The Nomen-Town or N-Town Plays are a cycle of mystery plays from the late Middle English period. Formerly known as the Coventry Cycle, “Nomen” means name. This was a set of plays travelling players used. They would insert the name (nomen) to suit the town of performance. They are simple and on the earthy side. They cover the world from creation to its end.

“It is still the seventh day.” — Rainier Maria Rilke, The Tale of the Hands of God

Part 1 (The Old Law)

I: The Creation of Heaven and the Rebel Angels

Heaven was born first. God almost kissed time—
There it is. Angels next. Some bright, some dim.
A meeting was called the very first thing
God doesn’t use words. Whatever got said
is lost. But some angels fell. They weren’t dead,
just gone—the yelling ones. Ones that could sing
stayed put. But quiet angels slipped away
through loopholes in stars. They pray, play and prey.
Their haloed powers are lost. Not their wings.

II: Creation of the World and Fall of Adam and Eve

Then Lux got fiated with sun and moon—
A garden—people. So, sin. Still unknown
to young Eve, old Adam. Mute angels smiled,
amused, looking forward to all of it:
Endless play—virtue. Vice. Very small wits.
They watched two love birds leave in single file
past a songbird angel armed with a loud sword.
Those silent ones laughed. No one knew the words
to name things. Not men. Not God. The first trial.

III: Cain and Abel

Two dumb angels perched in a tree watching
two squalling things they couldn’t name catching
new light from a very new sun. What time
meant. No one—Angels, loud pink things—could know.
But squealing small things change shape and grow
longer. Someone called them—the sounds didn’t rhyme.
Stones were piled and struck sparks. Angels saw fire.
Then voices rose. Things burned. Flames flew higher.
A stone fell. Angels saw death that first time.

IV: Noah’s Flood

Blood sank in. People widened their small world.
Soft games got played. Two mute angels watched curls
of smoke rise to God who didn’t care much
what burned or why. So things seemed. Then wild life
exploded. Angels enjoy learning time
like music. God gets mad. Dark skies roil, touched
by lightning. Then rains came. One big boat rose.
God watched everyone die and only God knows
Why one clan was handed this holy luck.

V: The Sacrafice of Isaac

It’s cold. No mercy on this mountaintop.
They watch a boy shiver and gather rocks.
His father looks on. God’s silent as stone.
The angels refuse to believe what they see—
Kindling and leaves stacked under the tree.
Father ties the son’s hands. Who’s more alone?
God uses no words. Who sent these two here?
Angels seek something—a ram, a deer—
Some trick. At her tent, Sarah watches smoke.

VI: Moses and the Ten Commandments

The cloud rested dark as God’s hidden eye.
That old man was long gone, maybe he died.
Tribes danced their way around a golden calf
to pass time. Worship was not a question.
Deserts bored them. Steps make an impression.
Moses climbed down with tablets and a staff.
He uttered words God didn’t know how to use
and showed off rules to obey like that’s news.
They circled him in a dance. Angels laughed.

VII: The Root of Jesse

Two angels watch. For no reason, God picks
one people for his miracles, for kicks,
for punishment and truth. They close their eyes.
They look again and see damp wool and wars;
A girl, a path and deaths. So much more,
it wears them out. Once more, they close their eyes.
Then a root flowers. One kind, then one bright boy.
They see—then—the signs as God plays with toys.
They rest. They’ll watch all these glorious lies.

Part 2 (Prologue to a Messiah)

I: Joachim and Anna

He’s old. She’s old too. Their nest stayed empty
as a cuckoo’s. They prayed and bowed. Loose shame
clung to them. Temples turned them out. Then he
left. Angels were watching again. Two nice
people used by God—markers in a game
with evil. Singing messengers sang twice
on earth. To him. To her. There’d be a girl
they’d give to God. She was a kind of frame
for a tale God could tell the fallen world.
They both came home and they never complained.

