More than 200 people took part in a Passion Play today, Good Friday, as a 19th Century graveyard in a North East quarry was transformed into Jerusalem.
The Houghton- le- Spring Passion was staged at Houghton Hillside Cemetery in the Wearside town at 11am with local people in the key roles, supported by a rock band and with the audience playing the part of the crowd. The audience was encouraged to make up the crowd, jostling for a view of Jesus as he dragged the Cross to the place of execution.
The hour-long play, with music and lyrics by Stuart Clappison and produced by The Reverend Canon Sue Pinnington, the Rector of Houghton le Spring, placed the story of the Crucifixion in a modern setting.
During the Play, the actors moved around the quarry with guards keeping the crowd back, and the Passion culminated with the Crucifixion of Jesus on a hillock at the end of the quarry, in front of the Miners’ Memorial.
Now in its tenth year, the Play is usually staged in St Michael’s and All Angels Church in the town and this was the first time it had switched to the cemetery.
Canon Pinnington, who narrated the event, said: “It was amazing that people travelled from all over the region to take part, not just from the local area. It was an electric occasion and there were a lot of tears. I saw grown men crying.
“I think people really engaged with the Passion Play and were moved by it. I had people telling me that they had never been to anything like this before.
It is very much about mission, about taking the story of Jesus out to the people and making it accessible. We hope it was a special experience for people.”
The Reverend James Menzies, the Assistant Curate of neighbouring parish of Hetton Lyons, who played the role of Jesus Christ, said: “It was a very powerful experience. It gave you a sense, but only a fraction of a sense, of the seriousness of the situation in which Jesus found himself.”
Among those working as stewards at the event were members of the Friends group which has restored the cemetery over the past decade. One of them, Friends Secretary Janice Short, said: “The cemetery is a lot improved since we started working on it and it was exciting to see this happen here.”
Fellow steward Sheila Ellis, a local Councillor, said: “It was an extremely powerful setting for the Play. The quarry makes a natural ampitheatre. It was brilliant and very exciting.”
Patricia Wheatley, from Houghton le Spring, who was also at the event, said: “It was amazing. There was a lot of emotion. You read the story many times but the Play allowed you to better understand it.”
Teenager Emma-Jo Blundy, from Woodham, near Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, who also attended the Play, said: “As a young person, I felt it really helped me relate to the story of the Crucifixion and put it into context.”