A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery
Place: Central School (Jarrow) (Jarrow, Northumberland, England)
Number of performances: 1
It is presumed that the pageant took place within school premises on 9 December 1924.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Scenery Design: Mr Hoyle [art master, Central School]
- Producer of episode V: Miss Carr [Central School]
Names of executive committee or equivalent
The pageant was organised within the school; there is no note of an organising committee.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Rose, J. D.
The pageant scriptwriter was a local councillor named as Alderman J. D. Rose, JP.1 Rose sat on the local education committee.2 It is not known whether he had a background in teaching but he did have an active interest in local history and later published a book on the Jarrow monastery.3
Names of composers
The music was either religious or traditional. Composers are not specified.
Numbers of performers150
The precise number of performers is unknown; therefore, the figure stated is a best-guess estimate. Jarrow Central was likely quite a large school; and as all parts were played by staff members and pupils it is possible that a much larger number of performers took part. However, if the pageant took place within the school, the number of performers was likely limited by the size of the stage available. Most episodes had a small central cast of fewer than six players, but there were probably many more in non-speaking roles as monks and servants. Episode V did contain a much larger number of performers; and in addition to acting roles, there was also a choir. Abbreviated cast lists of the main players only are included in the pageant book of words; these suggest that this school educated boys and girls.
Object of any funds raised
Linked occasionHeld as part of a school speech day.
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
This pageant took place in winter and so is likely to have been performed within an indoor auditorium.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
It is unlikely that a charge was made to attend this.
School Speech Day
Episode I: King Egfrid grants land for the foundation of Jarrow Monastery, AD 682-684
This scene is set in a room in the King's house. The principal named characters are King Egfrid, the Queen, Biscop, and 'Brother John'. A servant announces the arrival of Biscop and the monk (John). Egfrid rejoices that Biscop has returned from Rome and reveals that Biscop had once been a great supporter of Egfrid's father Eswy. Lengthy conversation ensues between Egfrid and Biscop in which it is revealed that Biscop has returned for the fifth and, he states, last time from Rome; the two discuss the various relics Biscop has brought back from previous sojourns in Rome and how these have enhanced the treasures of various monasteries including that of St Peter's nearby. Biscop states that this time he has returned with 'an immense library of books', relics and the knowledge of how to conduct religious service according to the 'practice of the Apostolic See'. Biscop further advises that John is able to teach and instruct 'the proper mode of singing' and of reading and writing. Egfrid announces that he will reward Biscop's efforts by creating a new monastic house at Jarrow, dedicated to St Paul, which will be 'the two eyes of religion and education'.4
Episode II: The coming of Bede as a child of seven years old to the Monastery, AD 680
Part 1: In the wood, near Monkton
A woodcutter and a shepherd (relatives of Bede) discuss the child's future. Bede is orphaned and they cannot care for him; they decide to take Bede to a monastery where his will be placed in the charge of Biscop.
Part 2: Interior of Monastery—Wearmouth
Set in the Great Chamber; Biscop is seated. The relatives of Bede explain the child's predicament. Biscop agrees to take Bede into the care of the monastery where he will be educated.
Part 3: Interior of Monastery—Wearmouth about four years later
Biscop decides to return to Rome again and places Bede in the care of Ceolfrid, the newly created Abbot of Jarrow. The pageant programme explains:
This part of the episode is conceived with the idea of showing Bede's character, not as an historian, not as a man, but solely to impress all—the school especially—with the character of Bede as a boy.
A conversation takes place between Biscop, Ceolfrid and Eosterwin (Abbot at Wearmouth) about Bede's promise as a scholar. Biscop states that he wishes the two monasteries to cooperate and the scene ends with Biscop giving a blessing to Bede.
