The Oberammergau Passion Play has been performed by the villagers, from the Bavarian town of Oberammergau, since 1634. The play covers the final period in the life of Jesus, from his arrival in Jerusalem to his crucifixion, a period referred to Jesus’ Passion. Visitors come from all over the world, to see the play which up until 1790 was free. On average more than 500,000 people see the it each year, with the vast majority staying for 2 nights.
In the early 17thcentury, the village of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps, was engulphed by the Plague. It saw the death rate of the town soar to almost one per day. In 1633, at the height of the epidemic, the remaining villagers gathered in the local church and made a vow to produce a passion play every 10 years, if they were to be spared from the disease. From that day forward, not one inhabitant, died of the plague. So, believing God had spared them and keeping their word, the villagers performed their first Passion Play in 1634.
The play is performed over the course of 5 months, in all years ending with a ‘0’. In 2010, this included 102 performances. More than 2000 performers, musicians as technicians, all residents of the village, come together to make the play possible.
The play takes place each day, with the 2010 performance beginning at 2:30pm and finishing at 10:00pm, including a meal break. But, it hasn’t always been that long. In 1930 the play’s running time was 7 hours, beginning at 8:00am and running until 5:00pm, including a meal break.
Originally the play was performed in the Parish Church, but very quickly it proved to be too small. It was then decided to have the performance in the grave yard, in front of the graves of those who died during the plague. But, by the 18thcentury it also proved to be too small so eventually it was moved, outside the village to a field where, in 1815 a permanent stage was built. The building has undergone many renovations and today can seat 4700 guests.
Although the performances are made in years ending in ‘0’, there have been several additional performances. One was in 1934 to mark the 300thanniversary of the villager’s vow. In 1934 however, Germany was under the control of the Nazis. Official propaganda described the Passion Play as “peasant drama…inspired by the consecrating power of the soul”. Hitler attended a performance. In an attempt to bring the play in line with Nazi ideology, it was suggested a re-writing was needed. The idea was rejected however, and the play continues as it has for more than 380 years.