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Food production in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament.

Near the end of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, the bishop restores order by instigating the play's final miracle. Confronted by an image of a "chyld ... with wondys blody" (804) which has emerged spectacularly from a bleeding, ruptured oven, the bishop prays to god for forgiveness, at which point "pe im[a]ge change[s] agayn into brede" (825 s.d.). (1) The images transformation into bread reiterates what the previous testing--by stabbing, nailing, boiling, and baking--of the consecrated Host by the play's Jews has demonstrated, namely the truth of the doctrine of transubstantiation, that at the moment of consecration in the mass, the substance of the obley becomes the body of Christ.

The bishop's transformation of the bloody Christ-child back into bread is the main irony of the play: having baked the Host, the Jews who have insisted that it is but material bread are confronted by spiritual bread, the bleeding body of Christ. Their actions have thus revealed the bread to be not bread at all but rather the Christ-child. The bishop makes things right again, remaking the Christ-child so that he again appears in the form of bread. With the baked Christ-child's eruption from the oven, however, the Croxton Play of the Sacrament reveals that ecclesiastical authority is required to transform the Christ-child "agayn into brede"

As with other Host miracles, it is this power over productive food practice which is at stake. (2) As Charles Zika argues of fifteenth-century German Host-miracles, the emphasis on Christ's real presence in the Host foregrounds "the act of producing the host and the role of those responsible for its production. In other words, the host is decisively located within the context of priestly power and the locally approved church and liturgy." (3) Carolyn Walker Bynum explicitly identifies this contest as one which takes place over spiritual food-production: "In one sense, the roles of priest and lay recipient reversed normal social roles. The priest became the food preparer, the generator and server of food. The woman recipient ate a holy food she did not exude or prepare." (4) Given that the consecrated host was material food changed into spiritual food, the priest's consecration appropriated the production by making the bread more than it was.

Indeed, the play contrasts two moments of miraculous production. In the first, the Jews produce the body of Christ from a stabbed, boiled, and baked host; in the second, the bishop produces bread from the body of Christ. An intriguing chiasmus appears here, one which contrasts the sacrilegious, literal, and material Jewish baking of the host with the holy, figural, and spiritual ecclesiastical "baking" of the body of Christ. On the one hand, the oven ruptures to reveal Christ as spiritual bread. On the other, the bishop restores that spiritual bread to its appearance as material bread, the sort of bread more appropriate to emerge from an oven.

The spectacularly bleeding and ruptured oven thus becomes a contested site of production requiring the bishop to reassert ecclesiastical authority, control, and significance over the practices that should properly govern the Host. Thus, after restoring the host's appearance, the bishop takes physical control of it, returning it from the oven to the church. In doing so, he reasserts its place in ecclesiastical ritual, leading a procession to the church as well as the singing of O sacrum convivium, a processional antiphon usually sung on the Feast of Corpus Christi. (5) While it "briefly sums up the Church's teaching on the Eucharist," (6) the antiphon also glosses the preceding action of the play: "O sacred banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of future glory is given us." (7) Quite literally, albeit via a special effect, the audience has witnessed Christ become food in the bishop's transformation of the bleeding Christ-child into the form of bread. To the degree that the Host is sacred food, its abuse and restorative treatment are staged by the play as conflicting food production practices. (8)

In this essay, I argue that the conflict between these food practices--the baking of the obley and the ecclesiastical "making" of the Host--finds expression in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament. More specifically, I argue that the ironic cooking of the Host subordinates the physical and commercial nature of food production to the priestly making of the body of Christ. The Jews' cauldron and oven serve as metonymies of the obley's own origins as a commercial product and good, and in this sense, the Jews appear as ironic cooks and bakers, staging a burlesque of the obley's manufacture, and thereby unwittingly asserting consecrations effacement of the several steps of its physical production.

The opposition between the physical and clerical "making" of the obley is bound up with its circulation as a commodity, a point demonstrated in the play's treatment of theft and sale of the consecrated Host. (9) By focusing attention on Aristorius's and Jonathas's commodification of the Host and by insisting that their actions turn the Host into a commercial good, the play deflects attention from the Church's "own thorough-going immersion in the world of the mercantile economy." (10) While Sarah Beckwith valuably highlights the Church's control of several East Anglian markets, it is worth pointing out that the obley consecrated by the priest already circulated as a commercial good, bound up in exchanges among various workers. In other words, by marking Aristorius's sale of the Host as the moment at which the Host enters commercial circulation, the play cordons off consideration of the obley's prior social history as a circulated commodity, namely a wheaten wafer, the product of several hands: the farmer's, the miller's, the waferer's. The play's dismissal of the obley's prior social history is a complex one, taking place at the level of material props, the level of Christian figuralism, and the level of production discourse.

Staging the Kitchen: The Cauldron and Oven

The cauldron and oven can be read as material reminders of the obley's commercial production. In this sense, the Play of the Sacrament stages an extended kitchen scene, albeit a parodie one, in which the Jewish characters put culinary implements to destructive rather than productive ends. In focusing on the literal significance of these kitchen tools, this interpretation supplements the devotional and figural significance that critics discussing the play's staging of the Host's abuse as a reenactment of Christ's Passion and resurrection have identified. The Jews stab the Host with five daggers--one dagger in each of the Host's four quadrants and one in its center--reproducing the five wounds of Christ. They nail the Host to a pillar with three nails, then pluck them out with pincers and wrap the Host in a shroud. These implements, as Richard Homan has noted, are recognizable as the arma christi. (11) The cauldron and the oven are less conventionally associated with the Passion. Critical attention to these culinary implements has tended to incorporate them into the narrative of Christs death and resurrection, with the cauldron figuring the tomb, the oven, hell. (12) Ann Eljenholm Nichols notes the similarities between the Croxton play and the N-town plays, arguing that the Croxton play's action following the Host's crucifixion offers "a highly stylized" version of the burial in the N-Town plays, with the Jews' seething of the Host in oil a grotesque parody of the anointing of Christ's dead body. (13) The cauldron and oven can thus be read as part of this figurative reproduction of the Passion and resurrection.

