Este artículo evalúa la función performativa de la celebración de la pilota en Auxerre, un juego litúrgico realizado en un laberinto eclesiástico el lunes de Semana Santa y del cual se tiene documentación desde el siglo XIV. En este rito festivo, miembros del clero bailaban mientras se lanzaban una pelota unos a otros y cantaban la secuencia Victimae paschali laudes. Este tipo de chorea circa daedalum sincronizaba lo temporal y lo sublunar en un ritual corporal que al mismo tiempo retomaba paradigmas neoplatónicos multivalentes dentro de la música y la danza. Esta cultura encarnada reunía lo secular con lo eclesiástico en su evocación concomitante de la armonía de las esferas, la Pasión de Cristo y las míticas trayectorias de Teseo y Orfeo. El artículo cuestiona las implicaciones socioculturales y comunales de este legado y el papel constitutivo de la música en esta práctica colectiva.
Palabras clave: Laberinto-danza-ritual-Victimae paschali laudes-performatividad-ludus-juego de pelota-Medioevo-Semana Santa.
This article evaluates the performative function of the Auxerre pilota celebration, a liturgical game realized over an ecclesiastical labyrinth on Easter Monday and recorded as early as the fourteenth century. In the festive rite, members of the clergy engaged in a dance, enacted while tossing a ball back and forth, and singing the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes. This chorea circa daedalum synchronized temporal and sublunary in a corporate ritual, which simultaneously inscribed multivalent Neo-Platonic paradigms within the parameters of music and dance. The embodied practice coalesced secular and ecclesiastical in its concomitant evocation of the harmony of the spheres, the Passion of the Christ, and the mythical trajectories of Theseus and Orpheus. The article interrogates the socio-cultural and communal implications of this embodied cultural legacy and the constitutive role of music in this collective practice.
Key words: Labyrinth-dance-ritual-Victimae paschali laudes-performativity-ludus-ball game-medieval-Easter.
Chorea est iter circulare. Diaboli iter est circulare. Ergo chorea est motus diaboli.
This study will evaluate the performative function of the Auxerre pilota celebration, a liturgical game realized over an ecclesiastical labyrinth on Easter Monday and recorded as early as the fourteenth century. In the festive rite, members of the clergy engaged in a ritualized dance, performed while tossing a ball and singing the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes to organ accompaniment. According to the monastic Ordinatio de pila facienda of April 18, 1396, upon entering the Auxerre monastery, incoming clerics were expected to supply a large ball for this ludic Paschal observance. To cut costs, a later stipulation of April 19, 1412 qualified that the ball donated might be smaller, but must still be too large to be grasped in one hand alone. (Wright 2001: 139–142; 321 n. 35; Mehl 1948: 157–158) The Eastertide ceremony, possibly a rite of passage for the initiate, is described in detail by early-modern philologist Abbé Jean Lebeuf in a citation of a prior manuscript source:
The dean or his representative, who is dressed like all those present in the [amice], receives the ball from one who is newly baptized or from a newly admitted cleric. All sing the antiphon Victimae paschali laudes appropriate to the feast of Easter. Then the dean seizes the ball with his left hand and [performs a tripudium] (“tripudium agebat”) solemnly in time to the music. The others join hands and dance around the master (“choream circa daedalum ducentibus”). While they are dancing, the dean throws the ball to the individual dancers in turn, and they throw it back. The game proceeds to the accompaniment of the organ and the dance. When song and dance are ended, the company goes to lunch. (Trans. Mehl 1948: 157)
This liturgical game is not without precedent. While Erwin Mehl lists a number of ballgame rituals in Europe dating from the Stone Age, there are a few particular references that have more than a passing association with the Auxerre practice. (Mehl 1948). In the thirteenth century, Bishop of Mende, Guillaume Durand mentions that on Easter, and occasionally Christmas, priests and their clerks played ball games accompanied by song and dance. A decree of the chapter of the cathedral of Sens dated April 14, 1443 corroborates the execution of a similar ballgame around an ecclesiastical labyrinth on Easter itself. (Krönig 1979: 115)
The conflation of ludic and sacred typifies ritualistic phenomena across cultures. Yet, it also epitomizes the slippage between play and the ceremonial in numerous medieval Easter paraliturgical enactments such as the Quem quaeritis dialogue for Easter matins, where the three Marys are questioned by the angels at Christ’s tomb, or this dialogue’s development in the Visitatio sepulchri corpus. Though strenuously challenged, Osbourne B. Hardison’s hypothesis that modern performative theater may be traced back to such liturgical enactments is nonetheless provocative. Notwithstanding such scholarly overstatement, Stephen Spector observes: “twice in the history of Europe, drama [and I might substitute performativity] has emerged from ritual... As the performance became detached from its religious origin what remained was play.” (Spector 1997: 199) Play, ludus, the dialogic interstices of secular and the sacred...all come to perform in Auxerre’s rare alignment of game, liturgy, and rupture.
