Pilgrims to the Sunrise

Other names

  • A Missionary Pageant Produced at the Christian World Exhibition

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Victoria Rooms (Bristol) (Bristol, Gloucestershire, England)

Year: 1943

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 6


7–14 September 1943

7 September 6pm (Ladies’ Night); 8 September 6pm (Civil Defence Night); 11 September 2.30pm (Matinee for Empire Builders) and 6pm (Civic Night); 13 September 6pm (Leaders’ Night) introduced by Ernest Brown, MP; 14 September 6pm (United Nations Night).

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Producer [Pageant Master]: Davies, Margaret H.
  • ‘Corner Stone’ (i.e., conceiver): Miss T. Davies
  • Mistress of the Robes: Mrs Leonard Webb
  • Director of Bookings: Mrs Harold Finch
  • Assistant Director of Bookings: Mrs Frank Salter
  • Marshal of the Music Records: Mrs H. Sargent
  • Director of Programmes: Mrs Parry-James
  • Secretary, Stage Manager and Property Secretary: Reverend L.G. Webb
  • Assistant to Producer: Reverend A. Davies
  • The ‘Everyman’: Mr H. Selwood
  • Treasurer: Mr Harold Finch
  • Chief Electrician: Mr Fowler
  • Radiogram Controller: Mr Buckley
  • Chief Marshal: Mr J. Davis

Names of executive committee or equivalent

General Committee:

  • Chairman: Canon C.R. Claxton

Exhibition Committee:

  • Chairman: Crofton Gane, Esq.

Pageant Committee:

  • Chairman: Norma F. MacDonald-Stewart

Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Davies, T.

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Performers were from Anglican and nonconformist churches.

Financial information

Total expenditure on the pageant and Christian World exhibition: £1821. 5s. 10d. (the Pageant cost £193. 10s. 7d.)

The exhibition raised in admissions £300 and the pageant £401. 0s. 6d.1

Object of any funds raised

The pageant was organised on behalf of an ‘Aid to China’ fund which made £19. 17s. 0d.2

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 6000


20000 visited the exhibition.3

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Reserved seats 3s. and 2s. 6d. Unreserved seats 1s. 6d. and 1s. Children half price. This included admission to the exhibition.

Associated events

The Christian World exhibition at the Victoria Rooms, Bristol (7–14 September 1943, 11.30am–8.30pm) which consisted of five panels on Christian themes, an exhibition of Christian art, and the role of Christian education. There was a lunch hour and an evening service in St Nicholas Crypt (7 September 1943, 1.10pm and 7pm).

Pageant outline

Part I

The pageant opens with a scene depicting a witch doctor dancing in frenzy; his performance terrifies the natives. At length, one of the natives is seized by the witch doctor, and all are enveloped in a mighty terror.

Part II

Scene I. Francis Xavier Sets Off for Goa

[No information.

Scene II. Father Ricci and the Chinese Emperor

The narrator tells of Father Ricci, a young Jesuit missionary who reached China in 1578. As the pageant portrayed it, however, ‘Unfortunately, Ricci made the great mistake of allowing the people to combine Ancestor-Worship with Christianity, which, ultimately, materially lessened the value of his mission.’4 In this scene, the Emperor of China is shown seated with two servants holding fans and surrounded by courtiers, magicians, soldiers, etc. Father Ricci enters in Chinese dress. He bows to the Emperor, as does the court. Ricci opens a casket and produces a watch that looks like a great egg. He then has a slave present this and other gifts to the Emperor.

Interlude. Francis Pallu

Francis Pallu, a Jesuit in the Far East in the mid-seventeenth century, set up a seminary for native priests: ‘Like Ricci, however, superstitious practices were permitted to the converts, and this combined with the imperial motives of the pioneers caused the work to miss its highest purpose.’5

Scene III. The Founding of the Paris Missionary Society

Two soldiers and court ladies are seen laughing together. They are interrupted by a messenger warning of the King’s arrival. King Louis XIV enters with his Queen, his retinue and his minister Mazarin. Pallu enters and spreads out maps before the King and his ministers who then pore over them.

