Passion play

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about a type of dramatic presentation. For other uses of the term Passion play, see Passion play (disambiguation).
A Passion play in Poland
A Passion play in Poland

A Passion play is a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Christ: the trial, suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It is a traditional part of Lent in several Christian denominations, particularly in Catholic tradition.


[edit] Origin and history of the Passion play

[edit] The Easter play

The evolution of the Passion Play was about the same as that of the Easter Play. It originated in the ritual of the Church, which prescribes, among other things, that the Gospel on Good Friday should be sung in parts divided among various persons. Later on, Passion Plays, properly so called, made their appearance, first in Latin, then in German; contents and forms were adapted more and more audience expectations, until, in the fifteenth century, the popular religious plays had developed. Thus, the Benedictbeurn Passion Play (thirteenth century) is still largely composed of Latin ritual sentences in prose and of church hymns, and, being designed to be sung, resembles an oratorio.

[edit] The addition of more music and more characters

Yet even this oldest of the Passion Plays already shows, by the interpolation of free translations of church hymns and of German verses not pertaining to such hymns, as well as by the appearance of Mary (the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus) and Mary Magdalene in the action, a tendency to break away from the ritual and to adopt a more dramatic form began to appear. From these humble beginnings the Passion Play developed very rapidly, since in the fourteenth century it was at a stage of development which could not have been reached except by repeated practice. From this second period we have the Vienna Passion, the St. Gall Passion, the oldest Frankfort Passion, and the Maestricht Passion. All four Plays, as they are commonly called, are written in rhyme, principally in German.

[edit] The Passion Play continues to expand

The Vienna Passion embraces the entire history of the Redemption, and begins with the revolt and fall of Lucifer; the play, as transmitted to us, ends with Jesus and his Twelve Apostles sitting at the Last Supper.

The oldest Frankfort Passion play, that of Canon Baldemar von Peterwell (1350-1380), the production of which required two days, was more profusely elaborated than the other Passion Plays of this period. Of this play only the Ordo sive Registrum has come down to us, a long roll of parchment for the use of the director, containing stage directions and the first words of the dialogues. The plays based on this list of directions lead us to the period in which the Passion Play reached its highest development (1400-1515). During this period the later Frankfort Passion Play (1467), the Alsfelder, and the Friedberger (1514) originated. Connected with this group are the Eger, the Donaueschingen, Augsburg, Freising and Lucerne Passion Plays, in which the whole world drama, beginning with the creation of man and brought down to the coming of the Holy Ghost, is exhibited, and which was produced with great splendour as late as 1583.

[edit] The Tyrolese Passion Play

[edit] Expansion and consolidation of previous plays

Nearly all these Passion Plays have some relation to those coming from the Tyrol, some contributing to, others taking from, that source. These, again, are founded upon the Tyrolese Passion Play which originated during the transition period of the fourteenth to the fifteenth century. Wackernell, with the aid of the plays that have reached us, has reconstructed this period. In the Tyrol the Passion Plays received elaborate cultivation; at Bozen they were presented with great splendour and lasted seven days. Here, too, the innovation of placing the female roles in the hands of women was introduced, which innovation did not become general until during the seventeenth century.

[edit] Elaborate, public productions

The magnificent productions of the Passion Plays during the fifteenth century are closely connected with the growth and increasing self-confidence of the cities, which found its expression in noble buildings, ecclesiastical and municipal, and in gorgeous public festivals. The artistic sense and the love of art of the citizens had, in co-operation with the clergy, called these plays into being, and the wealth of the citizens provided for magnificent productions of them on the public squares, whither they migrated after expulsion from the churches. The citizens and civil authorities considered it a point of honour to render the production as rich and diversified as possible. Ordinarily the preparations for the play were in the hands of a spiritual brotherhood, the play itself being considered a form of worship. People of the most varied classes took part in the production, and frequently the number of actors was as high as two hundred and even greater. If was undoubtedly no small task to drill the performers, particularly since the stage arrangements were still very primitive.

