What are the Passion Play

Passion plays and passion music

Significance and origin of the Passion Play

The passion play is a Christian spiritual drama that retells the story of the suffering and death of Jesus. Singing and spoken texts alternate. In addition to the actual Passion story, scenes from the Old Testament are often inserted into the play.

The tradition of the Passion Play dates back to the Middle Ages, until the early modern period they were widespread throughout Europe. Even today the performances last several hours, sometimes even days, and a large number of (amateur) actors take part.

The most famous passion play in the world

The tradition of the Passion Play is continued, especially in the Catholic regions in Bavaria and Austria. Probably the most famous passion play is performed in the Bavarian municipality of Oberammergau.

In 1633 the people of Oberammergau vowed to perform a passion play every year if the village would be spared the plague, and in 1634 the residents kept their promise.

The Oberammergau Passion Play has been performed every ten years since 1680. Today more than 2,000 people from Oberammergau take part as actors and musicians. The five-hour production is performed in a specially built open-air theater and attended by viewers from all over the world.

Italian tradition on Good Friday

A special form of the Passion Play is performed on Good Friday in many German cities by members of the Italian Catholic parishes. In elaborate productions, numerous amateur actors re-enact Christ's ordeal based on the Stations of the Cross. During the performances, the actors often move several kilometers from station to station through the city in a procession and play the story of the Passion in a detailed and impressive manner.

The lively passion play, the so-called »Passione Vivente«, has a long tradition in southern Italy. Italian guest workers brought this special way of the cross to Germany to commemorate their homeland and culture. Nowadays, Germans and Christians of other denominations often take part in the Passion Play.

Other forms of passion play

A modern form of the passion play is the film adaptation of the biblical story of Jesus' passion. One of the most successful and best-known films is certainly Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” from 2004, which, however, was discussed very controversially because of the extreme depictions of violence. The plot is based on the accounts of the Gospels and shows the last hours of Jesus shortly before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane until his death on the cross.

Another modern adaptation of the biblical Passion story is the rock musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the film adaptation of the same name from the 1970s. The music was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was still unknown at the time, and Tim Rice wrote the lyrics based on the Gospels. The last days of Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem to his crucifixion are depicted in musicals and films.

Passion music

Passion music is the setting of the biblical text of the Passion of Christ. As early as the 5th century AD, it was customary to tell the story of the Passion in worship. Over the centuries, passion music has developed from unanimous recitations on the so-called passion tone in early Christian times, through the three-part lecture in the 13th century, to the famous passions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

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