What are the York Mystery Plays?
York Mystery Plays are a magnificent example of medieval drama. Using the colourful language of medieval Yorkshire, they present the 'history of the world' from the mystery of God's Creation, through the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, to the Last Judgement.
To the townspeople who first drew together to perform and watch what they called the Corpus Christi Plays, the battle between Good and Evil was not theoretical theology, but an all-pervading fact of life. Disease and sudden death were an ever-present threat. The Plays taught a simple message, but not in a simple way. Written to appeal to all sections of the community, they were sophisticated, often lavish, always theatrical. Here is an article about the history of the Plays by the City Archivist.
The Cycle of Plays is made up of a number of individual pageants: 48 are known. These separate episodes were originally presented on wagons through the streets, by York's guilds of craftsmen: their crafts were also known as 'mysteries', hence the name of the Plays. Different guilds often presented appropriate scenes, so for example the Shipwrights were responsible for the Building of the Ark, while the Butchers played the Death of Christ.
Revived in the ruins of St Mary's Abbey in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain, they used text transcribed by Rev. J. S. Purvis from British Library manuscript, Add MS 35290. The Plays have been performed many times since in a variety of venues - always by an enthusiastic cast to an enthralled audience. This is indeed the 'greatest story ever told'. Recent productions: