Pageant of Sussex Saints
Place: Palace Garden, Chichester Cathedral (Chichester) (Chichester, Sussex, England)
Number of performances: 4
22 June at 3pm, 25 and 26 June at 6pm, 27 June at 3pm, 1935.
If wet, the Chichester High School for Girls. At least one dress rehearsal was also staged.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Producer [Pageant Master]: Shaw, Joan
- Costumes and Property Designs, and Heraldry: E. Werge Thomas
- Seating Arrangements: Mr R.J. Sharp
- Tickets: Mr R.J. Sharp; Mr Geoffrey Heather
- Mistress of Robes: Mrs Bishop; Mrs Trotter
- Chichester Costumes: Miss Coutts
Joan Shaw was the wife of the composer, Martin Shaw.
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Secretary: Mrs Duncan Jones
- Assistant Secretary: Miss D. Howell-Thomas
- Treasurer: Mr W.G.W. Griffiths
- Miss Younghusband
- Colonel Gibson
- Mr Geoffrey Heather
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Werge-Oram, E.
Names of composers
- Shaw, Martin
Martin Shaw was the husband of the producer, Joan Shaw.
Numbers of performers300
Object of any funds raised
To raise funds for the Girls’ School in Chichester ‘that the children of the City may grow up in the knowledge of the Faith delivered to the Saints’.
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 5000
The figure of 5000 is an estimate. There were over 1000 audience members for the first performance.1
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
6s. 6d.–3s. 6d.
Scene I. Saint Wilfred in Selsey
Music of horns and percussion. Saxons and children enter. Wulfstan has not brought anything for dinner. His daughter arrives, announcing that two foreign men have arrived; she damns them with pagan curses. They then all scatter as the two men enter: one is Bishop Wilfred, the other is Burgelm. The two wait for the Saxons to return. Wilfred, without pride, talks of his religious foundations in Ripon, Hexham and York. Burgelm is sceptical as to whether the people can be converted, but Wilfred calms him. The Saxons reappear and are about to strike but hesitate. Wilfred greets them and tells them of his purpose, but they are sceptical and fearful of outsiders. The Saxons are gripped by famine, drought and crop failures and beg him to make spells. He begins to preach to them about the miracles of Jesus, but they begin fighting among themselves as a result of hunger. Wilfred tells them that they shall not starve: ‘The God I serve will feed you all. Come, fetch your eel nets, and we will go down to the sea. You shall learn to catch fish, and we will have a great feast, and then I will teach you the good Spell of Christ.’2
Scene II. Saint Wilfred in Selsey, Continued
Six brothers of Wilfred’s new monastery enter to the sound of bells and process. They greet each other in Latin, though some do not know what it is. Saxulf (one of the Saxons from the first scene) enters looking for Wilfrid, who will soon be heading north on his pilgrimage. Saxulf, who had gone away after the first scene without being converted, tells of the ills he has suffered and asks to be baptised before he dies. Wilfred wishes to go, but Saxulf demands to be baptised. Wilfred insists he must learn from the monks. Saxulf says the ‘Pater Noster’ without knowing what it means. Wilfred realises he should go and asks Saxulf to come with him to London and then to York to learn about God. Burgelm is to stay. Wilfred departs, blessing them and warning them to obey the Archbishop of Witancestir and not to be riven by conflict: ‘There is neither Saxon nor Latin, there is neither bond, nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’
Scene III. Saint Cuthman in Steyning
Brother Raymond of the Steyning Benedictine Priory enters singing. He talks to monks about the church they will build dedicated to St Cuthman. The prior enters carrying an illuminated manuscript of the acts of Cuthman and reads from it. As each act is read, Cuthman performs it. The acts include coming from Devon with his sick mother and building a church in a forest. He wearied of building the church because it was not perfect, but he was visited by a vision of a ‘young carpenter’ (i.e., Jesus) who instructed him on how best to build the church. The prior calls upon the monks to follow Cuthman’s example.
Scene IV. Saint Richard in Westminster
Henry III enters with his court, the King’s Folly, the King’s Greed and a jester. They foil one another. Richard Droitwich, Bishop of Chichester, presents Henry with a petition for land and gold owed to the church, which the king refuses out of greed (with the allegory of greed and folly tempting him). Richard continues to petition the King, who suggests that poverty is probably the best cause. Richard is driven out. The Vox Ecclesiae (voice of the church) enters and proclaims: ‘Henry, King of England, I am sent to warn you of the error of your ways. Richard of Chichester is a faithful servant of God. You have raised your hand to persecute him.’ The spirit warns him of the sins of old Kings. Henry is afraid, but greed and folly prevent him from acting.
