The Plays returned to the city of York on the 9th, 12th & 16th September 2018 for their 20th year!


More about the Plays

In medieval York the Mystery Plays were an expression of civic piety on the Corpus Christi festival. The Creation to Last Judgement narrative was paraded through the streets on waggons as actors presented the great moments of Christian history at twelve playing stations designated by the city banners. This was both an act of worship and ‘community theatre’ for the entertainment of locals and visitors alike, honouring God, reflecting honour on York and allowing the Guilds to display their corporate identity.

Following the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic traditions were replaced or removed, until the year 1569 saw the last medieval production. In 1909 the waggons reappeared as part of the York Historic Pageant. Further “static” productions followed, in the Museum Gardens, the York Theatre Royal, and even the Minster. Nonetheless, the heart of the plays belonged to the streets. In 1994, nine plays were brought forth, as part of that year’s Early Music Festival.

In 1998 the York Guilds and Companies took over, establishing a four year cycle. The Guilds and York Festival Trust will once again be the driving force behind a new production of the city’s internationally renowned medieval Plays returning to the city in 2022.

The Plays

Forty-eight scripts make up the existing York Mystery Plays. In 2018, we selected eleven to tell the story from Creation to Last Judgement. In a new approach to the plays, each is presented as a partnership- one from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament. In the same way that the modern and medieval plays comment on each other, so do these paired stories.



“Beginning, middle and end I with my word have wrought.”

The Plasterer’s Play: The Creation of the World to the Fifth Day
(To be performed by the York Guild of Building)

The Spicers’ Play: The Annunciation and Visitation
(To be performed by the Guild of Media Arts)

The Mysteries begin with acts of creation- with York’s Builders creating the world from nothing in a mere five days. Partnered with this is the New Testament’s story of creation- the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, telling her of the new life to come.

Processional music played by York Waits.



“Thou shall not tempt in vain…”

The Coopers’ Play: The Fall of Man
(To be performed by Vale of York Academy on behalf of the Guild of Freemen)

The Smiths’ Play: The Temptation of Christ
(To be performed by the Company of Cordwainers)

Two tales of temptation see two responses. Adam and Eve are promised knowledge and power. Jesus is offered the world. One leads to the Fall of Man- the other to Mankind’s salvation.

Processional music played by Leeds Waits (9th September) and Doncaster Waits (16th September.



“He trusted me, no man more, and I betrayed him tenderly…”

The Glovers’ Play: Cain and Abel
(To be performed by the Lords of Misrule on behalf of the Company of Merchant Taylors)

The Cooks’ and Waterleaders’ Play: The Remorse of Judas
(To be performed by York St. John’s)

Betrayal follows temptation as two Universities show two different approaches. Cain betrays his brother Abel over a sacrifice gone wrong. In the Remorse of Judas, we see the aftermath of betrayal as Judas tries to take back what he’s done.

Processional music played by De Mowbray’s Musicke (9th September) and Time and Tide Waits (16th September).



“Here to death I oblige me, so this sin will save mankind…”

The Parchment-makers’ and Bookbinders’ Play: Abraham and Isaac
(To be performed by the Guild of Scriveners)

The Pinners’ and Butchers’ Plays (Combined): The Death and Crucifixion of Christ
(To be performed by St Chad’s Church on behalf of the York Butcher’s Gild)

Two fathers sacrifice their only son. In the Old Testament, God demands a hideous sacrifice from Abraham. In the New Testament, God makes his own sacrifice. Each has a twist in the tale, as the threat of death gives way to a new lease of life.

Processional music played by Bagshotte Waytes (9th September) and the Taborers Society (16th September).



“Ah, Lord, loved be thy will, that makes thy folk so free…”

The Hosiers’ Play: Moses and Pharoah
(To be performed by St Luke the Evangelist Church)

The Saddlers’ Play: The Harrowing of Hell
(To be performed by the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust)

Two tales of liberation – one from an earthly dictatorship, the other from a hellish prison. Moses leads his people out of slavery in Egypt, whilst Christ overcomes Satan to set his people free.

Processional music played by Gloucester Waites (9th September) and the Taborers Society (16th September).



“Now is fulfilled all my fore-thought, for ended is all earthly things…”

The Mercers’ Play: The Last Judgement
(To be performed by Raven’s Morris on behalf of the Company of Merchant Adventurers)

As the day ends, so does our story. Standing alone, outside of time and space, the gathered souls discover the consequences of their cruelty or kindness…

Processional music performed by Raven’s Morris.