Scene IV. Bressani and the Iroquois

Bressani, who was attacked and brutally tortured by the Iroquois, miraculously survived. He was sold to Dutch traders and nursed to health before being sent back to France. The episode is divided into two scenes. The first of these is set in a forest, where Bressani is bound to a stake. Chiefs and squaws and their children gather round whipping him. The second scene shows Bressani lying on the ground. A boy indicates the arrival of Dutch travellers who see he is alive and offer money for him. They haggle until a suitable sum is reached. The episode closes with a Quartette: ‘He that Shall Endure to the End’.

Part III. Dawn

Scene I. Erasmus Speaks of Missionary Work

Erasmus is leaning over a reading bench surrounded by scholars. He addresses them about the potential of conversion: ‘There are surely in these vast new lands barbarous and simple tribes who would easily be attracted to Christ if we sent men among them to sow the good seed.’6 The narrator laments his lack of response among reformers.

Scene II. Raleigh Gives the First English Missionary Subscription

The scene opens on a Tudor room, with Walter Raleigh saying farewell to Captain John White, his daughter and her husband. On the table there is a model galleon, a globe and several folios. Other captains and sailors enter and make their adieux. Raleigh hands White a bag of money and wishes them farewell.

Scene III. English Colonists and Hostile Indians

The narrator tells of the failure of the Virginian enterprise and the later success of the Pilgrim Fathers. A great early Pilgrim was John Eliot who established schools for Indians. As a result, the first English Missionary Society was founded in 1649 under Cromwell’s benefaction. The setting for this scene is a simple meeting-house with bare benches. Men and women wearing Puritan dress are shown praying. A number of hostile-looking Indians arrive. A change comes over them, and they lower their weapons. The Quakers raise their heads and are unafraid. The chief walks forwards extending a hand in friendship.

Scene IV. The First Moravian Mission

The narrator presents Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians fleeing from persecution. A hymn is sung as Zinzendorf addresses the congregation and blesses them for their missionary work in the West Indies and Greenland. He tells of his visit to the coronation of King Christian VI of Denmark, which inspired him to convert the inhabitants of the Danish overseas colonies. Anthony Ulrich enters and is greeted. He tells of his various missionary works but also of the many people who have yet to hear of the Gospel and thus be saved. Zinzendorf entrusts him with further missions but warns him not to convert whole nations but only the seekers after truth.

Scene V. William Carey and the Governor of India

A flustered servant announces the arrival of the Governor General, Arthur Wellesley. Women rush about attempting to prepare things, cleaning and arranging flowers. They try to move a pile of books, but William Carey resists this. Wellesley enters and is offered refreshments. Carey and Wellesley talk with one another, with Wellesley praising Carey’s diligence over eight years and asking about Carey’s impressions of the people. Carey says that he had come to India with hopes for mass conversions but subsequently realised that many natives lacked the diligence to study the bible in English: thus they must raise the Indian up to a level of education comparable to that of Europeans. Wellesley complains that he feels powerless to do anything. Carey cites his New Testament translation as proof of the righteousness and feasibility of the mission; he also tells of his other projects. Before leaving, Wellesley asks Carey to conduct an enquiry into the religious crimes committed by Hindus (such as sacrificing children). Carey begins his investigations. The action then shifts to Carey in his study in 1829. Carey is rejoicing at the passing of legislation, after seventeen years, prohibiting the ritual suicide of Indian widows—‘sati’.

Part IV

Scene I. Dr John Paton at Work on Tanna, New Hebrides

Doctor Paton is greeted by a Tannese who reports of the arrival of a ship, or perhaps a god. Other Tannese enter in a state of panic. Paton tells them that it is Queen Victoria’s Man-of-War come to judge whether the locals have been good or not. The natives plead with Paton to put in a good word (they assume the ship is a person). The chiefs promise to return all the stolen goods to spare its wrath, which they do. Captain Vernon and officers enter, greeting a chief, though they are warned not to trust him too much.

Scenes II–VII. The Life of Dr David Livingstone

David Livingstone is introduced to the Moffat household by Robert Moffat. Some Africans are bringing him baggage. Livingstone is subsequently threatened by a lion, which is then chased off. Livingstone is seen kneeling outside a hut with his wife and children and a poor African. Livingstone confronts an African slave trader. The scene ends with the death and funeral of Livingstone.

