The long history of Easter plays

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Did you know Easter plays and religious drama have a long and popular history in the UK?

Today’s Passion Plays are descendants of the Quem Quaeritis Easter liturgy from the 10th and 11th centuries. These performances of the Easter story also look back to the medieval Mystery Plays which involved the whole community in performances of the Bible story during the feast of Corpus Christi.

Medieval Mystery Plays were performed on pageant wagons at different sites around the city centre. In medieval York, for example, the Mystery Plays dramatised the whole Bible from the Fall of Man to the Last Judgement. Different guilds performed different parts of the cycle: the Flood was performed by the Fishers and Mariners, the Slaughter of the Innocents by the Girdlers and Nailers and the Resurrection by the Carpenters.

Mystery Plays were so popular that royal and noble visitors had special performances put on for them. The guilds of Coventry performed Mystery Plays for Margaret of Anjou in 1457 (who was reportedly disappointed that she missed the Draper’s Doomsday play due to lack of daylight), as well as for Richard III in 1485 and for Henry VIII in 1493.