Easter story goes online – watch the Old Town Procession of Witness for the modern age

The Old Town’s answer to the world famous Oberammergau Passion Play is back this year in a new online version writes the Reverend Paul Hunt

Every ten years, pilgrims from all over the world flock to Oberammergau in Germany to see the re-enactment of Jesus’ last days performed by villagers.  The first performance was in 1634 in thanksgiving for deliverance from plague but the arrival of a new plague in the form of Covid-19 meant that the 2020 performance was postponed until 2022.

“Like Oberammergau we had to cancel last year because of Covid but we didn’t want to wait until 2022 for our next Procession of Witness,” says Heather Leech, director of the Hastings event. 

“So we decided to re-imagine the story of Jesus’ last hours for a digital age unimaginable for those Bavarian villagers in 1634. The Old Town’s re-enactment does not go back to the 17th century but I felt it was important to maintain a local tradition of some 50 years or so.  This is a joint effort between the Church of England and our Roman Catholic friends at St Mary Star of the Sea and so we also want to sustain our shared Good Friday witness.”  

The re-enactment begins at St Clements.

The re-enactment begins at St Clement’s and the different scenes in the Good Friday story take place at various places in the Old Town – including St Mary Star of the Sea and outside the Jenny Lind Pub – before the final scenes including the crucifixion happen outside of All Saints. Some 40 people take part and there are usually around 300 spectators.

The social distancing rule means that nothing spontaneous, live action or ensemble can happen this year so Heather had to reconsider what each scene conveyed through the Bible readings, the character dialogue and the prayers.  

“As director, I am always keen on the sound of the procession of witness and know that there are some small elements that cannot normally be shown in such a large scale event. Here was an opportunity to focus on some of the smaller ingredients: the dice, the nails, the water. One thing I’m pleased with is my decision to release each scene on the parish Facebook Page according to the timescale of the original Good Friday. 

“On the streets we take about an hour and a half; this year we will release the first scene at 6am and continue to do so through Good Friday in real time with events as written in the Gospels.”

The Good Friday Procession will be back on the streets next year, promises Heather, when hopefully Old Towners will sense something else in common with those Bavarian villagers in 1634.  

The Old Town Procession of Witness may be viewed live on the Old Town Parish Facebook Page on Good Friday. The whole event may be viewed as one sequence after 6am on Easter Day on You Tube  https://youtu.be/gUk-QlLjRSA

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