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Euro-Fest Pageant - Parts 1 And 2

May Day is celebrated throughout the country as Los Mayos (lit. "the Mays") often in a similar way to "Fiesta de las Cruces" in many parts of Hispanic America. One such example, in Galicia, is the festival "Fiesta de los Mayos" (or "Festa dos Maios" in Galician, the local language). It has a celtic origin (from the festivity of Beltane)[29] and consists of different traditions, such as representations around a decorated tree or sculpture. People sing popular songs (also called maios,) making mentions to social and political events during the past year, sometimes under the form of a converse, while they walk around the sculpture with the percussion of two sticks. In Lugo[30] and in the village of Vilagarcía de Arousa[31] it was usual to ask a tip to the attendees, which used to be a handful of dry chestnuts (castañas maiolas), walnuts or hazelnuts. Today the tradition became a competition where the best sculptures and songs receive a prize.[32]

Euro-Fest Pageant - Parts 1 and 2

May Day was also celebrated by some early European settlers of the American continent. In some parts of the United States, May baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away.[46]

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Brother Copas is a novel (1911) by "Q" (Sir Arthur Quiller Couch), set in King Alfred's ancient capital city of Winchester (where hangs, in the cathedral, what is reputed to be the Round Table of King Arthur and his knights). This novel deals with the planning and presentation of a pageant, an instance of the genre of "new pageantry", by the brothers and staff of Saint Cross Hospice, that ancient institution which lies in the water-meadows below Winchester College. A girl child, Corona Bonaday, arrives at Southampton by steamer (the Carnatic) from America, to stay with her uncle, a brother in the Hospice. It is a return to her roots in England, where she had been born, as well as a challenging but valuable rediscovery of her real father. At the same time, she is cast in the pageant as Queen of the May, and so her experience is a paradigm for the rediscovery of "Englishness".

"Q's" fictional pageant at Winchester follows the production of an actual pageant in this city in 1908. Many hundreds of similar pageants were performed throughout England, and in other parts of the British Isles and the 'dominions' of the Commonwealth, in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Quiller-Couch was a co-author of the "Pageant of Bradstone", which was produced in 1929, and he appears to have been involved in numerous other such projects over the years. Various other authors adopted the idea of an historical pageant as a model on which to structure their histories, and their novels. Perhaps most notable here is Virginia Woolf, whose final novel, Between the Acts (1941), set on the eve of World War II, is composed around the performance of a local historical pageant at a small country town, while her fictional tribute to Vita Sackville West, Orlando (1928) is constructed as if it were a historical pageant of English letters. Woolf's friend and peer as a modernist author, E.M. Forster, wrote the scripts for two pageant performances, the "Abinger Pageant" (1934), and "England's Green and Pleasant Land: A Pageant Play" (1938). During the historical moment which we call "modernism" there is a paradoxically contrary preoccupation with "Englishness", with heritage, roots, and the archaic, albeit, as in Woolf's case, ironic.

The pageant was held as part of the Blackburn Diocesan Festival in 1930 under the auspices of the local branch of the Girls' Friendly Society (GFS). This was a generic pageant which had first been staged in 1925 in London at the Albert Hall in celebration of the Society's jubilee year. It was alleged locally that the performance of The Quest in Blackburn in 1930 was only its second staging. However, this may not have been the case; there were certainly a great many GFS jubilee celebrations held in 1925, some of which included pageant-type performances. For example, celebrations were held in Cheltenham (May, 1925), Lichfield (June, 1925), Truro (June, 1925) and Bath (July, 1925). During the 1930s, The Quest was certainly performed many times in different locations: for example, Cheltenham (3 October 1931), Hull (28 January 1932) and Sunderland (1 October 1933).

The Quest had further performances in different parts of the country carried out by local branches of the Society in England and Wales. It is also possible that overseas branches may have performed it as, by the inter-war years, the Girls' Friendly Society was an international organisation with branches in many countries within the Anglican Communion. In the case of Blackburn in 1930, there was a single staging of the pageant, which took place at 6.30pm.

