Everything You Need To Know About The Oberammergau Passion Play
27 November 2019 -
The legacy of The Oberammergau Passion Play began nearly four hundred years ago and we are still completely fascinated by this event, which is performed only once every 10 years. Set in the picturesque Bavarian village of Oberammergau amid stunning scenery, watching this play is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Read on to find out more about the history of this event and what makes it so special!
What Is The Oberammergau Passion Play?
This world-famous play is performed every ten years in the village of Oberammergau. Oberammergau is located one hour from Munich in the beautiful Ammer valley, surrounded by the majestic Ammergau Alps. The first Passion Play took place here in 1633 when the Bubonic Plague was ravaging the region. The residents of Oberammergau promised God that if he spared them from the Bubonic Plague, they would perform a play depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ every ten years for the rest of time.
After this vow was made the death rate in the region began to lower. The residents believed that they had indeed been spared and therefore they kept their promise and have performed a Passion Play depicting the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ every ten years ever since.
When Is The Passion Play Performed?
The Oberammergau Passion Play is staged every ten years, in the last year of each decade – meaning, the year whose numeral ends with a zero. Therefore, the next performances will be next year, in 2020. Along with these regular ten year-interval performances, there have been a few extra performances over the years for commemoration reasons. These additional performances include the 1934 performance to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the original vow, and again in 1984 in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first performance.
These days, the play is performed multiple times over the course of five months during each year that ends in zero. 102 performances took place between May and October in 2010. This year will be the 42nd Passion Play and it will run from May 16th to October 4th, 2020. The Passion Play is divided into eleven acts, also known as presentation.
Presentations 1 to 5 form the first part, which in 2010 began at 2:30 pm. After a three-hour-break, presentations 6 to 11 were performed at 8 pm. The performance ended at about 11 pm.
What Does The Play Involve?
The production involves over 2,000 performers, musicians, and stage technicians - all of whom are residents of Oberammergau. The play includes spoken dramatic text, musical and choral accompaniment, and tableaux vivants (living images) which are scenes from the Old Testament portrayed for the audience by motionless actors accompanied by a verbal description that allows for pausing and reflecting.
The History Of The Passion Play
Since the original performance, there have been two years where the scheduled performance did not take place, and one performance was postponed for two years. The first cancellation took place in 1770. This was due to all passion plays in Bavaria being banned by order of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1780, the play was renamed “The Old and New Testament”. The new Ecclesiastical Council Elector, Charles Theodore, approved the new performance of the play as he felt it had been "purged of all objectionable and unseemly matter". In 1830, Oberammergau was the only passion play that remained - the Catholic Church had successfully halted the performance of all other passion plays in Bavaria.
Along with the Catholic church, wartimes also disrupted the scheduled performances. The performance scheduled for 1920 was postponed to 1922 due to the economic and political tumult following the First World War. In 1940, World War II forced the Oberammergau Passion Play to be cancelled until 1950 (and only once permission from the American Occupation Authorities was obtained).
Other than these instances, this impactful Passion Play has always been performed as scheduled, however, the venue for the performance has changed over the years. The first performance in 1634 took place at the cemetery next to the parish church. It was performed on the graves of the plague victims on a simple wooden construction. Only in 1830 was the stage relocated to the northern edge of the village. Since then, the Passion Play Theatre has undergone several renovations and expansions to turn it into the breath-taking auditorium that it is today.
Don’t miss your chance to be sitting in one of those seats in the Passion Play Theatre watching history unfold this year.
Would you like to witness this incredible event for yourself?
We still have a few places on our coach tour departing in September, and our flight package tours departing in June from Heathrow and Manchester.
Interested? You can now enjoy any of the above tours for just £1,299 per person - up to £221 per person off*. Simply use code 'FPPA' at checkout or call us on 033 3234 2010.
*Valid on new bookings made after 28-November 2019 until 8-December 2019, subject to availabillity. Prices correct at time of publish on 28-November 2019.