St Just Ordinalia
The Ordinalia is part of Cornwall, and Cornwall is part of the Ordinalia.
In the late 1300s the Cornish Ordinalia Cycle of three plays: Origo Mundi (The Creation of the World), The Passion and The Resurrection were written in the Cornish language by the clerics at Glasney College, Penryn.
In 2000 St Just was offered the gift of some funding to do Origo Mundi; – an enormous undertaking, but also a homecoming, as here, in the far flung west, at the heart of our town, we have one of only two surviving medieval ‘playing places’ constructed to perform the Ordinalia in the 1400s, predating Shakespeare by over 200 years.
The Ordinalia is the oldest theatrical document in the UK, forming the basis of the Cornish language (Kernewek) as we know it today. So in September 2021, the Ordinalia trilogy was performed once again, to great acclaim, by the St Just community. Guided by the original stageplans they were performed in the round with eight stages or “mansions”; aligned with specific points of the compass, e.g. Heaven in the east, Hell in the north.
A team of professional directors; set and costume designers; production and stage managers; makers, interns and assistants; – all met the ambitious challenge of staging the plays over a two week period in September. There were 15 performances in all, supported by 248 unpaid mainly local volunteers involved as actors, choir, musicians, dancers, puppeteers, costume and set making assistants, backstage and event stewards.
The performances were spectacular, watched by audience numbers of 5,875; under Cornish autumn skies. Despite a few brief soggy moments, the moon and starlit autumn skies added a dramatic backdrop to the subject matter of the plays – the telling of Old and New Testament Bible stories in the vernacular. The choir sang beautifully in Cornish, and Thomas the disciple speaking entirely in Kernewek.
Plans are in place for St Just Ordinalia to happen every 3-4yrs, building on the inspiration, talent, fun, and the community spirit embracing these plays, as they did years back; so that audiences can continue to relish this immense experience for generations to come. Barbara Santi’s marvellous documentary of the production is now on our website www.stjustordinalia.com and a ‘selected scenes’ full length film of the plays will be
released on Vimeo by early March 2022.