Part V

[No information.

Part VI

Scene I. Terror in Madagascar

[No information.

Scene II. James Hannington Dies for Uganda

The scene opens with the sound of singing. This distracts the boys guarding James Hannington’s tent. Warriors then sneak up, overpowering and binding the inattentive sentries. Hannington emerges and momentarily halts his killers with the words: ‘Tell your King I die for Uganda. I have brought the road here with my life.’ There is a gunshot, and the warriors fall upon him.

Scene III. The Boxer Rising

Missionaries are walking on a lonely roadside with Chinese carrying their luggage. They rest, and the Chinese smoke and drink, sharing with the missionaries. Suddenly Boxers appear and murder the party.

Part VII

Scene I. Mary Slessor—as Magistrate. ‘The White Queen of Old Calabar’

Mary Slessor is followed by weeping children in a forest. One hungry child reaches out his hands to where a chief is cooking. The chief callously pours scalding water on the boy’s hands. She sits and addresses two chiefs and the court messenger about the crime and godlessness in the region. She lists various crimes before sentencing an African boy to ten months of hard labour for chasing a girl into a forest with the intention of murdering her. A chief complains that this is too hard, but she boxes his ears.

Scene II. In a Hospital at Amritsar

A Christian doctor examines Indian patients. An Indian gentlemen comments that though the schools will never make Indians loyal, doctors and women giving charity are winning their hearts.

Scene III. At School in India, or the Work of the Salvation Army for the Young

A Salvation Army group, with children learning and singing hymns.

Scene IV. Broadcast From China

Chiang Kai-Shek and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek give a radio address attesting to their having been Christian for ten years and being constant readers of the bible. They expound on the virtues of the Christian life and living in the imitation of Christ.

Finale. Procession of Nations as at the Conference at Madras in 1938

‘Hallelujah’ and Benediction.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Louis XIV (1638-1715) king of France
  • Theresa, Maria (1638-1683) queen of France and Navarre
  • Mazarin, Jules Raymond (1602-1661) Cardinal-Duke of Rethel, Mayenne and Nevers and minister
  • Pallu, François MEP (1626-1684) French bishop and missionary
  • Ricci, Matteo (1552-1610) Italian Jesuit missionary
  • Bressani, François-Joseph (1612-1672) Italian Jesuit missionary
  • Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1467–1536) humanist scholar and reformer
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
  • White, John (fl. 1577–1593) colonist and painter
  • Eliot, John [called the Apostle to the Indians] (1604–1690) minister and missionary in America
  • Zinzendorf, Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von (1700-1760) German religious and social reformer
  • Carey, William (1761–1834) orientalist and missionary
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister
  • Paton, John Gibson (1824–1907) missionary
  • Livingstone, David (1813–1873) explorer and missionary
  • Hannington, James (1847–1885) Church of England bishop in east Africa
  • Slessor, Mary Mitchell (1848–1915) missionary
  • Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) Chinese political and military leader
  • Soong Mei-ling (1898-2003) first lady of the Republic of China

Musical production

Between each part a quartette performed the following pieces:
  • ‘O’er Heaven Lands Afar, Thick Darkness Broodeth Yet.’
  • ‘He that Shall Endure to the End Shall be Saved.’
  • ‘Lift Thine Eyes Unto the Mountains.’
  • ‘Oh My Lord. What a morning.’
  • ‘I Heard a Voice of Heaven Say ‘Write’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Western Daily Press

Book of words


No information. The synopses come from a typescript at Bristol Records Office.

