Passion Plays

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Then they intoned the antiphon : "Surrexit enim, sicut dixit dominus.

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Alleluia ". The choir finished Matins with the "Te Deum". Peter and St. John running to the grave , and by the appearance of the Lord , who thenceforth becomes the central figure. The union of these scenes in one concerted action the dialogue , rendered in poetic form hymns , sequences or in prose Bible texts , and the participation of a choir gave to the Nuremberg Easter celebration of the thirteenth century the character of a short chanted drama. Such celebrations, however, remained parts of the liturgy as late as the eighteenth century. They were inserted between Matins and Lauds , and served for the instruction of the people , whose hearts and minds were more deeply impressed by reproductions of the Resurrection of the Lord , which appealed to the senses, than by a sermon.

The Latin text was no obstacle, since the separate parts of the plays were known or were previously explained. The wide diffusion of these liturgical plays, in which priests took the different parts, is proof of their popularity. Lange, to whom we owe some thorough studies on this subject, proves the existence of Latin Easter dramas, of which were found in Germany , 52 in France , and the rest in Italy , Spain , Holland , and England. The popular taste for dramatic productions was fed by these Easter celebrations.

Passion Plays

The clergy emphasized more and more the dramatic moments, often merely hinted at in the rude original celebrations, and added new subjects, among them some of a secular nature. They introduced the characters of Pilate , the Jews , and the soldiers guarding the sepulchre , added the figure of an ointment-vender bargaining with the holy women , and other features which did not contribute to the edification or instruction of the people , though they satisfied their love of novelty and amusement.

In this way the early Easter celebrations became real dramatic performances , known as the Easter Plays. Since the element of worldly amusement predominated more and more a development of which Gerhoh of Reichersberg complained as early as the twelfth century , the ecclesiastical authorities began to prohibit the production of Easter Plays in the churches.

It became necessary to separate them from church services, because of their length, which increased greatly, particularly after the introduction of the story of the Passion. Fragments of an Easter Play in Latin dating from the thirteenth century are found in the Benedictbeurn Easter Play, also in that of Klosterneuburg, both of which, probably, go back to the same source as the Mystery of Tours , composed as late as the twelfth century, and which, better than any other, offers an insight into the development of the Easter Plays from the Latin Easter celebrations.

When, in course of time, as shown in the Easter Play of Trier , German translations were added to the original texts as sung and spoken, the popularizing of the Easter Play had begun.

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That of the monastery of Muri , in Switzerland , belongs to this period, and is written entirely in German. But it was only after the popular element had asserted itself strongly in all departments of poetry, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that the popular German religious drama was developed.

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The Latin Easter Plays, with their solemn texts, were still produced, as well as the German plays, but gradually, being displaced by the latter, the Latin text was confined to the meagre Biblical element of the plays and the player's directions. The clergy still retained the right to direct these productions, even after the plays reflected the spirit and opinions of the times.

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  8. Popular poetry, gross and worldly, dominated in the plays, particularly susceptible to the influence of the Carnival plays. The Easter Plays represented in their day the highest development of the secular drama; nevertheless this most important event in the life of the God-Man did not suffice: the people wished to see His whole life , particularly the story of His Passion. Thus a series of dramas originated, which were called Passion Plays, the sufferings of Jesus being their principal subject.

    Some of them end with the entombment of Christ ; in others the Easter Play was added, in order to show the Saviour in His glory ; others again close with the Ascension or with the dispersion of the Apostles. But, since the persecution of the Saviour is intelligible only in the light of His work as teacher, this part of the life of Christ was also added, while some authors of these plays went back to the Old Testament for symbolical scenes, which they added to the Passion Plays as "prefigurations"; or the plays begin with the Creation , the sin of Adam and Eve , and the fall of the Angels.

    The sequence "Planctus ante nescia", which was brought to Germany from France during the latter half of the twelfth century, is the basis for the Lamentations of Mary. This sequence is merely a monologue of Mary at the foot of the Cross ; by the introduction of John , the Saviour , and the bystanders as taking part in the lamentations, a dramatic scene was developed which became a part of almost all Passion Plays and has been retained even in their latest survivor.

    Passion play | dramatic genre |

    The Magdalene Play represents the seduction of Mary Magdalene by the devil and her sinful life up to her conversion. In Magdalene's sinfulness the people saw a picture of the depraved condition of mankind after the sin of the Garden , from which it could be redeemed only through the sacrifice of Christ. This profound thought, which could not be effaced even by the coarse reproduction of Magdalene's life, explains the presence of this little drama in the Passion 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 form were adapted more and more to popular ideas 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. 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 the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the action, a tendency to break away from the ritual and to adopt a more popular form. From these humble beginnings the Passion Play must have developed very rapidly, since in the fourteenth century we see it 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. All four Plays, as they are commonly called, are written in rhyme, principally in German. The Vienna Passion embraces the entire history of the Redemption , and begins with the revolt and fall of Lucifer ; it is to be regretted that the play as transmitted to us ends with the Last Supper. The oldest Frankfort Passion play, that of Canon Baldemar von Peterwell , 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 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 During this period the later Frankfort Passion Play , the Alsfelder, and the Friedberger originated.

    Production, traditions, and rules

    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 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.

    You can find out more about the plays at: www. Passion Plays are also performed in York in the U. A and other countries.

    Sometimes the plays are performed in the old language that they would have been performed in in medieval times. If you are in Oberammergau at any time other than during the play, make sure to take a tour of the Passion Play theater.

    The exhibits at the theater tell the story of the history and performances since You also get to see costumes and props used in previous Passion Plays and watch historic movies. Save to Wishlist. Oberammergau is a little town of a little over 5, inhabitants, nestled in the lap of the majestic Bavarian Alps, in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

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    Spielleiter und Dramaturg Otto Huber Premiere der Passionsspiele am History of the Oberammergau Passion Play. Oberammergau Passion Play, Wikimedia Commons.