9:00am Wednesday 16th April 2014
By Pete Hughes
A PASSION play recreating the crucifixion of Christ has been cancelled because organisers did not have the correct council permission.
Those behind the Good Friday performance of the Passion of the Christ in Cowley Road, Oxford, say they had no choice but to scrap the event at short notice.
They claim it’s because a city council officer didn’t realise it was a religious event and said it could be committing an offence.
Mischa Richards plays Jesus in the play held on Cowley Road in 2012
The performance, organised by St Stephen’s House Theological college and SS Mary and John Church on Cowley Road, was first held in 2012, without a licence.
Some 200 people watched Mischa Richards, playing Jesus, haul a wooden cross from Cowley Road Methodist Church to SS Mary and John.
Oxford City Councillor and United Reform Church pastor Dick Wolff said: “Unfortunately, one of the city council’s licensing officers didn’t recognise that a Passion play on Good Friday was a religious event.
“I think he thought it was a sex show, so he said it may be committing an offence.”
Rev Wolff added: “This is a case of the system tripping over its own shoe laces.”
SS Mary and John vicar Adam Romanis, above, said: “It’s very upsetting because so many people were looking forward to it.
“Someone said to me ‘you can’t hold a crucifixion these days without a licence’.”
Rev Romanis said the church contacted the police earlier this month to inform them it was going ahead but were told they would be committing an offence without a licence to hold a public event.
He said: “The health and safety culture can interfere with things people have always done and never thought would be a problem.”
He said the first event was stewarded and had not disrupted traffic.
Organisers from St Stephen’s put a notice on their website on Saturday that stated: “With great disappointment and frustration, the organisers sadly have to announce that the 2014 performance of the Cowley Road Passion Play has had to be cancelled.
“This is due to an intractable situation which developed with the city council events planning department and the local police.”
Thames Valley Police spokesman James Williams said: “TVP received a letter from the organisers of the event and responded to inform them they were required to apply to the local authorities for a highway closure and to complete an event notification form.”
Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, said it granted permission for the event.
But Oxford City Council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said the application to the council came in “too late with limited information to enable the event to take place”.
Rev Romanis said the church will still perform the Stations of the Cross along Cowley Road on Friday morning, as it has done for 15 years, but it will be on a much lower scale than the original plan.
The Passion Play is a dramatic performance of the Passion of the Christ, from the Latin meaning “suffering”, and follows his trial, crucifixion and death.
Passion Plays became popular in the Middle Ages and remained an Easter tradition into the 16th century.
Performers take the roles of Jesus, his disciples, Mary Magdalen, and Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.
Last year’s Abingdon Passion Play, thought to be the first ever performed in the town, attracted hundreds of people.
Mel Gibson’s 2004 film adaptation, The Passion of the Christ, above, became highly controversial because of its drawn-out graphic violence.
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