Crucifixion of Jesus played out in Grantham 30 years ago
On Good Friday 30 years ago, 5,000 people took part in a religious pageant in Grantham. David France, now 78 and living in Derbyshire, was a member of the congregation at the time. Here, he looks back over “one of the best days in the town’s history”.
The Way of the Cross was conceived in 1989 as a project by the rector of St Wulfram’s Church, the Rev Bob Reiss, who challenged his curate, the popular Rev Peter Ballard, to make it a reality.
His first task was to appeal to the congregation to join in. Working parties were set up so that each stage of the procession was produced by a different team. The various ladies’ groups in the church were also set the task of designing and making suitable costumes, not just for adults but also for the many children it was hoped would join in.
Venues were selected and the Kings’ School playing fields were a perfect starting point, big enough to allow camels, llamas and the all important donkey to be brought in.
On the day, the pyramid of collaboration came together, crowned by a blue sky and a warm evening. As the procession wound up North Parade it was clear that the idea had caught on in a huge way and at each stopping point the crowd grew bigger and more responsive to the various hymns being sung. The Temple scene in The Market Place was extremely popular and gave the many children a chance to be seen with Jesus at the Market Cross.
As BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s South Lincs producer and a member of the congregation at St Wulfram’s, I offered to make a film of the event and, immediately, Brian Cave, a cameraman with BBC East Midlands, offered his services, too. I asked South Kesteven District Council for financial support to have the film professionally edited at Central TV studios in Nottingham and the council, urged on by the then leader Councillor Percy Wilson, readily offered £3,000 to pay for it.
It was a fantastic event but there was a danger that it would quickly be forgotten if we didn’t have a permanent record. I feel privileged to have been able to bring that about. It was, I think, Grantham’s finest hour for all kinds of reasons but the truth is that it made everyone who played a part feel good about themselves, their families and their town.
Sadly, many of the principal players are no longer with us but I like to think that the children who feature in the production and who are now adults will be able to tell their own children what a fabulous event it was.
For most people seeing the film the most moving scenes are the torchlit procession from St Peter’s Hill to St Wulfram’s Church and the crucifixion scene on the church lawn, although there was an added drama to the proceedings at the trial scene when the intruder alarm at the Guildhall was triggered by the noise of the crowd crying “Crucify Him!”.
And there was another moment of drama when the forklift truck brought in to portray Jesus’ resurrection lurched unsteadily over the paving in the church. But it was a night to remember like no other.
Peter Ballard, now The Ven Peter Ballard, formally retired but the unpaid priest of a small church in North Lancashire, said: “It was a wonderful community project which the town supported in so many different ways. It involved everybody, from organisations like SKDC, the police, local churches, and individuals who had never been in anything in their lives.
“For a few hours on that Good Friday night, 30 years ago, Grantham became like Jerusalem.
“Just like on the first Good Friday some came because they had a part; others to watch; and some just got caught up in it. One lady rang the police to report her husband missing – he had gone out for a quick walk with the dog and had not returned three hours later. When the police found him, and his dog, he simply said he could not drag himself away.
“For some it was a street pageant, for others it changed their lives forever.
“For everybody it brought out the reality, the brutality and the hope that the last few days of Jesus’ life offers to each of us daily and we remember specifically every Holy Week.
“A light of eternal hope that continues to shine in the world, no more so than is these dark days of Covid-19.”