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Quem Quæritis

Mystery Plays in Latin

May 2016

Quem Quaeritis: Mystery Plays in Latin follow a lecture series in five Tuscan cities

In the beautiful Tuscan cities of Barga, Pisa, Pistoia, Siena, and Florence, Elements Theatre Company brought art and history to life through the words of the richly expressive medieval mystery plays. Performing in the original Latin, Elements presented early works that reflect the art and character of each city and cathedral they visited: a tribute to the patron saint, followed by stories from the life of Christ (depicted in the stone carvings at each cathedral), and selected Gregorian chants. Elements’ performances accompanied a series of lectures by Msgr. Timothy Verdon, Word and Image: The Gospel in Carved Marble.

This event was hosted by Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre, an organization dedicated to art and spirituality, located in Barga, Italy. Tying in with this year’s celebrations, Elements is mindful that Latin would have been in the ear of Shakespeare as he grew up and the mystery plays formative to his sense of drama.

Quem quaeritis? “Whom do you seek?” The question that has prompted mankind through the ages to a fervent and inexorable search for Christ, lies at the heart of every story you will see here this evening. Quem quaeritis?  implies characters, a journey, discovery and revelation,  so perhaps it is not surprising that it inspired the earliest dramas and chants  in the setting of the Church. This evening’s performance is inspired by another type of storytelling too–that of the artists who carved the expressive ambos of Tuscany further illuminating the Word, and guiding those seekers to Christ.

Act I—The Word Became Flesh (John 1): We begin with the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. Then we travel with Mary to see her cousin Elizabeth, and witness her telling the news of the child she carries in her womb, and Elizabeth’s joy-filled and miraculous response. Next is the visit of the Magi to King Herod, as they follow the star in their search for Christ, the newborn king. King Herod challenges them and the Magi wisely keep hidden some of the details of the prophecies concerning Jesus and the supernatural appearances surrounding his birth. After leaving King Herod, the Magi arrive at the manger, and are met by a midwife who presents them with the infant Jesus. They present their gifts, and then rest for the night. They are awakened by an angel who warns them not to return to King Herod, but to go home by another way.

Act II—And Lived Among Us (John 1): Our search for Christ continues with some of the events during his life on earth that Scripture details for us: Jesus’ growing up in Galilee, his baptism by John in the Jordan River, and the beginning of his ministry, teaching the people and healing. We go with him to Bethany, to the family home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and take part in the miracle of Jesus, raising Lazarus from the tomb. The chanting of the Christus factus est represents for us his Passion and Crucifixion: his final and complete outpouring of love to his followers.

Act III—And We Beheld His Glory (John 1): We walk with those disciples whom Jesus loved through the stunning and miraculous events of his Resurrection. First is the Harrowing of Hell: Jesus’ triumphant descent into Hell between his Crucifixion and Resurrection, whereby he brought salvation to the souls trapped there, and who now recognized him as the Son of God.  Then we meet the three Mary’s at the tomb, and hear the angel admonish them not to seek the living among the dead, but to go and tell the other disciples of his Resurrection. Joining  the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we see them converse  with a fellow “pilgrim” about the heartrending events of recent days, and finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread.  Jesus shows them the wounds in his hands, feet and sides, and gives them his blessing of peace. A final word from the second letter of Peter encourages us to continue to seek Christ, until he comes again.