Figural reading represents a significant mode by which material practices are subordinated to spiritual ones, a transformation that effaces material production in favour of spiritual production. Near its conclusion, the play explicates the preceding action in figural terms. When he first confesses, Jonathas declares that he and his companions "haue done tormentry, / And ther we haue putt hym to a newe passyon" (802-3). Later, when they convert, the Jews confess again to putting "owr Lord ... to a new paynfull passioun," recounting the torments to which they put the Host (931-43). This confession refigures the preceding action, which had focused on the characters' use of culinary implements to demonstrate that the consecrated Host was but a simple wafer.

For instance, despite the urgent need for the cauldron to stop the Host's bleeding, the Jews spend some time discussing its preparation, announcing a recipe of sorts for the cauldron's use, and thus emphasizing it as a material implement for food production. Jasdon notes that the cauldron is to boil for three hours; Masphat finds a cauldron hanging in a "furneys stowte and strong," while Malchas determines to add "fowr galouns off oyle clere" to the mix (489, 493). (14) Jasdon later stirs the oil, which now contains the Host and Jonathas's hand, overtly cooking both items: he stirs the oil so "That nothyng therof shalbe rawe" (668). For his part, Masphat heats the oil to such a high temperature "That yt shall make yt ryght thynne" (672). The play's banns also note the cauldron's use, adopting the culinary term sethe to describe the action:
   And sythe thay toke Jaat blysed brede so sownde
       And in a cawdron they ded hym boyle.
   In a clothe full just they yt wounde,
       And so they ded hym sethe in oyle. (41-44)

Following his repentance, Jason also uses the term, confessing that they "dyd ... seth hym [Christ] in oyle" (939). The verb "to seethe" ("to sode") denotes primarily a cooking process whereby food is boiled or stewed, and also connotes the separation of a part from another part, a point emphasized by Jason's ghastly report that Jonathas's "hand ys soden, the fleshe from pe bonys" (706). (15) Although its presence is upstaged by the horror of Jonathas losing his hand, the nailing of the Host to the pillar, and the humor of the physician scene, the cauldron nevertheless heats onstage for 200 lines before it finally serves its purpose. Moreover, it remains a significant prop as Jonathas returns to it, placing his arm inside in order to have his hand miraculously restored to him.

The seething of Jonathas's hand into constitutive components--flesh and bone--serves as a foil for the indestructibility of the consecrated Host, which not only continues to bleed, but also fails to dissolve into its constitutive ingredients, flour and water. The Host's survival and continued bleeding, as the cauldron overflows with its blood, demonstrates that the Host only seems to be bread, but is in fact Christ in the form of bread. This is affirmed by the subsequent action, when the Jews place the seethed Host into a hot oven, which bleeds and breaks apart when an image of a bleeding Christ-child appears above it. Here is the irony of the play: after baking the Host, the Jews who have insisted that the Host is but bread are confronted not by bread but by the bleeding actuality of the Host. As Paul Strohm puts it, "Christ, embodied, is in fact 'reborn' from this sacred oven." (16) That is, after resubmitting the bread to the process of its creation--baking--the bread is revealed not to be bread at all but rather a child. By staging the cauldron and oven as material objects that reveal the substance of the consecrated Host--in substance, it is the body of Christ--the play affirms the ecclesiastical "made" Host over its appearance as a mundane wafer. That is, by staging the oven's failure to destroy the Host, the play confirms that the Host is no longer merely a wafer. No longer subject to the physical forces of its physical production, the wafer has been transubstantiated, its substance made the body of Christ.

To understand the cauldron and oven primarily in figurative terms risks overlooking the props' other significances, notably their indebtedness to the Host-desecration narrative tradition described by Miri Rubin and others, as well as the props' social relevance. Cooking implements are a central motif of many of the visual representations of the Host desecration stories. Both the oven and the cauldron are conventional features of medieval ritual-murder and Host-desecration narratives, although the oven figures more prominently in ritual-murder narratives and the cauldron in Host-desecration narratives. In many, the Host is subjected to a form of boiling or roasting in a pot or kettle above a fire. In Ucello's praedella, for example, the Jew places the Host in a kitchen pot heated by fire. The oven figures in the well-known Jew of Bourges narrative, in which a Jewish boy takes communion only to have his father, a glassblower, thrust him into an oven. The boy miraculously survives, thanks to the intervention of the Virgin Mary, who sits with the boy inside the oven. Once the boy is rescued, his father is burned in the oven. (17) As Miri Rubin has shown, Host-desecration stories depict a conventional sequence of abuse, a sequence mirrored in the Play of the Sacrament: first, the Host is pierced by an iron implement of some sort, then fried or boiled over a fire in a pan or cauldron, and, finally, hidden in water, in a different town, or in the ground. (18) Sometimes, however, in narratives in which the Host is tested rather than abused, it is burned in an oven. (19) The boiling of the Host in a cauldron also appears in several visual depictions of Host-desecrations, often with a child rising from the cauldron. The Jaime Serra altarpiece (c. 1400) in the Sijena monastery near Huesca depicts a man stabbing a Host and a child appearing above a pot set over a fire. (20)

