Medieval Banns ceremony to take place in Chester city centre

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Players from the UK’s largest regularly produced community production will reenact an ancient tradition in Chester next weekend (Saturday, May 13).

Performers from the 2023 cycle of the Chester Mystery Plays will seek permission from the Lord Mayor to put on the medieval plays at Chester Cathedral this summer.

The Reading of the Banns ceremony, which dates back to the Middle Ages, will begin at 10.30am at Chester Cross with a proclamation by the Town Crier before proceeding to Town Hall Square for 11am on Saturday, May 13.

Lord Mayor of Chester John Leather will then hear a plea from performers before granting per-mission for the production to go ahead. Mayoral permission has not always gone smoothly. In 1572 the Mayor of Chester was summoned to London to explain why he had defied a ban on mystery plays performances by the English Church and allowed the plays to be presented in the city. He was eventually freed.

The Banns ceremony dates back to the 14th century when the Chester Mystery Plays were first performed in the city. Based on Bible stories like The Creation, Noah’s Ark and The Crucifix-ion, they were originally presented by the freemen and guilds of the city on wagons through the streets of the city centre.

Chairman of Chester Mystery Plays Company Ian Sanderson said: “The Banns ceremony was the method used to tell the masses the Plays were going to be put on – a bit like the social me-dia of its time. It still feels right to uphold tradition and proclaim to the people of Chester as they are only performed once every five years.”

The ceremony on the streets of Chester in 2018

The 2023 production, presented by a community company of almost 400 people, is directed by John Young. Original music is composed by Matt Baker with design by Jess Curtis.

Pic: Mark Carline

The Chester Mystery Plays is supported by Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants, Cheshire West and Chester Council, The Ursula Keyes Trust, The Marjory Boddy Char-itable Trust, the Earl of Chester’s Fund, the Granada Foundation and the Megan Gwynne-Jones Charitable Trust. Local businesses and organisations Sykes Cottages, The Wesley Church Cen-tre, Range Cookers, Storyhouse, The King’s School, New Cloisters Cathedral Choir, Chester Racecourse and Hargreaves & Woods also support Chester Mystery Plays.

Tickets are available from, telephone 01244 500959 or direct from the Chester Cathedral Box Office.

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