If Mikhail Bakhtin and Johan Huizinga marginalize and misrepresent a medieval culture of play, their perspicacious observations hold truth. Huizinga lays bare the intense struggle invested in the Latin term “ludus,” referring to the Vulgate transmission of II Samuel 2:14: “Surgant pueri et ludant coram nobis.” (Huizinga 1971: 41) This Biblical duel to the death, where adversaries from the opposing forces of King David’s generals, Abner and Joab, are enjoined to engage in hand-to-hand combat, enlists the Latin verbal “ludant.” Huizinga explains the etymological connotation of the original Hebrew word “sahaq” meaning “laugh,” “do in jest,” or “dance.” Whether explosive or concealed, ludus encodes violence, instability, and disjunction. Clifford Davidson states categorically that “none of the liturgical music-dramas, even the Daniel from Beauvais Cathedral, actually allows for subversive [Davidson’s italics] improvisation either in speech and singing or movement and gesture that might act to undermine the meaning of the play.” Yet Margot Fassler cogently demonstrates how the Danielis Ludus might actually exchange or sublimate playful features appropriated from the Feast of Fools and may also serve to upset and deregulate hierarchical orderings. (Fassler 1992) In like vein, Martin Walsh utilizes a 16th-c. version of “Till Eulenspiegel and His Merry Pranks,” Ein Kurzweilig lesen von Dyl Eulenspiegel (Strasbourg, 1515) to probe the subversive potential of the Visitatio sepulchri. In the episode, Eulenspiegel feeds a farmer turned player a new bawdy punch-line usurping the stock reply to the ancient “Quem quaeritis” query. Calling the narrative certainly apocryphal, Davidson nevertheless agrees that it serves as a “reminder that the possibility of subversive improvisation...is not to be ruled out” in the medieval liturgical drama. This study will seek to demonstrate how the performative juxtapositions of Auxerre’s ludus invert traditional hierarchies and balance, if only temporarily, notions of caste in the context of the labyrinth dance.
The incorporation of a labyrinth pattern on late-medieval French nave floors was ubiquitous and is attested in several cathedrals including Chartres and St. Quentin. Although numerous examples survive from antiquity, the earliest extant ecclesiastical labyrinth dates from 324 C.E., originally lying in the basilica of St. Reparatus in El Asnam, Algeria, and transported to Algiers in the early twentieth century. Similar to pavement mazes found at Harphan, Susa, and Sousse, Tunisia, this North-African specimen adopted a quadratic Roman format. However, around ca. 900 C.E., the prototypical “Chartrain” design began to emerge first in manuscripts primarily dedicated to computus, the arcane mathematical art of calculating Easter’s date. Computus resorted to the lunar cycle to determine when Easter would fall each year. The “Chartrain” labyrinth, an eleven-track unicursal maze of circular or less frequently octagonal shape, modeled the lunar calendar with its path.
Both Paolo Santarcangeli and Dawn Marie Hayes signal the festive quality seemingly ascribed to these sites as attested by numerous accounts of celebratory games occurring over ecclesiastical mazes, particularly around the Easter season. (Santarcangeli 1974: 296; Hayes 2003: 30–31) As early as the efflorescence of the twelfth-century, Jean Beleth registered censure for the ecclesiastical dances performed over these labyrinth designs, possibly for the
Pl. 1. A drawing of the Chartrain unicursal labyrinth maze design. www.astrolog.org/labyrnth/maze/chartres.gif [Accessed: 1 November 2008].
subversive connotations. Erwin Mehl and Santarcangeli attribute pre-Christian roots to the rite. (Santarcangeli 1974: 297–298) Distinct references to a pagan subtext for the ritual abound. Writers dating from the Middle Ages define the tripudium as a clamorous Roman dance performed by priests in honor of Mars, and accompanied by the bellicose clash of shields and spears. (Arlt 1970: 42–43; Harris 2007: 6; Fassler 1992: 75) Counting four separate tripudia for Christmastide, Beleth informs that, in his day, the dance had become the express province of the subdeacons. Fassler notes that minor clergy, students, and choral members also participated in the dance. Like with the Decembrica ballgames excoriated by Beleth, every member of the ecclesiastical community, bishops and archbishops alike, might have taken part in these choreographed celebrations. (Harris 2007) Proposing that the church came to endorse or at least tolerate such performative acts as an infelicitous compromise, Fassler musters the exemplum of William of Auxerre. Fassler suggests that his reluctant acceptance of ludi was a concession, an imperfect middle ground intended to ground and sublimate more radical tendencies. The cleric viewed these performances as once diametrically opposed to orthodoxy, but now conscripted in the service of the faith. (Fassler 1992: 76–77)
In an article on the medieval reception of dance in the church, Louis Gougaud cites an exhaustive array of Patristic and other extra-Biblical texts disparaging dance. (Gougaud 1914) Patristic bans or at least discouragement of dancing can be traced at least as far back as Augustine. The maxim issued by church patriarch Cyprianus speaks profoundly to the Auxerre circumstances: “Chorea est circulum cuius centrum est diabolus, qui in medio tripudiantium ignem concupiscentiae inflammabat.” (Kirkendale 1984: 82) “The chorea is a circle whose center is the Devil, who, dancing in the middle, inflames lustful fire.” This quote, at least, clearly frames the deacon as the Devil, dancing a tripudium at the center of Hell, while Christ, as played by the celebrant host, charts the labyrinth in a dramaturgical harrowing of Hell.
