Oberammergau Passion Play
Oberammergau and its vow
Extract taken from
The Passion Play at Ober Ammergau 1910 -The complete official German text of the play with English translation printed side by side
In old days, as far back, it is said, as the twelfth century, there had been a Passion Play performed in the little village, but towards the close of the sixteenth century, the wars that wasted Germany left but little time even to the dwellers in these remote highlands for dramatic representation.
One of the after-consequences of that wide-wasting thirty years' war, a great pestilence broke out in the villages surrounding Ober Ammergau. Whole families were swept off. In one village only two married couples were left alive. It was a visitation somewhat similar to our Black Death.
While village after village fell a prey to its ravages, the people of Ober Ammergau remained untouched and enforced a vigorous quarantine against all the outside world. Their preventive measures were for a while successful.
But then, as always, the blind instinctive promptings of the human heart broke through the most necessary sanitary regulations in the person of Caspar Schuchler. This good man, who was working in the plague-stricken village of Eschenlohe, felt an uncontrollable desire to return to his wife and children, who were living in Ober Ammergau. Whether it was that he felt the finger of death upon him, and that he wished to see his loved ones before he died, or whether he merely wished as Housefather to see that they had bread to eat and a roof to cover them, history does not record.
All that it says is that Caspar Schuchler evaded the quarantine and returned to his wife and little ones. A terrible retribution followed. In two days he was dead, and the plague which he had brought with him spread with such fatal haste from house to house that in thirty-three days eighty-four of the villagers had perished.
At this moment the Ober Ammergauers in their despair assembled to discuss their desperate plight. Unless the plague were stayed there would soon not be enough living to bury the dead. Sanitary preventive measures had failed. Curative measures were utterly useless. Where the plague struck death followed.
It was as men looking into the hollow eye-sockets of Death that the Ober Ammergauers cried aloud to God. They remembered their sins that day. They would repent, and in token of their penitence and as a sign of gratitude for their deliverance - if they were delivered - they would every ten years perform the Passion Play. And then, says the local chronicler, from that hour the plague was stayed. Those who were already smitten of the plague recovered, nor did any others fall victims to the pestilence. Since Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, there had not been so signal a deliverance from mortal illness on such simple terms. Thus it was that the Passion Play became a fixed institution in Ober Ammergau, and has been performed, with a few variations ever since.
Oberammergau is situated in the Bavarian Alps. The Theatre in which the play is performed stands in a meadow at the far end of the village, near the railway station. Originally half the theatre was open, roofing the theatre required it to be completely rebuilt at a cost of 200,000 marks which was taken out of the money received after the performances in 1900, which was the year the theatre was opened.
The Oberammergau Passion Play Festival Collection
This collection, donated by John Ash, consists of books, pamphlets, playscripts, postcards, illustrations and audiotapes relating to the Passion Play performed by the villagers at Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. The illustrations are taken from the collection. The next production of the play is in 2010. You can find out more information at www.passionplay-oberammergau.com
The collection is housed in the Library of Birmingham in Archives, Heritage and Photography