The specificity of the play's characters as Jews is important here. As many critics have argued, the Jewish characters do not stand in for Lollards. (21) Rather, they are bound up in traditions of representation. Rubin suspects that the conventional inclusion of fire, ovens, and cauldrons in such narratives has to do with the medieval Christian misunderstanding of Jewish Passover rituals, a misunderstanding attributed to Christians by medieval Jews. Rubin points out that a fifteenth-century text by Rabbi Yomtov Lippmann
   associates Christian accusations with a misinterpretation of two
   Jewish practices, that of setting aside a portion of all dough to
   symbolise the tithe once offered to Temple priests, and that of
   burning the remains of leavened bread in preparation for Passover.
   Preparation for Passover also involved the cleansing of vessels in
   cauldrons of water at a rolling boil. It is striking to note the
   similarity between visual representation of cauldrons of abuse in
   the course of host desecration and that of cauldrons for communal
   Jewish use in preparation for Passover. (22)

The boiling cauldrons of the Host-desecration narratives are thus "strikingly similar to the way in which Jews were seen, and represented themselves as preparing their crockery and cutlery for the Passover: vats of boiling water were prepared, often for communal use." (23)

Thus two interpretive traditions focus on the Croxton play's culinary props. The play's characters and many of its critics read the boiling and baking of the Host as figures of Christ's descent into Hell (boiling) and then his resurrection (the exploding oven); however, the medieval (mis) representation of Jewish Passover traditions misreads the boiling and baking as practices of Host-desecration. The material practices of boiling and baking are understood in these doubly figured terms. At the same time, these interpretations efface the physical and commercial nature of food production, subordinating it to the priestly making of the body of Christ.

Dinners, Diners, and the Social Life of the Wafer

Food in general appears as one of the main motifs of the play, and the play's structure offers parallels to the structure Theresa Coletti identifies in the Digby Mary Magdalene play, marking the characters' transition from worldly to spiritual nourishment. (24) For example, in the Play of the Sacrament, Aristorius precedes his theft of the Host with a dinner for Ser Isidore, ensuring that the priest drinks enough wine to sleep well that evening. The simplicity of the dinner--bread and wine--contrasts not only with the materials used in the mass but also with the spiritual medicine provided by the consecrated materials. Yet the references to "Romney Red," a prized Mediterranean sweet wine, emphasize its cost and quality, and the private nature of Sir Isidore's dinner contrasts with the public and communal "banquet" referred to in O sacrum convivium, the antiphon sung by the bishop at the Croxton play's end. (25) The Jews' abuse of the Host is bracketed by two dinners: one material and the other spiritual. While Isidore's dinner, characterized by privacy and excess occasions the theft of the Host and its abuse, the Bishops spiritual banquet becomes the occasion of the Host's return, not only to the church but to its proper, spiritual manifestation.

The materiality of the Host, not simply as merchandise, but as food, is thus emphasized in the play. Jonathas is a grocer, albeit on a global scale, selling not only fragrant spices but also luxury foodstuffs. (26) He boasts that his ships carry "fygys fatte to piese yow to paye ... datys wole dulcett for to dresse, / Almundys and rys ... And reysones both more and lesse" and "Orengys a[nd] apples ofgrete apryce, / Pungarnetys and many other spycys" (176-80, 185-86). Like Jonathas's gems and precious stones, these luxury food items demonstrate his wealth. The similarity between these foods and those eaten by the tyrants in the Digby Mary Magdalene, as well as the luxury and relative excess of the erring priests meal, gestures toward a critique of East Anglian gentry's conspicuous consumption. (27)

The Jews also repeatedly describe the obley's material appearance as either "bread" or "cake." (28) When Jonathas displays the Host to his companions, he emphasizes the status of the Host as a purchased food, declaring that "Thys merchant from the Crysten temple / Hath gett vs thys bred" (387-88). Moreover, as they prepare to test the obley, they lay linen on the table in preparation for their cutting of the Host; the scene resembles a third dinner, a burlesque of the mass. This supper mimics Isidore's private meal, in which the priest was supplied with bread and wine: the Jews initially are supplied with the bread of the Host and, once Jonathas has stabbed it, the wine of Christ's blood. The play's staging of three dining scenes--Isidore's supper, the Jews' sacrilegious banquet, and the convivium sacrum at the play's conclusion--traces food through its transition from physical to spiritual use and significance.

Despite the equation of the Host with other traded goods, the luxury of Jonathas's foodstuffs contrasts sharply with the simplicity of the obley, which was made of white flour and water. Making the wafer, or obley, was not complex: dough made of water and flour was pressed between two irons, known variously as singing-, baking-, and printing-irons. The 1429 will of Annas Wells notes two different types of irons, one called "syngyngirons" and the other designated as "pro pane ad eucharistiam ordinado." (29) Another early fifteenth-century will likewise notes two separate sets of "bakyngirnes," one for making "singyngbred" and the other for making "shosynlyngbred." (30) A man accused of Lollardy claimed he could make 30 wafers "wijain an owyr if Y had such pryntyng irons." (31) As is suggested by the two implements, two different wafers were made, one called "singing-bread" or "singing-cakes" and the other "howlsing-bread." The former was more than double the size of the latter, measuring approximately 6.9 cm in diameter, and was the wafer consecrated and elevated at the climax of the mass. (32) The smaller housling bread, which was 3.2 cm in diameter, was received by communicants at the celebration of the Eucharist. While the wafers could be made by priests, they also were purchased, presumably from "waferers" or those in possession of bakingirons. (33) There also is some evidence that wafers were sold by merchants along with other merchandise. (34)

