Die Passion zahlt
December 9, 2009 6:53 AM   Subscribe

"Gripped by war, poverty and plague, the villagers of Oberammergau, in Bavaria, southern Germany vowed to put on a 'passion play' every ten years… That was back in 1633. They survived, and performed the first Oberammergau Passion Play in 1634. Ever since, their descendants have carried out that pledge. For the past four centuries the tradition has continued, every ten years. Only villagers have been allowed to take part. And that is what will happen yet again in 2010." posted by vacapinta (25 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome.

The town's residents vowed that if God were to spare them from the effects of the bubonic plague ravaging the region, they would perform a play every ten years thereafter for all time depicting the life and death of Jesus.

Thinking in LongNow terms, I'd love to see what this play looks like after 10k years. Will anyone other than specialist historians even know what a "Jesus" is by then? But the play must go on.

In 1770, Oberammergau was informed that all passion plays in Bavaria had been banned by order of the Ecclesiastical Council of the Elector, Maximillian Joseph at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church.

Well sure, I can see why the Catholic Church wouldn't want people spreading news about JeWHAT? You know who else...

Adolf Hitler indicated...approval of these anti-Semitic elements in the Oberammergau Passion Play.

Oh.

Anyway, for some reason the photos aren't doing it for me. I usually love old-timey photos, but just the span of time here is overwhelming me to the point I can't even look at them.
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on December 9, 2009


There were actually internally-consistent reasons that some early modern churchmen opposed local Passion plays. Protestants have generally wanted no truck with them (until last century or so), but even Catholics would have been uncomfortable with what some Passion plays had become by the late eighteenth century.
posted by valkyryn at 7:26 AM on December 9, 2009


Now I'm imagining that movie voice-over guy solemnly intoning, "In a world gripped by war, poverty and plague..."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:29 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow, this is really cool, and the Lady Burton write-up is fascinating!

I like how they use residents of the town to do the play: Jesus is a psychologist, Mary Magdalene an air stewardess. What a great way to encourage both community spirit and tourism.
posted by gemmy at 7:38 AM on December 9, 2009


I remember learning about this in college. It sounds amazing, and I would attend, and I'm a freakin' atheist. (Not that atheists are forbidden from viewing religious works of art, of course. But how many would pay money to watch a gazillion-hour epic play about Jeebus?)
posted by spamguy at 7:42 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It'd be even more cool if they'd kept to the original dating instead of staging it by the decade from at least 1780 onwards apart from special commemorations. And charging admission, while understandable, isn't entirely consistent with the original intent unless they donate the proceeds beyond cost to charity, but then again, I'm a cynical idealist.
posted by woodway at 7:45 AM on December 9, 2009


I grew up Catholic and we had the opportunity to go and see this. Not a believer now, but I still wish my parents had been up for the trip.

Jerome K Jerome, who wrote Three Men in a Boat, also wrote Diary of a Pilgrimage in 1891, which follows a journey to see the passion play. It's hilarious (especially if you're English) and well worth a read.
posted by dowcrag at 7:49 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would have loved to have seen this - traditions going back centuries are incredible! - but alas, I was most recently in Oberammergau in the wrong year and season. I did, however, get to visit the shops of some of the town's many woodcarvers. The association of Oberammergau with woodcarving is, I think, almost as old as its association with the passion play, and the two are not necessarily unconnected: many of the carvings are of religious nature, and almost every woodcutter has a variety of painstakingly crafted nativity scenes.
posted by ubersturm at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2009


Too bad it won't be in German.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:05 AM on December 9, 2009


I prefer mystery to passion (since that incident where I put my back out), but this is a great post.
posted by Abiezer at 8:18 AM on December 9, 2009


Like the little black dress, antisemitism never goes out of style.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:25 AM on December 9, 2009


Not only is this a great post, but one of the photo links above led me to Beniah Brawn's amazing photostream of vintage photos.
posted by anastasiav at 8:27 AM on December 9, 2009


I wonder if the 2010 play will be more violent than previous versions. In 2004, Mel Gibson really upped the ante on Passion gore.
posted by needsnoprosecutor at 8:53 AM on December 9, 2009


I wonder if the 2010 play will be more violent than previous versions. In 2004, Mel Gibson really upped the ante on Passion gore.

The IMDB page you linked to says "Spoiler Alert!" on its plot link.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 AM on December 9, 2009 [4 favorites]




Ironmouth: "The IMDB page you linked to says "Spoiler Alert!" on its plot link."

Well, to be fair, so does Titanic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 AM on December 9, 2009


They...performed the first Oberammergau Passion Play in 1634...vowed to put on a 'passion play' every ten years.

