Where Is the Village of Oberammergau?
Oberammergau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps near Germany’s border with Austria, a municipality in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Bavaria, Germany. The small town on the Ammer River is known for its woodcarvers and woodcarvings, for its NATO School, and across the world for its 380-year tradition of mounting Passion Plays.
In the winter of 1632 the village was struck by the Black Plague, which spread devastation through Europe. By the following summer one-eighth of Oberammergau’s population of 1,000 people had died. The village elders called all those who could walk to the church and everyone made a vow: “A solemn promise to devote one year in 10 to the preparation and presentation of the tragedy of our Lord’s Passion to keep the Christian principle of the redemption of the world before men for all time.” There were no more deaths from the plague, and the villagers believed God had heard their vow.
Apart from an occasional lapse, due in the main to wars, the village people of Oberammergau have presented their Passion Play every 10 years. The first performance was held in the church in 1634. The play is now performed in years ending with a zero, as well as in 1934 which was the 300th anniversary and 1984 which was the 350th anniversary (though the 1940 performance was cancelled due to the onset of the Second World War in 1939).
Nowadays a huge
theater, looking rather like a great aircraft hangar, is used. It seats 6,000
people and has room on the stage for crowd scenes with 500 actors. Only
native-born villagers may be considered for the 600 parts in the play.
Selection for the principal parts is made by ballot more than 12 months before
the performance. Rehearsals begin in May for the first performance in May of
the following year.
The passion play has given Oberammergau worldwide renown and visitors travel long distances to see the eight-hour play. The play is divided into episodes. These episodes are introduced by the Passion chorus, which consists of fifty singers. The whole community becomes involved in the production in a completely medieval way.