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The Way Of The Cross In Stepney

March 29, 2024
by the gentle author

Join me for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF THE CITY OF LONDON on Easter Monday 1st April at 2pm



Later this year we shall be publishing David Hoffman’s monograph JOY & ENDURANCE IN THE EAST END 1971-87, accompanied by a an exhibition at the Museum of the Home

A costume fitting


In the late seventies, Contributing Photographer David Hoffman documented the religious drama enacted upon the streets of Stepney around Easter time, recording astonishing images of magical realist intensity which feel closer to the medieval world than to our own day.

Gordon Kendall who played Jesus wrote this memory of his experience.

‘On a cold wet and depressing evening in April 1980, well over 100 actors, production crew and 2000 people lived through the experience of Our Lord’s Way Of The Cross enacted in the streets and estates of Stepney.

The excitement and challenge of playing Jesus really began on the Sunday before the event. Some of the actors were trying out their costumes and they looked very impressive.

Half way through the rehearsal, I needed to visit the toilet and so excused myself from the bodyguard of soldiers in costume. I knocked at the door of a flat. A lady came out and I requested the use of her toilet. She looked at me very oddly – she was a elderly lady – and she asked me who I was. I replied I was playing the part of Jesus and she flashed me a look which revealed she did not believe me, but she said ‘Come in.’

As I went through the flat I could see someone sleeping on the sofa in the lounge. When I closed the bathroom door, I could hear the woman waking up her friend and saying, ‘Nell, there’s a man in the toilet who says he’s Jesus.’ Then I heard some rapid movement and I could only wonder at the thoughts of this woman, struggling to her feet.

There was a knocking at the front door as I came out of the toilet  and the two women opened it to be confronted by a fierce Roman Centurion in full regalia, asking if Jesus was in the flat. Fortunately, they relaxed into joyous smiles and it was kisses and handshakes all round as we departed.’


Roman soldiers

Jesus in flares

The arrest of the two thieves

Preparing for the crucifixion

A Roman legion marching

Pilate speaks

Roman soldiers at St Dunstan’s

Jesus consoles Mary

Bespectacled Jesus

Roman Centurion in regalia

Jesus gives himself up

The march to the crucifixion

The soldiers stripping Jesus of his raiments

Crucifixion courtesy of Whitbread

Behold, Jesus is risen in St Dunstan’s Church!

Photographs copyright © David Hoffman

You may also like to take a look at

David Hoffman at Fieldgate Mansions

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    March 29, 2024

    I loved looking at the photos on this post. To see a whole community getting involved was a delight! Sad it doesn’t happen as much nowadays x

  2. JOHN CAMPBELL permalink
    March 29, 2024

    Viewed through today’s modern eyes this looked like quite an amazing achievement to organise and stage. I doubt there would be enough ‘community’ spirit to pull off something this impressive nowadays. Great stories and brilliant photos with a refreshing modern twist. I wonder if school kids struggling with how history is just soooo long ago might engage better with this story of easter portraying Jesus in jeans and centurions having a quick fag break. Brilliant post, thank you.

  3. March 29, 2024

    Thank you for bringing us these evocative photos of this unique community. In the US, we think of the term “re-enactors” in a certain way………..I witnessed an unforgettable vivid re-enactment at the Gettysburg battlefield ……… but I feel these people in David Hoffman’s photos bring such dedication and sensitivity to the term. It gave me so much to think about, as I looked at each face, and studied the body language of the participants. A fantastic series. Very layered.

    I once took part in a 5-day Drawing Marathon, at Bard College, and our artist/leader came up with the concept to draw The Stations of the Cross. We had a male model, a bunch of huge props and bits of lumber, etc — and the five days were totally immersive and intense. Working with charcoal on huge sails of white drawing paper, we all got WAY out of our comfort zone.

    “Art is the most frenzied orgy man is capable of.” — Jean Dubuffet

  4. March 29, 2024

    A great performance and beautifully photographed. Definitely needs to be in the planned book. — By the way: now, after almost 50 years, today’s trousers have that wonderful flare of yesteryear…

    Love & Peace

  5. Paula Exton permalink
    March 29, 2024

    Who is Gordon Kendall who played Jesus please?
    An actor or?

    Most impressed by the raw enactment & b/w shots.

  6. March 31, 2024

    I love these photographs. The sense of community is there for all to see. Reminiscent of the mystery/passion plays of medieval England. If there was more funding of community arts, I think such events could once again be a feature of urban life.

    Having taken part in a large scale (but nor as large as this) community drama project in 1989, I remember how good it felt to be part of something fun and meaningful.

    Happy Easter.

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