Scene V. Saint Richard on the Downs
Farmer Piers and others enter, then Fisherman Zebedee and Shepherd Wat. Voices describe their acts as they perform them. Piers complains about poor crops and that they must support the bishop. Wat complains about wolves attacking the flock. A milkmaid and cowherd enter singing. Richard enters with children and blesses and heals several of them including the lame child of the spinner-wife. Richard tells the children the story of the creation. Richard declares that the King is not his enemy: ‘God wishes me to be the King’s friend. But King Henry does not like me. If I were to speak against him he would have cause to hate me, but now he is wrong, and God will someday show him the truth.’3 Zebedee complains his nets are empty; Richard prays, and Zebedee returns with full nets. The Vox Ecclesiae arrives and proclaims: ‘The King has been admonished, and brought to a better mind. He has restored the Church lands of your diocese. Your people may rejoice with you!’
Scene VI. Saint Richard in Chichester
The cathedral is prepared for the enthronement of the Bishop. A procession enters with peasants singing and dancing outside. ‘The Carol of the King’s Honesty’ is performed. Richard enters; he is robed and given a mitre, crozier and ring. Noblemen pledge allegiance, and Richard acknowledges ‘I am the King’s most humble servant.’ The crowd acclaims him as he exits.
Scene VII. Saint Richard in Dover
A French pilgrim headed to Canterbury is granted admittance to the hospice. Hilary announces that Richard is arriving, and the pilgrim recalls hearing him preaching many years ago in Orleans. Richard has been preaching the crusade. Zebedee, peasants, Templars and knights enter singing. The Angel of Death appears, who beckons to Richard before disappearing. Richard realises he is dying and prays. He preaches the way to salvation: ‘Ye must enter into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, and be made one with him. He is the vine, ye are the branches.’ Richard then dies.
Scene VIII. The Translation of Saint Richard
Wat and his flock enter to the ringing of bells. Carols are sung by Lovel, the minstrel of the new St Richard. Lovel is going to Canterbury to see the Translation. Wat is sad he cannot follow: ‘I cannot leave my flock. St Richard knows what it is to have sheep to care for.’ Pilgrims enter and sing the ‘Chichester Carol’. Edward I and Queen Alianore enter. All praise St Richard and God.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Wilfrid [St Wilfrid] (c.634–709/10) bishop of Hexham
- Cuthman [St Cuthman of Steyning] (fl. c.681) Anglo-Saxon hermit, church-builder and saint
- Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Wyche, Richard of [St Richard of Chichester] (d. 1253) bishop of Chichester
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Eleanor [Eleanor of Castile] (1241–1290) queen of England, consort of Edward I
Musical productionSingers, the Cathedral Choristers, Mr Whatley’s Choir, Orchestral Players, Members of the Chichester Amateur Orchestra. Hymns included: ‘Jerusalem, My Happy Home’; ‘Thy Hand, O God, Has Guided’; ‘Thorough the Night of Doubt and Sorrow’.
Motets sung by Cathedral Choir:
- Peter Whitlock. ‘Glorious in Heaven’ (22 June).
- Richard Dering. ‘O Sing Unto the Lord’ (25 June).
- Orazio Vecchi. ‘Alleluja, Sing Praises’ (26 June).
- Thomas Weekes. ‘Alleluia, I heard a Voice’ (27 June).
- Martin Shaw (music) and E. Werge-Oram (words). ‘Carol of the Holy Spell’;
- Shaw and Werge-Oram. ‘Chichester Carol’
- Shaw and Werge-Oram. ‘Pilgrim Song’ (Scene VIII).
Newspaper coverage of pageantKent and Sussex Courier
Sussex Daily News
Sussex County Magazine
Drama: The Quarterly Theatre Review
West Sussex Gazette
Sevenoaks and Kentish Advertiser
Portsmouth Evening News
Hampshire Telegraph and Post
Book of words
- Pageant of Sussex Saints. Chichester, 1935.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- West Sussex County Records Office, Chichester: Scrapbook on the pageant including programme, flyers, letters, newspaper cuttings. REF MSS 49651.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Although religious pageants went back to the 1909 English Church Pageant, it was only during the interwar period that they became major features of the pageant movement. Paradoxically, this accompanied the stagnation in overall religious observance and a disembedding of religion from everyday life, which some historians and sociologists of religion refer to as ‘secularization’. Despite relatively stable congregations, it had become clear that younger people were less likely to be regular church attendees. The growth of the ‘secular Sunday’, characterized by participating in or watching sports or attending cinemas and other recreational facilities that were open longer—as well as the greater amounts of money available to (employed) young people and their larger amounts of free time—meant that fewer people were willing to attend church on a Sunday or, for that matter, other days of the week.4 Whilst civic and institutional pageants themselves reflected this shift, containing fewer explicitly religious scenes (which were generally confined to the opening episodes), religious pageantry became increasingly common. These pageants often celebrated anniversaries of particular churches or movements. Examples included the pageant held at St Laurence Bardney in Lincolnshire (1934), or the Light Over England pageant (1938) that commemorated 500 years of the translation of the New Testament. They also encouraged overseas missionary work, as was the case in the Portchester Pageant (1932), and local church-building, as in T.S. Eliot’s The Rock (1934). Many were written by local volunteers, for example the wives of vicars or bishops, and were of mixed artistic value, often using poor dialogue, clunky religious imagery, paper-thin moral allegories, and dubious depictions of race and empire. As the Times remarked on the Light Over England pageant: ‘the genealogical trees of the Bible are not so dull as this’!5 Even T.S. Eliot’s dialogue for The Rock was criticized from many quarters for its overly didactic heavy-handedness.
