The Ordinalia Miracle Plays

Coming again to St Just's historic open air theatre site
in September 2021

A spectacular celebration of Cornish culture and heritage with national and international reach.
A two week festival of workshops, and outdoor performances of all three Miracle plays .
A company of professionals, semi professionals and talented community volunteers.
Staged at the Plen an Gwari, the oldest working outdoor theatre space in Britain.

St Just Ordinalia

St Just Ordinalia

In September 2021, at the historic Plen an Gwari site in St Just, we will be holding a two week festival of open air repertory performances of all three Ordinalia plays, and Cornish language and theatre Workshops.

Under autumn sunsets and the dark skies of West Cornwall, we shall be creating a true celebration of Cornish cultural life. We shall be launching our project in the summer of 2020 with a series of roadshows and taster sessions across Cornwall, to coincide with the loan of the Bodleian Ordinalia manuscripts to Kresen Kernow, Cornwall's new archive centre.

We will be storing and preserving our costumes, sets and equipment, and maintaining a complete blueprint and archive of activities to enable the Ordinalia to be performed in St Just every three to four years thereafter, with minimal ongoing funding. The Ordinalia will then be a permanent event on the Cornish cultural calendar

As well as providing opportunities for 9 volunteer roles working alongside the stage management and production and design teams, with appropriate funding and our established links with Creative Kernow, we will support two three month paid internships for young people to work on various aspects of the Ordinalia project. This funding could also provide professional coaching and mentoring support to the volunteer cast.

We are a company of professionals, semi-professionals and talented volunteers who will create a community led production in an historic setting. We will be collaborating with artistic, musical , educational and promotional organisations across Cornwall. We intend to reach international, national and county wide audiences through innovative curated streaming to Cornish societies in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; Russell Group Universities with Celtic language or ancient manuscript links; St Just's twinned town of Huelgoat in Brittany: and similar streaming to community venues across Cornwall.

We are planning a significant legacy that will benefit schools, the community, the Cornish language, tourism and will showcase the talents of the many participants who work with us.

A core group of people who were involved with the 2000 - 2004 productions are helping to lead the project, and to build upon and transfer experience and expertise to a new generation. However, the productions we are planning will have a new purpose, and a different approach to audience experience, heritage and legacy. The reach and impact of this innovative and ambitious project will be lasting.

Ordinalia Plays

Ordinalia Plays
An Tas a Nev y'm gelwir, formyer puptra a vydh gwrys. Onan ha tri on yn hwir, an Tas ha'n Mab ha'n Spryt 
I am called the Father of Heaven, Creator of everything that is made. We are truly three in one, the Father, the Son and the Spirit. (Origo Mundi, verse 1)

The Ordinalia Cycle of scripts and stage plans consist of 3 plays written in the late 14th century: The Creation of the World (Origo Mundi); The Passion (Passio Domini), and The Resurrection (Resurrexio Domini). The aim of the original performances was to convert the local population to Christianity, and they were performed by local people, with local place names, jokes etc. to have general appeal.

The three plays together cover the whole scope of the bible stories from the beginning of the world to doomsday.

The plays, although similar to the mystery plays of the North of England, are unique to Cornwall and an important part of its heritage. They are the oldest surviving theatrical plays in Britain.

The plays were written in medieval Cornish with Latin subtitles by the clerics of Glasney College in Penryn, when Cornish was the predominant language spoken in Cornwall, to teach ordinary people the stories of the bible in an accessible and appealing manner. Only three manuscripts still exist, two of which are held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and one which is in the National Library of Wales.

In July 1969, Bristol University Drama Department performed the Ordinalia cycle at Perran Round, Perranporth. This was believed to be the first production of the Ordinalia for 300 years

From 2000 to 2004 the St Just community instigated a series of productions of the Ordinalia Cycle of plays. These productions involved over 150 community volunteers (across a multi- faith /no faith sector) as actors, musicians, choir, makers and crew. Each play consisted of a circle of eight stages (mansions) with large set pieces on a central stage e.g. Noah's Ark, the Crucifixion. Our modern playwright, guided by the 14th century stage plans & scripts produced highly engaging and successful plays accessible to all.

