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The fascinating history of the Oberammergau Passion Play

How did a small town in the Bavarian Alps come to host the world’s most famous passion play? Let’s dive into the history of the Oberammergau Passion Play ahead of the once-in-a-decade performance that kicks off this May and runs until October 2022.

In this guide we’ll cover off everything you need to know about the Oberammergau Passion Play, a 389-year-old religious event worth travelling around the world for. 

Where is Oberammergau?

Germany! Picture a small Alpine town with typical chalet homes nestled in the Bavarian Alps. Beyond the passion play, the small German town is famous for its traditional woodcarving and gorgeous frescoed buildings that depict typical Bavarian themes, fairytales and religious scenes. With a population of just 5000 people, the usually quiet town swells in size for the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play.  

Oberammergau Passion PLay happens in the Bavarian Alps of Germany each decade

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Germany with Oberammergau

The history behind Oberammergau’s Passion Play

Nearly 400 years ago the plague raged through most of Europe, striking down the people of Oberammergau. In 1633 the local villagers promised to perform the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ every 10 years if they stopped succumbing to the deathly plague.

God clearly listened and in 1634 the first Oberammergau Passion Play took place on a stage built above the cemetery. 

Fast forward four centuries and the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play will take place from 14 May to 2 October 2022. The original dates were set for 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the event by two years.

RELATED BLOG: The 7 Trafalgar tours to take to best experience different religions

What exactly is the Oberammergau Passion Play?

It’s a mega-sized performance that tells the story of the Passion of Jesus, following him from Jerusalem to his crucifixion. It’s the world’s longest-running play and one of the greatest amateur dramatic shows, with more than 2000 performances.

Local actors bring the story of Jesus of Nazareth to life, showing his suffering, death and resurrection on an impressive open-air stage. The performance starts in the afternoon, taking between five and eight hours with a long three-hour intermission allowing the audience to enjoy a sit-down dinner before the second half.

The production happens in German, but religious audience members who travel from around the world will be given the script in many languages. Being a very visual and well-known story with captivating actors and costumes, the language is not usually a big issue.

GET INSPIRED BY: European Whirl with Oberammergau

Who performs the Passion Play?

Local villagers! Yes, just as it was some 400 years ago, expect to see some 2000 Oberammergau villagers participate in the Passion Play. If you’ve done some quick maths you’d be correct in thinking that’s nearly half the total population.

For five months the villagers will take the roles of Jesus, Mary, Pontius Pilate, and the apostles, soldiers, and priests. All participants – from the choir and orchestra, to firefighters and ushers – must have been born in Oberammergau or lived there for at least 20 years.

A fun fact is the performance uses no wigs – all villagers must grow their hair and beards for the roles.

Can I see the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2022?

Yes! The Passion Play draws huge crowds across its multi-month season. In 2000 around 520,000 people attended what’s one of the greatest religious events to see around the world.

In 2022 you can join the history of the Oberammergau Passion Play by experiencing it on a Trafalgar tour. These half dozen trips already pass through Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

 That’s the curious history of Oberammergau Passion Play. Would you book a trip to see this religious play or other religious events around the world? Let us know in the comments…

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