The Oberammergau Passion Play – A History
In 1633, residents of a small town in Bavaria vowed that if their town was spared from the plague, they would honor God by putting on a “Passion Play” every ten years. Very few of the townspeople died from the plague that year. The people of the town were so grateful that they were spared the ugliness and death of the plague that they honored their promise and put on the very first Oberammergau Passion and devotional play in 1634.
Ever since the town was saved from the ravishes of the bubonic plague, they have kept their end of the bargain and put on a spectacular Passion Play. Displaying their loyalty to the God that saved them, the tribute has been reenacted by the citizens of Oberammergau ever since the mid 1600’s with few exceptions.
Originally the play was put on in a small chapel in the village. After about four or five plays, the news about the production was passed on to other towns around the area and soon more and more people were coming to watch the play. The play had to be moved to a bigger area so that there was enough room to accommodate all of the visitors.
After a hundred years or so of productions, again the area grew too small to fit all of the people that were coming every two years to watch the play. It was then moved to a field near to the cemetery. It wasn’t until the early to mid 1800’s that stages started being made for the actors to act out the play. Around then, a permanent stage was built.
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that an actual theatre was built. With the idea and knowledge that people were coming to Oberammergau to experience the passion play from all over the world, a permanent fixture of a theatre was long over due. It has gone through some renovations and upgrades to date, now seating almost 4700 people. The theater is now well equipped to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors that come each decade.
What the Passion Play is all about…
One of the most fascinating facts about the Passion Play in Oberammergau is the fact that the cast is all from the town of Oberammergau itself. I mean literally, the town revolves around the decade by decade production of the play. Over 2000 residents of Oberammergau participate in the production! Can you imagine 2000 of the residents of your town coming together to put on a play? This dedication to tradition and religion is really a testament to
The cast of the play work for an amazing ten months or so before the opening night of the productions. Not only that, but after opening night, the play goes on for around 5 months! This is definitely a big commitment by residents of a small Bavarian town.
As you may know, the play is a representation of Jesus’ journey from the time he enters Jerusalem, through his crucifixion, and ending after he is risen. It is an emotional and physical experience not only for the actors, but for the audience as well. The unforgettable and moving music adds to the overall presentation of the play as well.
There is over 2 hours of brilliant music that takes place during the production. Performed by a 60 piece orchestra, the participants and the audience alike are moved by the marvelous noise that can be heard. Originally written in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by Rochus Dedler, variations of the same score are used through today’s passion play. It is likely as well, that Dedler used inspirations of music going back to the earlier versions of the original Passion Play music to compose his version.
The Passion Continues…
Moving ahead to Oberammergau’s Passion productions of 2010 things are set to be just as spectacular and moving as usual. Preparations have already begun to make this next production be just as charming and brilliant as usual. The play is truly a magnificent work of art itself and is meant to be enjoyed by thousands every year. If you are spiritual or just curious about the spiritual side of Bavaria and Germany, the Passion Play in Oberammergau is not to be missed.