ed., The York Plays (1885); RB: Richard Beadle, ed., The York Plays (1972) (incorporating numerous emendations from other sources); RB2: Richard Beadle, “Corrections to The York Plays,” in Gerald Byron Kinneavy, A Concordance to the York Plays (1986), pp. xxxi–xxxii; s.d.: stage direction; Sykes: A. C. Cawley, ed., “The Sykes MS of the York Scriveners’ Play”; Towneley: Martin Stevens and A. C. Cawley, eds., The Towneley Plays.

The base text for this edition is London, British Library, MS. Add. 35290, called the “Register” in the York civic records and here identified by the abbreviation Reg. Some variations in lineation from the manuscript are not noted here; see RB and Beadle and Meredith’s The York Play: A Facsimile. In most cases the line numbering in the present text is consistent with RB. Lineation of alliterative verse throughout is based on Reg, with line numbering adjusted accordingly to account for half lines. Scribes are identified as follows: Scribe A; Scribe B: main scribe; JC: John Clerke; LH: later scribal hand (unidentified).

1 DOCTOUR. Speech tag in right margin by JC, who also noted: this matter is / newly mayde wherof / we have no coppy.
Lord. Large capital L sketched in by scribe.

7 sor. So LTS, RB; Reg: for.

17 disposuit. So LTS, RB; Reg: dispsuit.

34 Quoniam. So LTS, RB; Reg: Qnia.

39–40 Line break in Reg after ordande.

40 Isay. So RB; Reg, LTS: I say.
unto. Reg: syllable un interlined by LH.

78 meves me. So RB; Reg: me meves; LTS: me meves he.

88 Jesus. In Reg, abbreviated Jhc, then altered to Jhs.

94 Ero. So LTS, RB; Reg: Ego.

120 donec. So RB; Reg omit.

143 myghtis. So RB; Reg, LTS: myghtist.

154 How. So RB; Reg, TLS: To.

157, s.d. Tunc cantat angelus. Reg: entered in right margin by JC.

166, s.d. Tunc cantat angelus, Ne timeas, Maria. Reg: added by JC, in right margin.

169 Erasure removing all between over and othir in Reg.

181 Reg: line entered at right by LH.

229 unto. So LTS, RB, after interlined emendation by JC; originally alway to (alway deleted).

231 grace. So LTS, RB; Reg: grrace.

253 s.d. Tunc cantat. Reg: added by JC; Magnificat in red, by Scribe B.

The Spicers



















































DOCTOUR   Lord God, grete mervell es to mene
Howe man was made withouten mysse
And sette whare he sulde ever have bene
Withouten bale, bidand in blisse,
And howe he lost that comforth clene
And was putte oute fro paradys,
And sithen what sorouse sor warr sene
Sente unto hym and to al his;
And howe they lay lange space
In helle, lokyn fro lyght,
Tille God graunted tham grace
Of helpe, als he hadde hyght.

Than is it nedfull for to neven
How prophettis all Goddis counsailes kende,
Als prophet Amos in his steven
Lered whils he in his liffe gun lende:
Deus pater disposuit salutem fieri in medio terre, etc.1
He sais thus, God the Fadir in heven
Ordand in erthe mankynde to mende,
And to grayth it with Godhede even,
His Sone he saide that he suld sende
To take kynde of mankyn
In a mayden full mylde.
So was many saved of syn
And the foule fende begyled.

And for the feende sulde so be fedd
Be tyne, and to no treuth take tentt,
God made that mayden to be wedded
Or he his Sone unto hir sentte.
So was the Godhede closed and cledde
In wede of weddyng whare thy wente,
And that oure blisse sulde so be bredde
Ful many materes may be mente:
Quoniam in semine tuo benedicentur omnes gentes, etc.2
God hymself sayde this thynge
To Abraham als hym liste:
Of thy sede sall uppe sprynge
Wharein folke sall be bliste.

To prove thes prophetts ordande er,
Als Isay, unto olde and yenge,
He moved oure myscheves for to merr,
For thus he prayed God for this thynge,
Rorate celi desuper,
Lord, late thou doune at thy likyng
The dewe to fall fro heven so ferre,
For than the erthe sall sprede and sprynge
A seede that us sall save,
That nowe in blisse are bente.
Of clerkis whoso will crave,
Thus may ther gatis be mente.

