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Play 39, Ascension; Selection of Matthias


1 Here begins the Ascension of our Lord with Maria and eleven disciples and two angels in albs seated; and Jesus says to his disciples, etc.

2 Here, he ascends from their sight, and in heaven they sing, etc.

3 Here stand both Joseph Justum and Mathias, etc.

4 Here they cast lots and it will fall on Matthias, etc.


Abbreviations: S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction.

The N-Town Ascension (called pageant 38 in the Banns, but numbered 39 in the manu­script), is the briefest (95 lines) of all the extant English versions (Towneley Play 29, York Play 42, and Chester Play 20). These Ascension plays are two to four times longer than N-Town’s, but all of the English versions are based on the accounts in Mark 16:14–19 and Acts 1:2–11. What sets N-Town apart is its inclusion of the appointment of Matthias, the apostle who replaces Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15–26). It may also be worth noting that there is a record of a Weavers’ pageant of the Ascension in Bury St. Edmunds (possibly near the scribal home of the N-Town manuscript), c. 1477, close to the 1468 date found in the N-Town manuscript. (Macray, "Manuscripts of the Corporation of Bury St. Edmunds," pp. 133–38, cited as Suffolk R.O. B9/1/2 in Records of Plays and Players in Norfolk and Suffolk, ed. Wasson and Galloway, p. 148.)

This play is written in thirteeners, with an opening quatrain.

1–4 Compare Gower’s In Praise of Peace, lines 78–91 and 379–85.

10 eighte sythys. Spector claims that Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend and the Stan­zaic Life of Christ list eight scriptural appearances (S 2:526), but in actuality, the Golden Legend enumerates ten (trans. Ryan, 1:219). Either the playwright has miscounted the appearances in the sources or in the play manuscript. It is also possible that plays with appearances were added to the manuscript after this play was written or included in the manuscript.

29–30 Spector notes that in Luke 24:50, Christ leads the disciples to Bethany (S 2:526).

35–43 The Great Commission. Compare Matthew 28:18–20, Mark 16:15, and Luke 24:47–49.

47, s.d. The song is unspecified, but there are a number of possibilities for Ascension Day. Woolf notes that the antiphon, "Ascendo ad patrem meum," is used in other play cycles (English Mystery Plays, p. 284). See also Dutka, Index of Songs, p. 20, and S 2:526.

48–56 The angel’s speech seems to relate to the unspecified music announced in the previous stage direction. See Rastall (Minstrels Playing, p. 113) for various litur­gical pieces that the passage seems to paraphrase.

59–62 Spector cites Acts 1:20, Vulgate Psalms 68:25 and 108:8 (see S 2:526).

70–73 Compare 30.32, s.d.; Acts 1:18–19; and Matthew 27:5.


Abbreviations: Bl: Ludus Coventriae, ed. Block (1922); S: N-Town Play, ed. Spector (1991); s.d.: stage direction; s.n.: stage name.

1 Pax vobis. MS: written in textura quadrata.

3–9 MS: large play number 39 written in right margin.

10 eighte. MS: viij.

12 ninte. MS: ix.

After 27 MS: capital W written at the bottom of fol. 210r in another hand.

37 short. MS: t canceled and written above.

After 52 MS: hic ascendit ab oculys and Joh written by another hand at the bottom of fol. 210v.

55 MS: large space after 55.

57, s.n. Petrus. So S. MS, Bl: omitted.

66–69 MS: three lines written as one, divided by punctuation.

76 well. MS: weel.

79–82 MS: two lines written as one, divided by punctuation.

82, s.d. Justum. MS: Justus.

92–95 MS: two lines written as one, divided by punctuation.

After 95 MS: remainder of fol. 211v blank except for modo de die and hic dabunt so in another hand.
[Hic incipit Ascencio Domini nostri cum Maria et undecim discipulis et duobus angelis sedentibus in albis; et Jesus dicit discipulis suis et cetera:1










JHESUS Pax vobis! Amonge yow, pes
Bothe love and reste and charyté —
Amonge all vertues, lete it not ses,
For amonge all vertues prynspal his he.

Ye be to blame, I may wel preve,
For I wyl use to yow wordys pleyn —
That ye be so hard of herte to beleve
That from deth to lyve I am resyn ageyn.
Notwithstondynge, as ye knowe, serteyn,
To yow eighte sythys aperyd have I,
Be soundry tymes, the trewth to seyn
And this is the ninte tyme, sothly,
Evyn and no mo.
But now, sum mete
Anon doth gete,
For I wyl ete
With yow and goo.

