The Passion Play: Every Ten Years, Once in a Lifetime

In the charming alpine hamlet of Oberammergau, and in faithful accordance with a solemn vow, villagers will once again perform The Passion Play in 2020, just as they have every 10 years since 1634. Steeped in history, the event is regarded as the most important passion play in the world. The honored tradition has been performed with little interruption for over 380 years.

A play of life and death, the passion play was first presented as an offering of thanks to God in 1633 after the Black Death stopped just short of the village. Villagers swore an oath to perform the “Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ” every ten years. They first fulfilled this promise during Pentecost in 1634 on a stage the villagers erected in the cemetery above the fresh graves of the plague victims. Today, the theatre offers over 4,000 covered seats. At various times, the wide outdoor stage holds hundreds of people, small herds of sheep and goats, donkeys, a horse, armored Roman soldiers and dozens of choristers wearing long, flowing robes.

The Passion Play has been described as the world’s largest amateur dramatic performance. All actors, from those with large speaking parts like Jesus and Mary to choral and orchestra members and ushers must have been born in Oberammergau or have lived there for at least 20 years, by law.  Almost half of the villagers participate in the Passion Play in some fashion.

Oberammergau is home to more than just the Passion Play, however. The colorful and quant village, embedded in the stunning mountain scenery of the Alps, is also famous for its beautiful wood carvings and the picturesque houses decorated with “Luftlmalerei”, or wall paintings. The peaks of the local mountains offer a spectacular view of King Ludwig County with its fairy tale castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof.  Well-maintained hiking trails along the river Ammer offer a unique view of meadows and forests, and cable cars and ski lifts run year-round in the Ammergau mountains.

Oberammergau is nestled in Bavaria, the southeastern area of Germany. Bayern, as the Germans refer to it, boasts soaring peaks, magical castles, cloud-topped Alps, the fertile valley of the Danube, and charming local traditions. Throw in the fun capital of Munich, lederhosen, medieval walled towns and Biergartens and there really is something for everyone. Equally important is the air of “Gemutlichkeit”, a state of warmth, friendliness and good cheer in Bavaria that makes the region relaxing and easy to enjoy.

Beginning on May 16, 2020, the community of Oberammergau will perform the Passion Play for the 42nd time. The village expects approximately 450,000 visitors for the passion play, primarily international guests. Ticket for the event are being reserved now, and will sell out well in advance. We are here to provide guidance and expertise if you are interested in attending the Passion Play, or simply want to explore this magical region.

Sue Shimkus and Kirsten Mullany of Lake Zurich Travel & Cruise provide custom travel itineraries for the discerning traveler. To learn more, visit lztravel.com or call 847.438.5551.