The dewe to the gode Haly Gaste
May be remened in mannes mynde,
The erthe unto the mayden chaste,
Bycause sho comes of erthely kynde.
Thir wise wordis ware noght wroght in waste
To waffe and wende away als wynde,
For this same prophett sone in haste
Saide forthermore, als folkes may fynde,
Propter hoc dabit dominus ipse vobis signum, etc.3
Loo, he sais thus, God sall gyffe
Hereof a syngne to see
Tille all that lely lyffe
And this thare sygne sal be,
Ecce virgo concipiett, and pariet filium, etc.4

Loo, he sais a mayden mon
Here on this molde mankynde omell,
Ful clere consayve and bere a Sonne
And neven his name Emanuell.
His kyngdom that evere is begonne,
Sall never sese, but dure and dwell.
On David sege thore sall he wonne,
His domes to deme and trueth to telle:
Zelus domini faciet hoc, etc.
He says, luffe of oure Lorde,
All this sall ordan thanne
That mennes pees and accorde
To make with erthely manne.

More of this maiden meves me.
This prophett sais for oure socoure,
Egredietur virga de Jesse,
A wande sall brede of Jesse boure.
And of this same also, sais hee,
Upponne that wande sall springe a floure
Wheron the Haly Gast sall be
To governe it with grete honnoure.
That wande meynes untill us
This mayden, even and morne,
And the floure is Jesus,
That of that blyst bees borne.

The prophet Johell, a gentill Jewe,
Somtyme has saide of the same thyng:
He likenes Criste even als he knewe
Like to the dewe in doune-commyng:
Ero quasi ros, et virgo Israell germinabit sicut lilium.5
The maiden of Israell al newe,
He sais, sall bere one and forthe brynge
Als the lelly floure, full faire of hewe,
This meynes sa to olde and yenge
That the hegh Haly Gaste
Come oure myscheffe to mende
In Marie mayden chaste,
When God his Sone walde sende.

This lady is to the lilly lyke,
That is bycause of hir clene liffe,
For in this worlde was never slyke
One to be mayden, modir, and wyffe:
And hir Sonne, kyng in heven ryke,
Als oft es red be reasoune ryfe,
And hir husband bath maistir and meke,
In charité to stynte all striffe.
This passed all worldly witte,
How God had ordand thaim thanne
In hir one to be knytte:
Godhed, maydenhed, and manne.

Bot of this werke grete witnes was
With formefaders, all folke may tell.
Whan Jacob blyst his sone Judas,
He tolde the tale thaim two emell:
Non auferetur septrum de Juda,
donec veniat qui mittendus est.6
He sais the septer sall noght passe
Fra Juda lande of Israell,
Or he comme that God ordand has
To be sente feendis force to fell:
Et ipse erit expectacio gencium.
Hym sall alle folke abyde
And stande unto his steven,
Ther sawes wer signified
To Crist, Goddis Sone in heven.

For howe he was sente, se we more,
And howe God wolde his place purvay,
He saide, Sonne, I sall sende byfore
Myne aungell to rede thee thy way:
Ecce mitto angelum meum ante faciem
tuam qui preparabit viam tuam ante te.7
Of John Baptist he menyd thore,
For in erthe he was ordand ay
To warne the folke that wilsom wore
Of Cristis comyng, and thus gon say:
Ego quidem baptizo in aqua vos, autem
baptizabimini spiritu sancto.8
Eftir me sall come nowe
A man of myghtis mast,
And sall baptis yowe
In the high Holy Gast.

Thus of Cristis commyng may we see
How Sainte Luke spekis in his gospell,
Fro God in heven es sent, sais he,
An aungell is named Gabriell
To Nazareth in Galale,
Where than a mayden mylde gon dwell,
That with Joseph suld wedded be;
Hir name is Marie, thus gan he telle.
How God his grace than grayd
To man in this manere,
And how the aungell saide,
Takes hede, all that will here.

Tunc cantat angelus

ANGELUS   Hayle, Marie, full of grace and blysse,
Oure Lord God is with thee
And has chosen thee for his.
Of all women blist mot thou be.

MARIA   What maner of halsyng is this
Thus prevely comes to me?
For in myn herte a thoght it is,
The tokenyng that I here see.

Tunc cantat angelus, Ne timeas, Maria.

ANGELUS   Ne drede thee noght, thou mylde Marie,
For nothyng that may befalle,
For thou has fun soveranly
At God a grace over othir all.
In chastité of thy bodye
Consayve and bere a childe thou sall.
This bodword brynge I thee, forthy
His name Jesu sall thou calle.

Mekill of myght than sall he bee;
He sall be God and called God Sonn.
David sege, his fadir free,
Sall God hym giffe to sytte uppon,
Als kyng forever regne sall hee,
In Jacob house ay for to wonne.
Of his kyngdome and dignité
Shall noo man erthly knaw ne con.

