...SPECTACLE AND HISTORY, MIRACLES AND MYSTERY

Keeping History Alive and Well

The Chester Mystery Plays form a spectacular festival presented mainly by members of the local community under professional direction. This rare Chester production has become a much anticipated highlight in the British arts calendar, attracting people from all over the world. One of the largest community events in the UK, hundreds of enthusiasts of all ages from throughout the area make up the cast, crew and the support teams working in administration/marketing and front of house.

The Chester Mystery Plays are performed in Chester every five years, with the most recent production being in 2013 in the nave of Chester Cathedral and the next full production being planned for 2018.

Humble Beginnings
Mystery Plays were created all across Europe from the 13th century as a means of celebrating the stories of the Old and New Testaments for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Other famous Mystery Play “Cycles” in England were written in Coventry, York and Wakefield. The scripts, as in the case of the Chester Cycle, were often written by medieval monks. Originally performed inside the churches, from the 14th century they were produced by Crafts Guilds and performed in the open streets and market places on pageant carts ("waggons"). The mounting of the Plays in the nave of Chester Cathedral in 2013 was the first time in hundreds of years that they had been performed inside a church, and it was the first time they had ever been produced inside the cathedral nave itself. Performed by local people, both scripts and performances changed each year to remain current and have popular appeal.

The production of the Plays, so important to the local community, was suppressed during the Reformation and the last recorded performance prior to the 20th century revival was in 1575.

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The Modern Revival
The Chester Mystery Plays were revived in 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. A full scale production has been produced more or less every five years since, with “miniature” productions of individual plays also having been mounted as part of Chester's summer festival. In 2011, Creation was produced and the 2012 production was the ever-popular Noah’s Flood. The next full scale production of the Plays will be in 2018. Keep checking the website (or our Facebook page) for information about miniature productions.

Chester Mystery Plays Limited, a company with charitable status, was formed in the 1980s with the sole aim of ensuring the active survival of the plays. Current chairman is Jo Sykes, company secretary Ian Sanderson, financial director Edward Austin.

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The Mystery Plays tapestry quilt by B.J. Elvgren
Artist BJ Elvgren's charming focus on Chester Mystery Plays and the city itself made the tapestry a US national prize-winner before the Chester Mystery Plays company acquired it to present to Chester Cathedral in 1997, since when it has been seen by thousands of people.
In the cathedral a short stroll from Abbey Gate where the original medieval dramas were first performed, and close to the site where the plays are staged today, this striking exhibit makes an apt commemoration of one of the most treasured parts of Chester's cultural heritage.

A postcard of the tapestry became a best-seller in the cathedral shop. BJ continues her work at her studio in Virginia, USA.