The world’s largest Passion play

A photo of the 1900 Oberammergau Passion Play portraying Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey
Credit: Wikipedia, Public Domain

Oberammergau is a small town of 5,000 residents in Bavaria, Germany, and is best known for hosting the world’s largest Passion play, the Western Journal reports.

It is held roughly every ten years or so because of a pledge that town citizens made in 1634 during the height of the devastating Bubonic plague that swept Europe, killing between and third and half of the population.

Oberammergau, Germany from the summit of Kofel
Credit: David Edgar, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

The citizens vowed that if God spared their community, they would hold a Passion play every ten years and according to tradition, the village was largely spared despite people with the plague coming to the village.

The Passion play typically involves 2,000 of the town’s residents as actors, singers, and production workers and can last between five and seven hours, with one break for lunch.

Only people who are residents of the town and 20 years or older are allowed to participate. In preparation, for the performance men who are playing leading roles, often start growing their beards and hair on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, the previous year.

The play typically starts in mid-afternoon and ends in the evening around 10 pm, and is frequently held several times during the performance years. In 2010, the Passion play ran from May to October.

Since the 1700s, the Passion Play has been held in years ending with zero. However, they have broken from this tradition on numerous occasions, including most recently in 2020, when it was postponed due to COVID and held in 2022 instead.

The scheduled 1940 performance was canceled because of World War II, and then restarted in 1950. In fact, wars have interrupted a couple of other performances, including the rescheduling of the 1800 play to 1801 because of the Napoleonic war and the 1870 performance to 1871 because of the Franco-Prussian war.

Between 420,000 to 530,000 come to the village to view the performance, and it’s estimated that nearly half of the visitors are from outside Germany.

The play is conducted on several outside stages set up throughout the village and includes around 100 performances. One of the stages is found on the site of those who died during the Bubonic plague.

The script was originally based on plays written in the 15th and 16th century. However, it has gone through numerous rewrites and adaptations, including adding music by German composer Rochus Dedler in 1810, which is still incorporated today.

During the 1930s, German officials rewrote the play introducing Nazi ideology and submitted it to the town, but the script was rejected. Nevertheless, Hitler, who actually attended the 1934 play, tried to use the performance to serve his propaganda efforts.

The play today includes numerous choral arrangements and starts with the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

It then moves to the first act, involving Jesus cleansing the temple. The following 15 Acts, which include Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of Judas, Jesus being interviewed by Pilate, Christ’s sentencing, and the Lord’s crucifixion, end with Act 16 and the Resurrection of Christ.

The next performance of the Passion play is scheduled for 2030.

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