Chichester Cathedral could claim a strong connection with the artistic world, cultivated by the influential Bishop of Chichester, George Bell. These connections included writers such as Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, Christopher Hassall, Christopher Fry and T.S. Eliot (whose Murder in the Cathedral was commissioned by Bell in 1935); artists such as Marc Chagall and Graham Sutherland; and composers such as Gustav Holst (whose ashes were interned there in 1934), Imogen Holst and Martin Shaw (who composed a number of pieces for the pageant).6 The pageant, which was a supplement to the annual Whitsuntide Festival at the Cathedral, was not the run-of-the-mill amateur religious pageant but was instead, in the Bishop of Chichester’s words, a part of the ‘armoury of the Church’, supported by performances by members of the Deanery and Chapel and supplemented by the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra.7 The Bishop himself, along with the Dean of Chichester (A.S. Duncan-Jones) and several canons from cathedrals across southern England, took part.8 The author E. Werge-Oram had previously written several other pageants for the cathedral, including The Acts of St Richard of Chichester, staged in 1933; several scenes from this featured in the Pageant of Sussex Saints.9
The flyer bore the words of the author and Dean of Chichester, Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones: ‘May all who witness and take part in it remember with gratitude these Saints of the English Church, and pray that strengthened by their example and fellowship, learned in the knowledge of their inheritance, we may come at last, through the Cross and Passion of our Saviour, to God’s Eternal Kingdom.’10 The pageant presented the life and acts of three important saints associated with the area: Saint Wilfred, the missionary who converted the local Saxons; Saint Cuthman, a somewhat odd saint noted for carrying his mother around in a wheelbarrow, who built churches in the area; and Saint Richard, who redeemed Chichester from Henry III’s greed and encouraged locals to take up the cross and join the Seventh Crusade. While the pageant included many of the hallmarks of other religious pageants—such as the conversion of the Saxons, church-building, the mollification of a wicked monarch, and the impulse to spread the gospels overseas (though relatively few religious pageants involved the crusades11)—the Pageant of Sussex Saints lies far above the usual fare. The miracle performed by Saint Wilfred in the first scene, commanding the starving Saxons to cast their nets in the presumably barren sea (which echoes Jesus’ actions in Matthew 4:19), is less laboured than the miracles that featured in other pageants. The late conversion of Saxulf and the departure of Wilfred possess genuine pathos (and it is striking that the Saxons were not converted en masse in the first scene). So too does the life of Saint Richard, where the personifications of Greed, Folly and the Vox Ecclesiae owe more to Greek drama than pantomime. The pastoral idyll of the fifth scene is full of literary allusions: Zebedee the fisherman was father of the Apostles James and John; Farmer Piers is a reference to the titular character from the medieval poem Piers Plowman; and Shepherd Wat is the main character in James Hogg’s Shepherd’s Calendar (1829). Wat’s inability in the final scene to view the Translation (the moving of Richard’s holy relics to Canterbury) because he has to tend his own flock adds a touch of realism and hints at the limitations of following a Christian life. The depiction of Henry III (who was one of the least prominent medieval Kings in pageantry) presents a conflicted, though not necessarily wicked, monarch who is a powerful counterpoint to Saint Richard. The resolution of the conflict between the two firmly displays the church’s submission to just temporal powers, and Richard’s encouragement of locals to take up the cross can be seen as a marrying together of the Church and Monarchy.
