Schools and Resources area


Drama Kernewek​​​

​​​​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.