Passion Rekindled: Oberammergau Easter Play Returns with Great Joy

Tourists and pilgrims flock to German village as 1,800 local actors prepare to take the stage after pandemic interruption.

Jill and Oscar Schmidt vowed that they would travel from their home in Washington State to Oberammergau, a small village in the south of Germany, to see the world-famous passion play about the death of Jesus.

They wanted to go in 2010 but didn’t get tickets in time. So they decided they would not miss the next performance—no excuses!—and made plans for the spring of 2020.

“Then they were cancelled,” said Jill.

The Schmidts understood, of course. Everything was shutting down at that time, as the pandemic swept across the world and dominated the headlines. But that makes this moment, two years later, very sweet.

“We are so glad to finally be here,” Jill told CT, “and experience the play at least once in our lifetime.”

This desire—to experience the Oberammergau Passion Play once in a lifetime— has driven millions of tourists and pilgrims to visit the village over the years. It began in 1633 with another vow. Suffering the ravages of the bubonic plague, the inhabitants of the Bavarian village promised to perform a “play of the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ” on stage every ten years if God would spare them further death and devastation. The plague ended, and the people of Oberammergau have been putting on the passion play ever since.

In the 19th century, it began to draw in international visitors, mostly Catholics and Lutherans. Today, a third of the 1 million guests are from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. The play resonates in this moment with the feeling of surviving a pandemic, but it has long spoken to the themes of crisis and overcoming hardship. The production, after all, retells the story of Jesus’ …

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