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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Oberammergau Passion Play 2022

‘Like so much else, the Oberammergau Passion Play, scheduled for 2020, was postponed due to Covid,’ writes Terry Martin. ‘I’d booked to go with my eldest son, John, in celebration of both a 50th wedding anniversary and a 100th birthday. The play is staged only every ten years by the villagers as a thanks offering to God, so a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

‘On 28 October 1633, the villagers vowed that if God spared them from the plague, they would perform a play every ten years, depicting the life and death of Jesus. Nobody died of plague in Oberammergau after that vow, and the villagers kept their word to God by performing the passion play for the first time in 1634.[1]

‘Inevitably the play has been caught up in controversies [2], most significantly eschewing the antisemitism which has been a blight on the Christian church for centuries. We joined a group organised by McCabe Pilgrimages and led by Peter Walker, who had been a tutor at Wycliffe Hall Oxford when John had trained there for the Anglican ministry.

‘We arrived first in Austria for sightseeing tours from our base in the village of Maria Aln. Then a scenic drive through the Austrian Tyrol to Oberammergau, home of the Passion Play.

‘Peter is a leading expert on the play, having written a very helpful book [3] to be read before, during and after the performance. When each member of the group shared their experiences of the performance on the eve of our departure home, it was obvious that although we had all been deeply moved by it, we had been touched by very different aspects. My three, particularly memorable aspects were:

‘The portrayal of the person of Joseph of Arimathea, who in the gospel narratives has a small walk-on part as the provider of a burial tomb for Jesus, but in the play is shown to be a lone voice speaking against the fickleness of the crowd. The crowd is so easily swayed by the loudest voices, first praising Jesus and then turning against him. Finally, the portrayal of Judas, who instead of being the usual bad guy is shown as basically good but as mistaken, as indeed all the disciples were.

‘Each passion play is different, and a feature of this production was the series of living images, or tableaux, which provided explicit linkages between significant events in the Old Testament with the equally significant events during Holy Week.’


2. James Shapiro, Oberammergau: The troubling story of the world's most famous passion play‎ (Schocken Books, 2000).

3. Peter Walker, Immersed in the Passion: Oberammergau's unique experience shared with the world (Walkway Books, 2020).

Terry Martin is a trustee of Southampton charity Caraway, 'for those that are older but still young at heart'.



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