While the account of the Auxerre enactment is brief, the portrayal affords valuable insight into the performative and performatic implications of this ritual. I take my lead on the delineation of these two terms from Diana Taylor. Speaking especially to the imposition of Austinian methodologies, Taylor states:
In this trajectory, the performative becomes less a quality (or adjective) of "performance" than of discourse. Although it may be too late to reclaim performative for the nondiscursive realm of performance, I suggest that we borrow a word from the contemporary Spanish usage of performance—performático or performatic in English— to denote the adjectival form of the nondiscursive realm of performance. Why is this important? Because it is vital to signal the performatic, digital, and visual fields as separate from, though always embroiled with, the discursive one so privileged by Western logocentrism.(Taylor 2003: 6)
Hence, “performatic” involves that which is thoroughly removed from the discursive logocentric realm, i.e. the material, the gestural, the choreographic, the temporal, the communal, the architectural, the spatial. In fact, the principal details documented for the Auxerre rite coalesce under this rubric: the amice, the ball, the exchange, the toss, the dance, the clasped hands, the tripudium step, the organ, the communal meal following. This particular excerpt omits location, but certainly both labyrinth and church nave signify profoundly. The only truly discursive element is, in point of fact, the corporate call and response of Victimae paschali laudes, but this is not a typical discursive modality. This line of inquiry will be taken up again in a close reading of the Victimae paschali laudes sequence below.
I first address the inherently performatic elements of the Auxerre game, beginning with material aspects. Clothing all participants, heedless of standing, in the generic amice (almutiam) democratizes, exhibiting the same predisposition towards anonymity of dress pinpointed by scholars of ritual. A common trait of such rites, non-specific attire donned by celebrants in rituals works to equalize, blurring sense of class, rank, and (obviously, not in this case) sex distinctions. Rabanus Maurus, archbishop of Mainz was the first ecclesiastical auctor to include the amice in a list of liturgical vestiture (ca. 820), but according to the Ordo Romanus I, the garment had already been adopted en masse by clergy from the early eighth century. (Hayward 1971: 304) Met Cloisters curator Dobrila-Donya Schimansky and costume historian Mary G. Houston verify the pedestrian grade of the Eucharistic vestment, put on the first when dressing, and worn by practically all clerical orders beyond the minor ones. (Schimansky 1971: 317; cf. Houston 1996: 23; Norris 2003: 85–88) So in the frame of the ritual, the prescribed dress serves to regularize, unify, and undermine any sense of elevated rank.
The yellow ball prescribed for the ceremony may signify several possible referents. Since the prototype for the maze was the structure mythographically commissioned by Minos to imprison the Minotaur, the ball may be equated with the balls of string and wax Ariadne gave to Theseus when he entered the labyrinth. The ball of string was intended to guide him out and the ball of pitch was to throw into the mouth of the Minotaur to kill the beast. In medieval Ovidian commentaries, Theseus becomes a type for Christ and the balls represent grace and Christ’s humanity, the weapon that ultimately confounded Satan. Of course, this anagogical spin problematizes the positioning of the dean, whether as Christ triumphans or as Minotaur cum diabolus at the center. Yet such multivalent explication is a commonplace in the medieval psyche. Indeed, the pilota may also connote the sun, since one designation for the Risen Christ is the sol salutis Christi, or alternately, the “sun of righteousness.” It also noteworthy that the Cretan bull cult venerated a solar deity, and that according to Greek mythology, Ariadne’s mother, and mother to the bastard Minotaur through her illicit union with a sacrificial white bull of Poseidon, was descended from the sun.
Although it is unclear why, the pilota needed to be too large to hold in one hand alone. The description of the ritual also stipulates that the dean handle the ball with his left hand. Coordination obviously factored into making the activity quite difficult to synchronize, together with choreography and singing. As confirmed by contemporary critics including Jean Beleth, the game was a coming of together of all members of the monastic community, regardless of station. Excelling at the sportive ritual must have engineered new rankings and leveled the playing field, as it were, if only momentarily. Certainly such temporary imbalance was not without parallel in ecclesiastical life. A more conspicuous role reversal occurred at the festum subdiaconorum, during which, for a day, the bishop ostensibly ceded his office, at least in token act, to a boy. (Fassler 1992: 70–72) In feigned revolt, subdeacons temporarily took control of the choir and even reversed the order of seating in choir stalls. (Fassler 1992: 65)
The most salient performatic feature of the ritual, the dance itself, reveals a much deeper theme. The spatial model outlined by participants and ball exposes the neo-Platonic underpinnings of the ceremony. Oppositional choreographical circuits, reversal of steps, and the trajectory traced by the ball combine to chart a veritable universe in the imaginary. As noted below, the labyrinth dance recreated the Timaean cosmogony, coalescing neo-Platonic and biblical notions of time, creation, and rebirth. The labyrinth symbolized the cosmos and its creation for medieval writers ranging from Marius Victorinus to Jean de Meun to proponents of the Chartrian School. It is noteworthy that the ball was contributed by the initiate, the newly-admitted cleric or newly-baptized. This detail is of particular interest, since typically, Easter Sunday was the traditional date for annual baptisms, and since the less frequently employed octagonal labyrinth design, the standard geometrical configuration for baptisteries, refers specifically to baptism. Baptism signifies death and rebirth. Baptismal fonts dating as early as the fourth century in Milan bear this shape. The form connotes eternity, symbolically the “eighth day”, and also Resurrection Sunday. Preaching a sermon around the date of this Milanese font’s construction, Ambrose of Milan clarifies: “Yesterday we discussed the font, which shows, as it were, the form of the tomb, which we enter as we profess our faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy spirit, and in which we are dipped under and come up, that is, rise again.” (Trans. Overbeck 1998: 13)
The earliest octagonal labyrinth to survive is located at Amiens. The octagonal labyrinth at Reims, where an Easter chorea or liturgical dance is actually documented, remained intact until the eighteenth century, when it was summarily razed. The thematics of regeneration speaks to Christ’s reversal of death, as well as the new spiritual life of the baptized, and the natural cycle of the earth signaled by spring’s awakening. But it also speaks to the ultimate beginning, of the cosmos, and of the birth of divine Savior and the actualization of salvation.
