The days when Arbroath staged innovative spectacles with stunning lighting and pioneering sound effects enacting the coming into being of the Declaration of Scottish Independence, may be over, but a small band of pageant players still like to recall this part of Arbroath's heritage. Since the last full performance of the Arbroath pageant in 2005, every year on the 6th of April (the date when the famed declaration was originally despatched in 1320) members of Arbroath Abbey Timethemes (formerly the Abbey Pageant Society) come together and enact a small but pivotal scene from their historic pageant, which had its first outing in 1947.
These actors and organisers must be congratulated for keeping the faith in these changing times; they still enter into the event with all the enthusiasm that kept the Arbroath pageant going for the best part of sixty years. Yesterday they braved the rainy weather in Angus and got into costume once again for the 6th of April re-enactment. At least one of the players has been part of the pageant since 1970 and so rehearsals were hardly needed! Happily, I was able to go along to witness this.
The tableau put on was very colourful and played with moving integrity; it enacted the arrival of King Robert the Bruce at the Abbey, his meeting with Abbot Bernard and a display of the famous document newly sealed. During this, a recording of a reading of the declaration was played via a sound system and the audience of locals and tourists who came along to see this commemoration take place could clearly hear every word. The sound of the wind coming off the North Sea and the cries of gulls all contributed to the atmosphere: no doubt, both were just as prevalent as in 1320! Others taking part took the roles of monks, barons and courtiers. The drama kicked off aptly at 13.20 pm and lasted for around fifteen minutes, during which time, I'm glad to say, the sun made a timely appearance through the rain clouds in Arbroath! The actors surely deserved this, though it must be remembered, that traditionally the Arbroath pageant was held at night under special effects floodlighting.
Alas, unlike the pageants of yesteryear, permission to hold this annual re-enactment within the nave of the abbey is no longer granted; and so it took place just inside the gates of this great building's south transept. Afterwards, more than once, participants told me how much they wished I could have seen the whole pageant when it was in full flight. I share their wishes but even so, the scaled down re-enactment was well performed and definitely memorable . The famous Round O was in the background of the dramatic scene, as were the ancient walls of this haunting and beautiful ruin. It may only have been a taste of the Arbroath pageant's former glory, but after all the hours spent researching the history of this particular pageant, I feel very glad to have seen it and wish the Timethemes' members all the best for the coming year - I look forward to a replay in 2017!
Here's some images from yesterday:
Robert the Bruce and Abbot Bernard closely followed by the Bishop of St Andrews during the re-enactment at Arbroath Abbey on 6 April 2016. I'm told the King's helmet, which was made locally, has been used in all eighteen of the Abbey pageants and is of course, still being used for this annual re-enactment of a small part of the pageant.
Here, Abbot Bernard, who is generally thought to have drafted the Declaration, is seen holding the document aloft in the re-enactment. This facsimile was also made locally a number of years ago.
A Scottish baron (played by Bill Smith) fixes his seal to the declaration.
And now one for the personal album...
Robert the Bruce graciously gave a photo opportunity to one of the Redress team members!
On behalf of the Redress of the Past project, I would like to thank the members of Timethemes for alerting me to their mini pageant and welcoming me with such warmth and interest. They are a real fun-loving bunch of people and it has been a privilege to meet them and to see their admirable efforts to keep this commemoration going as a part of the town's heritage. In particular, a big thanks to Bill Smith and Anita Walker for generously sharing their memories of pageantry in Arbroath. The organisation's website is still under construction but some great images can be seen at : http://www.arbroathabbeytimethemes.co.uk/gallery.html