Religious History Oberammergau Passion Play Part 2

About Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany, a long standing traditional reenactment of the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ.

A Ticket to the Oberammergau Passion Play

The origin of the Oberammergau Passion Play goes back to a 1633 promise which, unlike more modern pledges, is still being honored. In that year, Europe was ravaged by a plague that spread like a prairie fire, fanned by the winds of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The ghastly deaths caused by the plague were temporarily warded off by Oberammergauers who barricaded their mountain entrances and exits. But then a villager named Karl Schisler, who had been working some distance away from Oberammergau, got homesick and slipped past guards back into the village. In no time, 100 villagers were infected and died in agony, and the terrified living turned to God for protection: If He would spare them, they would enact the last days of Christ on earth every 10 years "from now until the end of time." In 1633 the village elders joined hands in the local church to swear this solemn vow. Today they still join the cast and visitors each morning a performance is given to celebrate a mass.

Until 1800, the Oberammergau performances were largely private. In that year, however, Napoleon's troops shelled the town and several famous Austrian Army commanders attended the play while defending Oberammergau. In 1840, princes, princesses, and dignitaries from all over Europe flocked to Oberammergau, arriving, according to one report, "on foot, often without shoes and stockings, in a long procession, praying loud and devoutly; in the eyes of the people the visit to this play serves a holy purpose, they look upon the way there as a pilgrimage undertaken to save their souls."

Artists, churchmen, royalty, and statesmen showed up in 1850 but the masses did not arrive until 1860, when the 1st railroad was completed from Munich to Starnberg. The year 1870 witnessed fewer performances (due apparently to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July, 1870) but more illustrious guests--counts, countesses, and archdukes, as well as composers and archbishops. In 1871, repeat performances attracted King Edward VII of England and King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The latter was even then building his Linderhof and Neuschwanstein castles in the nearby Alps, partly with the help of workers from Oberammergau.

The influx of the famous increased vastly in 1880. Most noteworthy was the Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, who temporarily ascended the throne as Emperor of Germany in 1888, then died shortly thereafter. By 1890, European royalty came as a matter of course while American celebrities made their debut, among the 1st of these being Thomas Edison. The 1900 performance attracted Sweden's King Oskar II, America's John D. Rockefeller, France's Alexandre Eiffel who built the Tower, and Germany's Count Zeppelin who constructed airships.

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