Other primary published materials

  • Programme of Pilgrims to the Sunrise. Bristol, 1943.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Bristol Records Office: Programme, typescript, correspondence, memos, press cuttings and photographs. 38017/3.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Religious pageants, both by Anglican and nonconformist churches, reached their heyday in the interwar period. Paradoxically, this accompanied a major stagnation in overall religious observance and the disembedding of religion from everyday life, which some historians and sociologists of religion refer to as ‘secularization’. Despite relatively stable congregations, it had become clear that younger people were less likely to be regular church attendees. The growth of the ‘secular Sunday’, characterized by participating in or watching sports or attending cinemas and other recreational facilities, meant that fewer people were willing to attend church on the Sabbath or, for that matter, on other days of the week.7 While civic and institutional pageants themselves reflected this shift in behaviour, containing fewer explicitly religious scenes, religious pageants itself became increasingly common. These sometimes celebrated anniversaries of particular churches or movements (for instance, the 1934 St Laurence Bardney Pageant in Lincolnshire and the 1938 Light over England Pageant commemorating five hundred years of the translation of the New Testament). They also encouraged missionary and church work overseas (for example, the 1932 Portchester Pageant) as well as local church-building (for example, The Rock, written by T.S. Eliot). Many of these pageants—written by local volunteers, including the wives of vicars and bishops (almost all these pageants were written by women)—were of mixed artistic value, with poor dialogue, clunky religious imagery, paper-thin moral allegories, and dubious depictions of race and empire. As the Times remarked of Light Over England: ‘the genealogical trees of the Bible are not so dull as this’!8 Even T.S. Eliot’s dialogue for The Rock was criticized from many quarters for its overly didactic heavy-handedness.

Pilgrims to the Sunrise was the first of several missionary pageants held in Bristol during the 1940s; others included Western Gateway (1946), Precious Dawn (1946) and Flame of Freedom (1949). These all involved the Free and Nonconformist churches of the city. Norma F. MacDonald-Stewart, a local personality responsible for the Civic Flag-Days of the 1930s and secretary to the Air Raid Precautions Aid Group,9 was the producer, chairman or writer of these. The Pageant was partially due to her organisation skills. The vibrant Free Church of England Movement in Bristol, which had a longstanding tradition in the town, encapsulated its ethos by these striking lines in the programme: ‘All who seek to serve the master, walking in His way—look with hope and faith undaunted to the glorious day—when the nations, spent with war, by strife and sorrow torn—see the promise of the glow of God’s millennial dawn.’10 MacDonald-Stewart encapsulated the overall theme of the project thus:

In its prologue the Pageant depicts the heathen in his DARKNESS surrounded by evil custom and corroding fear, and overhung by the black pall of superstition, but, as TWILIGHT steals across the horizon the scene changes to the rich brilliance of European and Chinese courts, through which enterprises were sponsored and men were sent forth to preach the Gospel in the dark corners of the Earth, where they were destined often to face danger, hardship and even torture.11

At the height of the Second World War, the pageant made clear that Christianity (of all varieties) and its missionary impulse were wedded to the aims of the allied powers against the godlessness of fascism and communism, with the pageant holding performances dedicated to Empire Builders and to the United Nations. MacDonald-Stewart invited to the pageant a number of world leaders in exile in Britain, including Thomas Masaryk (the leader of the Free Czechoslovakian Government), as well as Winston Churchill and Madame Chiang-Kai Shek, wife of the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Government and an important politician herself, whose radio broadcasts – portrayed in the pageant – proclaimed the importance of her and her husband’s Christianity in their struggle against Japanese and Communist forces. Indeed, the radio broadcast scene featuring the Chiang-Kai Sheks was based on actual broadcasts made by the BBC’s Eastern Service, which was a key propaganda tool during the war and whose staff included George Orwell and William Empson.12 Madame Chiang-Kai Shek, writing through an intermediary, respectfully declined to attend the performance.13 Though none of the invited leaders of the free world were able to attend, Macdonald-Stewart was able to attract Ernest Brown, the Minister of Health, who opened the final performance, as well as Queen Mary, who visited the pageant and exhibition on 12 September with the Honourable Margaret Wyndham, Duchess of Beaufort, and Major the Honourable John Coke, who showed ‘particular interest in examples of native craftwork and in the handiwork of coloured children in Indian and African schools.’14

Reading the typescript of the pageant from a present-day perspective, it appears at best dated. It repeatedly stresses the joint purpose of Christianity and the British Empire, which is seen in, for example, Doctor Paton’s scaring of the local cannibalistic natives with British warships, the conversation between Arthur Wellesley and William Carey, and Mary Slessor’s punishment of the native African population. Even for the 1940s, the pageant was racist and outmoded in its depictions of indigenous peoples. Many scenes, indeed, suggested that it was only colonial force that prevented horrific behaviour (murder, cannibalism or worse). Compared to other missionary pageants, which intimated that in general the rest of the world was becoming less barbaric, the scenes in Pilgrims to the Sunrise were more violent. The pageant would have been considered questionable in its presentation of race even in its own time.