A small paid production team comprised of skilled local professionals with an eye for detail and authenticity of staging, ensured high quality, spectacular results. The plays attracted larger audience numbers each year, with over 15,000 people coming to see them.

St Just's Plen an Gwari is the oldest working open air theatre space in Britain.

Festival Fortnight 2021

Festival Fortnight 2021

The two week festival, celebrating Cornish culture and heritage, will be held in St Just during September 2021

Performances will be :
  • of all three plays in the Ordinalia trilogy - 6 plays each week, two performances of each play
  • evening performances Monday-Saturday, with extra schools’ matinees for each of the 3 plays. 
  • mainly in English with parts specifically in the Cornish language
  • in an open air setting -  their correct historical context
  • accompanied on Sundays by a Cornish market involving stall holders with Cornish language skills
  • supported during the day by a series of workshops open to the public on Cornish language, Ordinalia history and culture, drama and music
  • digitally streamed across Cornwall through Carn to Cove community halls
  • streamed in curated content documentary and extracts from performances to the Cornish diaspora through Trans Celtic Society links across 3 continents
  • streamed as a curated film to Universities at Falmouth, Exeter, Bristol, Oxford and other Russell Group universities 
  • at heavily discounted rates for schools’ matinees, and for carers

Audiences can expect:
  • a high quality spectacle featuring creative and innovative lighting and sound and, where possible,  3d projection   
  • a spectacular outdoor setting - autumn sunsets close to the ocean, and the dark skies of West Cornwall
  • a different script, different design and theme to our earlier productions - reflecting modern, secular themes within the original medieval Christian narrative
  • immersive audience participation; innovative use of light and sound techniques; digital video streaming; the open air, festival setting; the interactive use of Cornish language; the involvement of the voices of nationally recognised actors
  • micro films on social media / Instagram that will introduce actors, the back stage team, rehearsal process, special effects etc. during the the 6 week rehearsal period 

Past Productions

Origo Mundi - 'The Origin of the World'

September 2000

Our First Production, being a new adaptation from the original Cornish manuscripts by Pauline Sheppard, Cornish playwright and author, who represented Cornish theatre at the 1981 International Berlin Festival

Passio Domini - 'The Passion'

August and September 2001

Building on the success of the previous year, with the same experienced production team led by Dominic Knutton, artistic director of the Cornish Theatre Collective

Resurrexio Domini - 'The Resurrection'

August and September 2002

Our productions received funding support from Millenium Festival; Heritage Lottery Fund; European RD Fund; Penwith DC; Cornwall CC; and commercial sponsorship

The Ordinalia Full Cycle

August 2004

All three plays performed in repertory, at the Plen an Gwary in St Just - the historic theatrical site used for all our earlier Ordinalia productions

Sponsors and Supporters

Sponsors and Supporters
The main sponsor of our Ordinalia Project is the charity St Just and District Trust, founded in 1997. The Trust has specific objects linked to the culture and heritage of the area, which lies within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site.

The Trust raised the funds for, built and operates the Knut in St Just - 'the big little space for creative community contributions and collaboration' - which is a heritage centre and backspace facility specifically designed to support Ordinalia productions.

As a community initiative, our project is supported by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of St Just Town Council, by the creative faculties at Falmouth University, and by the talented actors, singers, makers and musicians of St Just.

The St Just Ordinalia project is also supported by Sir Mark Rylance, actor, theatre director and playwright; Emma Rice, actress, director and theatre professional; and Michael Eavis CBE, creator of Glastonbury Festival.

Below is an extract from Sir Mark Rylance's letter of 6th May 2019

'I am delighted to support this visionary project, and lend my name to its promotion. I have always been an avid supporter of community theatre, and the benefit it brings, helping people to feel more confident, that they matter, and have a contribution to make, where they can be part of a larger wonderous and joyful thing. Ever since I created a performance at The Rollright Stone Circle in Warwickshire, I have been excited about the potential of our ancient sites for gathering a community in a profound experience of story, history and nature. Our culture is old and intimately connected to the land. A sense of belonging is the obtainable objective, belonging to something sustainable and unique. This must be one of the deepest satisfactions possible.

