Almost 400 years ago, The Catholic residents vowed to perform a play of the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ every 10 years, if only God would spare them from this terrible plague that took the lives of thousands throughout Europe.
Oberammergau is that village that survived the plague known as the Black Death in the 17th century. A charming village in southwest Germany; the residents continue to give testimony to their survival of that long ago wide-spread plague.
Response to An Answered Prayer
The prayers of the villagers were answered by God and so in 1634, the first Passion Play took place. Through the centuries, Oberammergau residents have presented the world-famous Passion Play every ten years. The promise has been kept until today.
It was scheduled to perform in 2020, however, it had to be postponed for two years due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Now the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play is taking place this year, 2022 and many from all over the world will experience the extraordinary play with inspirational music performed by an orchestra of around sixty members.
It all began at a church festival in 1632 when a man named Kaspar Schisler brought the plague into the village. Faced with the great distress of protecting their village, the leaders of the community came together and pledged to hold a passion play once every ten years. Two years later, in 1634, not a single person perished, even though a great number of them still showed signs of the plague.
As the Plays continued to be planned; the Passion Play directors would be lay persons and clergy. In the 13th year of the Play which would be the year 1750 – a Benedictine priest, an expert of the theatre stage, directed the local villagers.
Visitors From Around the Globe
There were around 11,000 visitors who saw the Play that year. That is an incredible number of visitors, considering that travel was not convenient; visitors traveled mostly by wagons or walking. Through the years and centuries, visitors continued to visit Oberammergau to see the Passion Play. There were Kings & Queens, including Queen Isabelle II from Spain, a Sultan, artists, Christians, and non-Christians.
In the performance held in 1910, U.S. President William Howard Taft saw the Passion Play, as well as the Archbishop of Milan, Italy, who later became Pope Pius XI.
Visitors came from all over the world. The offering box of the churches in Oberammergau included coins from Egypt, India, Hong Kong, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru & U.S. Dollars.
The year 1934 marked the Passion Play’s 33rd year. That same year, on August 13th, Adolf Hitler visits the Passion Play accompanied by a large group of leading Nazis.
During World War II, the Passion Play ceased until the year 1950. In this year, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was there to see the Play.
Let’s fast forward to 1980 – in this year, Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, who later becomes Pope Benedict XVI., views the Play.
What Is The Passion Play Like Today?
During the jubilee year 2000, for the first time, non-Christian citizens of Oberammergau participate in the Play. Until this time, only Christian citizens were allowed to take part for the Play. There was a total of 1,600 adults and 550 children who participate in the Play: attracting around 520,000 visitors.
Ten years later, in 2010 – the Play was extended into the evening.
The Passion Play is performed on a stage is enormous and open; one can see the outdoor Alps beyond the backdrop with covered seating for 5,000 persons.
Almost half of Oberammergau’s population will devotedly act out the story of Jesus Christ. The costumes and colors are so impressive. Live animals are brought on stage – such as sheep, a camel, and a donkey Jesus rides when he makes his entry into Jerusalem. The music is breathtaking. The Play begins with his entry into Jerusalem until his death at the cross and his resurrection. All this to help the visitor identify with the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Saintly Recommendation
We may not be able to see this amazing Passion Play; however, we can take time to contemplate the Passion of Christ; the greatest act of sacrificial love known to mankind. As St. Bonaventure boldly proclaims, “He who desires to go on advancing from virtue to virtue, from grace to grace, should meditate continually on the Passion of Jesus…There is no practice more profitable for the entire sanctification of the soul than the frequent meditation of the sufferings of Jesus Christ.”
Mary Jane Fox, D.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with her husband, Deacon Tom Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Mary Jane is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Dame of the Holy Sepulchre.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.