Despite some 20000 visiting the exhibition (of which 6000 saw the pageant), the enterprise was a financial failure, making a loss of £642. 8s. 8d., a sum which was ultimately made up by the guarantors.15 It was concluded that ‘it proved a great mistake to have permitted the sale of tickets through any source other than the Box Office’, as Churches were unable to sell the tickets allotted to them: ‘It was not expected that such great public interest would be stirred. The experience seemed to demonstrate that the Pageant form for the presentation of such a message as that of the Exhibition… makes a strong popular appeal which the Church has not sufficiently exploited.’16

Despite its awareness that the end of the Second World War would foreground the significance of Asia and Africa, the pageant’s hopes were to prove illusory. The defeat of fascism also presaged the demise of the British Empire. Despite the claims that missionaries were winning Indian hearts and minds, British rule had fewer than four more years to run there, and Christians would continue to be a small, persecuted minority in the partitioned states of the subcontinent. Despite their conversion to Christianity, the Chiang-Kai Sheks were unable to prevent the triumph of Communism on mainland China and retreated to Formosa (modern day Taiwan) in 1949. And despite the continuation of missionary work in Africa after 1945, decolonisation would herald protracted conflict across the continent. Christian values played little part in Britain’s own post-war colonial struggles in Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus. In its outlook, the pageant anticipated American attempts to present the Cold War as a conflict between Western Christian values and the godless materialism of Communism, which would be made even more explicit in the pageant’s sequel Flame of Freedom (1949). The white man’s burden had shifted from upholding an empire to promoting Christianity as a bulwark against godless materialism. As the report on the Pageant and Exhibition stated:

It is not enough to demonstrate the relation of Christianity to Home Life, Education, Industry and Politics. There must be demonstrated also the fact that Christianity is a World Force. In these days, when men are thinking in world terms, it must be shewn that Christianity is of significance throughout the world to-day, and for the whole world to-morrow. This Exhibition has provided such a demonstration.17


  1. ^ AGM of ‘The Christian World Exhibition’, 6-7, in Pilgrims to the Sunrise, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  2. ^ AGM of ‘The Christian World Exhibition’, 10, in Pilgrims to the Sunrise, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  3. ^ AGM of ‘The Christian World Exhibition’, 3, in Pilgrims to the Sunrise, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  4. ^ Typescript of Pilgrims to the Sunrise, 2, Copy Held in Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  5. ^ TS of Pilgrims to the Sunrise, 2, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  6. ^ TS of Pilgrims to the Sunrise, 3, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  7. ^ S.J.D. Green, The Passing of Protestant England: Secularisation and Social Change, c.1920–1960 (Cambridge, 2011).
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Western Daily Press, 28 May 1938, 12; Western Daily Press, 27 July 1940, 3.
  10. ^ Programme of Pilgrims to the Sunrise (Bristol, 1943), np, Bristol Records Office. 38017/3.
  11. ^ N.F. MacDS, Memo, 9 September 1943, Bristol Records Office. 38017/3.
  12. ^ On the BBC Eastern Service, see John Haffenden, William Empson Volume II: Against the Christians (Oxford, 2006), 1–56.
  13. ^ Letter from C.F. Chien to MacDonald Stewart, 5 July 1943, Bristol Records Office. 38017/3.
  14. ^ Western Daily Press, 13 September 1943, 3.
  15. ^ AGM of ‘The Christian World Exhibition’, 6–7, Pilgrims to the Sunrise, Bristol Record Office. 38017/3.
  16. ^ Ibid.
  17. ^ Ibid., 11.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pilgrims to the Sunrise’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1010/