Consecration of the obley was figured as a form of productive labor as well, with the priest "making" the body of the Christ. For instance, John Mirk identifies this work as a point of distinction between priests and angels, noting that priests "shcal haue of Goddys 3yfte here in erjae Jaat he (3) af neuer angel in heven, Jaat is, to make Goddys body." (35) In the Festial, Mirk characterizes consecration as a "making" of the body of Christ: the "sacrament of Cristes body Jaat is makyd on Joe auter be vertu of Jae holy wordys Jaat Joe prest sayth jaer and be worchyng of Joe Holy Gost." (36) In Christ's institution of the sacrament, Mirk argues, Christ first made his own body, a power he gave to the disciples as well as to all priests: "bus he tok bredde and wyne and makyd hys owne flesse and blode ... and so 3af hem and alle opur prestys power and dignite to make his owne body of bredde and wyne on pe auter, so pat vche prest hath of Cristes 3efte power to mak pis sacrament, be he gode lyver or euel lyver." (37)

To support his claim, Mirk relates the narrative of the Mass of St. Gregory. In this story, Mirk emphasizes the priest's productive power in making God's body by contrasting it with the labor of making the bread. Mirk recounts that Lasyna, the woman who had made the sacramental bread, doubted the efficacy of Gregory's consecration of it. Smiling, she informs him that she doubts that she receives "Goddys body" because "For pou callest Goddys body pat I made wyth myne owne handes." (38) Gregory has the people pray for a miracle to convince Lasyna of transubstantiation, and when he returns to the altar, he finds "pe ost turnyd into raw flesse bledyng." (39) Seeing the bleeding flesh, Lasyna cries, "Lorde, now I leve pat pou arte Criste, Goddys Sone of heven, in forme of bredde." (40) Gregory has the people pray so that the Host "turnyn a3eyn into lyknes of bredde, and so [it] dydde," and he then housels Lasyna with the Host. (41)

Productive power is clearly at stake in this narrative. Gregory's making of Christs body trumps Lasynas baking of the bread, and more importantly, his consecration of the bread undoes the knowledge derived from her involvement in the bread's production. Lasyna implies that since she has made the bread, she knows from what it was made from and how; knowing this, she knows that the bread clearly is not the body of Christ. The miracle proves her wrong in a ghastly fashion, demonstrating that the bread differs from the baked, material product she delivered to the church. Rather, the bread's substance has become the priest-made, spiritual bread of Christ's body. The material bread remains only in appearance; Christ appears "in forme of bredde." As Lasynas initial doubt is grounded in her material production of the bread, Mirk's narrative undoes the value of Lasynas labor: it cannot serve adequately as the basis for understanding the nature of the consecrated bread.

In such accounts, the Host thus appeared to be twice-made, first as bread, then as the body of Christ. For example, the fourteenth-century poem "Of the Sacrament of the Altar" describes the wafer as single-baked bread, suggesting the Host to be twice-baked:
   While obley in yrnes, or boyst ys stoken,
      Hit nys but bred, and sengyl bake;
   Whanne pe prest, to hit, goddis wordis hath spoken,
      Crystys quyk body, vndir bred o cake. (42)

While in the process of baking or while stored prior to consecration, the obley is simply baked bread. The priest's consecration of it changes its substance, immeasurably supplementing--and adding value to--the "sengyl" baked obley. It is a second making of bread, a second baking which changes the bread's substance while retaining its appearance. The poem figures the obley as single-baked bread and, implicitly, the priest's consecration of it as a second baking.

The tension in Mirk's narrative between Lasyna's baked bread and Christ's body reflects the late-medieval transition from Eucharistic communion to consecration. As in Mirk's narrative, in the doctrinal view of the Croxton's Play of the Sacrament, Jonathas and his companions unwittingly reveal the bread of heaven when they boil and bake the Host, because its substance has become the body of Christ, remaining bread in appearance only. Thus the material implements are shown to have no power over the consecrated Host. The Croxton play thus demonstrates the error in understanding the Host (as the Croxton Jews, like Lysana, do) as a commercial baked good. The priests "making" of the Host supersedes the sort of material food production associated with ovens and cauldrons.

The question of who produced the object that both represents and enacts the corpus mysticum was not a neutral one. As Margaret Aston has argued, such an assertion was at stake in the imagery of miller's bread in several of the rebels' verses circulated in the Peasant's Revolt. Identifying "eucharistic allusion" in these verses, Aston notes that they adopted the familiar metaphor of Christ as wheat and thus in them "Christ's body ... could be followed through all the familiar physical processes that brought people their daily bread." (43) Yet the Mass effaced these "familiar physical processes," rendering consecration as the annihilation of the bread's materiality and as the true "making" of Christ's body, and, "in that daring clerical extrapolation, all of Christian society." (44) The obley became Christ's body, remaining bread in figure and form only. By emphasizing the practices that produced the bread of Christ, the rebels signaled their desire to achieve "an equality more material than spiritual: that of first parents, rather than first communion." (45) In other words, representing the bread of Christ as the product of material labour paralleled the rebels' vision of a more equitable society.

Similarly, Lollards and, later, sixteenth-century reformers, contrasted the social process of the obley's manufacture with consecration. While the main object of contestation was the doctrine of transubstantiation, Lollard and reformer doctrinal attacks rejected orthodox claims that the consecrating priest "made" the body of Christ. Lollard objections to transubstantiation often focused on the work of consecration, questioning the ability of priests to "make" the body of Christ. In what seems to be "a piece of standard Lollard teaching from the end of the fifteenth century," Lollards doubted that a created thing could make its creator, and thus held that priests could not make God. (46) For example, Richard Sparke argued that "A priest has no more power to make 'the body of Christ' than the wheat-stalk has. After the words of consecration the bread remains only bread as before; and, in fact, is debased by having had such spell-words pronounced over it." (47) In (1498), Thomas Boughton "added to his disbelief that man could make God that the bread was better when it came from the baker than when it left the hands of the priest, since the priest, unlike the baker, had misused it against the pleasure of God." (48) Or, as a statement from the early fifteenth century has it, "a creature may noght make or founne hys maker, so a prest, Goddis creature, may noght of any materiall thyng make Goddys body in no maner wyse." (49) If the Lollards questioned whether the bread's substance actually became the body of Christ, it is understandable that they also would question the efficacy of the priests production of that body.

