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Passion Play

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Title: Passion Play  
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Subject: Iztapalapa, Passionsspelen på Stora Bjurum, Oberammergau Passion Play, Michael Sheen, Culture of Cornwall
Collection: Art of the Passion, Medieval Drama, Stage Portrayals of Jesus, Theatrical Genres
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Passion Play

Crucifixion scene during the 2010 production of the Passion Play The Promise: The Power of His Love in Fond du Lac, WI.

The Passion Play or Easter pageant is a dramatic presentation depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death. It is a traditional part of Lent in several Christian denominations, particularly in Catholic tradition.


  • Origin and history of the Passion Play 1
    • The Easter play precedent 1.1
    • The addition of more music and more characters 1.2
    • The Passion Play continues to expand 1.3
  • The Tyrolese Passion Play 2
    • Expansion and consolidation of previous plays 2.1
    • Elaborate, public productions 2.2
    • Staging and set design 2.3
    • Simplicity of scenery, dialog, action, and costumes 2.4
    • Secularization of the Passion Play 2.5
    • Secularized Passion Plays banned 2.6
  • Rediscovery of the Passion Play 3
    • The Passion Play almost disappears 3.1
    • A resurgence of public interest 3.2
  • Modern performances of the Passion Play 4
    • The Oberammergau Passion Play 4.1
    • Australia 4.2
    • Brazil 4.3
    • Canada 4.4
    • Malta 4.5
    • The Netherlands 4.6
    • Philippines 4.7
    • Poland 4.8
    • Slovenia 4.9
    • Spain 4.10
    • Sri Lanka 4.11
    • Thailand 4.12
    • United Kingdom 4.13
    • United States 4.14
  • The Passion Play in motion pictures 5
  • Antisemitism in Passion plays 6
  • Supporters of Passion Plays 7
    • Passion Trust 7.1
    • Europassion 7.2
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Origin and history of the Passion Play

Reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus in Texcoco, Mexico

The Easter play precedent

The development of the Passion Play was about the same as that of the Easter Drama. 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, the Passion Play made its appearance, first in Latin, then in vernacular languages; contents and forms were adapted more and more to 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.

The addition of more music and more characters

Yet even this oldest of the Passion Plays already shows a tendency to break away from the ritual and to adopt a more dramatic form. This evolution is shown 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. 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.

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 (1350–1381), 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.

The Tyrolese Passion Play

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. Historian J. E. Wackernell, with the aid of the plays that have reached us, has reconstructed this period.[1] In Tyrol the Passion Plays received elaborate cultivation; at Bolzano they were presented with great splendour and, in 1514, lasted no less than seven days.[2] 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.

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.

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.

Simplicity of scenery, dialog, action, and costumes

The scenery was the background of old time middle east. 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.

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.

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.

Rediscovery of the Passion Play

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 17th 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.

A resurgence of public interest

Public interest in the Passion Play developed in the last decades of the 19th century, and the statistician Karl Pearson wrote a book about them.

Since then, Brixlegg and Vorderthiersee in Tyrol and Horice na Sumave, near Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, and above all, the 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 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.

Modern performances of the Passion Play

The Oberammergau Passion Play

The chief survivor of former times is the Oberammergau Passion Play, first performed in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau in 1634, and now performed every ten years.

Oberammergau Passion Play 2010
Oberammergau Theatre. 2013

About half the inhabitants of Oberammergau take part in the once-a-decade Passion Play in the year 2010.

This means that over 2,000 villagers brought the story of Jesus of Nazareth to life for the audiences that flocked in from around the world. In according with tradition, the play started with Jesus entering Jerusalem, continuing with his death on the cross and finishing with the resurrection. As ever, this was an extraordinary community enterprise.

2010 saw a new production directed by Christian Stückl, director at Munich's noted Volkstheater. He was supported by the artistic team that, along with him, staged the 2000 Passion Play: deputy director and dramatic adviser Otto Huber, set and costume designer Stefan Hageneier, music director Marxus Zwink, and conductor Michael Bocklet. All four of these collaborators are from Oberammergau. The play started at 14.30 and included a three-hour interval, ending at 22.30. Performances took place between mid-May and early October 2010.

The next Oberammergau Passion Play will take place in 2020.


  • 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.
  • A New group of enthusiastic people staged a version of the Passion Play with music and script written by Roy Pires in a completely original score. It was staged for the first time in 2007 at Riverstage in the City botanical gardens in Brisbane, Queensland and was very successful, touching the lives of many people."
  • In New South Wales, 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.


Roman Forum stage, in New Jerusalem

The Passion of the Christ is performed every year during Easter in a purpose-built 100,000-square-metre (1,100,000 sq ft) theatre-city in the arid backlands of Pernambuco, in northeastern 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 nine separate stages within the stone walls of the New Jerusalem city-theatre.


