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Every Ten Years

Text by: Marnie Parker

My favorite heirloom is a beautiful, hand-carved Germany nativity. I found it in Southern Bavaria in the quaint, sleepy village of Oberammergau. Unable to purchase the entire set at once, I painstakingly collected a few pieces every year over the course of three years until my nativity was complete.
© Felicity Photography

Oberammergau is world-renown for their fine, hand-carved and painted nativity sets and woodwork in general. However, even more impressive, is the pledge that the villagers made with God if he would spare their lives from the ravages of the Bubonic Plague sweeping across the European continent in the early 1600s.

The year was 1633. Central Europe was in the midst of the Thirty Years' War. Destruction and devastation were widespread, but most frightening of all was the plague that was taking the lives of thousands. Oberammergau alone lost eighty souls. The town vowed that if God were to spare them, they would perform a play every ten years depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ. The adult death rate slowly subsided. The villagers believed they were spared after they kept their part of the promise when the play was first performed in 1634. on a stage set up in the cemetery above the graves of the recent plague victims.

© Felicity Photography

The Passion Play (or Krippenweg), has now been performed daily over the course of five months during the last year of each decade, involving more than 2,000 performers, musicians, and stage technicians, all of whom are residents of the village. All performers are laymen and pursue their respective careers and vocations outside of the Passion Play, yet they devote an entire year of their lives to reenact the historical event of the nativity.

The play is approximately seven hours, and a meal is served during the intermission. Audiences come from all over the world, often booked on package tours. The number of visitors attending the play each decade has ranged from 420,000 to 530,000. The next performance will be held the summer of 2020.

© Felicity Photography

The Passion of Christ is a story of love and hope - of sacrifice and an invitation for salvation. To the villagers of Oberammergau, it is an outwardly expression of a personal covenant. By taking their roles in the Passion Play, they are fulfilling the promise to God made by their ancestors, celebrating their faith, and sharing it with the world.