Episode III: Scenes in the life of Bede [AD 686]
The scene is set in Ceolfrid's cell during a time of plague. Ceolfrid explains to Bede that from the foundation of Lindisfarne in 635 other religious houses have been established at Hartlepool, Melrose, Whitby, Wearmouth and, lastly, at Jarrow. The abbot states that these houses live by the example of 'the family ties of humanity' and do good works .He gives the example of Cuthbert who lived for years in 'the wilds of Northumbria' ministering to the spiritual needs of the people and their 'bodily welfare'. He states that Biscop continued this legacy by bringing craftsmen from Gaul so that 'our countrymen were taught the art of making glass and building with stone'. Bede declares his intention to record these events one day. A knock at the door interrupts them: they learn that another monk has died. Ceolfrid talks of an eclipse that has taken place that day and of 'a pestilence' raging across the land that has killed many. Both agree that prayer is needed for 'God's help'. The scene ends with singing of the 119th Psalm.
Episode IV: [no title, AD 710 and AD 735]
Scene 1: Bede's Cell at Jarrow
The scene is set in Bede's cell at Jarrow where Bede is seen poring over manuscripts; Ceolfrid enters. The two discuss the letter Ceolfrid has received from Naiton, king of the Picts, who having been converted to the Roman form of Christianity by Columba asks for advice about Easter observances and 'tonsure controversies'. Ceolfrid asks Bede's help in composing a reply. A monk who announces that Acca, bishop of Hexham, has arrived interrupts the two. Ceolfrid leaves and Bede speaks to the audience about Acca's great virtues. Another monk arrives to request the attendance of Bede at the meeting of the abbot and the bishop. Ceolfrid and Acca then enter together. The three discuss recent events in the church; Ceolfrid announces that 'Bede is at present engaged in making a transcription of the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation at the urgent request of the most glorious King Ceowulf'. Praise is heaped upon Bede for his 'piety and learning'.
Scene 2: Tableau of the death of Bede
This scene reproduced a picture painted by William Bell Scott.5 In this, the head of the dying Bede 'is being affectionately supported by one of the brethren'. An invisible choir, to the song melody 'Alta Trinata', sings a prayer for the departing soul of Bede. Cuthwin says to Bede that 'there is still one chapter of the book wanting that thou has been dictating'. The boy Wilfred takes up a quill and writes what Bede dictates: this is a quotation from the gospel of John, XXI, 25 as follows:
And there are so many other things which Jesus did, the which, if it should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.
Episode V: [A midsummer fair near Monkton during the reign of Queen Elizabeth].
This episode (arranged by Miss Kerr) dramatised a midsummer fair set at St Bede's Well 'where villagers of Monkton and Jarrow are bent upon enjoyment'. Culdren play a game of 'Kayles'. This is followed by dancing round a maypole, 'hobby-horse pranks, country dances and jigs' interspersed with other games such as 'Hot Cockles' and 'Hoodman Blind'. A pedlar sells ribbons 'and such like wares to the rustics'. Traditional music and songs are played throughout. In addition to the pedlar, the scene includes the characters of the Fool and his sons, 'Jonathan' and 'Margery', village maidens and youths.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Ecgfrith (645/6–685) king of Northumbria
- Benedict Biscop [St Benedict Biscop] (c.628–689) abbot of Wearmouth and scholar
- Bede [St Bede, Bæda, known as the Venerable Bede] (673/4–735) monk, historian, and theologian
- Ceolfrith [St Ceolfrith, Ceolfrid] (642–716) abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow
- Acca [St Acca] (d. 740) bishop of Hexham
There was live choral singing of the following:
- Part of the 119th Psalm, to the Plainsong Melody, Tonus Peregrinus (episode III).6
- A prayer for the departing soul of Bede, to the melody Alta Trinata (episode IV).7
- The traditional song, 'Under the Greenwood tree'
- The traditional song, 'Amid the New Mown Hay'
- The traditional song, 'Madam I Will Buy You'
- The traditional song, 'Come Lads and Lasses'
- The traditional song, 'Begone Dull Care'
- The traditional song, 'Hope, the hermit'(all traditional songs -episode V).8
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. Holmside, 1924.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- The British Library holds one copy of the book of words.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
This is an example of the sort of small pageants put on by schools. It was organised by the Central School in Jarrow, consciously set out to be an educational initiative that performed the following function:
The object in producing this Pageant is to impress upon young people as well as their elders, the close association we have with the Venerable Bede, and the importance of the Monastery at Jarrow. Few of us realize how great is the heritage of our local history, or how great is the power our Monastery has been in making National history. To the founder of the Monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, to the great teachers and scholars of that glorious school of Saxon times, civilisation as a whole, and our Nation in particular, owe a very great debt. The benefits conferred by the Monastic Order settled here over a thousand years ago, though so very great, are seldom acknowledged, and easily forgotten.9
The introduction included in the book of words also stresses the cultural achievements of Northumberland's monasteries in terms of architecture and artwork. Indeed, the entire endeavour of this pageant seems to have been about the importance of maintaining awareness of local heritage, so that this in turn boosted understanding of national history and of patriotic feeling.
