The History In 1633, many people in the town of Oberammergau became afflicted with Black Plague. The town elders met and vowed to perform the “play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ” every ten years if their village survived. God heard their prayers and no one else died of the disease. At Pentecost in 1634, the townspeople of Oberammergau fulfilled their pledge by performing the Passion Play for the first time. For 375 years, the tradition has been passed down through generations. Eventually word of the townspeople’s commitment spread, enticing others to visit Oberammergau to witness this remarkable cultural and religious spectacle.
The Play The Passion Play is based on the four Gospels, depicting Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the events leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection. Interspersed throughout the play are scenes from the Old Testament such as Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph in Egypt and Moses leading the people to the Promised Land. “In the Cross is salvation, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is hope” is the message passed on to spectators. The play lasts five hours, with afternoon and evening sessions separated by a three-hour break for dinner.
The Performers While the population of Oberammergau is just over 5000, a staggering 2100 of them will participate in the play – either on stage or behind the scenes - including over 500 children. The choir consists of 120 singers and there are more than 80 musicians in the orchestra. Adding to the production’s realism, many animals are used including sheep, goats, doves and, naturally, a donkey to be ridden by Jesus into Jerusalem.
The Theatre Performances are in a unique theatre, with an open-air stage and almost five thousand spectator seats protected by a roof overhead. The backdrop of tree-covered hills and distant mountains is quite impressive, although the actors are subject to the current weather conditions.