And yet, despite its above-par dialogue, the pageant was not safe from the common enemy of all pageantry: the weather. This had marred many of the rehearsals and the dress rehearsal itself. As the West Sussex Gazette remarked:
The path of ‘saints’ in this world is well known to be hard, so that it was not perhaps out of keeping that the many people who for weeks had been preparing to follow, pictorially, in the footsteps of the Sussex ‘Saints’ in the big pageant at Chichester, should have found their task exacting, and at times discouraging. It is dampening both physically and spiritually for people to gather for an outdoor rehearsal, with costumes over which time and trouble have been taken, and to return cold and sodden.12
Fortunately on the day of the first performance the low pressure broke and the sun shone. As the path of good Christians was, as the paper remarked, rarely smooth, many of the performers were seen to perspire heavily, and yet they were praised for the performance, ‘carried out in a thoroughly devotional spirit’.13 The Gazette continued in its effusive praise: ‘Something of the feeling of old pilgrimages moves the participants themselves—as some of them have said, as they take part in the picturesque revival of the old scenes…. The whole production is a credit to the resources which the city and district can mobilise when the occasion calls’.14
Other newspaper coverage was overwhelmingly encouraging. The Sussex Daily News remarked that ‘the pageant adheres closely to the medieval chronicles, and has a definite value, apart from its brilliance as a spectacle, to students and school parties.’15 The paper reported Henrietta Bell, wife of the Bishop, declaring that the pageant ‘can be the means of inspiring the onlooker with a great realization of the continuity, both historical and civil.… It is an aid to inspire the modern generation with a desire to follow the footsteps of these Saints to whom Sussex owes so much.’16 The Portsmouth Evening News echoed this sentiment: ‘The spectacle was a brilliant one, the bright hues of the Saxon and medieval costumes of the performers, backed by the red and grey walls of the ancient buildings enclosing the ground, forming a riot of colour.’17 In fact, the gardens of the Cathedral were universally singled out for praise, with at least one reporter welcoming the shade the cedars provided.18 The Chichester Observer, perhaps keen to attract further tourists, enthused: ‘A more ideal setting for such a pageant it would be difficult to imagine…. [The] old weather-beaten stone wall [city wall], behind the rostrum, lends added countenance to the portrayal of these time-honoured and colourful episodes.’19
The Times correspondent was struck, like others, by the harmony of the performance which went beyond other secular pageants: ‘there was something more than a recapture of the past. Its purpose was to show the people of Sussex had touched the hearts of their rough forefathers, and how during a period of 600 years, on seashore and down, men of spiritual power had been raised up to lead them to higher things and to spread a belief in love and holiness.’20 The paper kept up this slightly condescending note: ‘So clear a spirit of simple sincerity had dominated the heterogeneous collection of players drawn from every rank of life and many different parts of Sussex that there was no sense of break, no jarring note.’21 The sense that the unity of the production stemmed from its religious message was echoed by the Catholic newspaper The Tablet. This printed a letter which asked: ‘The question uppermost in the minds of some who were present … could not fail to be this: Why is it that the Church to-day can utter with certainty by the method of drama a message of the power of faith that somehow so often seems muffled in its ordinary round of worship?’22
Clearly, the Pageant of Sussex Saints was a triumphant coming together of vision and substance in the form of a pageant which celebrated religion without demanding great sacrifices from its parishioners. The pageant itself was surprisingly ecumenical (or even Anglo-Catholic), focusing as it did on saints whose position within the Anglican church was ambiguous at best and presenting them as unequivocally part of an English church whose loyalty, more or less, lay with the King. Though pageantry was unlikely to win new converts to the cause—or prevent the general ebbing away in church attendance—it was able to reassure the faithful. It was also reassuring that religion could combine devotion and art. This tradition continued in the town with the annual Chichester Festival that began in 1962 under the directorship of Laurence Olivier.23
- Sussex Daily News, 24 June 1935, 1.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in synopses taken from The Pageant of Sussex Saints (Chichester, 1935).
- The Pageant of Sussex Saints (Chichester, 1935), 26.
- S.J.D. Green, Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c.1920–1960 (Cambridge, 2011).
- Andrew Chandler, ed., ‘Bell, George Kennedy Allen (1883–1958), Bishop of Chichester’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 14 March 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30685?docPos=5; Andrew Chandler, The Church and Humanity: The Life and Work of George Bell, 1883–1958 (Farnham, 2012).
- West Sussex Gazette, 27 June 1935, 1.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 24 June 1935, 5.
- The Times, 8 June 1933, 17.
- Flyer for pageant, in Scrapbook of the Pageant, West Sussex Archives, Chichester. MSS 49651.
- For secular pageants which did portray the crusades, see Oxford 1919, Reading 1920, Leeds 1930, Portchester 1932, Boston 1951 and Poole 1952.
- West Sussex Gazette, 27 June 1935, 1.
- Sussex Daily News, 20 June 1935, 1. Cutting, in Scrapbook of the Pageant, West Sussex Archives, Chichester. MSS 49651.
- Portsmouth Evening News, 24 June 1935, 5.
- The Times, 24 June 1935, 18.
- Chichester Observer, 26 June 1935, 1.
- The Times, 24 June 1935, 18.
- The Tablet, 29 June 1935, 21.
- Accessed 14 March 2016, Pass It On: Chichester Festival Theatre, http://passiton.cft.org.uk/about-cft/.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant of Sussex Saints’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1030/