Lollard critiques often extended to seemingly satirical insistence on the wafers manufacture and circulation as merchandise. This satire emphasized the Host's material nature and, as a consequence, its status as a produced, commercial good rather than as the "made" body of Christ. (50) Lollard attacks on the doctrine of transubstantiation aimed to denigrate the Host's sacred status. (51) The critiques thus emphasized the wafer's production and purchase, rendering it an everyday object--that is, bread--which had an economic and social circulation prior to its consecration. Those accused of heresy often were accused of treating the Host as bread; for instance, in 1521, a Burford woman, Eleanor Higges, was accused of threatening to burn the Host in her oven. William Ayleward in 1464 claimed he could "make as good a sacrament between ij yrons as the prest doth vpon his auter." (52) In 1491, the Lollard Richard Petefyn similary highlighted the nature of the Host as a baked good: it was merely a piece of dough "bakyn and prentyd bytwyxt ij irens, he claimed, "And ... Y coude make xxxti of theym wipin an owyr if Y had such pryntyng irons." (53) Others addressed the Host's economic value: they accused the church of profiting from mass by collecting more in mass-pennies than it had paid for the wafers. Richard Sparke claimed that "thirty breads of this sort are sold for one halfpenny, but Christ was sold for thirty pence. The sacrament after this fashion is therefore a figment devised to enrich priests." (54) The logic of this statement is not that Sparke attempts "to appropriate the body of Christ from the ecclesiastical establishment" so much as he attempts to highlight the church's enmeshment in commercial exchange. (55) He casts the church's practice of the Eucharist as an extraordinarily profitable commercial activity yielding a sixty-fold return, implying that the church gouges its congregation. (56) Sparke assumes the donation of a mass-penny for each consecrated Host: 30 wafers gross 30 pence. His accusation is thus double-edged in that he charges the church with making an exorbitant profit, calculating the profit made by the mass, as well as selling Christ, as Judas did, for 30 coins. His point is not so much to ask "how then could a wafer be the body of Christ when it could be bought for 1/60d?" as to point out that by making the body of Christ, priests could sell that body (30 times) for a total of 30 pence. (57)

Such critiques of transubstantiation emphasized the enmeshment of the obley in a series of labor practices and economic transactions which were required for the wafer's production, identifying the priests role as the last link in this chain of productive labor. In the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Aristorius and the Jews understand the Host similarly, seeing it as inventoried merchandise subject to commercial transaction. The staging of the Host's abuse in a burlesque kitchen scene thus satirizes the view of the Host as merely a product in a chain of labor. Just as Lysana's assertion that she baked the bread occasions the miraculous proof that the Host can no longer be claimed as the product of her labor, the Croxton Jews' culinary mistreatment of the Host demonstrates that Ser Isidore's "making" of the Host has effaced the obley's status as a social product of labor. The Play of the Sacrament thus stages elements of the wafer's physical production in order to demonstrate the impossibility of "unmaking" the Host. In effacing the physical production of the wafer, the play subordinates the social production of the wafer to the ecclesiastical making of the Host.

Reformation Satire

During the Eucharist debates of the late 1540s and 1550s, English reformers also criticized the doctrine of transubstantiation by focusing on the idea of clerical "making" of the Host. (58) Like the Lollards, reformers asserted the wafer's participation in economic exchange, both before and after its consecration, reframing the Host as a commercial good. These critiques adopted similar rhetorical strategies to those found in Lollard attacks, often singling out clerical "making" of the Host for attention. For example, the title page of Luke Shepherd's John Bon and Mast Parson displays a woodcut of a Corpus Christi procession, which Shepherd satirizes with his verse:
   No maruel it is, thoughe your shoulders ake
   For ye beare a great God, which ye yourselfes made
   Make of it what ye wyl, it is a wafar cake
   And betwen two Irons printed it is and bake
   And loke where Idolatrye is, Christe wyl not be there
   Wherfore ley downe your burden, an Idole ye do beare. (59)

Shepherds reference to the made Host carries with it a double sense. First, he mocks clerical "making" by pointing to the Host's culinary production. Like the Lollard critiques noted earlier, Shepherds satire reduces the Host to its initial status as wafer cake, baked with printing irons. Yet Shepherd also slyly turns the concept of clerical making to mean "invented" or "created." By locating this "making" in the past--"which ye yourselfes made"--Shepherd introduces a historical element to his critique. The historical elaboration of the doctrine of transubstantiation here becomes the false "making" of the Host.

More parodie is Shepherd's brief tract, Cautels preservatory concerning the preservation of the gods which are kept in the pyx, thought to be printed in 1548. (60) Like other antagonists of the mass, Shepherd satirically addresses priests as "god makers" and as those with the "greate power of God makinge." (61) Offering satirical trade advice to priests, Shepherd singles them out as for being "much worthy disprayse amonge al other craftes men" in their disregard for preserving their handiwork. (62) On this point, Shepherd contrasts priests with those who work with food. Shepherd praises "apothecaries and grossers [who] in theyr occupiynges haue waies and meanes to conserue and preserue diuerse thynges as fruites rotes & herbes," particularly noting their preservation of "Damasene prunes, cheres, Quinces, peachis, peares, Oliues, Cappars, Orenges walnuttes, melons, Citrones & manye other thynges." (63) Priests, on the other hand, fail to preserve their "God from filthe and putrifaction," allowing consecrated wafers to "corrupt, molde, stinke, rotte must, cleaue together bred wormes & diuerse other mishappes." (64)

