Jo Henwood, Chester Chronicle
Photos: David Sejrup
On Good Friday morning you couldn't walk up Eastgate Street to Chester Cross for the crowds. But this wasn't because of shoppers out for an early bird bargain, but people flocking to witness the city's first ever Passion event, brought to you by the team behind the quinquennial Chester Mystery Plays.
When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago, he was met by adoring crowds and so was Northgate Church's youth worker Nick Sherratt, as the Great Man himself, when he processed into our very own city via the Eastgate Clock arch. I was watching from Chester's historic Rows, the grand circle of our ancient city, as He was greeted by fans waving palm fronds and the drums of Karamba Samba at Chester Cross.
And so began the hour-long promenade performance, directed by Matt Baker of Theatre in the Quarter, which saw The Last Supper on the Rows, Blackstocks Fish & Chip Shop doubling up as the Mount of Olives, the Town Hall steps a court of law and the short distance to the cathedral, the road to Calvary. The roads were not closed but any car attempting to manoeuvre St Werburgh Street during the Crucifixion scene would have been stalled as the masses vied for a view of Jesus on the Cross. The crowd fell silent as Matt Baker's Yet Hope I, described by Prince Charles on a visit to the city in 2014 as 'intensely beautiful', resounded around the area in front of the famous west door.
I happened to be standing next to the vice-dean of Chester Cathedral, Peter Howell-Jones, as people came up to congratulate him on the performance, saying things like: 'I have never been so moved,', 'I have never seen Chester like this', 'the best thing I have ever seen in the city'.
The event was made possible through the religious organisations Churches Together and Link Up but is this just a religious experience for the Christians in Chester? I don't think so. I spotted some of my church-going friends but this was also a city spectacle, a story-telling, a theatrical performance, a community project, a Thing to Do at Easter, call it what you like.
Tourism heads in the city are always talking of footfall, visitor numbers, city rankings and length of hotel stays - essentially how many people come to Chester, buy a coffee, have lunch, shop in more than a couple of places and love it so much they come for longer next time. But they weren't behind this project which led to me having to queue for a flat white in the Jaunty Goat, pop into a shop to pick up something for my daughter and buy that extra Easter egg in case a stranger called.
There were pitfalls to the performance - a lack of microphones meant that unless you had a front row seat at every juncture, you couldn't hear the actors, without staging many could only glimpse the Crown of Thorns but miss Mary Mother's pleading at the base of the Cross, with no outside broadcast mixing desk, the fabulous sound of Karamba Samba sometimes overwhelmed the sound of small voices.
So, city of Chester and all ye who are paid to promote it, invest more and make next year's production even better. Get Matt Baker to do it again as, much like the Messiah himself (or at the very least the Pied Piper), he has a following.
And then do the same again the year after that and the year after that.