This project is special in that the St Just community have already raised money for, and successfully produced the Ordinalia Cycle of plays from 2000 to 2004, and subsequently raised money for, and built, a backstage facility adjacent to the historic Plen an Gwari in St Just - the oldest working theatre in Britain, a project I supported at the time...........'

And an extract from Emma Rice's letter of support to our project:

'These astonishing plays are a wonderful resource that span centuries of Cornish culture and
allow Cornwall to celebrate its own history, landscape and unique brand of theatrical spirituality.

I had the pleasure of seeing a production of these rare plays in 2000 - 2004 and it was a profoundly moving experience to see members of the community, young and old alike, coming together with such diverse creativity and joy.

think this would be a wonderful addition to the Cornish cultural calendar and one that could attract much needed business to the area, as well as offering a meaningful large scale community event that.......would bring joy, meaning, pride and hope to the community.'

Barbara Santi's 2001 Passion Documentary

A lasting record of our achievements

'The Passion' - 2001 documentary

Funding our project

Funding our project
Mynstrels, gwreugh dhen-ny pyba, May hyllyn warbarth donsya, Del yu an vaner ha'n gys!

The traditional closing song in a Miracle play

'Minstrels do ye pipe for us, that we may dance together, as is the manner and fashion'

We are seeking funding for our Ordinalia 2021 project from both national and local organisations, as well as three Major Private Trusts.  We shall be approaching those organisations who helped us fund the backstage facility at the Knut, designed specifically to support our Ordinalia productions, a list of whom can be found through this link. We also want to include those funders who in the past have contributed to the 2000-2004 Ordinalia productions.

We also want to approach specialist funders who can assist with ensuring our production reaches as many local participants as possible, involving people of all ages and abilities, and those living in Penwith and South West Cornwall, but outside the immediate community of St Just.

We are are present going through the application processes of our principal funder. We have been awarded a grant of £40,000 from Cornwall Council, and have confirmed grants from FEAST and Cornwall 365

Get Involved

Get Involved
The Trust is based at The Knut, Rear of 1-4 Market Street, St Just, Penzance, TR19 7HX. Its registered charity number is 1168852

To get in touch with us, please email us at

If you wish to make a donation to the Ordinalia 2020 project, use this link to donate through the Total Giving portal

If you wish to get involved with our Ordinalia 2020 project, which encompasses over two hundred people involving actors, musicians, choirs, costume and set makers, producers and assistants, then please email us and let us know your interest

The Trust held its last Annual General Meeting at 5 pm on Monday 29th April 2019 at the Knut. Its latest accounts are published on its website

Manuscripts etc

Manuscripts etc

Follow the link to the Bodleian Library website to view the original manuscript, recently digitised

You can view Barbara Santi's documentary of The Origin of the World 2000 production  through this link

Barbara's  2002 documentary of The Resurrection production is available through this link

We are preparing an archive of the history of the Ordinalia, and their performances at the Plen an Gwari in 2000-2004, and our forthcoming productions. This ranges across:

  • the books, studies and materials used to research the context and settings of the plays; 
  • the history of the Plen an Gwari site; 
  • the development of the project and funding arrangements; 
  • the original and final scripts used for the performances; 
  • flyers and brochures for the productions, and photographs of the cast, the sets, the costumes and the performances; 
  • cast lists, cue lists and rehearsal schedules; and
  • the working diary of the director of the performances, Dominic Knutton, after whom the building at the Knut was named.
The aim is to create a unique archive in the Knut, our heritage centre and backstage facility, offering in-house & outreach information sessions to schools, colleges, community groups and visitors. The archive will be open during the 2020 and 2021 holiday seasons to publicise the plays and the unique heritage of the Plen an Gwari.

