Found deep in the heart of Bavaria is the charming town of Oberammergau. While small in size, the village boasts one of the biggest performances in Europe with a fascinating history to boot. The Passion Play is an eight-hour portrayal of the Passion of the Christ, taking you through his journey from his entry into Jerusalem to his death and resurrection.
The Passion Play is the result of a vow taken by the locals of Oberammergau hundreds of years ago. According to local legend, the villagers made a vow to perform a passion play every ten years if God spared them from the terrible bubonic plague that was making its way across the world. It all began when a villager accidentally bought the plague to Oberammergau when he returned home for Christmas. After his death, the vow was made and not another local died from the plague – and so the Oberammergau Passion Play was born.
The first Passion Play was performed in 1634, and the tradition now is to hold it in years that end with a zero between May and October (as well as in 1934 and 1984 which were the 300th and 350th anniversaries respectively!). In its lifetime, there have only been three Passion Plays that have been postponed or cancelled: 1920 due to post-war economic conditions, 1940 due to the onset of World War II, and 2020 due to COVID-19. It has a legendary name to it and people flock from all around the world for this once-a-decade event!
What adds to its lore is the full community effort that goes into it. Over 2,000 residents take part – whether that’s building the set, being part of the choir, or a technician – to create the fascinating story of Jesus Christ. It’s a local tradition that spans centuries and is known across the globe.
If you have the chance, we would also recommend staying for a couple of nights in this quaint village. Oberammergau has a well-known history of traditional art forms, in particular wood carving and frescoes. The Bavarian State Woodcarving School is found in Oberammergau, with many woodcarver shops found along its streets. You certainly won’t miss the eye-catching frescoes, depicting traditional Bavarian themes, fairy tales and religious scenes on homes and buildings.