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Mystery Plays: Chester Prepares to Continue Six Centuries of Religious Tradition; Soon

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), January 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

Mystery Plays: Chester Prepares to Continue Six Centuries of Religious Tradition; Soon


Byline: BY RICHARD PHILLIPS

WHEN an event is staged only once every five years, it tends to attract attention. So it has proved with the Chester Mystery Plays, a series of religious dramas staged on Chester Cathedral Green.

They were last presented in 2003 when they pulled in huge crowds.

Although the next presentation is not until the summer of 2008, the publicity campaign has already begun and tickets have gone on sale.

"There's been a bit of a demand for some time," reports Plays chairman Jo Sykes.

"People from all over the world have been emailing enquiries for quite a while now, and tickets started to sell on the first day the box office opened."

Part of the excitement of watching the plays is seeing theatrical history brought to life - the plays are said to date back to the 14th century and the Chester text is now the most complete in existence.

The plays do have their rivals and there are other mystery plays staged, most notably in York and Wakefield, while Lincoln and Coventry also have their own dramas.

They were traditionally staged on Corpus Christi Day and Chester's series date back to the 1300s when they were performed by Chester guildsmen. Official records date back at least to 1422 when the plays were mentioned in a legal document. There was further mention in 1475.

The plays were traditionally staged by trades guilds, each guild undertaking a specific part of the Bible story on which the plays were based.

They told the story from the Creation with Adam and Eve through to Christ's Crucifixion and the Final Judgment.

Although based on the Bible, there was quite a lot of free expression in the plays, and not a little bawdiness at times.

This naturally led to some tuttutting from city fathers as the individual plays were toured around the streets, often on the back of wagon.

Eventually they were banned by the Church of England, not so much because of the bawdiness but because, under Elizabeth I, they were considered Popish.

Nevertheless, records suggest that the plays were still performed in Chester at times during her reign, once in 1568 when the cathedral paid for the beer and the stage.

Eventually the plays fell out of favour as performances and it was not until the 1950s that Chester revived them for the stage.

The first was in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations.

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Mystery Plays: Chester Prepares to Continue Six Centuries of Religious Tradition; Soon
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