[edit] Staging and set design

The stage was a wooden structure, almost as broad as it was long, elevated but slightly above the ground and open on all sides. A house formed the background; a balcony attached to the house represented Heaven. Under the balcony three crosses were erected. Sometimes the stage was divided into three sections by doors. Along the sides of the stage, taken lengthwise, stood the houses required for the production; they were indicated by fenced-in spaces, or by four posts upon which a roof rested. The entrance into Hell was pictured by the mouth of a monster, through which the Devil and the souls captured or released during the plays passed back and forth. The actors entered in solemn procession, led by musicians or by a præcursor (herald), and took their stand at the places appointed them. They remained on the stage all through the performance; they sat on the barriers of their respective divisions, and were permitted to leave their places only to recite their lines. As each actor finished speaking, he returned to his place. The audience stood around the stage or looked on from the windows of neighbouring houses. Occasionally platforms, called "bridges", were erected around the stage in the form of an amphitheatre.

[edit] Simplicity of scenery, dialog, action, and costumes

The scenery was as simple as the stage. There were no side scenes, and consequently no stage perspective. Since an illusion of reality could not be had, indications were made to suffice. Thus a cask standing on end represents the mountain on which Christ is tempted by the Devil; thunder is imitated by the report of a gun; in order to signify that the Devil had entered into him, Judas holds a bird of black plumage before his mouth and makes it flutter. The suicide of Judas is an execution, in which Beelzebub performs the hangman's duty. He precedes the culprit up the ladder and draws Judas after him by a rope. Judas has a black bird and the intestines of an animal concealed in the front of his clothing, and when Satan tears open the garment the bird flies away, and the intestines fall out, whereupon Judas and his executioner slide down into Hell on a rope. A painted picture representing the soul, is hung from the mouth of each of the two thieves on the cross; an angel takes the soul of the penitent, the devil that of the impenitent thief. Everything is presented in the concrete, just as the imagination of the audience pictures it, and the scenic conditions, resembling those of the antique theatre demand. All costume, however, is contemporary, historical accuracy being ignored.

[edit] Secularization of the Passion Play

The Passion Plays of the 15th century, with their peculiar blending of religious, artistic, and increasingly secular elements, gave a true picture of German city life of those times. Serious thought and lively humour were highly developed in these plays. When, however, the patricians, in the sixteenth century, withdrew more and more from the plays, the plays, left to the lower classes, began to lose their serious and (in spite of the comic traits) dignified character. The influence of the Carnival plays (Fastnachtspiele) was felt more and more. Master Grobianus with his coarse and obscene jests was even introduced into some of the Passion Plays. In time the ecclesiastical authorities forbade the production of these "secularized" plays. Thus, the Bishop of Havelberg commanded his clergy, in 1471, to suppress the Passion Plays and legend plays in their parish districts because of the disgraceful and irrelevant farces interspersed through the productions.

[edit] Secularized Passion Plays banned

With the advent of the 16th century European religious conflict the uneasiness with liturgical drama in general increased. The Synod of Strasburg of 1549 opposed the religious plays, and the year previous, in 1548, the Parliament of Paris forbade the production of The Mysteries of the Passion of our Redeemer and other Spiritual Mysteries. One consequence was that the secularized plays were separated from the religious, and, as Carnival plays, held the public favour. The Passion Plays came to be presented more rarely, particularly as the Reformation was inimical to them.

[edit] Rediscovery of the Passion Play

[edit] The Passion Play almost disappears

School dramas now came into vogue in Catholic and Protestant schools, and frequently enough became the battle-ground of religious controversies. When, in the seventeenth century, the splendidly equipped Jesuit drama arose, the Passion Plays (still largely secularized) were relegated to out-of-the-way villages and to the monasteries, particularly in Bavaria and Austria. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, during the Age of Enlightenment, efforts were made in Catholic Germany, particularly in Bavaria and the Tyrol, to destroy even the remnants of the tradition of medieval plays. One of the reasons passion plays fell out of favor was because many of them contained blatant anti-Semitic themes (the most important of which was that the Jews were responsible for Christ's death) and outdated ideas about sin and salvation; their simplistic view of the world and its history also went against the grain of modern thinking, particularly since social scientists and philosophers were beginning to dismantle many medieval ideas.

[edit] A resurgence of public interest

Public interest in the Passion Play developed in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and the statistician Karl Pearson wrote a book about them. Since then, Brixlegg and Vorderthiersee in the Tyrol, Horice na Sumave or Höritz[1] near Cesky Krumlov in southern Bohemia, and above all, Oberammergau in Upper Bavaria attract thousands to their plays.

