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What is the Oberammergau Passion Play?

The life and death of Jesus Christ has been depicted in a number of different mediums. One of the oldest forms of this is through a Passion Play. There is a famous Passion Play that is performed in Germany once every 10 years: the Oberammergau Passion Play. It is a worldwide spectacle that has been performed since 1634. Situated in the small yet significant village Oberammergau, Bavaria, this play has worldwide historical significance.

What is a Passion Play?

A Passion Play or Easter Pageant is a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death. It is a traditional part of Lent in several Christian denominations, particularly in the Catholic tradition.

There are a number of passion plays which are performed all over the world, though a number of them have been discontinued centuries ago. For example, the oldest Frankfort Passion play was that of Canon Baldemar von Peterwell, which ran from 1350 to 1381.

The most famous and oldest passion play, which is still being performed to this day, is the Oberammergau Passion Play, first performed in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau in 1634 and now performed every 10 years.

The Origins of the World Famous Oberammergau Passion Play

The passion play is a tradition by the inhabitants of the village of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany. Since its first production, it has been performed on open-air stages within the village. The text of the play is a composite of four distinct manuscripts dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.

The history of the passion play is an interesting one. In 1633, the residents of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague ravaging the region, they would produce a play thereafter every 10 years, depicting the life and death of Jesus. There was also a special 350th anniversary in 1984 which attracted viewers worldwide.

The death rate among adults had risen from one person per 1000 per year in October 1632 to twenty in the month of March 1633. After their vow, the adult death rate slowly subsided to one in the month of July 1633. The villagers believed they had been spared and thus kept their part of the vow when the play was first performed in 1634.

The play is a staging of Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. The play covers the short final period of his life from his visit to Jerusalem and leading to his execution by crucifixion. It has been criticised as being anti-semitic, but it is the earliest continuous survivor of the age of Christian drama. ​

How Often is the Passion Play Performed at Oberammergau?

There is a performance of the play every ten years. The next performance of the passion play is in 2020 and this will be the 42nd passion play performance.  ​

How Long is The Oberammergau Passion Play?

Performances are a test of stamina, even for the audience. The running time has varied due to the many revisions that have taken place through the years but usually, the Oberammergau production takes place in one day. In 2010 it had a running time of 5 hours, beginning at 2:30 pm and ending at 10:00 pm, with a meal break. It was staged a total of 102 days and ran from the 15th of May until October the 3rd that year.

The first act lasts 2.5 hours and after a three-hour meal break, the second half is another 2.5 hours. Although the story is familiar, the words are in German, so it is worth buying an English version of the script on site.

As mentioned before, the length of the production has changed over time. According to a record from 1930, the play then had a running time of approximately seven hours. It started at 8:00 am and ended at 5:00 pm with a meal break.

When is Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 and Who Takes Part?

The 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play will commence on the 16 May and will run until the 4th of October 2020. During this time, 2,000 local people (who must have either been born in Oberammergau or lived there for twenty years) will bring the story of Jesus of Nazareth to life over this five-month period.

Participants take unpaid leave or have special arrangements with their employers but this is not amateur dramatics. Directing his fourth Passion Play, Oberammergau-born Christian Stückl is one of Germany’s leading theatre and film directors. By decree, the men involved start growing their beards and hair from Ash Wednesday: March 6, 2019. Full-on rehearsals begin in November.

Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 Holidays

When coming to Germany for the Passion Play, there are a number of exciting things to do alongside the play. Travel without Borders can help extend your trip before or after seeing the Passion Play and design your perfect holiday your perfect break which will explore the surrounding areas.

Oberammergau is packed full of history and is situated in the beautiful Bavarian Alps in Germany. From the tradition of fresco painting and wood carving to the tradition of the Passion Play, historical things to do in Oberammergau come high up on the list of what makes this town famous.

Oberammergau is also known for its chalet-style houses, decorated with 200-year-old hand-painted frescoes. Most photographed are the Kölblhaus, the Forstamt and the Pilatushaus – now a crafts centre, where you can watch glass painters and wood-carvers at work. More fine examples of these skills are in the Oberammergau Museum.

There are a number of different historical landmarks to see outside of the village itself. You can visit the 700-year-old Ettal Abbey, where 50 Benedictine monks brew beer, distil liqueurs and make cheese as well as having the opportunity to see Linderhof Palace. This is one of Germany’s famous Fairytale Castles. Devised by the ‘Mad’ King Ludwig as his own hideaway, it acts as a ‘little sister’ to the elaborate Neuschwanstein Castle.

Experience The Once a Decade Play With Travel without Borders

Whether the Oberammergau Passion Play is a pilgrimage for you or on your bucket list, we recommend taking the opportunity to view this magnificent spectacle in 2020 and combining it with a bespoke holiday of Germany. Get in touch today to explore what Germany has to offer.

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