Chester Mystery Plays

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Engraving depicting an early Chester Mystery Play

The Chester Mystery Plays is a cycle of mystery plays originating in the city of Chester, England and dating back to at least the early part of the 15th century.[1]


A record of 1422 shows that the plays took place at the feast of Corpus Christi and this appears to have continued until 1521. Plays on Corpus Christi Day in 1475 included 'The trial and flagellation of Christ' and 'The Crucifixion'. The plays were then expanded into a three-day cycle on Whit Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In the years between the plays there was the Chester Midsummer Watch Parade instead.

The plays are based on biblical texts, from creation to the Last Judgement. They were enacted by common guildsmen and craftsmen on mounted stages that were moved around the city streets, with each company or guild performing one play.

Prior to the event the Crier read out these banns: "The Aldermen and stewards of evrie societie and Companie draw youselves to your said severall companies according to Ancient Customme and soe to appear with your said severall Companies everie man as you are Called upon paine that shall fall thereon". Such early banns exhorted each company to perform well.

Under Queen Elizabeth I the plays were seen as 'Popery' and banned by the English Church. Despite this, a play cycle was performed in 1568 and the cathedral paid for the stage and beer as in 1562. They were performed in 1572 despite a protest by an Evangelical minister.[2] They were performed again, over four days, in 1575. This resulted in the mayor, when he retired from his office, being taken to the Star Chamber in London to answer allegations against him, but with the support of the council (or assembly) he was freed.

One edition of the plays begins with "The Banes which are reade beefore the beginninge of the playes of Chester, 4 June 1600". Each play ends with "Finis. Deo gracias! per me Georgi Bellin. 1592".[3]

Original composition of the plays is disputed; a date as early as the mid 14th century has been suggested.

Modern revivals[edit]

The stage for the 2008 Chester Mystery Plays: A view of Cathedral Green which has been taken over for the time being for the production of the 2008 Chester Mystery Plays. This view is from the city walls and the raked seating area is on the right.

The plays were revived in Chester in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain and are presented there every five years.[4] The 2018 run of plays was from 27 June to 14 July.

The Players of St Peter have been performing the plays in London roughly every five years since 1946.[5]

Under the direction of Jeff Dailey, the American Theatre of Actors in New York City performed the penultimate play, The Coming of Antichrist, in August 2017.[6]


In the twentieth century, the Noah's Flood play was set operatically by both Benjamin Britten (Noye's Fludde) and Igor Stravinsky (The Flood).

The Mysteries is an adaption by the poet Tony Harrison, principally based upon the Wakefield Cycle, but incorporating scenes from the York, Chester and N-Town canons, first performed in 1977 at the National Theatre, and again revived in 2000 as a celebration of the millennium.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Les Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge (ARLIMA). "The Chester Mystery Plays".
  2. ^ Johnston, Alexandra F. (2010). "The Chester Plays". Retrieved 22 December 2019.
  3. ^ Wright, Thomas, ed. (1843). The Chester Plays: a Collection of Mysteries Founded Upon Scriptural Subjects, and Formerly Represented by the Trades of Chester at Whitsuntide. In two volumes. London: The Shakespeare Society.. Images: title page, start of the Banes and end of the first play.
  4. ^ Chester Mystery Plays website Archived 14 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ The Players of St Peter
  6. ^ American Theatre of Actors

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sergi, Matthew. Practical Cues and Social Spectacle in the Chester Plays. University of Chicago Press: 2020. ISBN 978-0-226-70940-6
  • Gordon Emery - Curious Chester (2005) ISBN 1-872265-94-4
  • The Chester Mystery Cycle: A Facsimile of MS Bodley 175, introduction by R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills, Leeds Texts and Monographs Facsimiles, 1 (Leeds, 1973)
  • The Chester Mystery Cycle: A Reduced Facsimile of Huntington Library MS 2, edited by R. M. Lumiansky and David Mills, Leeds Texts and Monographs Facsimiles, 6 (1980)
  • The Chester Mystery Cycle: A Facsimile of British Library Harley MS 2124, edited by David Mills, Leeds Texts and Monographs Facsimiles, 8 (1984)