York Mystery Plays

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Archive of Mystery Plays

St Williams college
The searchable York Mystery Plays archive holds information and items relating to the cycle of York Mystery Plays and their performance in the city in the modern era.  Photographs, programmes and other material have been contributed by York people, actors, audiences and by the Minster, the Theatre Royal and Mystery Play enthusiasts to the archive stored in the National Centre for Early Music.  Our earliest material includes the names and addresses of the 1000+ people who took part in a 1909 York Pageant (with the Shepherds' Play).  For a listing of those people, see this page of the Archive
Naturally we have press cuttings, programmes and photos - from 1949 to now - but we would love to have more actual tickets. Here is a link to an archive page with a photograph of our oldest ticket. 
Thank you to actors, supporters, the Minster and community photographers for the range of information received for the great recent productions up to date.  This website has grown, so to help navigate, this page lists all the website's pages.
Below is a 2006 photo of the Pharoah play, donated by Patrick Olsen, who has given many items depicting various years. This page in the Archive lists some of the donations which have been received in recent years.
     2006 Wagon Play
Please note: The bulk of the searchable material was first recorded for the archive in 2002 with museum-type codes.  We continued collecting, so the NCEM database holds relevant information for all subsequent productions.  You can see some on this website and will find more by searching the archive.  If you cannot find something important to you, ask the archivist for a search.  
Eve and Satan 1957
Here is a photograph which was brought into the National Centre for Early Music so the archivist could scan it.  Eve is being tempted by Satan in 1957.  Eve was Sheila Barker, Satan was Gerald Morden.
In 2021 material belonging to Edward Scurr, the first stage manager, was donated.  It includes a unique signed close up of Joseph O'Conor in crown of thorns, wiping blood away (presumably offstage).  In 2023 we received musical scores from the estate of Dr Richard Shephard, composer and conductor in 2000 and 2016.
Answers to FAQ
- The plays were in the Museum Gardens in 1951, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1973, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988 and 2012.  In 1992 and 1996 they were in York Theatre Royal.  In 2000 and 2016 the Dean and Chapter arranged for the plays to be performed inside York Minster. 
- A Cycle of Plays was produced on Wagons in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, September 2018 and June 2022.
- There have also been individual pageants in certain years, such as Christ Before the Elders in 1960, Abraham and Isaac in 1963, The Three Kings in 1973, the Flood in 2012, a Nativity for York in 2019, a Resurrection for York in 2021; another Nativity for York in 2022 and in 2023 to mark St John's day, a Baptism.  
- Most of the scenes within the Mystery Plays are from the New Testament of the Bible but if you search under 'Old Testament' in the archive below you will see a list of Old Testament scenes performed each year. 
1973 programmeAn unexpected donation allowed us to identify that there were Yorkshire Mysteries in the Arts Centre, Micklegate in 1986 (From Creation to the Christchild) and 1987 (continuing on to The Passion) - photo below right.  Mr and Mrs Noah mourn, 1986

In 2012 HIDden Productions performed Noah's Ark - flying a live raven and live dove. Is this the first time in York that live birds were used?  Live sheep have accompanied the shepherds, for instance in 1980.  
In 2019 the eight plays about Jesus' birth were combined into A Nativity for York in St Michael, Spurriergate. In 2016 Minster archivists created an exhibition about the meaning of the Plays after the production that year - see this page.  In 2012 York City archivists organised an exhibition to coincide with the Plays in Museum Gardens, with NCEM and volunteer help: a page is attached. 
An academic enquiry about Monteverdi Vespers 1610 was answered by a scrapbook in our archive: scroll down this entry.
Material from the archive held in the National Centre for Early Music in York is available online by searching below, including scans, electronic versions and recorded interviews.  If you have a particular request, please contact the archivist.  Or see the share your memories! page for a list of all the webpages to help you navigate.

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