There is no integer n such that 1634 + n*10 = 2010. I'm confused.
posted by PostOfficeBuddy at 9:35 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like the little black dress, antisemitism never goes out of style.

Did you bother to look through some of the linked articles? They've questioned the presence of anti-semitism in the play, and removed some lines/ideas. Their not blind to some of the possible meanings in the play.


Too bad it won't be in German.

I wonder if this is an ironic comment, or referencing something I don't get. But yes, the play's in German, the original language of Jesus...
posted by Sova at 9:43 AM on December 9, 2009


I was in Oberammergau as a young teen, with my family. Neat little town. Of course, we weren't there at the right time for the passion play, but it was obvious the town really revolves around it.

I wanted to see the play, back then. Now that its almost here, I find I lack the funds to go.
posted by sandraregina at 9:48 AM on December 9, 2009


German director Jörg Adolph has been shooting a documentary about the Oberammergau Passion play over the last two years. The working title is Oberammergauer Leidenschaft (Oberammergau's Passion). It's supposed to come out in 2010 and I guess they're going to add English subtitles or voiceover, at some point.
Someone told me that this is actually the first extensive documentary about this huge event ever. Apparently the Oberammergauers are extremely restrictive with PR/media.
posted by The Toad at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2009


I recall seeing a huge depiction of Christ carrying the Cross on what was titled
STATIONS OF THE CROSS

a friend, gazing at the painting, cited the Cunard Steamship motto:

"Getting there is Half the fun"
posted by Postroad at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2009


I was in Oberammergau and saw the Passion play in 1984, as part of a trip to Europe high school graduation present from my parents. I was and am an atheist, but what I can remember of it was pretty special. I remember staying in a local families house (actually in Unterammergau), and eating with them (they didn't speak English, we didn't speak German), and seeing how committed the whole town was to putting on the play. It was quite inspiring and really a lot of fun (and that's saying something considering I was a teenage non-believer watching a really long play in a language I didn't understand). Thanks for this post.
posted by hooha at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2009


I come from a small franconian village which also enacts passion plays every five years. Like in Oberammergau all the actors consist of villagers, and every single villager is involved somewhat with the play, if not acting or as an extra, then by selling beer or bratwurst...
While not as popular as Oberammergau it's still really a big deal there. The layman actors are quite ghastly though, and the performance of our Jesus is always the cause of some embarrassment. I think there was one really good actor in the village who played Judas, but he regularly got suicidal after the festival season (he really couldn't bear betraying Jesus night after night) so he had to stop acting the role...

Me and my family played there too when I was still a small child, shouting Hosianna! and hailing Jesus. Mighty tolerant of the Sömmersdorfers, considering we were one of the two protestant families in this very catholic village.
The best thing about the play was that once every five years all the guys there stop cutting their hair and trimming their beards, so the village starts to look like a strange conservative franconian hippie commune.

Contrary to Oberammergau our passion plays first took place in 1933 but were forbidden by the "Reichstheaterkammer" in 1935 because of undisclosed political objections to the organisers.
I can only guess why that was, I highly doubt they were outspoken anti-fascists. (Although Schweinfurt always was a socialist stronghold).
Probably it had something to do with anti-catholic sentiments of the Nazis, who in bavaria were always strongest in protestant regions and had the church "gleichgeschaltet" early on, and at the time were waging a defamation campaign against many catholic clergymen.
posted by ts;dr at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


I wonder if this is an ironic comment, or referencing something I don't get. But yes, the play's in German, the original language of Jesus...

Ever tried speaking in German to anyone from Southern Germany? Whatever that is, it isn't German. Schwabish is even worse.

Reminds me of when Berlin started giving tests on the ability of cabdrivers to speak German. They asked a man on the street his opinion and he said "what will the Schwabians do?"
posted by Ironmouth at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm fascinated by these traditional Passion plays, and wish I could see this particular Passion, which is supposed to be the grandest of its kind still performed.

There were actually internally-consistent reasons that some early modern churchmen opposed local Passion plays.

This link says that they were banned because of their increasingly secular and coarse nature. But my eminent medieval history professor in college told me that they were banned in 17th c. France because in many cases the religious experience of the play was so powerful that villagers were stoning to death the actor who played Jesus. Anyone have more info on that?

I think there was one really good actor in the village who played Judas,

From what Kolophon told me about the Passion play in his hometown, the best actor always plays Judas. It's like what Stanley Fish says about the devil vs. God in Paradise Lost: evil is always more interesting.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:20 PM on December 9, 2009


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