Medieval Passion Plays

An actor playing Jesus in a medieval Passion Play is tied to a wooden cross with a dark sky above.

The tradition of free performances of Passion Plays goes back to medieval times. At that time. the Bible was in Latin. Since very few people could read or write, the plays provided an important function. Performances served as both education and entertainment for the population at large.


Under the banner of theatre, the plays entertained audiences but also educated people about the story of Easter. The first recorded piece of theatre in Britain was called the Quem Quaeritis. Two choirs addressing each other would speak four lines in a dramatic form. The Church soon realised the power of Theatre as a way to communicate and provoke a response. It began to produce what we now know as Mystery Plays.


Medieval Mystery Plays dramatised the whole Bible in a cycle of plays. The Players performed them on pageant wagons at different sites around the city centre. The most well-known cycles are those of York, Coventry, Chester, Lincoln and the East Anglian plays.


The passion plays were a sign of medieval city’s prestige and wealth. The city’s guilds were responsible for producing each play. It was both an act of spiritual worship and civic glory. In York, Mystery Plays dramatised the Bible from the Fall of Man (performed by the Coopers) to the Last Judgement (performed by the Mercers). As part of the cycle, the Flood was performed by the Fishers and Mariners, the Slaughter of the Innocents by the Girdlers and Nailers and the Resurrection by the Carpenters.


Medieval Mystery plays were not only spectacular and memorable. They also had a spiritual, social and didactic purpose. In presenting the Bible as embodied drama, they were a means of instruction as well as of spiritual experience. In attending these plays the audience were witnesses to the performance and also to the spiritual realities behind the performance.

As Dee Dyas (1997) puts it, the audience were ‘vital players in this epic drama, for the mystery cycles, the miracles or saint’s plays and the moralities were all designed to warn and win souls’ (p.225).

Is fundraising like online dating?

Online dating is trying to find the right match among many differnet people. Fundraising for Passion Plays is similar to online dating in one respect: trying to find the right match for your Play among different trusts and funding charities. Finding this perfect match is the key to raising funds to tell the Easter story!

Once you find trusts and funders who are of a similar mindset and value the things you value, you are well on the way to a perfect match.


How do we find potential funders?

The Charity Commission’s Register of Charities allows you to search for free by using filters to narrow your search. (Remember, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate registers.)
Funding Central is another register that is free to access.
For a more expensive option, you can try the Directory of Social Change’s Funds Online website which is regularly updated.
Since Passion Plays bring many churches of all denominations together, your diocese can be a good source of information and signposting. For example, see the Diocese of Bristol and their list of funders here.
The Christian Funders’ Forum is also a useful source.


How do we let funders know our project is a good match for them?

Now is the time to do some research and really think about compatibility with the funders you are researching.

You can research their online content, websites, and also Further information will be inread through their annual reports published on the Charity Commissions website (click ‘Documents’ tab). These annual reports will give useful imformation about projects they have previously funded.

A quick phone call can also be helpful in establishing contact and goodwill as you will be able to find out more about them and let them know what you do.

Remember here that one of the key elements is timing! Some funders have a set application process that requires you to apply before a deadline. Other funders have trustees’ meetings at set times during the year and those times are good to work with.

The timing of your project also matters. Some funders like to fund projects in the early stage of development, while others like to give funding when they see other funders have already contributed.

There is a lot to think about with fundraising! But Passion Plays are such unique projects that it can also be an enjoyable process. Many funders like to hear about large community arts events that tell the Easter story in fresh and inspiring ways. Not only do Passion Plays have large outdoor audiences across the UK each Easter, they are also unique spaces of community, skill-sharing, mentoring and investing in the lives of volunteers across all sections of society. They are more than a one-off performance and the impact spreads across the whole community for many months.


Where can I find more help with fundraising?

If you want more help with fundraising, we have plenty more tips and advice on our website here.

We have recorded sessions from previous Passion Trust Conferences including sessions looking at Finance & Fundraising, Administration and Practical Considerations, and Q&A sessions. You can see more information and watch short helpful videos on our website here.

You can also find lots of helpful tips and advice at The Benefact Trust here or click on the image below.

three bullet points with rows of text and images in blue bubbles with white icons for help with fundraising


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