To promote the project, we shall also be making further documentaries & full length films of the plays themselves, which will form part of the archive and generate publicity for future Ordinalia productions.

Did you know?

​​​​The opening words of the written text for the first play are 'Hic incipit Ordinale de Origo Mundi'. A free translation may be 'Here begins the script of the play Origin of the World.'

The text then continues in Cornish with Latin stage directions
According to different sources, they may pre-date or post-date  the York Cycle of Mystery Plays - a cycle of 47 extant pageants or plays performed by the craft guilds of that city. They are believed to have been written in the second half of the 14th Century, after the devastation of the Black Death plague in 1349.

However, the tradition of these mystery plays emanates from France, and it is more likely that Cornwall, with its traditional close links to Brittany, was the point of entry in England for this new type of theatrical production.
The Ordinary was on stage directing the amateur actors, the majority of whom had not been taught to read. He carried the entire script,  and acted as the prompter when lines were forgotten.

The nature of the role would have depended on the character of the 'Ordinary' - some of whom were probably far from that!
There is reference in the Ordinalia scripts to pipers - '

Origo Mundi - Abarth an Tas, Menstral a ras, Pebough ware (In the name of the father, Minstrels of grace, pipe at once)

Passio - Mynstrels, gwreugh dhen-ny pyba' (Minstrels do ye pipe for us).

There is an example of Cornish pipes carved in the early sixteenth century on a bench end in Altarnun Church, Bodmin Moor. Other examples of carvings of Cornish pipes are in churches at nearby Davidstow, St Austell and Braddock,

The bagpipe shown has two long chanters of slightly different lengths with small bell ends. The chanters are fingered independently - one playing the upper half of the octave, the other the lower half.
Glasney was a centre of ecclesiastical power in medieval Cornwall and probably the best known and most important of Cornwall's religious institutions. It was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1548.

It was a college, or collegiate church, not an abbey (there were no monks there). It had an establishment of one provost and 12 secular canons and held the patronage of sixteen parishes.

Glasney College composed the Ordinalia trilogy, and another miracle play Bewnans Meriasek (the Life of St Meriasek)
Plen an Gwari survives as a name for two Cornish villages, one near Redruth and one near Goldsithney. There is also a village called 'Playing Place' near Truro. However,  there are only two remaining surviving complete circular theatrical structures  - one in St Just in Penwith, and the other at Perran Round, near Perranporth.
The Cornish Language  was one of the six European Celtic languages, and was in the Brittonic Group comprising Breton and Welsh - although more closely linked to the former.

Cornish died out as a spoken language in the late eighteenth century, and much of our understanding of it comes from the Ordinalia plays. Apart from Old Cornish fragments in the Bodmin Manumissions, and some references in a Latin manuscript of Boethius, the only complete references are to be found in Middle Cornish manuscripts.

With the Ordinalia plays are the two other important records of the Cornish language - Beunans Meriasek, written around 1504, and Bewnans Ke, written around 1500, respectively commemorating the lives of the Saints Meriadoc and Kea.
The plays attracted larger audience numbers each year, with over 15,000 people coming to see them. We used a dilapidated shed as a backstage resource for the above, but in 2014 after generating over £30,000 from local fundraising initiatives and over £150,000 in grants, our beautiful purpose built facility was opened - called ‘The Knut’ in memory of Dominic Knutton who directed all four re-enactments of the Ordinalia plays, and who sadly died in 2007.
 This will involve a period of working of between 10-20 weeks, as well as supporting up to 20 supported volunteer roles working with these professionals and craftspeople.

The project will create opportunities for people to develop specific skills in an area of interest for them e.g. stage management, production design, and shadow members of the professional production team, with real potential to become part of this paid team for future productions.
As a consequence of:
  •  the arrangements for building permanent sets and lasting costumes; 
  • additional income from streaming curated films of the production across the UK and overseas; 
  • government assistance through theatre tax relief; and 
  • the reduced overheads due to a fully archived template of the production being available
 it is expected that a future production can be performed with less than 30% of the funding required for the current one.