II: The Presentation of Mary at the Temple

A city, old already. Girl is three.
She hears holy whispers in rising walls,
knows there’s something hollow under her feet.
She walks in wonder—everything’s still new
and morning sun lights stone. Dense shadows fall
like words on scrolls. She saw angels. They flew
right past her mother’s eyes. The temple doors
swing wide. Tall people take her down long halls.
You’ll stay, they tell her. We’ll teach you much more.
She smiles. She will leave when strange duty calls.

III: The Betrothal of Joseph and Mary

Mute angels eat time in unmarked silence.
They look—the girl has flowered and one rod
is draped with blooms. Some new dance has commenced
that confuses angels. A promise made
now sprouts tomorrow. The crossmaker nods
to future night. The holy price is paid.
Then everyone waits. A basket of doubts
is passed around. A message, passed from God
through a singing angel, calms some. The girl pouts
and prays in a stone room where no man trod.

IV: The Debate in Heaven and Annunciation

The sisters fought a lot, though Pax stays calm
when she can. Angels enjoy all their talk.
On this endless day, it’s about how harm
can touch God. Mercy always sings “forgive”
but Justice never moves and cold Truth blocks
gentler girls. They concur, people may live,
send the angel with the horn riding light
to that sad girl’s ear, telling her to walk
in pride and sorrow, because it’s her fight
now. Bear the boy. Then they’ll slaughter the flock.

V: Joseph’s Doubts

I grew three big boys, the carpenter thinks.
The girl grows round though I never touched her.
Silent angels watch him approach a brink
then pull back. He recalls words—a song?—
that leaked through channels in his sleeping ear.
She’s pure, that girl. Temple-raised. So, he’s wrong.
Still—then angels fall to his shop. Warm wings
calm, cool his wooden mind. These angels hear
without listening. Even poor angels bring
a hint of God. Their eyelid kiss lifts fears.

VI: The Visitation

She knew her once empty space bore something
holy. She rode over hills. The low pass
opened to her cousin’s home. She could sing
but Joseph frowned. Angels nod. Eyes lowered,
she’ll wait until he turned home, and she’ll fast
to savor Elizabeth’s bread. The sky colored
orange. She hugged her husband off then kissed
her kinswoman. They felt bellies—hers last.
“Mine leaps!” Liz cried. Mary smiles her sad bliss.
She felt hollow, lonely and large as glass.

VII: The Trial of Mary and Joseph

The gather house is small. Nazarenes
bleed out at times. Today, a few old men
meet, gossip. Joseph’s within. Mary leans
on a rock wall. No one mentions her name,
she’s just the bad girl. Joseph testifies again
while angels mutely tickle this sad game
along. No power’s here, but malice rules.
The town loves to tarnish the holy. When
That girl came down from the hills the old fools
met. Joseph pleads her case again. Again.

Part 3 (Childhood)

I: Nativity

The order came from on high—to go home
and be counted (angels dropped them). Almost
three left for Bethlehem, obeying law.

Roads came alive. They were never alone.
All rooms vanished, so only one cold host
would house them. A baby came, baby bawled

loud as an ass. A single white star glowed
and stilled. The stable stayed warm. A new trust
rose between two while the infant soiled straw.

II: Shepherds

A baby doesn’t know what old things smell like.
Unfresh air and four long shapes pull him off
his mother’s breast. The brown ox shakes its horns.

Angels smile. Sound drops from invisible heights.
They don’t see he’s feeding. He’ll call that cough
someday. Looking up, his mother’s eyes are warm.

Four shapes shrink and grow. Go back into night.
Baby pulls his face from flesh. He’s fed enough.
Small eyes close. God’s still busy being born.

III: Magi

They shine, these shapes. Tall first, then short. They sink
and rise. His mother bends. He’s upside down
then returns to her flesh. His small mouth floods.

Something smells nice. Mother offers them drink.
Old man speaking, bowing. Different sounds
come out of shiny ones. Cows chew their cuds.

Boxes open. Light flows and angels shrink
before wealth. The child cries. Tears drip off round
breats. Looking down, shiny men watch straw bud.

IV: Simeon

A donkey bounces you (angels don’t know).
Dark. Light. One hand. They are heading somewhere.
Slow, a steady rocking donkey brings sleep.

