Imagine. A once-per-decade passion play that came about in 1633 after the plague threatened citizens of a small Bavarian village in Germany and next due to take place in 2020, delayed because of a modern pandemic. This may sound like the plot of something rather fantastical, but it is, in fact, a very strange reality. That’s right, we’re talking about the mighty Oberammergau Passion Play.
The first iteration of this dramatic event was held in 1634 after citizens made a solemn vow to perform a play once every 10 years that depicted the story of Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection if their own lives were spared from the deadly plague. Highly anticipated by people from all over the world, the 2020 performance was ultimately cancelled due to the unpredictable outbreak and global spread of COVID-19.
Despite the fact that the passion play takes place only once per decade, this isn’t the first time it has been cancelled. It was cut back in 1770 when the Duke of Bavaria banned all passion plays, it was cancelled in 1920 due to the amount of local lives lost in World War I and then again in 1940 as a result of World War II. The first 2020 staging of the 100-day-plus run of the Oberammergau Passion Play had been due to go ahead in May, but after careful consideration the organisers eventually decided to postpone the entire event until 2022.
Six things you might not know about the Oberammergau Passion Play
- To take part, you must either have been born in the village of Oberammergau, married to a local for at least 10 years or have lived there for over 20 years.
- All costumes featured in the play are handmade by villagers and no wigs are permitted, meaning that people given acting roles must grow their hair and beards for both accuracy and authenticity. There is a ‘Hair and Beard Decree’ that comes into effect the year before each performance, which sees participants refrain from grooming according to the roles they have been assigned.
- For the 2022 edition of the play, some scenes will be accompanied by up to 64 vocalists. There will be a total of 55 instrumentalists sitting in the orchestra pit for each performance.
- Over 2,000 citizens take part in the passion play, despite the fact that there are only around 124 speaking roles up for grabs.
- In 2022, Jesus will be played by both Frederik Mayet and Rochus Rückel. The latter actor has been confirmed as the second-youngest person to play Jesus in the history of the passion play.
- The first-ever performance, which happened in 1634, took place at the cemetery next to the parish church on the graves of unfortunate plague victims. In 1830, the performance space relocated to the northern edge of the village, where it remains today.
11 August 2022
What to expect
A spectacular setting
A small German village known for its traditional wood carvings, Oberammergau is situated in beautiful Bavaria. Found among the stunning Ammergau Alps, it provides a great base from which to explore the local area. The roots of its wood carving traditions can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and was first recorded in the year 1111 by Rottenbucher monks. What’s more, many of the village’s buildings are decorated with elaborate painted frescoes. Why not get a feel for the local colour with a leisurely walk in this glorious area?
A performance to remember
The Passion Play itself will begin each day it’s due to be held at 2.30pm local time and it doesn’t finish until 10.30pm. On our Oberammergau tours, dinner is included during the lengthy intermission, so there is adequate time to stretch your legs and refuel. It is also helpful to note that the performance is always in its native German language, but a playbook with the English translation can be obtained at the event for those who wish to follow along more closely.
A very well organised programme of visits, accompanied by very professional and knowledgeable guides. Excellent information from the company. Feefo reviewer