Pl. 2. A drawing of the Reims octagonal labyrinth. Extract, 'Le Jubé et le labyrinthe dans la cathédrale de Reims' (1885), Bibliothèque Municipale de Reims, CR IV 161 M. (By permission of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Reims.)
With its evocation of the movement of the spheres and the angels, the pilota game forges a complex relationship to architectural space. Choreographing this embodied practice within the frame of the cathedral and the labyrinth sanctifies, but also arrogates orthodoxy. Physical setting often imbues ritual with rich meaning and rituals may also reinterpret space in new enlightening ways. The labyrinth dance at Auxerre implicates its performance space on multiple levels: as the site where Easter liturgy has played out in its manifold instantiations, as a metaphysical tool for accessing the cosmos and approximating the path of Christ’s passion, and, closer to home, as a reconfiguration of architectonic power paradigms.
Susan Rodgers & Joanna E. Ziegler have identified similar multivalence in a mystic Beguine’s ecstatic dance episodes and the relationship established to architectural space. Utilizing I.M. Lewis’s perspective of ritual as a locus for subversion and resistance, the authors construe the mystical dance of Elisabeth of Spalbeek as an “implicit critique of the idea that only the official church could mediate divinity and regulate believer’s relationships to the body of Christ.” (Rodgers & Ziegler 1999: 303) While the Auxerre ludus stands as ontologically distinct from Elisabeth’s performance, this essential reading obtains. In Rodgers & Ziegler’s epistemology, Elisabeth is empowered to embody divinity by realizing her choreography in the sacrosanct space of the church. The earliest verifiable portrayal of God in a medieval drama dates from only a century prior, since the Paschon Christos, although attributed to Gregory of Nazarius, survives only in a 12th-century transmission. (Muir 1997: 27 n. 4) Technically, the Auxerre practice might better be referred to as hierophany, the manifestation of the sacred, rather than theophany, actual divine revelation. But for all intents and purposes, the clerical ring dance around the dean unites the entire community as Christ incarnate in a choreographical staging of the “Harrowing of the Hell.”
The connection between Christ’s harrowing of Hell and circular dances runs deep. The association of round dances with Easter festivities recurs in medieval texts, and is reminiscent of the account of Jesus’ Passiontide ring dance, rendered in the apocryphal Acts of St. John. This Gnostic transmission records a hymn of Jesus, which is essentially a round dance. The sumptuous Magnus Liber recension in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana contains some thirty dances specifically designated for Easter. Full-page miniatures illustrate this choreographical practice. The Boethian explication of the music of the spheres or musica mundana is pictured as an illumination of the heavens, alongside an image of musica humana, depicted by four dancing clerics. This stark juxtaposition displays figuratively the metaphysical drama enacted at Auxerre metaphorizing the ethereal process the dancers embodied. (Baltzer 1972)
Analyzing these same monophonic Latin rondelli from the Magnus Liber, Benjamin Brand identifies iconographical strategies alluding to Christ’s harrowing of Hell, an event fleshed out in the Gospel of Nicodemus and alluded to metaphorically in Psalm 24, according to medieval theologians. (Brand 2003; Smoldon 1980) It is no accident that Doob and others locate this same narrative in the Auxerre labyrinth ludus. (Doob 1990: 125–128) Indeed, the thematics of the harrowing of Hell also bears a close relationship to the Victimae paschali laudes sequence, and the figure of the labyrinth itself. The sequence text not only narrates this passage, but is also employed in medieval Paschal dramas, as a signifier of the event. The location of this drama in the maze has its own ramifications. While one medieval interpretation of the labyrinth was the cosmos, another frequent explication of the maze was Hell. And further elaborating this symbology, the Biblical cosmogony was viewed to prefigure Christ’s harrowing of Hell. This trope on a trope circles back on itself with the harrowing of Hell signifying the creation and by extension the cosmos and its dance of the spheres.