The streets stand empty. No one need to go
to temple this day. An old man stands. Few hairs
bother his head. Cloudy eyes flow. He weeps.

His mother hands him to brittle arms. No
sounds until old lips spit ‘Dimittis’. There’s
a noise. Pain bites. Ouch. Drops on tongue. He sleeps.

V: The Massacre of Innocents

No angels see a king. In flights they sense
a hint of power. Crowns are empty things.
But evil, they know and evil’s on its way.

Small troops fan out. Children are herded. Tents
get pitched to hide this sin. Senseless swords swing.
High screams from mothers. They will weep for days.

Do we lay this at God’s feet? This immense
crime? Mute angels fly past. If they could sing
laments would bleed from them. They won’t pray.

VI: The Doctors of the Law

They’re full of wine, matzoh, God, crowds. Their home
is three days off. It’s far to Galilee.
Jerusalem empties. The roads are full.

Woman and man push the wrong way, Their bones
feast-weary. Angels cut tides through this sea
of pilgrims. The boy’s gone. They reclimb hills.

The Temple forecourt: Gangly and alone,
he speaks soft—law and lore. He aims to teach
wise men. His mind grinds old texts like a mill.

VII: The Baptism of Christ

They can’t speak, these angels, but they play tricks.
Light laughter is permitted. When some time—
Whatever time is—slips past: A meeting.

Two cousins and a river. People fix
taut eyes on gaunt figures. Slow mortal time
Now stops. One or the other is speaking.

Gray cloud cover cracks. A well-staged breeze licks
matted hair. All time has led to this time.
Giggling angels drop feathers in greeting.

Part 4 (The Ministry)

I: The Debate in Hell and Temptation

One angel, the small one, eavesdrop on Hell:
If he’s God. Satan snaps, what can we do?—Tease
him. Offer bread. Force. An ego that swells
moon-like, round, bright, a little devil says.
I’ll try, Satan proffers, falling straight up.
A desert—stoned, browned, hilled. There are no wells
or trees. Bronzed as sand, a wasted man prays
in silence. Satan wheedles. He eases
three deals. The man says, I’ll drain bitter cups.

II: The Woman Taken in Adultery

My beauty’s paid in stone, the woman thinks.
Cool city walls rise above her. Looking down,
our angels. Her lips bleed. There’s fish stink
here. Always has been, she knows. They don’t tie
her hands, but gather rocks. Some pray. Most laugh
at pain, her death. She chooses not to shrink
before this crowd. Her pride lifts her eyes
to a rabbi and his men. They slow down.
He speaks: Take this stone, if you’re clean then cast…

III: Lazarus

My blood runs—why? (angels tickle his heart).
My ears roar—why? (Angels blow on his face).
They don’t know why the voice calls to their art.
This man—one man—must rise and leave his grave.
His tomb’s cool. Angels like it. The man rests
but stands. The body wants to stay apart
from life, from soul. He walks out of the cave
to weeping sisters. He blinks to erase
their tears. Angels know it’s a cruel test.

IV: Lucifer and John the Baptist

Lucifer whispers. Silent angels hide
behind a king’s wall. A plot aims for John.
Priests, low and high, join, dressing their pride
in arms. This is practice, the devil says,
Demons, learn how to make a prophet dead.
Scatter disciples like a frightened tide.
This king will help. A girl must dance. Priests pray
to mis-spoke gods. His blood flows. It’s done.
Angels smell lamb. Hear drums. See a loose head.

V: The Entry Into Jerusalem

They knew words though they couldn’t speak—angels
heard songs on streets. Old town rings with loose words
that mean nothing. Hosanna! A strange tale
is sung. Palm leaves on paving stones. Pilgrims
bow down. The thin man smiles, sad. Angels sag
too—they know what’s next. His coming change tells
in dark eyes. Crowd voices rise, follow him,
calling him king. He remembers those birds
he preached about—overhead, they’re his flag.

VI: The Last Supper

Their wavering shadows paint a blank wall.
This room’s over a back street. Thirteen men
and two women. The ceremony’s old. They all
know what words to speak. What to eat. Who pours
sweet wine. Angels watch his face—stiff, dark stone,
his eyes naked. There’s new force as he calls
up ancient tales of journeys. He holds lore
close. The rest think it’s their old feast but when
the wine gets new words, they see he’s alone.