The pageant involved teachers and pupils at the school and was performed as part of a school prize giving and speech day. As it took place in December, this was almost certainly an indoor event. With the exception of the child Bede, adults acted in all of the main roles. No press coverage has been recovered so it is impossible to know the success or otherwise of the pageant. However, it would have had a captive audience in terms of the staff and students of the school, and given that it took place as part of a larger school function, there may have been parents in attendance.
Episodes I to IV of the pageant condense the history of the Jarrow monastery and the life of Bede, and the scenes presented include many of the main players within these stories told by Bede himself. Episode IV concludes with a tableau of Bede's death in 735 that drew upon a well-known painterly image of this event done by the Pre-Raphaelite artist William Bell-Scott. This painting had been specially commissioned in the late nineteenth century as part of a mural by the owners of Wallington Hall, then a private home near Morpeth; but reproductions of the painting had been more widely disseminated. Though the majority of the pageant was centred on Bede, there was some light relief in the final episode, which, perhaps eccentrically, moved the drama completely away from matters ecclesiastical to portray the classic pageant scene of Elizabethan midsummer festivities.
A local councillor—Alderman J. Dudfield Rose—wrote the pageant; he had an interest in education and in local history, and it is possible that he also acted as pageant master; unfortunately, there is no record of who filled this position. The performance lasted for around one hour.10 The author clearly aimed to make this history accessible; there was no stodgy verse included, and indeed, the dialogue between characters, though it necessarily depends much on exposition, is quite lively and discursive. In his introduction to his script, Rose posed the question 'is not all this a goodly heritage for boys and girls?'11d
- Front cover of A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. (Jarrow, 1924).
- An article covering discussion held at the 1931 annual conference of Education Committees, at which 600 hundred such local government delegates attended, mentions a move made by Rose to ask government to fund local authorities so that they could provide footwear for poor schoolchildren. See 'Boots for Poor Scholars: Legislation Urged at Conference', Yorkshire Post, 11 June 1931, 12.
- J. Dudfield Rose, Jarrow church and monastery: The illustrated handbook to St. Paul's Church & monastery, the home of the Venerable Bede (Jarrow, 1932).
- Synopses based on details given on A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. (Holmside, 1924).
- This painting, 'The Death of the Venerable Bede in Jarrow Priory' was painted by the artist William Bell Scott (1811-1890) in 1856. It is now held by the National Trust at Wallington Hall in Northumberland. For a reproduction of the image see National Trust website accessed 11 July 2016 at http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-the-death-of-the-venerable-bede-by-william-bell-scott-england-19th-25197436.html
- A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. (Holmside, 1924), 13.
- Ibid., 18.
- Ibid., 19.
- Ibid., 1.
- A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. (Holmside, 1924), 1.
- A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery written by Alderman J. D. Rose, J.P. (Holmside, 1924), 2.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘A Pageant of Jarrow Monastery’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1304/