Oberammergau, the Passion Play Born from Plague

Written by on March 28, 2020

The pandemic we are all dealing with has coincided with Lent. I am Catholic and during the Lenten season not only do I dedicate more time to God, I also fast by eating less during the 40 days of lent, and sustain from eating meat on Fridays. In addition to this, I try to gain a closer relationship to God, being a better version of myself.

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Lenten plans that I wrote down.

During mass a month ago, Sunday, February 23, 2020 (while we were still allowed to gather there), I picked up a Little Black Book. This book is a companion during Lent. The goal is to find six minutes of quiet time during the day for 50 days, to read the Sunday Gospels, which are accompanied by an explanation and reflection.

This morning when I got up, I helped my husband fix breakfast and my daughter and son joined for the meal. They are home from college due to the pandemic. After the meal, I picked up the Little Black Book  and the left hand page of the book reflected on the history of Oberammergau, Germany’s famous Passion Play. The play takes place in a Bavarian village about 60 miles southwest of Munich, and is performed every 10 years. It is scheduled for this year from May 16 to October 4. As I was reading I realized Kansas Wesleyan University had a trip planned for several people to travel as a group, but that trip has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

As I continued to read there was some irony in the story that I want to share.

In the 17th century there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague that began to spread, and the people of Oberammergau prayed to be spared. They vowed that the whole community would, every 10 years, stage a massive production presenting the story of Christ’s death and resurrection to the world. The town was spared from the plague, and the tradition of the Oberammergau Passion Play was born. Its first performance was in 1634.

The Passion Play is performed with a huge cast. The cast must be Oberammergau natives, or have lived there for 10 years. The play lasts a whole day, with a three-hour break for lunch and is performed five times a week.

The Passion Play did not take place in 1770 when Bavaria banned passion plays after some Church and state leaders objected to any theatrical production of the death of Christ. The only other time it was cancelled was in 1940 because of World War II. I wonder if this year will mark the next cancellation 80 years later. I wonder if the Bavarian village is currently praying to again be spared from the Coronavirus.

I had no idea that when Lent started this year, that I would be praying everyday about the virus. Praying that my family and friends and colleagues would not be devastatingly affected by this. I had no idea that when I set my Lenten plans, that I would soon be praying that I would be able to keep my job, and my husband his, so that we can adjust financially to my daughter quitting her job. I also pray to God that if one in my family of four were to be affected, let it be me, because I don’t want my children to suffer and I can be strong and have the will to heal and live.

I had no idea that I would be praying for each and everyone of you, my classmates and teachers.

The first scripture listed in my Lenten book was on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (before all of this pandemic started). It reads:

‘Jesus said to his apostles, “Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest a little…”‘   – Mark 6:31


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