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The Passion Play of Oberammergau 2022 — Now More than Ever

by | Oct 27, 2021 | Oberammergau

Although quaint and unassuming, the little Bavarian town of Oberammergau is known around the world as the home of its centuries-old tradition – The Passion Play. Passion Plays are performed in many countries, but what makes this one unique is the story behind its once-every-decade performances. Nearly 400 years ago, as the Bubonic Plague raged across Europe, the inhabitants of Oberammergau prayed to God. In the year 1633, they made a vow to stage the “suffering and death of Christ” every 10 years, as long as the Almighty spared them from the Black Death. Since then, with a few exceptions during times of war and other adversities, the citizens of Oberammergau have kept up their end of the bargain.

This year, the original 2020 Play schedule was slated to run from May to October, with 109 performances featuring 2,500 local residents. However, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the organizers, reviewing how their ancestors dealt with similar interruptions, wisely postponed the 42nd production of The Passion Play until 2022. The Oberammergau Passion Play is too important an event to cancel, both for the town and its history, and for those visitors and pilgrims whose lives will be touched and enriched as they experience this 5-hour representation of the final days in the life of Jesus– from his entry into Jerusalem to the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

Although quaint and unassuming, the little Bavarian town of Oberammergau is known around the world as the home of its centuries-old tradition – The Passion Play. Passion Plays are performed in many countries, but what makes this one unique is the story behind its once-every-decade performances. Nearly 400 years ago, as the Bubonic Plague raged across Europe, the inhabitants of Oberammergau prayed to God. In the year 1633, they made a vow to stage the “suffering and death of Christ” every 10 years, as long as the Almighty spared them from the Black Death. Since then, with a few exceptions during times of war and other adversities, the citizens of Oberammergau have kept up their end of the bargain.

This year, the original 2020 Play schedule was slated to run from May to October, with 109 performances featuring 2,500 local residents. However, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, the organizers, reviewing how their ancestors dealt with similar interruptions, wisely postponed the 42nd production of The Passion Play until 2022. The Oberammergau Passion Play is too important an event to cancel, both for the town and its history, and for those visitors and pilgrims whose lives will be touched and enriched as they experience this 5-hour representation of the final days in the life of Jesus– from his entry into Jerusalem to the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

The town of Oberammergau

Over the years, some visitors to The Passion Play have come back again and again, once a decade. Older townspeople of Oberammergau have taken part in six or seven productions. For some young people of the town, 2022 may mark their first chance to act or sing or work backstage. This year’s production called for about 500 children and young people. Besides the two-thousand-plus performers, there are also hundreds of others who work backstage and offstage, creating and taking care of scenery, props, costumes, and programs. In fact, in some way, all of the local citizens participate, either as part of the actual production or working in the many restaurants, inns, and shops that serve the public as well. Many townspeople open their homes to visitors as B&Bs during the play season. Hospitality is another word that comes to mind when one thinks of Oberammergau.

Visitors staying in Oberammergau quickly discover that there is more to the town than The Passion Play. Although the play is certainly the highlight of any stay in Oberammergau, and usually the main reason for a visit, newcomers learn that this town is also famous for its excellent woodcarvers and the beautiful traditionally painted façades, or Lüftlmalerei, that decorate the exteriors of many homes and other buildings.

Frescoes painting at the pedestrian zone of Oberammergau.

This otherwise sleepy Alpine town is home to some fascinating places to visit as well. The Oberammergau Museum has in its collection hand carved toys, ancient Roman artifacts, and several nativity scenes and crucifixes carved by skilled woodcarvers of Oberammergau. St. Peter and Paul Church, a rococo-style building built in the 18th century marks Oberammergau’s earliest Catholic church. The 1633 Passion Play vow was made by one of the crosses housed inside the church, according to local accounts. It can be seen in the center of the altar. Also, the elaborately carved grave markers and headstones on the church grounds warrant a slow-paced walkthrough.

Back in 1871, a private performance of the play was held in honor of King Ludwig II. To express his thanks, the king donated a marble Crucifixion Monument to Oberammergau. Located on Osterbichl Hill, this statue was the largest of its kind at the time, weighing 58 tons. A visit to the House of Pontius Pilate can be a worthwhile treat as well.

Built in the 1770s, and named for the fresco on its garden façade, this building showcases local arts and crafts. Located in Ludwig-Thoma-Strasse 10, the house features exhibitions, or living workshops with craftspeople working at their trade, on the ground floor. One of Europe’s largest collections of reverse-glass paintings can be found on the floor above.

In order to continue their tradition of giving back to God every ten years, the people of Oberammergau rely on tourists and pilgrims from around the world who come and see the play. Postponing this year’s performances was a difficult decision to make. “The Corona pandemic has made it impossible to complete this year’s play without endangering the performers and guests,” say the organizers on their website. “The health of our guests and participants is our highest priority.” Delaying the production by two years should help to ensure that visitors will experience The Passion Play and the surrounding community safely and comfortably.

The management of Regina Tours has been involved with Oberammergau since 1970: all six productions in 50 years. (1984 saw an extra series of performances, celebrating the 350th anniversary of The Passion Play.) We look forward to bringing groups on our seventh series of dates in 2022. With a focus on faith-based tours, our carefully prepared itineraries bring the teachings of the Christian church alive. If you are considering attending the Passion Play in 2022, now is the time to book on one of our itineraries. Explore some of our most popular pilgrimage experiences here:

Italian Renaissance & the Oberammergau Passion Play

Central Europe & the Oberammergau Passion Play

Shrines of France & the Oberammergau Passion Play

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