Shepherd's satirical concern for decaying Hosts addresses the material production of wafers. Advising priests to consider the honesty and skill of the wafer maker, Shepherd highlights the way that imperfect wafers cause the Host's decay: "for by his [the wafer maker's] vneoninge or couetousnes he maye be a great cause of the decaye of them [the wafers]. As if he make them of musty wheate, or make hys batter to thynne for couetuousnes. Or if by rechelesnes take not head whether hys Irons be hote inoughe or to coulde, for so by slackenes of bakynge maye they be the soner mustys and hore mouldyd." (65) Shepherd thus situates the Host within economic transactions between priests and wafer makers fraught with potential physical and moral imperfection. The Host itself becomes subject to physical imperfections despite its consecration by the priest. The Host bears the marks--mould and mustiness--of its physical nature. Importantly, Shepherd satirically identifies the wafers' faulty production as a contributing cause. For Shepherd, individual consecrated wafers do not escape their history as a food product circulating within a supply chain. The Host's history as food commodity remains evident in its decay.

Shepherd proposes a number of actions to manage the wafers' imperfection and decay. Priests must either choose or modify the wafers so that they are the "fairest roundest and whighteste." Should they be imperfect, priests should "clip them rounde with a payer of sheres, or pare them with a sharpe knife. The clippinge or paringes whereof, maye paruenture be a refreshing to youre clarke or to the boye that healpeth you to saye Masse." (66) Consecration should be performed on a clear day to avoid making wafers "danke and soddy." (67) During winter and other damp weather, wafers should be stored in a box placed in the chimney. (68) Moldy wafers can be dried in the churchyard, provided precautions are taken against the wind and birds. (69) Such wafers also may be cured on a mesh laid over a chafing dish of coals, into which "ye shal cast the pouder of brimstone which wyll make them white againe but ye must remember to torne them [the wafers] oft." (70) Should these measures prove ineffective, Shepherd notes that priests must resort to "your olde order of burning, or buriyng of them [wafers], wherin I know wel ye be expert inough and to well practised." (71)

Several elements of Shepherd's satire--the presentation of grocers and apothecaries as models for the clergy, the contrast between wafers' commercial production and clerical "making," the cutting of wafers with sharp knives, the roasting of wafers over coals, as well as the burning and burying of moldy wafers--echo the action of the Play of the Sacrament and of Host-desecration stories more broadly. By emphasizing the wafer's status as a baked good, Shepherd satirically integrates the clerical handling of it into the history of the wafers production and consumption. Rather than subordinate that production history to the power of consecration as the Croxton play does, Shepherd satirizes clerical labor, characterizing it as equivalent to other forms of food labor. In this light, Shepherd's tract appears as a negative reflection of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament: Shepherd's priests are occupied in activities very similar to those performed by the play's Jews, abusing the Host, with each unwittingly revealing conflicting truths about the Host.


Alongside its foregrounding of the value of the consecrated wafer as dependent on the work of the priest--even a bumbling one such as Ser Isidore--the Play of the Sacrament stages a parodie version of the wafer's physical manufacture, demonstrating the failure of culinary attempts to "unmake" the Host. The reassertion of ecclesiastical control of the Host culminates in the Bishop's taking possession of the "image" of the bloody Christ child once it has "change[d] agayne into brede" and then transferring the wafer from oven to church altar.

Yet the theatrical nature of the prop intrudes here, threatening to disrupt the play's assertion of ecclesiastical control as well as its assertion of the doctrine of transubstantiation. As many critics have noted, the play's spectacular special effect--a "frankly outrageous technological contrivance"--threatens to undermine the doctrine the play works so hard to demonstrate. (72) Yet the simpler prop--the bread--tends to escape comment, even though its reappearance here perhaps more radically questions the reassertion of ecclesiastical authority. A consecrated wafer cannot have served as the prop throughout the play. It seems unlikely, too, that a consecrated wafer would be substituted at the play's end even though doing so would lend sacred weight to the Bishop's "sole[m]pne prcessyon" to the church, to the singing of O sacrum convivium, and to the laying of the "Ost on pe auter" (837, 865 s.d.). The prop-bread used throughout the play is a product of food labor and not of the priestly "making" the play extols. If the play's spectacular special effect threatens to expose how Host-miracles may be theatrically staged, the bread-as-prop threatens to do so throughout the play.

While the bread-prop threatens to undermine the doctrine of transubstantiation, it does not actually do so. By alluding to the wafer's production history, the play acknowledges such a critique. It takes up terms of Eucharist debate familiar to critiques of transubstantiation, some of which attempted to make visible the wafers production history and include consecration within that history. Importantly, those terms extend to the mid-sixteenth-century debate, and both the Play of the Sacrament and Shepherd's Cautels Preservatory participate in the same tradition of debate on the Eucharist, elements of which include drawing attention to the wafer's production as food as well as the contrasting of priests' and food laborers' productive work. (73) Such critiques described, albeit not without irony, the enmeshment of the wafer in a series of social and economic transactions, a series which included the priest's role as the last link in this wafer supply chain.

At stake in this articulation of the wafer's enmeshment was its representation of the social body. For many reformers, the wafer's embodiment of social cohesion lay in the wafer's production history rather than in its consecration. The exposure of the wafer's supply chain presented an alternative view of a collective body, one opposed to what has been called the "hegemonic model of transubstantiation." (74) In doing so, the reformers contrasted "ocular communion" with communal consumption--and production--of the Host. (75) The Croxton Play of the Sacrament stages these competing visions, subordinating the labor of the wafer's production while valorizing the powerful ecclesiastical labor of the wafer's consecration.

