A Theatrical Miracle: The Boxley Rood of Grace as Puppet

Leanne Groeneveld

Abstract


In 1538 a commissioner of the church charged with the ‘defacyng of the late Monasterye of Boxley, and pluckyng down of the Images of the same’ examined a crucifix ‘in greate veneracion of people’ and discovered therein ‘certen ingynes and olde wyer’ which caused the image’s eyes and mouth to move. For more than thirty years after the discovery of its internal mechanism, the Boxley Rood was cited by reformers as evidence of the corruption of the Catholic church, as (they alleged) it simulated miracle through mechanics and was used by the monks of Boxley for monetary gain. This paper reviews accounts of the Boxley Rood of Grace written between 1538 and 1570 and argues that these accounts work to establish clear and exclusive categories of miracle and mimesis (theatre), categories still accepted today. Over time the Rood of Grace evolved in reformed descriptions into an elaborate, marionette-like puppet. By comparing the Rood to a puppet reformers exploited contemporary representations of puppet theatre as a ‘low’ entertainment that appealed only to the ignorant and the spiritually and sexually corrupt, suggesting that ‘miraculous’ images appealed to the same type of audience. This paper concludes by questioning the exclusivity of the categories of miracle and theatre insisted upon by Protestant reformers. Evidence suggests that in its original ritual context the Rood of Grace was read as both.


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