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The Faith and Theatrics
of the Hill Cumorah Pageant

Dazzling festival on sacred Mormon site

The pageant mimics spectacular events like earthquakes, lightning strikes, and an erupting volcano.

by Margaret Nichols

The New York Times calls the annual extravaganza atop Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, Wayne County, "a pageant performed with the spirit of a George Lucas techno-dazzler and the scope of a Cecil B. DeMille epic."

What gives the Hill Cumorah Pageant a twinge of the eerie is that it has been performed since 1937 on the very site where 14-year-old Joseph Smith purportedly discovered what was later to become known as the Book of Mormon. Every July, the tradition continues under the guidance of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons as they are commonly called.

Reminiscent of the religious pageants performed in Europe in the Middle Ages, but with more theatrical illusions, The Hill Cumorah Pageant mimics spectacular events like earthquakes, lightning strikes, an erupting volcano and the immolation of a prophet. A carefully selected cast of 600, decked in magnificent costumes, begins the show by parading through the audience toward a 7-level sound stage constructed on the side of 300-foot Hill Cumorah-topped by a 40-foot golden statue of the angel Moroni.

The story line, beginning at about 600 B.C., describes how a group of people left Jerusalem and were guided to a land that would one day be known as America. According to the Mormons, the people were miraculously visited by Jesus in 34 A.D. Events leading up to this climactic point are dramatized from stories in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Hill Cumorah itself is crucial to the story because Mormon religious history is believed to have been written on metal tablets by the prophet Mormon and hidden in a stone box by him around 400 A.D on this very hill. They are purportedly the same tablets found by Smith in the early 1800s.

Non-Mormon viewers may consider The Hill Cumorah Pageant little more than a well-dramatized fantasy, and may find the salt potatoes sold by local Lions and Rotarians more palatable. People-watching is always fun in this natural lawn amphitheater because each performance draws about 10,000 guests. So, whether you consider it dogma or entertainment, come early. Bring the family and a picnic supper. Plan to enjoy a pageant that is definitely world-class.

If you go: The Hill Cumorah Pageant, begins at dusk (about 9 p.m.) in outdoor amphitheater on Route 21, 2 miles north of NYS Thruway. Seating for 9,000. No admission charge. 315-597-5851. Performance dates for 2008: July 11,12 Friday and Saturday and July 15-19 Tuesday thru Saturday.

Margaret Nichols is a former Palmyra resident who now resides in Dansville.

For further information on the Hill Cumorah Pageant click here.

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