A quaint German village named Oberammergau lies nestled in the Bavarian region. Its people are skilled wood workers and artists. They produce some of the most beautiful wooden toys, trinkets and culinary pieces I have ever seen. There is also a monastery in a near by town that is attached to a brewery or visa versa. The monks have many talents and they figured out a way to survive the season of fasting. Although small in population this place is world famous for a tradition that they have held for over 400 years. It is the tradition of their passion play.
Back in 1634 the Black Plague was devastating much of Europe and it was a scary time for people. Hearing of many deaths across the country and nearby the town of Oberammergau turned to their faith. They prayed to God and took a vow that if they were spared they would give thanks by sharing their faith through a play every 10 years. As you may assume the town was spared and those that had survived took their vow to God very seriously. So for 400 years the play of the Passion of Christ has been performed and passed down to the hands of future generations.
The play is a reenactment of the story of Christ starting with him joyously riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. From there they follow the Bible’s depiction of his trial with Pontius Pilate, the last supper, his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. They end it with his glorious ascension into heaven. The play is a symbol of their thankfulness to God for sending his only Son to save his people. It is the heart and soul of the Christian faith. To a town like Oberammergau this play is a reminder to how blessed they are to have a God who forgives, saves, and blesses us even amongst the terrible evils of the world like the Black Plague.
The tradition of this vow sweeps the whole village every 10 years. Over 2,000 citizens are involved in the production, doing anything from major roles to backend and set up.
No one is left our. There are roles for the young and old, but it is no small commitment. About a month or two before the opening show everyone is expected to “get into character.” Men are told to stop shaving their beards and let their hair grow out in order to look the part. The whole town transforms into the historic setting of the passion. They relive the days of Christ’s passion and believe it in their hearts. Their own passion for their faith has attracted much attention over the years.
The open air theater begins its production in May and runs five days a week until October. The theater seats about 4,700 people and runs from the afternoon into the evening with an intermission for dinner time. The dramatic performance has become world known and draws people from all over even if they don’t understand German or hold the Christian faith. It’s a powerful event to witness. The next performance will be in 2020. Starting in May, it’s best to get your tickets in advance because they are already predicting numbers around 750,000. The 400 yr tradition is still alive and growing in this little Bavarian village. Their faith is strong and passionate about the one who spared them in desperate times. It’s their honor to pass along the faith and thankfulness to viewers like us.