Every 10 years, the German village of Oberammergau transforms into a dramatic Biblical landscape as more than 2,000 village citizens take up the roles of actors, stagehands, and musicians to reenact the Passion of the Christ. The play, in German and entirely outdoors, portrays the last week of Christ’s life, beginning with His ride into Jerusalem through to His resurrection. Throughout the sixteen acts, viewers enjoy a thorough retelling of the events, including the Last Supper, Christ standing before Pilate, and a dramatic resurrection scene.
While the play is based around the ultimate joyful resurrection of Jesus Christ, its earliest roots are in darkness and despair. The play began in 1634, in the height of the Black Plague that was ravaging Europe. The citizens of Oberammergau quarantined themselves in their village – no one came in and no one went out. Unfortunately, one young man, desperate to return to his village after traveling, sneaked back into town and brought the plague with him, killing 84 residents in three weeks. The town council, searching for any way to stop the destruction, made a vow with God. They would perform a play about Christ’s life and the Passion for as long as the town existed if God would halt the plague’s destruction. The deaths stopped, and Oberammergau put on their first elaborate production in 1634, directly over the graves of citizens taken by the Black Death.
2020 will be the 42nd time that the Passion Play will take place in Oberammergau. The play has only been canceled twice in four centuries; once for a ban on Passion Plays by the Roman Catholic Church in 1770 and again for Nazi occupation in 1940. Over the years, the open-air Passion Play Theatre, constructed in 1820, has undergone a series of upgrades, including wheelchair accessibility, fire prevention measures, and staging instruments to help bring the story to life.
The new theatre can seat 4,720 audience members. The theater now offers script books in English and other languages, designed so the audience can follow along. The play is designed to be an all-day event, lasting up to five and a half hours in addition to a three hour intermission. The play’s length and structure is reminiscent of a pilgrimage for the audience, both physically and emotionally.
Join us for the Passion Play
The Campbell Passport program, hosted by the Campbell Alumni Association, will travel to Germany, September 30-October 8, 2020, and includes reserved seats for alumni and friends to experience this unique opportunity. The rich history of the town and the German landscape provide an inviting space to continue lifelong learning.
With live orchestral music, elaborate costuming, and painted backdrops, the Passion Play is a one-of-a-kind experience for anyone interested in Christian and European history. While in Germany, travelers can also expect to enjoy guided tours of the country’s most famous landmarks, including St. Peter’s Cathedral, Ettal Monastery, and Neuschwanstein Castle, as well as enjoy time to explore the country at their leisure.
For more information on the Campbell Passport program visit https://alumni.campbell.edu/engage/benefits/alumni-travel/.