MARIA   Thou Goddis aungell, meke and mylde,
Howe sulde it be, I thee praye,
That I sulde consayve a childe
Of any man by nyght or daye?
I knawe no man that shulde have fyled
My maydenhode, the sothe to saye.
Withouten will of werkis wilde
In chastité I have ben ay.

ANGELUS   The Holy Gast in thee sall lighte,
Hegh vertue sall to thee holde,
The holy birthe of thee so bright,
God Sonne he sall be calde.
Loo, Elyzabeth, thi cosyne, ne myght
In elde consayve a childe for alde;
This is the sexte moneth full ryght
To hir that baran has ben talde.

MARIA   Thou aungell, blissid messanger,
Of Goddis will I holde me payde:
I love my Lorde with herte clere,
The grace that he has for me layde.
Goddis handmayden, lo, me here
To his wille all redy grayd,
Be done to me of all manere
Thurgh thy worde als thou hast saide.

Now God, that all oure hope is in,
Thur the myght of the Haly Gaste,
Save thee, dame, fro sak of synne
And wisse thee fro all werkis wast.
Elyzabeth, myn awne cosyne,
Methoght I coveyte alway mast
To speke with thee of all my kynne;
Therfore I comme thus in this hast.

ELIZABETH   A, welcome, mylde Marie,
Myne aughen cosyne so dere,
Joifull woman am I
That I nowe see thee here.
Blissid be thou anely
Of all women in feere,
And the frute of thy body
Be blissid ferre and nere.

This is joyfull tydyng
That I may nowe here see
The modyr of my Lord Kyng,
Thusgate come to me.
Sone als the voyce of thine haylsing
Moght myn neres entreand be
The childe in my wombe so yenge
Makes grete myrthe unto thee.

MARIA   Nowe, Lorde, blist be thou ay
For the grace thou has me lente;
Lorde, I lofe thee, God verray,
The sande thou hast me sente.
I thanke thee nyght and day
And prayes with goode entente
Thou make me to thy paye,
To thee my wille is wentte.

ELIZABETH   Blissed be thou grathely grayed
To God thurgh chastité,
Thou trowed and helde thee payed
Atte his wille for to bee.
All that to thee is saide
Fro my Lorde so free,
Swilke grace is for thee layde
Sall be fulfilled in thee.

MARIA   To his grace I will me ta,
With chastité to dele,
That made me thus to ga
Omange his maidens feele.
My saule sall lovyng ma
Unto that Lorde so lele,
And my gast make joye alswa
In God that es my hele.

Tunc cantat Magnificat.
is to tell; (t-note)

sorrow, abiding

then; sorrows sore were; (t-note)

a long time
locked (shut off)


bidding (voice); (see note)
Taught while he was alive

cause it to be

the nature

beguiled; (see note)

should; (see note)
anger; (i.e., be self-deceived)

wedding garment
brought about

(see note); (t-note)


ordained before; (t-note)
Isaiah; young; (t-note)
spoke of; impair

Drop down, dew, from heaven; (see note)
let; descend

inclined toward bliss
(i.e., matters bespoken of)


were; formed in vain


(see note)
loyally live
(see note)

earth; among
Without guilt conceive

David’s throne there; (see note)
judgments to pronounce
The zeal of the Lord will perform this, etc.; (see note)
ordain; (see note)

I [will] speak about; (t-note)

And there will come forth a rod of [the root of] Jesse; (see note)
rod; grow from Jesse’s bower (lineage)


signifies for us
blessed [maiden] is


(see note); (t-note)

lily flower; hue; (see note)
means so; young
high; (see note)
[Will] come


comparable to
(see note)
[anyone] like [her]
virgin, mother
is advised by; abundant
both; companion
to end

joined as one
(see note)

blessed; Judah
narrative; among
(see note)

Before he comes
the fiend’s
And he will be the expectation of the nations; (see note)
be obedient to; voice
sayings; predicted


(see note)

spake there

were in error

(see note)

great power; (t-note)

then; did
began; to tell
prepared; (t-note)

hear; (see note)

Then the angel shall sing; (t-note)

(see note)

blessed may


sign; (see note)

Then the angel shall sing, “Do not fear, Mary”; (t-note)

been found surpassingly
By God; (t-note)

message; (see note)


throne; gracious forefather


can; (t-note)

uncontrolled behavior

(see note)

because of old age

barren; counted

(see note)



(see note)

guide; away from; impure



(see note)

In this way
Might; ears entering



appropriately ready


stored up

(i.e., maintain)
Among; many
spirit; joy always

Then she sings “[My soul] doth magnify [the Lord]”; (see note); (t-note)

Go To Play 13, Joseph’s Troubles about Mary