My dyscyplis here what I sey,
And to my wourdys gevyth attencyon.
From Jerusalem loke ye go nott awey,
But mekely abydyth my Fadyres promiscyon,
Off whiche, be my mowth, ye have had informacyon
Whyll bodyly with yow I was dwellynge.
For Johan, sothly, for mannys salvacyon
Onlye in watyr was me baptysynge,
But I yow behete
Withinne few days that ye
In the Holy Goost shul baptyzid be.
Therfore, rysyth up and folwyht me
Onto the Mownte of Olyvete.

JACOBUS MAJOR O Lord, vowchesaff us for to telle
If thu wylt now, withowte more delay,
Restoryn the kyngdam of Israell
And geve us the joye, Lord, that lestyth ay.
JHESUS Serys, the tymes and the monthis knowe ye ne may
Whiche my Fadyr hath put in his owyn power,
But ye shul take within short day
Of the Holy Goost the vertu cler,
Thorwe whiche shul ye
In Jerusalem and in Jury,
And moreovyr also in Samary,
And to the worldys ende uttyrly,
My wyttnes only be.

Lovyth no wrath nor no wronge,
But levyth in charyté with mylde stevyn.
With myrthe and melody and aungell songe,
Now I stey streyte from yow to hevyn.
Peace unto you; peace; (see note); (t-note)

cease; (t-note)
it is the utmost


times appeared; (see note); (t-note)
By; to say
ninth; truly; (t-note)
exactly; more
Now get


await; Father’s promise
John [the Baptist], truly; man’s

vow to you

follow; (see note)

agree to tell us

give; lasts forever
Sirs; months; not; (see note)

sheer virtue


ascend straight

[Hic ascendit ab oculis eorum et in celo cantent et cetera.2; (see note)








ANGELUS Returnyth ageyn to youre loggynge,
To Jerusalem, for he wyl thus
His promys mekely ther abydynge.
For dowteles, this forseyd Jhesus,
Whiche from yow is take
In a clowde, as ye hym seyn, —
Steyng up — so shal comyn ageyn!
Of al mankynde, this is serteyn,
Jugement shal he make.

PETRUS O ye bretheryn, attendyth to me
And takyth good hede what I shal seyn:
It behovyth the Scripture fulfyllyd to be
That of Davyd was seyd with wourdys pleyn,
Of Judas whiche was the gyde, serteyn,
Of hem that Cryst slow cruelly;
Which aftyr from deth ros up ageyn,
And hath abedyn in erthe ful days fourty.
And aftyr all this
Before oure eye
In a bryght skye,
He ded up stye
To hevyn blys.

This seyd Judas was amongys us
Noumbryd apostyll and had lych dygnyté,
But whan he betrayd oure Lord Jhesus,
He hynge hymself upon a tre;
In whos sted muste nedys ordeyned be
Another, oure noumbre for to restore,
On of tho whiche as well knowe we,
Han be conversaunt here longe before
In oure company —
Whiche shall wyttnes
Berun expresse
To more and lesse
Of Crystys resurrexion stedfastly.
lodging; (see note)

promise; awaiting
doubtless; aforesaid
taken; (t-note)
have seen him
certain; (t-note)

(see note)
those who slew Christ

stayed on earth


did ascend
heaven’s bliss

aforesaid; among; (see note)
Called; the same office
stead; we must appoint

One; those; (t-note)
Has been with us

Bear expressly
(i.e., To everyone)

[Hic statuent duos Joseph Justum et Mathiam, et cetera.3; (t-note)


O, sovereyn Lorde, whiche of every man
The hertys dost knowe most inwardly:
With all the lowlyness we may or kan,
To thee we prey ful benygnely
That thu vowchesaff thorwe thi mercy,
Us — hym to shewe — whiche in this cas
Thu lykyst to chesyn effectuously
To ocapye the lott of Judas plas.


deign through
Show us him
to choose truly
occupy; position of Judas’ place

[Hic dabunt sortes et cadet super Mathiam, et cetera.4

Now, gramercy, Lord!
And to fulfylle
Thin holy wylle
As it is skylle,
We all accorde.
many thanks

Go To Play 40, Pentecost