A Passionate Passion

Oberammergau's drama not only survives, it thrives.

In 1632 and 1633, bubonic plague raged through Europe. Village after village was attacked by the deadly sickness, their populations decimated. On small Bavarian village, its inhabitants numbering fewer than 1,600, watched some 350 citizens succumb to the disease. Finally, the town leaders reached a unanimous decision: asking God to deliver their village from the appalling sickness they vowed that from that time forward, every ten years the town would perform a devout representation of the sufferings and the death of Jesus Christ. According to legend, from the very hour the vow was made, no other villager died of the plague. Oberammergau's first Passion play was performed in 1634, a "genuine and humble act of homage before God in a childlike, unspeakable demonstration of thankfulness," according to the official Oberammergau Guidebook.Since that time, Oberammergau's people have fulfilled the vow made by their now-ancient ancestors. Even with the passing of centuries, the play remains a remarkable act of devotion. From a population numbering a mere 4, 000, a professional-scale troupe mounts some 100 performances in the years it is presented, from May through September. (In 1984 a special off-decade production marked the play's three-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary.) Critics may observe that Oberammergau's drama could not survive long on Broadway. But here, high in the Bavarian Alps, it not only survives, it thrives.Watching the dramatic reenactment of our Lord's final days and hours in this Alpine setting, one cannot help but be enormously impressed with the seriousness with which these West German villagers take their commitment to Jesus Christ. It is telling that from only 4,500 people come 1,000 actors, 125 of them with ...

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A Passionate Passion
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August 2000

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