HUNDREDS of worshippers gathered on Tunstall Hill today for the 50th annual raising of the cross.
Amid bright sunshine, people from across Wearside met at the landmark on Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Hymns were sang and a Passion Play acted out, as the 12ft-high wooden cross was hammered into the ground.
The tradition was started in 1964 by leaders at St Cecilia’s Church, in Ryhope Road.
Now, Christians of all persuasions come to the gathering, which this year was led by Reverend Chris Howson, of Sunderland Minster.
Friends Leonora Conroy and Ann Pallister, both of High Barnes, watched on.
“I remember when this first started and then it was just a handful of people,” said Leonora, who, along with Ann prays at St Joseph’s Church, in Millfield.
“But it’s grown and grown since to become a real ecumenical service, even though it was started by Catholics.”
A special visitor, Father Michael Sweeney, formerly of St Cecilia’s and who was instrumental in the growth of the cross event, but has now retired to live in Ireland, also attended.
Keith and Maureen Patterson, of Tunstall, were one couple who had made the trek up the hill for the event.
“We’ve been coming on and off to this for about 15 years as we live quite close by,” said Maureen, 68.
“I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be a good turnout because the weather’s been wet recently.
“What’s good about it is that it brings all of the different churches in Sunderland together.”
Keith, 70, said: “It’s a very important event for the city.”
Rev Howson said: “It’s the first time that I’ve led the service and I wanted to bring some real passion to it. It was a moving event and very powerful. I thought those acting out the Passion Play were fantastic.
“It’s something we Christians hold very special to us and it’s been a fitting start to the Easter weekend.”
The cross will stand on the hill until Easter Monday, when it will be taken down at about 9am.