Like the Auxerre ludus, one of the earliest written descriptions of a dance practice also mirrored the celestial dance. The Neo-Pythagorean Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.E.–50 C.E.) commented on the dance ritual of the Therapeutics, an ascetic sect who reputedly performed round dances in pursuit of divine revelation. The religious community danced what Philo understood to be a replication of the cosmic dance of the harmony of the spheres; for the Hellenistic philosopher, the Platonic cosmogony of De republica and Timaeus, for medieval readers, viewed through the lens of Boethius’ musica mundana. (Morrison 2004: 301–302) Philo mentions that, as with Auxerre, the ritual involved antiphonal singing. Writing well over a century later, Clement of Alexandria reinterpreted this pre-Christian rite as channeling the dance of the angels. According to Clement, the chorea participates in the “dance with the angels around the unbegotten and the imperishable and only true God, the Word of God, joining with us in our hymn of praise." (Morrison 2004: 303) The topos is picked up by St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose exegesis of the Hebrew inscription “Maeleth” in Psalm 52 and 87 clarifies: “Choral dancing and rejoicing await those who have prevailed in the struggles [over evil]...The entire spiritual creation joins in an harmonious choral chant, as it were, with the victors.” (Ludlow 2000: 73–74) Pseudo-Dionysius also conflates the two celestial dances of the nine angelic spheres and the Platonic movement. Hugh of St. Victor and Thomas of Aquinas both wrote extensive commentaries on the texts of Pseudo-Dionysius, and his opus on angelic hierarchies occupied a central place in late-medieval theology. In fact, these authorities were well known and avidly researched by the Chartrian philosophical school, located in the same bishopric with Auxerre, where reports of Easter dances are most ubiquitous.
Although it is not clear how exactly the dance step was executed, it has been speculated that the dancers might have actually followed the course of the maze, winding back and forth, thus emulating the trajectory of Christ harrowing the gates of Hell, or Christ’s mythological counterpart Theseus. Somewhat doubtfully, Tessa Morrison identifies the steps of the tripudium as turn, halt, counterturn, thus bodying forth the motion of Plato’s cosmogony, with the circle of the stars seeming to travel westward, and the circle of the known planets in reverse. (Morrison 2008) This choreography metonymically conjures up the harmony of the spheres, the Passion of the Christ, and the mythical trajectories of Theseus and Orpheus. However, in this instance, the dance of the cosmos goes yet further to circumscribe musica humana within the larger sphere of musica mundana, the Platonic cosmogony, and the angelic adoration of the divine.
The conjoining of human and divine lies at the heart of the Auxerre rite fueling its capacity to make collective identity and to equalize and subvert. Like many other non-European cultures, the medieval world interpolated music and dance within a social framework, which invested this quadrivial science with metaphysical, spiritual, and communal aspirations. Such desires project themselves poignantly into the performative realm. As such, the Easter game synchronized temporal and sublunary ambitions inscribing multivalent Neo-Platonic paradigms within the parameters of music and dance. Beyond approximating divinity, this physicalized tool created community and retranslated identity.
Auxerre’s collective merging of identities and ranks interrogates, undermines, and restructures received hierarchies and power dynamics. The communal implications of this embodied cultural artifact extend beyond the confines of the monastic unit insinuating broader constructions of spiritual and political identity and community. The ritual facilitated what J. Lowell Lewis has recently dubbed “embodied experience” in his recasting of the more one-dimensional Turnerian notion of “communitas”. According to Victor Turner, the temporary provision of a liminal “betwixt and between” framework precipitated the initiate’s transition into the community. It also temporarily effaced distinct boundaries between clerical rank and even human and divine, since all wore the same attire, and since the participants believed this act translated into the heavenly plane, that they, in some metaphysical way, interfaced with the angelic dance. Turner has been criticized for his sharp distinction between everyday structure and the anti-structure of ritual, his neglect of play, and his portrayal of a ritualized subversion, which does not allow for day-to-day creative conflict resolution. (Bigger 2009) Indeed, in certain cases ritual might have only reinforced tradition. But it is the spontaneity and inherent chaos of play which truly subverts and democratizes rank in community. Lewis qualifies that it is both the non-discursive modes of dance and singing, and the interactivity and creativity of the ludus that heighten the sense of shared participation achieved in “embodied experience.”
Lewis translates communitas into “embodied experience” which might include singing and dancing. Turner linked this to explanation: the voices of participants and outsiders linked together into “polyvocality” and “multiperspectival” work. Lewis emphasised the shared experience of the participants as they shared touch, taste, smells, sights and sounds. He used the terms “intersubjectivity” and “intercorporeality.” He retained the distinction between special events and everyday life, which interact; order and disorder; the potential for events to become patterned [performativity]; the creativity of play and the solemnity of ritual. (Bigger 2009)
Ritualized moments often mediate a metaphysical departure. Turner would have termed this a “falling outside the social structure” or “liminality.” In her problematization of this phenomenon, Sharon Rowe extends the “liminal” and “liminoid” tags to encompass the trance of sport and play. (Rowe, 2008) This hiatus from the normative represents a continuum from quotidian, to a “betwixt and between” liminal phase, an altered state of consciousness, as it were, infused with spiritual volatility and possibility, ultimately returning to a new state informed by experience acquired in the transitional stage. As with induced trance states, the mechanism of repetitive dancing and chanting aids in transporting the celebrant to this breakthrough in level of consciousness. In Auxerre’s ludus, periodic rhythmic structures are articulated in the antiphonal dialogue, the steps of the tripudium, the cyclical repetition of the toss, all the while, the mantra of the sequence further heightening this trance-like state. Linguistic features of the sequence create their own sense of patterned rhythmic repetition. Indeed, the melody exhibits one of the earliest instances of disyllabic rhyme, capitalizing on inner rhyme, as exemplified by “Sepulcrum Christi viventis, Et gloriam vidi resurgentis” and “Angelicos testes, Sudarium, et vestes.” All converge to heighten the ritual’s liminal qualities.
