John Schmid Music

Month: September 2022

The Bubonic Plague and The Passion Play


An outbreak of the Bubonic Plague devastated Bavaria in the 1630’s. The plague took the lives of several hundred thousand people in Europe during this time.  From September 1632 to March 1633, a total of 81 people died in the little German village of Oberammergau.

In October 1633, the villagers got together and vowed that if God spared them from the plague, they would perform a play every ten years depicting the life and death of Jesus. After that vow was made, not one person in Oberammergau died of the plague(!) and the villagers kept their word and have performed the passion play every ten years since 1634.

I first heard of the play in 1976 while visiting Oberammergau and I have wanted to attend ever since, but… life kept happening and I continued to be either busy or negligent and I never went.

THEN… This year, which is an off year because of another plague, COVID, I had several friends and friends of friends come back and tell how good the play was. Long story, but I got two tickets online (not cheap) on August 3rd and one week later my daughter, Amelia, and I were in Oberammergau!

Even though our seats were in the very back row and the play is in German and we had jet lag and my hearing is not good… it was an amazing experience to be part of an almost 400 year tradition of honoring Jesus by performing a play of his life, death and resurrection. 2000 village folks are involved in the production; actors, sound techs, props, tickets, etc. There will be 109 performances this summer with 5000 people in each audience. (109 X 5000= 545,000 viewers!)

The play is five hours long with a three hour break for supper. On the morning of the play an orientation about the play is given in English. Here are a few facts from that orientation:

-The actors are not professionals. They are residents of Oberammergau.

-You must live in the village for 20 years to be a part of the play.

-The play was exclusively Catholic. Then Protestants were allowed. Now, any 20 year resident can participate.

-There are many children in the play. The children have two rules:

            1. Do not look at the audience.

            2. Look at Jesus when he is speaking.

I wonder if that isn’t the most profound lesson of our week long historic Passion Play trip:

            1. Don’t look at the audience.

            2. Look at Jesus when He is speaking.

A great conductor once said, “To lead the orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd.” These are great lessons for life.

One last thought: What great long lasting, historic tradition might come from the tragic COVID pandemic? Will our culture turn to God for relief from the plague like the citizens of Oberammergau did in 1633? Will we make a vow? A commitment? A promise?

If our culture will not turn to God, we can individually turn to Him. “…today is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor. 6:2    “Come unto me and I will give you rest…” Matt. 11:28