Miss Ida Shaw was a successful professional drama and elocution teacher based in Blackburn. The role played by Miss Shaw in this pageant is mentioned in a newspaper report.7 It is most likely that she was hired to perform the role of pageant director for a fee. She seems to have been experienced in this field of dramatic work. Shaw had been involved in a church centenary pageant in Blackburn in 1926 and would go on to provide services as a drama coach in a pageant organised by the Lancashire Federation of Women's Institutes held in 1935 in Preston.

It is assumed that this pageant was a fundraiser for the Girls' Friendly Society, but details of the finances involved have not been recovered. However, a collection taken at an afternoon service in the Blackburn Cathedral, which preceded the pageant, raised the sum of 27 in aid of the Society.9

This section of the pageant begins with groups of singing and dancing girls entering 'with joy and merriment, the Old Woman showing that they are inspired by the great women who have gone before'. A number of tableaux featuring well-known women from history are then presented as follows:

A book of words was not produced for this specific staging of the pageant. A book may have been produced for the original presentation held at the Albert Hall in 1925, but, if so, it has not been recovered. Most of the pageant consisted of tableaux, song and dance, and although there certainly was dialogue (written by Louis Napoleon Parker), this element was likely not much to the fore in many parts of the performance.

A local teacher who had experience of pageants provided dramatic coaching to bring out the best in the performers. Choral singing by a large choir augmented the visual elements presented. The pageant was not organised in episodes, but it was performed in a way that suggests four separate parts. In the first of these, a girl is depicted at a crossroads, struggling over the decision of whether to take the high or the low path. This metaphor for the moral choice facing young women is resolved when the allegorical figure of 'Friendship' arrives disguised as an old woman; she goes on to describe to the girl how famous women from the past have overcome their difficulties. This part of the pageant is then followed by the display of a series of tableaux featuring easily identifiable female historical characters that were meant to provide personal inspiration to the young and potentially vulnerable. Among those depicted at Blackburn were religious figures such as Saint Hild, women famous for doing good work such as Elizabeth Fry and Florence Nightingale, and, in true pageant style, the iconic and powerful figure of Queen Elizabeth I. The third part of the pageant celebrates the history of the GFS, demonstrates the many activities it aimed to nurture among its membership, and seeks to show the many countries to which it spread its message. For this, some of those taking part dressed up in the uniforms of a variety of professions, indicating that the Society now reached out to many young women from different backgrounds. Doctors and nurses were depicted alongside domestic servants and mill girls, and even dairy maids had a place! Others appeared in the national costumes of an array of European countries where the Society had established links as well as of territories that were still, or had formerly been, part of the British Empire. The pageant ends with the confused young woman showing a strengthened resolve: she takes the hand of 'friendship' and goes forward easily towards the High Way.

Although this pageant did not reflect local interests, it did reflect the interests of the GFS and its place as an Anglican institution at the centre of an international network. It is of particular significance that the personification of nations in the third part of the pageant begins with the figure of England, who appears with attendants and banner carriers. It is England who calls the other nations 'to her side', beginning with Wales, then Scotland, and then Ireland. Other countries process onto the stage later, reflecting the historical development of the organisation. Moreover, the historical women depicted were not all British; rather, they were characters whose appeal was international and crossed religious divides, either because of their personal qualities of bravery and stalwartness (e.g., Joan of Arc) or because of their piety and good works (e.g., Elizabeth of Hungary). The work done overseas was conceived along the lines of 'missionary' work; indeed, at a special service held earlier in the day in Blackburn Cathedral, the offertory was taken up specifically in aid of the local GFS, although 'representative members' also made pleas to a packed congregation on behalf of the Society's missions, and collections were raised for these.26 If such pleas were not sufficient to inspire generosity, consciences were clearly meant to be stirred when the young women and girl members of the society were paraded within the service in a manner replete with virginal symbolism. For this procession, 'the maidens' were required to be 'white-robed and blue-veiled'.


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