1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oberammergau

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OBERAMMERGAU, a village of Bavaria, Germany, district of Upper Bavaria, situated amongst the foot-hills of the Alps in the valley of the Ammer, 64 m. S.S.W. of Munich. Pop. about 1400. The village folk are mainly engaged in making toys, and carving crucifixes, rosaries and images of saints.

The place is famous for their performance of a Passion Play every tenth year (e.g. in 1910), to which thousands of visitors flock. This dramatic representation of the sufferings of Christ is not a survival of a medieval mystery or miracle-play, but took its rise from a vow made by the inhabitants in 1633, with the hope of staying a plague then raging. The original text and arrangements were probably made by the monks of Ettal, a monastery a little higher up the valley; but they were carefully remodelled by the parish priest at the beginning of the present century, when the Oberammergau play obtained exemption from the general suppression of such performances by the Bavarian government. The music was composed by Rochus Dedler, schoolmaster of the parish in 1814. The performances take place on the Sundays of summer, in a large open-air theatre holding 6000 persons, and each lasts about nine hours, with a short intermission at noon. Each scene from the history of Christ is prefaced by a tableau of typical import from the Old Testament. About 700 actors are required, all belonging to the village. The proceeds of the performances are devoted to the good of the community, after defrayal of the costs and payment of a small remuneration to the actors. The villagers regard the Passion Play as a solemn act of religious worship, and the performances are characterized by the greatest reverence. The principal parts are usually hereditary in certain families, and are assigned with regard to moral character as well as dramatic ability. It is considered a disgrace not to be allowed to take part in the play, and the part of Christ is looked upon as one of the greatest of earthly honours.

Edward Devrient (in 1850) was among the first to direct general attention to Oberammergau; and numerous accounts have since appeared. An English version of the text of the Passion Play has been published by E. Childe (1880).