VII: The Agony in the Garden

Two angels watch from sighing olive trees.
Tears drip, soft as blood, on a praying man.
Down the slope, by a wall, three young men sleep.
Words rise to an ignorant sky. Moonlight
withholds comfort, silent as stones not cast.
It’s cool, not cold. This long, man-hunting night
unfolds. Fixed. Mapped before it began.
Prayers are not enough to make this cup pass.

Part 5 (Passion and Victory)

I: The Two Trials

Silent king meets the bleeding man. He’s bound,
no threat. Angels watch this uncivil rite.
A blow to his face—judgement with no sound.
He’s passed on through courtyards. Night
moved on. Mid-morning sees him tortured,
unbroken. Calm and ready to be polite
to death. A hard man enters, firmly sure
of power. Speaks. No answer. Again. Asks
a last time. Bleeding man gives no words.
Hands get washed. He stands, fixed on his sad task.

II: The Road to Cavalry and Crucifixion

He stumbles, falls on stone. Let it be last,
he prays. Angels hear but can’t help. God needs
this pain. People watch. One man, when passed,
gets jerked from the mob. “Take it.” He’s told. Knees
shake but Simon shoulders a piece of cross
while missing his ship, his cargo. Who sees
me? he worries. Wood’s rough. Bleeding man’s tossed
on rocks. This hilltop’s small. Arms get pulled straight.
Simon runs fast and far, hurt and quite lost
in old streets, tortured by that suffering face.

III: The Harrowing of Hell

His disgraceful words shattered the hot gates:
Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani!
Angels notice, wondering who’ll escape.
The First emerges—Adam. So many
more follow—that boy off the altar, still
quaking with father fear. A king, handy
with a sling. Ancient players. Angels fill
their souls, rising—somewhere. The bleeding man
shines brighter than morning as he unkills
his tribe, spreading them like a peacock’s fan.

IV: Resurrection and Appearance to Magdalene

She cried. Three days beside a stone seal. Can
she have more tears left? She sees the empty tomb.
Two mute angels wipe tears with unreal hands.
Her heart sings—Risen!—She runs for a room—
She must. Boys lurk like prey. They’ll say, “Liar”
she knows. Speak she must, knowing it’s too soon
to know. A man stands, bloodless. Maybe hired
to garden. “Why weep?” Her cool, tear-blind eyes
open. “Mary.” “Rabbi.” Her tongue’s on fire.
Hands can’t touch. He lifts her face towards sky.

V: Doubting Thomas

A room of men—warm, shaking. Frightened eyes
dancing, waiting for God. Peter and John
told what they saw—living man, wounds, his light.
They pray together, hoping. Tall, thin Tom,
though, refuses. He counts everything twice.
Angels giggle in rafters—watching bonds
not quite snap. Then a slick sound—a knife
escaping its sheath. What must be a ghost
makes Tom find the floor. That voice makes him rise,
touch him. A divine wound calms all he’s lost.

VI: The Ascension and Pentecost

A merciful mount. Homespun tunics tossed
by breeze. Angels watch for forty more days.
He spoke secret words—gems that will get lost
on pages they don’t know how to write. John says
he’ll learn, now that God’s gone. Fear’s back. They hide
above streets. And it’s always forty days
between miracles. Then: Floating lights
loosen tongues. They tremble. A will to preach
chooses them. Almost blind, they flow outside.
Words fall. They don’t understand their own speech.

VII: The Last Judgement

Time stops. God doesn’t know how. You can’t teach
the creator anything. There’s blood, fire,
spectacle. Dead rise. Separate. It’s reached
an end—of action, death, life, of desire.
For no reason, some souls go out one way,
others fall elsewhere. Maybe God’s just tired
of man—kind and un. He can’t even say
why. Light folds itself and rocks become sod,
crumble. The singing fades. An end to plays.
Two nameless angels remain to applaud.


In the beginning, a new seventh day dawns…