Beyond the repetitive rhythmic cadences set up by the sequence, one must take into account the type of language used and how this informs the liminal. As Maurice Bloch breaks it down succinctly, “You can’t argue with a song.” (Bloch 1974: 71) Often, ceremonial speech sets a frame for performative ritual, even enabling or colluding with reticent or insidious social hierarchies. Following Bloch’s theory and the subsequent extensions by Bambi Schieffelin (1985) and Donald Brenneis (1987), song (and I would qualify, particularly in such ritual settings) is essentially void of propositional force. This is what Austin names the constative, basically the informational or reportative capacity of an utterance. Song characteristically confers strictly illocutionary force, i.e. the power to register acknowledgement of its performance and potentially to influence reaction or response. Albeit persuasive, the highly formalized language conscripted in ritual contexts has lost its informative value, as evidenced by phenomena such as the need to enunciate every word of a given formula verbatim in the recitation of a prayer or incantation. When questioned about the imperative to sing narrative master epic singer Ram Swarup responds: “It is impossible for someone to reach Delhi directly and not go through the middle towns.” (Wadley 1991: 201–202) Translated, in ritualized language, sequential propriety is critical. In Bloch’s words, "Song is, therefore, nothing but the end of the process of transformation from ordinary language which began with formalisation.” (Bloch 1974: 70) This reading must be collated with Austin’s somewhat outmoded characterization of theatrical performatives as parasitic linguistic etiolations. Though ritual occupies a different terrain and in many respects constitutes itself oppositionally vis-à-vis presentational theater per se, as the opus of Schechner et al. convincingly argues, the two practices also share common ground.
The Auxerre ritual clearly demonstrates some of the typical characteristics of “liminality.” These features include the absence of rank, a sense of anonymity, the establishment of “embodied experience,” and the profound immersion in humility. (Cf. Turner 1977: 366) The universal quality of “embodied experience” or Turnerian “communitas” created by such ritual practices, cuts across all nationalistic or rank divides, thus potentially embracing all humanity. A common strand in such processes involves what Turner termed “status reversal”, the redistribution of ranks and roles antithetical to normative societal position. Carolyn Walker Bynum’s critique of Turnerian “role-reversal” is particularly interesting for this specific ludic enactment, with its textual references to Mary Magdalene discussed below. Bynum considers this process a distinctly male phenomenon. The Auxerre ludus provides a unique performative locus for examining this phenomenon, and understanding how the construction of meaning and status may also incorporate issues of gender status within an overwhelmingly patriarchal frame.
The destabilization of status afforded by ritualized play allows for communal differentiation and restructuring, but also refers meaning inherent in the Passiontide thematics. The metalinguistic codes co-opted in performance recall lost ideals and deeper signification. Status reversal also references basic life and death reversals cued by these ceremonies. Quite often the calendric placement of such rites refers specifically to such thematics. Rituals are often synchronized to correspond to large-scale life cycles such as the awakening of spring from the barrenness of winter or the opposition of life vs. death. Though surely responding to the seasonal cycle of life and death marked by spring, the situation of the Auxerre labyrinth dance at Easter refers the very junction of the sacred and sublunary, the portal of “betwixt and between.”
As confirmed by Lewis, the constitutive role of music in this collective performance, including the compelling appropriation of the Easter sequence Victimae Paschali laudes was pivotal to this alignment with the sacred. Assisting the protocols of the liminal, the text problematizes or destabilizes class and gender hierarchies, and even placement in actual time. The primacy of Mary Magdalene’s voice interrogating the location of Christ and the ambiguous chronological relationship to the harrowing of Hell situates the actions of the Auxerre participants in the sacred imaginary. The text and its translation follow:
|Victimae paschali laudes
Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
Mors et vita duello
Dux vitae mortuus,
Dic nobis Maria,
Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis:
Sudarium, et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea:
Praecedet suos in Galilaeam.
