Passion Play Of Oberammergau - 26th Mar. 1945


The Passion Play Of Oberammergau: Text Version

26th March 1945


In south-eastern Germany, set amidst the wild grandeur of the Bavarian Alps, lies the little village of Oberammergau. Lake and forest enfold it on every side, and over it tower the mighty peaks of Ammergebirge. However, it is not for its beauty alone that this little Alpine village is celebrated but for its world-famous Passion Play, which has made the name of Oberammergau known in every land. As of old, the pilgrims flocked to the fair of St. James at Campostella, so in pre-war days travellers from the four corners of the earth flocked to Oberammergau to see the Passion Play performed.


In 1329, when Kaiser Ludwig was returning from Italy to Germany he brought with him a small ivory statue of the Madonna. When he was approaching Oberammergau his horse stopped, refusing to go further, and pawed the ground three times. Ludwig took this as a sign from heaven and had a convent built on the site. This strange building housed twenty Benedictine monks and thirty married knights with their wives and families. In the middle of the fifteenth century the monks started to perform the Passion Play. J. Daisenberger had written the play, and music for it was composed by Rochus Dedler. At first there was no theatre or stage and the costumes of the actors were far from being elaborate. The wars of the fifteenth century had impoverished the population of Oberammergau; their crops were destroyed, and their flocks and herds led away by conquering armies. To make matters worse, a frightful plague swept over Bavaria and thousands were perishing daily. In those terrible days the Abbot made a vow that if Oberammergau was spared he would arrange a performance of the Passion Play every ten years. Oberammergau was spared; there was not a single case in the village, though the plague was raging through the land. The promise made by the Abbot was kept. Despite wars and floods and famine the faithful villagers have staged their play every tenth year ever since.


Modern Oberammergau has about two thousand inhabitants, and of these about fifteen hundred take part in the play. The various parts are handed down from generation to generation, so that the man who plays the part of Christ or Pilate to-day is a descendant of the man who played a similar part three hundred years ago. The performances begin in May. There are three performances in May, five in June, nine in July, ten in August, and six in September. The theatre holds five thousand people. It is a vast building, horse-shoe shaped and roofed, but the stage is an open-air one. The play begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., with an interval of about two hours at mid-day. The whole performance is amazing, and German genius has not been spared in producing most marvellous effects. The acting is so wonderful that one forgets that this is but a reproduction of the eternal drama of Calvary.

The play opens with the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then follow many well-known incidents in His Passion –- His denial by Peter, the journeys to and from the High Priests, Pilate washing his hands and exclaiming: "I am innocent of the blood of this Man." The Crowning with thorns is one of the most terrible scenes in the whole play –- more terrible, in fact, than the Carrying of the Cross or the Crucifixion. The play ends with the Resurrection, and the curtain falls to the last ringing notes of a triumphant chorus.


The war has brought many changes to that fair Bavarian land, but let us hope it has not interrupted the performance of the Passion Play. The men-folk of Oberammergau had to leave their quiet mountain valleys, and to-day many a mother laments her sons who poured out their life's blood on the thirsty sands of the desert of the white wastes of Norway, and many a wife laments her man who died in the valley of the Rhine or in the streets of far-off Stalingrad. The shadow of tragedy and terror still hangs over Europe. But let us hope that the thunder of the guns never breaks the peace of Oberammergau.


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