Good Friday Walk of Witness
The Lewes Good Friday Walk of Witness begins at 6pm on every Good Friday outside St Pancras Roman Catholic Church. It proceeds in silence to the mount in Mountfield Road where it ends with a short service and blessing.
There’s been a Walk of Witness every Good Friday for more than 50 years in Lewes. At 6pm, christians from almost every church in town gather by St Pancras Church, Irelands Lane, and walk in silence, following a heavy 12ft cross to the Mount in Mountfield Road. All ages are there, from those in prams to those with sticks. For many of the adults, the walk has been a part of their lives ever since they can remember.
At the Mount, the cross is carried slowly to the top, where it slots into a pre-prepared space. There are a few moments of meditation, prayers, two familiar hymns and a blessing - and everyone moves off to do their own things. The cross, meanwhile, stands over the Easter weekend, a witness to the profound significance of the holiday.
It seems always to have been a joint venture, now sponsored by Churches Together in the Lewes Area but, over the years, there have been changes and dramas. On odd occasions, the cross has been taken down by other people, and one year, it was inverted - but after all, crucifixion was the final humiliation for Christ. Anything less scarcely counts.
Carrying teams are formed on the day from anyone willing. Cross bearers were originally all men. This is no longer expected - though few women seem to offer. Health and Safety now matter more. Anxiety about ‘unattended trip hazards’ led, in 2009, to the cross being taken down almost immediately and the ground made good. This wasn’t necessary. Now the slot is dug earlier on the Friday and is filled in whenever the cross is taken down.
In 2000, during the first Lewes Passion Play, the crucifixion was incorporated in the walk of witness and an actor playing Christ was tied to the cross. Walkers were marshalled by Roman soldiers in full costume and armed. This was probably the longest procession there has ever been. To be part of it was quite an experience. Ten years later, in 2010, the crucifixion became a completely separate play, then at mid day, and part of the second Lewes Passion Play. It was enacted with three crosses. This year the crucifixion will be played as a separate play - part of the whole Passion Play - on the afternoon of Good Friday. the Walk of Witness will continue ar 6pm as usual.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ asked his disciples to keep watch while he prayed. The Lewes Walk of Witness gives His modern day disciples an opportunity to do something similar on the eve of Good Friday. In its own way, this procession is the kind of thing that Lewes does well. On Good Friday, however, instead of bangers and bands, it proceeds in silence which is somehow equally noticeable, and profoundly affects those taking part.