Hundreds join in Sunderland Good Friday tradition that dates back 51 years

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland
The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

Hundreds of people defied the rain and biting wind for Sunderland’s traditional cross-raising service on top of Tunstall Hills.

The ceremony has taken place Each Good Friday for the last 51 years.

The Passion Play  performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The Passion Play performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The pieces of the cross are paraded up the hill before it is assembled and raised into place, after which a service is held.

This year, international students from the University of Sunderland also performed a passion play outlining the story of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion before Father Marc Lyden-Smith, from St Mary’s Church in Bridge Street.

The cross-raising service was the brainchild of a group of worshippers from St Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Ryhope Road.

Ernie Rowntree was one of the original organisers and is still actively involved today.

It is very much an ecumenical service,” he said. “It is open to people of all faiths - or none. We don;t want people to think it is only for Catholics - everybody is welcome.

Ernie Rowntree

Now 83, Ernie explained the thinking behind an event which has become a fixture on Wearside’s religious calender.

“There is a team of us who do it each year,” he said.

“We started in 1966 - this is the 52nd consecutive year the service has taken place.

“St Cecilia’s had a faith group and the members were talking about finding a memorable way to celebrate Easter.

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

“It seemed clear that we had a good hilltop location on which to do something and we decided then that a cross should be raised on the hill.”

The service has become well-known over the years: “It has been well-documented,” said Ernie.

“We have had the telly down here a few times and, or course, it is also covered in the press.”

Ernie is quick to emphasise that while the service was devised by members of the St Cecilia’s congregation, anyone is welcome to attend the annual gathering.

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

“It is very much an ecumenical service,” he said. “It is open to people of all faiths - or none. We don’t want people to think it is only for Catholics - everybody is welcome.”

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The Passion Play  performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The Passion Play performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The Passion Play  performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland

The Passion Play performed at the traditional raising of the cross on Good Friday on Tunstall Hill, Sunderland