A CEREMONY dating back to the 15th century has marked the official start of preparations for this summer’s York Mystery Plays.

The guilds, companies and groups of York are set to to stage the quadrennial plays on pageant wagons at several locations across the city centre on Sunday, July 13, and Sunday, July 20.

The Presentation of the Billets, involving the Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Ian Gillies, and the masters of the seven York guilds and companies, took place yesterday following a church service and procession through the city to the Merchant Adventurers Hall in Fossgate.

The ceremony followed ancient custom demanding that “every pag - eant master of the said guilds shall be ready in his pageant with good players well arrayed and openly speaking upon pain of a fine of 100 shillings to be paid to the city chamber without pardon”.

Mystery plays have been performed in York since medieval times, with the event traditionally comprising 12 stories told on wagons that move between stations throughout the city with medieval musical processions in between.

More than 600 people, including actors, set builders, wagon pushers and musicians, took part in the 2010 plays, which were seen by more than 8,000 people.

Organisers at the York Festival Trust have engaged a new artistic director Deborah Pakkar Hull, to create from the 48 surviving scripts a fresh approach to the ancient tradition.

She said the cycle she had put together told a story of the struggle between good and evil, “beginning and ending in the heavenly domain, and in between being played out on an earthly, human plain.

“Jesus is either present in, or the focus of a series of dilemmas, difficulties and enterprises, telling a human story that should resonate with a 21st century audience from a range of backgrounds and ages.”

Festival trust chairman Roger Lee said a chorus had been specially commissioned for the 2014 cycle.

Tickets for the plays are available from yorkmysteryplays.co.uk, by phoning 0333 666 3366, with a £1.50 admin fee or from the Merchant Adventurers Hall from 10am to 4pm weekdays