Scimus Christum surrexisse
A mortuis vere:
Tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere
|Praise the Paschal victim
Sacrificed for Christians
The Lamb redeemed the sheep
To the Father the innocent Christ
The duel, death and life
The leader of life dead
Tell us Mary
What you saw on the way
The sepulcher of the living Christ
And the glory of the Risen one I saw
Shroud and clothes
Christ is risen, my hope
He will go before His to Galilee
We know Christ to have risen
From the dead truly
On us, victorious King, have mercy
Victimae paschali laudes was sung throughout the Eastertide celebration, on Easter Sunday at matins and vespers, and on the octave of Easter Sunday (i.e. the Sunday thereafter). (Wright 2001: 144; 322 nn 48–49) It also functioned as a prompt for devotion. In a 1288 account of a visit to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem communicated by Ricoldo of Monte Croce, a procession sang repeated verses of Victimae paschali laudes as they approached the tomb. (Peters 1985: 34) This lieu de mémoire became a repository for the accumulated experiences associated with Eastertide festivities. Joseph Roach reveals how this type of “surrogation,” the ambivalent replaying of previous performances, memorializes and recreates the past, whether real or imaginary, in the present: "Traditional rituals recovered and reinterpreted as 'internal locutions' [remit] to a direct experience with the realm of sacredness." (Roach 1996: 1–3) Petersen decries the anachronistic boundaries imposed on liturgical enactments by modern scholarship, whereby these dramatic moments arbitrarily are separated out from the general liturgical flow. (Petersen 2007) In fact, the ludus was probably understood as but another punctuation of the ongoing liturgical continuum. The reiteration of the sequence exposes a broader schema threading the “extra-liturgical” ludus together with the gestalt. The inclusion of this liminal and rebellious liturgical act emphasizes the subversiveness of Christ’s revolt against the hierarchies of death. The association with Christ validates and confirms the clerical subversion as orthodox.
Beyond its use during Eastertide, the melody was also employed for the Feast of Mary Magdalene, July 22nd. Resorting to Mary Magdalene’s testimony to substantiate the miraculous, the sequence performs the ultimate reversal. As a woman and as a prostitute or adulteress, she is the least likely to attest, but the choice to foreground her voice merely amplifies the textual reversal of normative hierarchies and the subversion of sex and rank distinctions at the hands of the liminal. The sequence dialogue between the interlocutor and Mary also puts a woman’s voice in the mouth of men. This is a remarkable event mirroring the transitional quality of liminality where all status and denomination is momentarily suspended. Multiple inversions and subversions only extend the implicit resonances of the text. Hélène Cixous posits that “a feminine text can not fail to be more than subversive. It is volcanic. As it is written it brings out an upheaval of the old property crust, carrier of masculine investment.” (Cixous 1981: 258) Luce Irigaray continues this discourse, stating, (and in this instance, quite aptly) that “a woman is never anything more than the scene of more or less rival exchange between two men.” (Irigaray 1981)
As David Rothenberg relates, another text on Mary Magdalene, Jacobus de Voragine’s “Golden Legend,” codifies a medieval supposition that Christ had appeared to the Virgin Mary after his resurrection, paralleling the biblical account and blurring the issue. The Biblical reference to Mary pertains to Mary Magdalene, but the absence of appellative and the common medieval coalescing of Marian identities leave purposeful ambiguity (Rothenberg 2004: 178–187; id. 2006: 369) This omission of appellative, and the routine swapping out of one, two, or three Marys, in accordance with the differing gospel transmissions, recurs frequently in Quem quaeritis plays. De Voragine believes the second apocryphal Mary appearance (to the first, pre-eminent Mary to be corroborated by the Roman church’s Easter celebration of a station at the Church of St. Mary and by the alleged testimony of Ambrose in De virginibus. The move to elide Marian identities performs the remarkably subversive action of integrating mother of God with prostitute and social outcast, obliterating all sense of rank, status, or caste.
The semantic deep structures embedded in this musical text work a parallel revolt. The sequence prose reorders with its ludic reversals of death vs. life, victorious sacrifice, and most strikingly Lamb as savior to sheep. Since the celebrants of this ritual hold lower ecclesiastical ranks they effectually enact this theological reversal of meek Lamb becoming triumphant king and dying to live. The text makes specific reference to angelic witnesses’ testimony to the whereabouts of Christ. This would trigger the discourse raised in the Quem quaeritis so thoroughly interwoven textually and in liturgical practice with the Victimae paschali laudes. Mary’s questioning of Christ’s location and the angels’ “He is not here, but he is risen as he said” probe the geographical and metaphysical positioning of the divine. This actually speaks to manifold levels. There is firstly the medieval anxiety regarding actual chronology of Christ’s passion, whether his descent into Hades precedes his appearance at the tomb or follows. The question also raises implications as to the psychical site of the divine. The insertion of angels in the dialogue and its frequent reinterpretation in Quem quaeritis plays as disciples or pilgrims, accentuates the fusion of sublunary and divine and reinforces the angelic presence at the Auxerre ritual.