The text of the play of Vorderthiersee (Gespiel in der Vorderen Thiersee) dates from the second half of the seventeenth century, is entirely in verse, and comprises in five acts the events recorded in the Gospel, from the Last Supper to the Entombment. A prelude (Vorgespiel), on the Good Shepherd, precedes the play. After being repeatedly remodelled, the text received its present classical form from the Austrian Benedictine, P. Weissenhofer. Productions of the play, which came from Bavaria to the Tyrol in the second half of the eighteenth century, were arranged at irregular intervals during the first half of the nineteenth century; since 1855 they have taken place at regular intervals, at Brixlegg every ten years. The Höritz Passion Play, the present text of which is from the pen of Provost Landsteiner, has been produced every five years, since 1893.

[edit] Modern performances of the Passion Play

[edit] The Oberammergau Passion Play

The chief survivor, however, of former times is the Oberammergau Passion Play, first performed in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, which continues to perform it every decade despites concerns from both Jewish groups that feel the performances promote anti-Semitism, and the Vatican, which has expressed a belief that the performance is out of step with current Church teachingsSuperscript text

[edit] Australia

In Australia, there are several major productions of The Passion staged annually in the lead up to Easter.

"The Iona Passion Play" was founded in 1958 in Queensland and tours cities and towns around Australia. In each location the touring cast invites community members to join the production.

New South Wales:

In suburban Sydney, at Turramurra, "The Turramurra Passion" is a contemporary, character-driven interpretation, using multimedia elements and an original score.


"The Moogerah Passion Play" is produced in Queensland, and is staged "realistically" on a large outdoor stage beside a lake.

[edit] Canada

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play is performed annually in Drumheller, Alberta. It is staged outdoors in a naturally occurring amphitheatre in the hills of the Drumheller valley. The cast is predominately volunteers from across the province of Alberta. Also in [Queensway Cathedral] in [Toronto Ontario] a Passion play takes place during the Easter Season. The story begins with a grandmother, granddaughter and the granddaughter's friend. ( a character named billie)The three sit around a fire as the story of Jesus unfolds with many encounters with many Characters from the story.The cast is also all volenteers

[edit] Brazil

The Passion of the Christ is performed every year at Easter in a purpose-built 100.000m2 theatre-city in the arid backlands of Pernambuco, in Northeast Brazil. It is considered to be the largest open-air theatre in the world. Thousands of visitors arrive every year to watch the performance; over 500 actors appear on the 9 separate stages within the stone walls of the city.

[edit] The Netherlands

De Passiespelen is a re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ taking place every year that is divisible by 5, e.g. 2005 and 2010. It is performed in the open air in Openluchttheater De Doolhof in Tegelen. Originating in 1931 it has become an internationally acclaimed event drawing visitors from all over the world.

[edit] Philippines

The Philippines, being one of two predominantly Christian nations in Southeast Asia (East Timor being the other), has Passion plays called "Senakulo", named after the Upper room, or Cenacle. Also, there are actual crucifixions done by people outside of Passion plays to fulfill a panata (vow fulfilled in exchange for a request or prayer granted), with San Pedro Cutod, Pampanga being a popular place to see this (see San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites).

[edit] Spain

In Catalonia, Spain, it is common for villages to present different passion plays every Easter, like the ones in Esparreguera and Olesa de Montserrat, first documented in 1538. Olesa's 1996 production surpassed the world record for the most people acting onstage at the same time, with 726 persons. Balmaseda, in Euskadi, also has a passion play.

[edit] Thailand

Church of Immaculate Conception, Bangkok, still holds annual Passion Play on Good Friday.

[edit] United States

The longest running passion play in the USA has been being performed in Union City, New Jersey since 1915, and at the Park Theater since 1931. In 1997, a contoversy was caused when an African-american actor was cast as Jesus.

In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the Great Passion Play is regularly performed and very popular. Another popular passion play is "The Promise" performed near Glen Rose, Texas.

In Zion, Illinois, the passion play has been performed at Christ Community Church since 1935.

The Black Hills Passion Play is performed every summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The same cast performs the play during the winter months in Florida.

The play is performed in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as "The Great Smoky Mountains Passion Play."

The Play has also been performed in Hughes Springs, Texas as "The Passion Play"

The Atlanta Passion Play has been produced by First Baptist Church, Atlanta since 1977.

[edit] Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar

Though similar to a passion play , JCS is more of a religious musical than a passion play.

[edit] The Passion Play in motion pictures

The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ (produced by Mel Gibson) had a plot similar to that of Passion plays. The 1989 film Jésus de Montréal presents the staging of a very unorthodox version while the players' lives themselves mirror the Passion.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links