“Exhibition “Books and Boy Bishops”

During the Summer Festival, a large exhibition at Durham’s World Heritage Site will showcase material from Durham Cathedral, Durham County Record Office, Durham University Library, the West Yorkshire Archaeological Society, and possibly Alnwick, Beverley, Newcastle and Northallerton. This will by organized by Dr Wyatt. We have, in the past, mounted similar exhibitions (J. McKinnell, Early Drama in Durham: An Exhibition in Durham University Library, 1992) and will present this one professionally. As the World Heritage Site attracts 45,000 visitors in a typical summer we are confident of a robust public echo.

Music and Spectacle, Readings, Ceremonial Revivals

Revivals and readings of civic spectacle, liturgical ceremony and religious drama will take place in Durham’s historic centre. A chief attraction will be the first modern production of what might be the oldest known drama from the British Isles: the Lindisfarne Harrowing of Hell (from the Book of Cerne, c.740, recorded 9th century). We will also stage Lawrence of Durham’s Peregrini (c.1150), as well as one or two later works (15th-17th century). All productions will be collaborations with international professionals, Durham Student Theatre, and the Durham Medieval Theatre Company (jointly run by local participants and members of the university). They will be directed by Prof. McKinnell and Prof. Ravelhofer. We have budgeted for professional support where local expertise may not be available (e.g. musicians playing rare early instruments, a choreographer, and a composer producing full settings from fragmentary records of early music). Durham Cathedral will be the main site for performances. The Norman Chapel at University College, Durham, offers another ideal, unreconstructed performance space for Lawrence’s play in the original Latin for a smaller audience; Peregrini might actually have been performed there for the bishop (although its first performance was probably in the Cathedral) as the chapel dates back to 1080.

Our past achievements and long-standing experience show that these productions can be successfully delivered. Prof. McKinnell has mounted reconstructions/re-creations  locally and internationally: for instance, plays from mystery cycles (Odense, Denmark, 1998; Durham and York, 1988 and 1992), and the Durham Corpus Christi Plays (at the Cathedral, in 2000). The latter inspired the Durham production of 10 modern mystery plays in 2010, with McKinnell as advisor, which had a significant tourism impact. For all past Durham theatrical performances, McKinnell recruited local amateur singers, actors and stage hands, which made these events locally very popular and ensured good regional media coverage. The photographs above show examples of McKinnell’s productions in the UK and Denmark: these illustrate how local performers will be involved, and what kinds of props and structures – scaffolding, pageant cars &c. – will be used in 2016.

Prof. Ravelhofer plays several early instruments and has been involved in large-scale historical festivals. For 20 years, she has worked closely with a professional choreographer and theatre producer, Lieven Baert. Baert’s productions often involve participants of different levels of artistic competence and yet achieve a homogeneous overall effect, for which he has gained an international reputation (guest teacher at Stanford, producer in Madrid, Bruges, Mexico City &c.). He is artistic director of Germany’s largest historical festival at Landshut, where local amateurs achieve high-quality results after intensive training.

Distinct from dramatic production, but related to it, is liturgical revival. As a result of our research, Durham Cathedral has already revived two of its medieval ceremonies: the ritual of circulating the Judas Cup on Maundy Thursday, which is now observed each year by the Dean and Chapter, revives the medieval practice of the Prior and Convent before the Stripping of the Altar in the Cathedral. Durham has also revived the traditional Resurrection Procession at dawn on Easter Sunday, following another medieval rite: the clergy had opened an ‘Easter sepulchre’ on the north side of the altar and lifted a statue of the risen Christ out of it. The Host was lodged in a glass panel in the statue’s chest; the figure was processed round the Cathedral, and then placed on the high altar for forty days before it was taken down on Ascension Day.

We hope that publicising our continuing work, especially on the 14th-century Durham Processional, may encourage the revival of other religious ceremonies, perhaps the Palm Sunday ritual in which the choir sang the Pueri Hebreorum from the cathedral clerestory. Durham Cathedral welcomes our efforts and is looking forward to seeing further forms of liturgy and religious drama reenacted on the Cathedral premises.”

More information here


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