Laurentian University


I wish to thank Lisa Laframboise, Mrinalini Greedharry, and the anonymous reviewers of Comparative Drama for their insightful comments on and assistance with this essay. I am also grateful for the support provided by the Laurentian University Research Fund.

(1) "The Play of the Sacrament," in Non-Cycle Plays and Fragments, Early English Text Society (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970), lines 804, 825 s.d., hereafter cited in the text. For a discussion of the image as an icon, see Leanne Groeneveld, "Christ as Image in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama 40 (2001): 177-95; compare with Ann Eljenholm Nichols, "The Croxton Play of the Sacrament: A Re-Reading," Comparative Drama 22 (1988): 117-25, who argues that a child plays this role (125).

(2) Caroline Walker Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women," Representations 11 (1985): 1-25 (3).

(3) Charles Zika, "Hosts, Processions and Pilgrimages: Controlling the Sacred in Fifteenth-Century Germany," Past and Present 118 (1988): 25-64 (58).

(4) Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," 16.

(5) Sister Nicholas Maltman, "Meaning and Art in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," ELH 41 (1974): 149-64(151).

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid., 158.

(8) Bynum, "Fast, Feast, and Flesh," 3.

(9) See Sarah Beckwith, "Ritual, Church and Theatre: Medieval Dramas of the Sacramental Body," in Culture and History, 1350-1600: Essays on English Communities, Identities, and Writing, ed. David Aers (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 65-89; Alexandra Reid-Schwartz, "Economies of Salvation: Commerce and the Eucharist in The Profanation of the Host and the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," Comitatus 25 (1994): 1-20; Derrick Higginbotham, "Impersonators in the Market: Merchants and the Premodern Nation in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," Exemplaria 19 (2007): 163-82; John Parker, The Aesthetics of Antichrist: From Christian Drama to Christopher Marlowe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). For discussions of the Host's circulation as a commodity, see Estella Antoaneta Ciobanu, "City of God? City Merchants, Bloody Trade and the Eucharist in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," in Images of the City, ed. Agnieszka Rasmus and Magdalena Cieslak (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009), 50-70.

(10) Beckwith, "Ritual, Church and Theatre," 70. See also Beckwith's discussion of episcopal control of East Anglian markets, 70-72.

(11) Richard L. Homan, "Devotional Themes in the Violence and Humor of the Play of the Sacrament," Comparative Drama 20 (1986): 327-40 (335-37).

(12) For example, see Homan, "Devotional Themes"; Greg Walker, ed., "The Play of the Sacrament," in Medieval Drama: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 213; Paul Strohm, "The Croxton Play of the Sacrament: Commemoration and Repetition in Late Medieval Culture," in Performances of the Sacred in Late Medieval and Early Modern England, ed. Susanne Rupp and Tobias Doring (New York: Rodopi, 2005), 42n20.

(13) Nichols, "A Re-Reading," 125. Also see "Mary Magdalene (From the Digby MS)," in Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1975) where Mary claims that "The oile of mercy hath helyd min[e] infirmite" (line 759).

(14) While Davies has Malcus add "fowr" gallons of oil, both Bevington and Walker have him add three. Walker, "The Play of the Sacrament," 224.

(15) Hans Kurath, ed., "Sethen," Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952); compare with "Digby Mary Magdalene," lines 916-17, where the raised Lazarus exclaims "I shuld a rottyt, as doth the tondyre, / Fleysch from the bonys a consumyd away."

(16) Strohm, "The Croxton Play of the Sacrament," 42.

(17) Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 7-10; Denise L. Despres, "Immaculate Flesh and the Social Body: Mary and the Jews," Jewish History 12 (1998): 47-69 (55); L. Lampert, "The Once and Future Jew: The Croxton Play of the Sacrament, Little Robert of Bury and Historical Memory," Jewish History 15 (2001): 235-55 (241).

(18) Rubin, Gentile Tales, 72.

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid., 155-57, 160, fig. 21. Also see fig. 20a and b, 158-59.

(21) On the Jews in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament, see Lampert, "The Once and Future Jew"; James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995); Anthony P. Bale, '"House Devil, Town Saint': Anti-Semitism and Hagiography in Medieval Suffolk," in Chancer and the Jews: Sources, Contexts, Meanings, ed. Sheila Delany (New York: Routledge, 2002), 185-210; Despres, "Immaculate Flesh and the Social Body."

(22) Rubin, Gentile Tales, 96.

(23) Ibid., 155.

(24) Theresa Coletti, "Paupertas Est Donum Dei: Hagiography, Lay Religion, and the Economics of Salvation in the Digby Mary Magdalene," Speculum 76 (2001): 337-78; Theresa Coletti, "The Design of the Digby Play of 'Mary Magdalene,'" Studies in Philology 76 (1979): 313-33 (313); for a wider-ranging discussion of food-motifs in medieval English drama, see Leah Sinanoglou, "The Christ Child as Sacrifice: A Medieval Tradition and the Corpus Christi Plays," Speculum 48 (1973): 491-509.

(25) Susan Rose, The Wine Trade in Medieval Europe 1000-1500 (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 101.

(26) Anne Higgins, "Work and Plays: Guild Casting the Corpus Christi Drama," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 83-84.

(27) Coletti, "Paupertas Est Donum Dei," 349; Coletti, "Design of the Digby Play," 318.

(28) Ann Eljenholm Nichols, "Lollard Language in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," Notes and Queries 36 (1989): 24-25; yet Margaret Aston, "Wyclif and the Vernacular," in From Ockham to Wyclif: Oxford Scholarship in the Fourteenth Century, ed. Anne Hudson and Michael Wilks, Studies in Church History 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 288n20, notes that the phrase "'Christ in a cake' was not at all disrespectful in itself," nor indicative of heretical understanding of the Host.

