Every Decade for 388 Years, Nearly Half the People of a German Town Hold the Largest Passion Play in the World

Every Decade for 388 Years, Nearly Half the People of a German Town Hold the Largest Passion Play in the World

A small German town has been performing a Passion Play every decade since the 17th century.

Oberammergau, with its 5,000 inhabitants, began performances after being hit by the bubonic plague in 1633, according to the tourism site Grand European Travel.

They vowed that if God spared their village, they would perform a “Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” every 10 years.

After first being performed in 1634, the Passion Play still runs and is performed on a stage built above a gravesite for those who died during the plague.

Church records indicate that plague-related deaths ceased that year as well.

The entire performance can span five to eight hours with an intermission for a meal. Almost half the town performs as the cast numbers 2,000.

By law, only those born in Oberammergau or residents of 20 years or more may participate.

Only children are exempt, and hundreds do perform.

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Although the play is entirely in German, translated scripts are given to audience members in multiple languages, according to a video on the Passionsspiele Oberammergau YouTube page.

While the play is a local production, it draws an international audience. Almost half of the 500,000 visitors who come to Oberammergau to see the play come from abroad.

The venue holds almost 5,000 spectators for a showing.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 postponed the 2020 production. Over 100 performances were planned that year with the cast and crew preparing for more than two years. The play finally was performed in 2022.

With so much time dedicated to preparing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise the lengths the townspeople are willing to go. Actors grow their hair out and men grow their beards to better portray the time.

Director Christian Stückl described the evolution of his portrayal of Jesus in the play.

“When I directed the Passion Play for the first time I thought: ‘Jesus is loud! Jesus is strong! Jesus is revolutionary!'” he said, according to a translation in the video. “Of course, this had something to do with my own age. Today I think: ‘Perhaps it is much more important to show his consistency, his straightforwardness.'”

Oberammergau also has a Plague Play performed one year before the Passion Play in which the vow to perform the Passion Play is re-enacted.

The dedication of the town dating back several centuries is truly something spectacular when one considers the time, effort, and scale of the event.

The next Passion Play takes place in 2030.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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