A locus for exploring heterogeneities of religious culture, the Auxerre maze dance entwines religious and secular, heretical and orthodox, in its syncretistic web. Carlos Alberto Steil grapples with the assimilation of ambivalent strands in religious practice:
Part of this internal heterogeneity is that different meanings can be attached to the same references and signs, referring us to a performatic perspective – of inscription of the alterity in the dominant narrative – more than a historic vision, centered on the dialectic of different temporalities. Following the performatic perspective, the alterity inside the Catholic system does not present itself as diverse forms of such pre-modern, modern, and post-modern Catholicism, but is there as an alternative language that constantly seeks insertion into the dominant narrative without allowing itself to be diluted in its totality. (Steil 2006)
Ethnographic investigation of ritual games sheds meaningful light on this incursion in embodied rituals. Mehl notes several ball games that perform ritual agrarian functions, namely the southern Indian puļāt and the bombāţ games of the Kota tribe. (Mehl 1948: 148–149) In North America, the Mesoamerican ball game serves a distinctly sacred purpose as well. Like the Auxerre game, the Hohokam ball courts used in this indigenous game described the cosmos. The axial quartering of the court signified the four cardinal directions, the divisions of the day, and the seasons. In a further miming of the labyrinth ritual, D. R. Wilcox construes the ball as sun, moon, and stars. (Wilcox 1991: 197) However in Auxerre, the performative realization of sacrosanctity in spatial parameters not only sanctifies the play site but is itself infused with the labyrinth’s signification.
While the Mesoamerican ball game’s use of a designated sacrosanct space resembles Auxerre, it is particularly worthwhile collating the Auxerre celebration with a ritualistic practice enacted at Easter by the Yaquis for the perspective it offers on the syncretistic reappropriation of liturgy. Richard Schechner sees the Lenten cyclical drama, “Waehma” as recasting the Easter narrative according to a prescribed cultural agenda. (Schechner 1993: 94–130) By superimposing indigenous forms upon the orthodox Christian text received first from Jesuit interlopers proselytizing the Yaqui, Waehma reinterprets the traditional meanings of the Eurocentric text, thus negotiating status, power, and difference. Waehma exposes the rupture between ambivalent indigenous and European strands respectively, warring and assimilating with each other. This performance of Yaqui identity via the appropriated codes of the Easter narrative reinterprets the traditional, subverts European hierarchies, and asserts in its stead Yaqui cultural identity and historiography. By embracing orthodoxy, Waehma resists it. As Wenner-Gren reveals, dances incorporated into the Waehma cycle, including the deer dance, actually preserve and transform traditional ritual war dances of the Yaqui people originally bearing no relationship to the Easter narrative. (Schechner 1993: 104) Ritual spaces redefine themselves as hallowed Christian terrain. "Through Waehma, the Yaquis act out both their acceptance of Catholicism (and certain European ways) and their resistance to this very same Catholicism and the European ways…[playing] with symbols simultaneously honoring and mocking them." (Schechner 1993: 118)
While scholars identify no specific historical antecedent to the Auxerre ludus, Mehl reports the gamut of indigenous ballgame rituals retained till much later than the fourteenth century in Europe. (Mehl 1948) These various games surface in regions ranging from Scandinavia to the Frankish region west of the location under consideration. Survivals of Easter Monday ball games spread to the New World as well. Whether actual pagan strands infused themselves in this particular ritual, there is no doubt that it signaled the subversive. Auxerre’s labyrinth dance blurred status and appropriated sacred space for the secular. For Beleth, one of the salient offenses of the similar Decembrica games was its suborning of clerks to play with archbishops and bishops and vice versa, desecrating hierarchical protocols and causing higher ranks to abase themselves. (Hayes 1999: 30) It was precisely in order to safeguard the sacrality of these sites that the French parliament forbade children to play games on nave labyrinths in 1538. (Santarcangeli 1974: 296) In fact, Canon Jaquemert destroyed the Reims labyrinth due to the incessant hopscotch played by local children on the maze. (Rosenstiehl & Repensek. 1983: 18) Like the Yaqui festivities, such games incorporate religious doctrine but interpolate alternative narratives into a syncretistic heteroglossia that blends individual and communal aspirations, all the while enacting, explicating, and clarifying orthodoxy. How such embodied practices refine notions of power and the divine is given eloquent articulation by Rebecca Sachs Norris:
Ritual practices are subject to selection because of embodied and established attitudes and concepts. These ways of knowing the world are so deeply ingrained that we do not normally even recognize the ways in which they shape our experience…But gradually the physical and emotional dimensions of worship become embodied, personal experience, and each time a gesture is repeated, the kinesthetic, propioceptive, and emotional memory of that gesture is evoked, layered, compounding, and shaping present experience. Images, ideas, and emotional and physical associations are all active and present in the experience of a ritual gesture or posture. These gestures and postures express inner attitudes or states and they correspond to a particular concept of deity or the transcendent. (Norris 2003: 177–178)
To sum up, the ludus at Auxerre performed the simultaneous dance of the cosmos and the harrowing of Hell, images conflated in medieval symbolism, thereby justifying incongruent Biblical and neo-Platonic discourse. The synchronization of this event on Easter, termed by Isidore of Seville in a computus manuscript as the first Sunday of Creation, coordinates temporalities on all planes. The rite of passage also reminded the enactors of Christ’s rite of passage and took up the cause of the lowly through the agency of Christ’s exemplum. Exchanging roles, dean became aligned with both devil and deity, and the dancers were invested with Christ-like sanctity. And while the transitory marginal quality of this paraliturgical event fosters reversal, it is rather the destabilizing mechanism of play, as explicated by Lewis, which most potently reformulates communal identity and signification.