(29) James Raine and York Minster, The Fabric Rolls of York Minster, vol. 35, The Surtees Society (Durham: G. Andrews, 1859), 353.

(30) "Singing Bread, N.," Oxford English Dictionary (online version, 1989),

(31) Quoted in Anne Hudson, "The Mouse in the Pyx: Popular Heresy and the Eucharist," Trivium 28 (1991): 40-53 (42).

(32) Andrew Clark, Lincoln Diocese Documents, 1450-1544 (London: Pub. for the Early English Text Society, 1914), 23n5.

(33) Ibid., 23, 93; Thomas Frederick Simmons, The Lay Folks' Mass Book: Or, Manner of Hearing Mass: With Rubric and Devotions for the People: in Four Texts; And, Offices in English according to the Use of York: From MSS. of the Xth to the XVth Century (N. Triibner for the Early English Text Society, 1879), 232n1; Rites of Durham, Being a Description or Brief Declaration of All the Ancient Monuments, Rites, and Customs Belonging or Being within the Monastical Church of Durham before the Suppression: Catholic Church. Missal. Durham: Free Download and Streaming: Internet Archive, 194, accessed February 22, 2012,; for instructions on the monastic baking of the wafers, see William Maskell, The Ancient Liturgy of the Church of England, According Tp the Uses of Sarum, Bangor, York and Hereford and the Modern Roman Liturgy Arranged in Parallel Culumns, 32n35, accessed October 28, 2011, http://www.archive. org/details/theancientliturg00maskuoft.

(34) Simmons, The Lay Folks' Mass Book, 232n1.

(35) John Mirk et al., John Mirk's Festial: Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A.11, Early English Text Society, OS 334-335 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1:155.

(36) Mirk et al., John Mirk's Festial, 1:155.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Ibid., 1:159.

(39) Ibid.

(40) Ibid.

(41) Ibid.

(42) J. Kail, ed., "Of the Sacrament of the Altar," in Twenty-Six Political and Other Poems (including "Petty Job") from the Oxford Mss. Digby 102 and Douce 322, OS 124 (London: Early English Text Society, 1904), lines 65-68.

(43) Margaret Aston, "Corpus Christi and Corpus Regni: Heresy and the Peasants' Revolt," Past and Present 143 (1994): 3-47 (28).

(44) Beckwith, "Ritual, Church and Theatre," 66.

(45) Aston, "Corpus Christi and Corpus Regni," 20.

(46) Hudson, "Mouse in the Pyx," 44.

(47) Clark, Lincoln Diocese Documents, 93.

(48) Quoted in Hudson, "Mouse in the Pyx," 44.

(49) Ibid.

(50) See Nichols, "Lollard Language," 25, who notes that the phrase "material bread" became a test phrase used by authorities when questioning suspected Lollards.

(51) Hudson, "Mouse in the Pyx," 42-43.

(52) Ibid., 42.

(53) Ibid.

(54) Clark, Lincoln Diocese Documents, 93.

(55) Beckwith, "Ritual, Church and Theatre," 69.

(56) As ibid., 70, points out, Sparke here accuses the Church of a "thorough-going immersion in the world of the mercantile economy" in its running of "a veritable image industry."

(57) Clark, Lincoln Diocese Documents, 95; Clark characterizes Sparke's calculation as "An attempt at a reductio ad absurdum argument. If the host were the body of Christ it should be worth, even at Judas's valuation, 30 silver-pennies ... how then could a wafer be the body of Christ when it could be bought for 1/60d.?"

(58) For example, see Thomas Becon, Prayers and Other Pieces of Thomas Becon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), 261. Becon argues that "A wonderful god it is that ye set forth to the people to be worshipped. Not many days past it was corn in the ploughman's barn; afterward the miller ground it to meal; then the baker, mingling a little water with it, made dough of it, and with a pair of hot printing-irons baked it. Now at the last come you, blustering and blowing, and with a few words spoken over it, ye charm the bread on such sort that ... a fair young child, above fifteen hundred years old, come in the place of the bread."

(59) Luke Shepherd, John Bon and Mast Person, Early English Books Online (London: Imprinted by J. Daye and W. Seres, 1548), n.p.

(60) Janice Devereux, "An Addition to Luke Shepherd's Canon," Notes and Queries 42 (1995): 279-81.

(61) Luke Shepherd, [Cautels Preservatory Concerning the Preservation of the Gods Which Are Kept in the Pyx], Early English Books Online (London, 1548), A2v.

(62) Shepherd, [Cautels Preservatory], A3r.

(63) Ibid.

(64) Ibid., A3r, A2v.

(65) Ibid., A4r-v.

(66) Ibid., A4v.

(67) Ibid., A5r.

(68) Ibid., A4v.

(69) Ibid., A5v.

(70) Ibid., A6r.

(71) Ibid., A7v-A8r.

(72) David Lawton, "Sacrilege and Theatricality: The Croxton Play of the Sacrament," Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 33 (2003): 281-309 (296); also see Beckwith, "Ritual, Church and Theatre," 68; Groeneveld, "Christ as Image," 189-90; Michael Jones, "Theatrical History in the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," ELH 66 (1999): 248-49.

(73) The engagement of both texts in this debate lends support to the argument that the plays manuscript should be dated to the mid-sixteenth century. See Tamara Atkin, "Playbooks and Printed Drama: A Reassessment of the Date and Layout of the Manuscript of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament," The Review of English Studies 60, no. 244 (2009): 194-205 (205).

(74) David Aers and Sarah Beckwith, "The Eucharist," in Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History, ed. Brian Cummings and James Simpson, Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 158.

(75) Amy Nelson Burnett, "The Social History of Communion and the Reformation of the Eucharist," Past and Present 211 (2011): 77-119 (84).
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