Katie Phillips, NAT’s Volunteer Co-ordinator, reports on a unique event at St Benet’s Abbey:
On Sunday 9th June The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey held two of five performances of their HLF funded community play – A Time to Gather Stones – in honour of the 1000 year anniversary of St Benet’s Abbey.
The play was a collaborative venture with The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey, NAT and Parrabbola, a UK group who organise community theatre with music and dance. It took the audience through 1000 years of stories all related to the Abbey, really bringing the site to life for the audience in a very unique and enjoyable way. Over 250 people came to the performances and I heard many comments as I watched the play on how enjoyable it was and what a brilliant day out. Let me take you on overview of the performance to give you a glimpse of what a fantastic and memorable event it was.
Pilgrims (the audience) gathered on St Benet’s Green in Horning where they were given pilgrimage sashes of yellow or blue – the colours of Sir John Fastolf – ready to join the performance. On the green they met Jane Fool, Nicky and Sir John Fastolf who introduced the Abbey and the breadth of history the site has seen. Inviting the pilgrims to learn more, these characters of history led the way onto the Mississippi River Boat to take the audience to St Benet’s Abbey.
Mississippi River Boat
As part of the performance the audience enjoyed the leisurely boat ride from Horning to St Benet’s Abbey on the Southern Comfort River Boat. Basking in the early June sun, it was a relaxing and enjoyable way to get to the Abbey, with recordings of more stories about the Abbey being played while on the boat.
St Benet’s Abbey
Once moored, the ‘pilgrims’ were welcomed by monks who led the way up to the gatehouse and seated the audience in front of the mill which took on the role of stage set for the rest of the performance. The pilgrims were taken through story after story from St Benet’s Abbey’s history. Meeting abbots, seeing monks hanged, learning of the decline in standards at the Abbey and how Sir John Fastolf was forgotten, witnessing the peasants revolt, the beginning of the gatehouse as a mill and then the decline of the mill after its sails blew off, as well as the discovery of a radio transmitter by some local lads during the war.
Having gathered up the history of the site, pilgrims then processed to the ruins of the abbey church to lay Sir John Fastolf to rest, following in the footsteps of others doing the same over 500 years ago and waving the flags in the Fastolf colours of yellow and blue as they went. This really was a site to see and an amazing experience to participate in the play.
There were two performances on the 9th June at St Benet’s Abbey and these were followed by a further 3 performances during the week at Ludham, Horning and Neatishead so that as many people as possible could see the play.
This play was a brilliant way to mark the 1000 year anniversary of St Benet’s Abbey and was the result of lots of hard work from The Friends of St Benet’s Abbey and their passion and commitment to honour this landmark year for the site. We want to say a very large thank you to the Friends for supporting the site and to all those volunteers who helped steward the play on the day and made it such a memorable experience for all involved.
There are still more events to come in this anniversary year including: willow weaving on site on Wednesday 31 July 10am – 3pm; a new guidebook is being produced by NAT as well as a celebratory exhibition in Norwich Cathedral in September.
Keep up to date with all that is going on via our Facebook page (@NorfArchTrust) or Twitter page (@NorfArchTrust).
Katie, Volunteer Coordinator.