top of page

A Town's Passionate Commitment

In 1632, the town of Oberammergau in Bavarian Germany was ravaged by poverty, destruction and disease during the height of the Thirty-Year War. Eighty of its citizens had succumbed to bubonic plague, and a number of others were gravely ill. In desperation, they turned to God and made a vow. If the town's suffering could be relieved, they would produce a passion play every 10 years in gratitude for the deliverance. Legend says that from that point on not another person in the town died of the plague, and the ones who were sick at the time of the vow recovered. In 1634, they were able to keep their promise, and the passion play was performed. After a few decades, the tradition was amended to state that the play would be performed during years ending in 0. So, 2020 is the next scheduled year.

Statue of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey in front ot the theatre where the passion play is performed.

In the 386 years since the first performance, the play has only been cancelled twice. In 1770, Oberammergau was informed that all passion plays had been banned by the Ecclesiastical Council of the Roman Catholic Church (which is puzzling when you think about it), and in 1940, it was cancelled because the whole country was in the throes of World War II. In 1920, it was postponed until 1922 because of the turmoil from World War I, but otherwise, it has run continually for almost 400 years. A remarkable commitment.

A fresco depicting the town's decision to make the vow and the beginning of the passion play.

The passion play has grown tremendously from its first inception, and an estimated 500,000 people will see it in 2020. It is said to be the largest amateur stage production in the world. About 2000 Oberammgau locals, approximately half of the population, will be involved in the production (including 450 children), and 103 performances are planned between May 16 and October 4. Their rehearsals began several months ago, and all of the men have been growing out their beards and hair since Ash Wednesday, 2019. The performers literally dedicate a year of their lives to this production. Every 10 years.

Performances begin at 2:30 in the afternoon and run until 10:30 at night, with 5 hours for the actual production and a 3-hour intermission in which all of the spectators scatter for dinner. Oberammergau prepares for that, of course, with a number of restaurants and community buildings ready to serve full German meals during that time period. The present state-of-the-art theatre seats 4700 people. Performances are held 5 days a week with none on Mondays or Wednesdays. Before the play and during intermission, ticket holders will enjoy strolling through the quaint town and admiring the beautiful handcrafts in various shops. The facades of many buildings are painted with Baroque-style, historical, whimsical and biblical frescoes by Franz Seraph Zwinck, who lived from 1748-1792.

The play begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus and goes through the events of His crucifixion and resurrection. There is music, live animals and as much authenticity as possible in the costumes and sets.

The people of Oberammergau are "ALL IN."

That, of course, makes me think about what aspects of my life receive my "all in" efforts, attention and allegiance. My marriage and family spring immediately to my mind, but what about my commitment to Christ? How will that flesh itself out in 2020? Is it just evidenced by regular church attendance? Surely there is something deeper and more meaningful that God desires for me and from me. I'm pondering that as I get ready for New Year's Day.

What about you? What will you be committed to this year? What inspires you to be "all in?"

1 Kings 8:61 - "Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day."

Psalm 37:5 - "Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He will do it."

Proverbs 16:3 - "Commit your works to the LORD And your plans will be established."

62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page