A SCOTS aristocrat is to take a dramatisation of the last days of Jesus Christ to one of Italy’s biggest prisons after securing support from the Vatican.

Sir Jack Stewart-Clark, owner of Dundas Castle in West Lothian, one of Scotland's grandest stately homes, and a former Member of the European Parliament, plans to take the Passion play to the notorious high-security Opera jail in Milan next year.

One of Europe's biggest jails, the Opera is home to some of Italy's leading Mafia figures, including Salvatore "Toto" Riina, who is said to have ordered the murders of hundreds of people, including judges, policemen and prosecutors.

Loading article content

The project has been given the backing of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture following the intervention of the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley, a former senior official in Rome and aide to both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict.

The play will be produced as a joint venture between Sir Jack's Dundas Foundation and the Euro Passione per Italia, an organisation dedicated to putting on productions of the story of Christ and Easter Week.

It is also scheduled to be directed by businessman Peter Hutley, who has staged Passion plays in London's Trafalgar Square and Nativities on a Surrey hillside.

The Milan Opera is the latest in a series of ambitious Passion play productions by Sir Jack, which have been staged in venues ranging from his own castle in South Queensferry over a decade ago and using his loch for scenes of Jesus walking on water to a shortened version in Greenock prison.

It has also been taken to Uganda, to Brazil and most notably to Louisiana State Penitentiary in the United States.

The prison, the largest maximum-security prison in the US, has 6,200 inmates, 85 per cent of who are serving life sentences in a penitentiary known as “Angola” from its days as a slave colony servicing nearby sugar plantations.

'The Life of Jesus Christ' was performed in the prison for two years running with the entire cast being sourced from inmates of the main men's prison and also the women's prison, around 50 miles away.

Sir Jack, 86, has previously said dramatising the life of Jesus can help prisoners’ rehabilitation, as well as change the outside world’s view of offenders, adding that he believes inmates "can become redeemed in prison, even if you’re never getting out".

He said: "We believe there is a reasonable chance that our play on 'The Life of Jesus Christ', which has been written by Peter Hutley, will be produced during 'The Year of Mercy' at the Opera prison in Milan

“The prison has 6,000 inmates and it is hoped that the play will be performed by a cast chosen from these inmates.”

Archbishop Cushley said: “Sir Jack is clearly a man with a passion for the Passion.

“I’m therefore delighted to have been able to connect him with one or two of my old friends and colleagues at the Vatican so that his vision can receive the hearing and the respect that it deserves.”

“I am sure that the Italians will respond very willingly and positively to this very exciting and worthwhile project to celebrate the life of Christ.”

Suzanne Lofthus, artistic director of the Edinburgh-based Cutting Edge Theatre, which specialises in examining social issues through drama, will be supervising director of the play. The play itself will be performed in Italian.

One of the UK’s first elected European parliamentarians and rising to become vice president of the European Parliament, Sir Jack has had several remarkable business careers.

After many years working abroad with thread maker J&P Coats he rose to the top of the Philips electrical conglomerate in the UK and much later in life transformed Dundas Castle, making it one of VisitScotland’s top 5-star rated exclusive use venues.

Sir Jack was also instrumental in setting up the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon and sat on the board of that body.