  • 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. Performers are a mix of professionals and volunteers from across Alberta and Canada, with nearly 300 actors and musicians annually.
  • In Holy Cross Catholic Academy.
  • In Manitoba, located in the La Riviere Valley at Oak Valley's Outdoor theatre, located on the edge of the valley among the natural beauty of the Pembina Valley. The cast and crew are all volunteers from all over southern Manitoba. Rehearsals usually start in April or early May and are ready for mid-July performances.
  • In Kingston, Ontario, a full-scale Passion Play production has been traditionally performed for decades at the Kingston Gospel Temple, a Pentecostal worship center. The production features local amateur and professional talent.
  • In Hamilton, Ontario, Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School puts on a Passion Play annually for all the students who attend it.


The island nation of Malta features many Passion Plays, put on by provincial theatres, clubs and societies in various localities. Each village and town often hosts several plays and there is some competition between the troupes to put on the most moving, or beautiful display. These are often combined with processions and wirjiet ("exhibitions") that feature models and renditions of the Passion. Since 2007, a Passion Play entitled "Il-Mixja" with Jesus being played by popular Maltese actor Alan Fenech and featuring some of the most highly acclaimed actors in Malta has become one of the highlights of the genre on the island with the audience experiencing the passion of Jesus Christ as if they were present on the streets of Jeruslaem during those historical two days. The play is held outdoors and has so far been held 4 times in the streets of Rabat, once at Ħaġar Qim temples and twice (in 2013 and 2014) for charity on the grounds surrounding Mount Carmel Hospital.

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.

The Passion is a huge event, performed since 2011 during the evening of Maundy Thursday. The open-air event is performed each year at another place, in 2013 in The Hague in the close proximity of the Dutch parliament buildings. The event, being the Dutch adaptation of the Manchester Passion, is live broadcast by the Dutch television channel Nederland 3.


Actor portraying Jesus on the cross during the Pagtaltal in Barotac Viejo, Iloilo, Philippines, April 2010.
The predominantly Catholic Philippines has Passion Plays called Senákulo, named after the Upper room. Companies and community groups perform their various versions of the Senákulo during Semana Santa (Holy Week), using decades-old or even centuries-old scripts derived from the Bible and folk tradition that were later set down in poetic or prosaic form.

Many use costumes and scenery that follow traditional Hispanic iconography instead of actual historical realism, although there are more recent productions that prefer the latter style. Some towns use ropes to hold actors on crosses while other towns use actual nails.[3] One of the more popular Passion Plays is Ang Pagtaltal sa Balaan Bukid in Jordan, Guimaras, which began in 1975 and draws some 150,000 visitors a year[4] Some people perform crucifixions outside of Passion Plays to fulfill a panatà (vow for a request or prayer granted), such as the famous penitents in Barangay San Pedro Cutud, San Fernando, Pampanga.


Tradition of Passion Plays in Poland has become popular again in the early 20th century. Today the best known plays take place in Kałków, Kalwaria Pacławska, the Pallotines' Seminary in Ołtarzew, and the most prominent in Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. This Passion Play is one of the oldest. Since 1998 there has been a yearly Passion Play in Poznan, performed on Palm Sunday in open air of Cytadela City Park. Now it is the biggest performance of this kind in Europe. In 2009 one hundred thousand pilgrims are expected to come.


In the 17th and 18th century, Passion Plays were also organised in the towns of the Capuchins and first performed from ca. 1608 until ca. 1613.[7] The most distinguished of them has been the Škofja Loka Passion Play. It was written by Father Romuald in 1715, with modifications until 1727, on the basis of an older tradition. It is the oldest preserved play in Slovene as well as the oldest preserved director's book in Europe and the only one extant from the Baroque period.[8] The Škofja Loka Passion Play was performed each year until 1767. The procession was revived in 1999, and reprised in 2000 and 2009, with further reprisals planned for 2015 and 2021.[9] The play's reprisals are the largest open-air theatre production in Slovenia.[10]


Passion play in Olesa de Montserrat

In Catalonia, it is common for villages to present different Passion Plays every Easter, like the ones in Esparreguera, Olesa de Montserrat or Cervera, first documented in 1538. Olesa's 1996 production surpassed the world record for the most people acting on stage at the same time, with 726 persons. Balmaseda, in the Spanish Basque Country, holds the leading Passion Play in the region.

Sri Lanka

The earliest Passion Plays in Sri Lanka, at Pesalai in Mannar and at Duwa and PitiPana in Negombo, used life-size statues instead of living actors. Influenced by the Oberammergau Passion Play, K. Lawrence Perera, began the practice of using living actors in the Borelassa Passion Play. Women later began to take part in the play. However, for a period of time after 1939, the Archbishop of Colombo banned performances because of his disapproval of the women's participation.[11] In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there are many Passion Play enactments in Sri Lanka:

  • Duwa Passion Play, near Negombo (1988)[12]
  • The Yagaya Passion Play at Kandawala, Katana ( 1990/92)
  • Aho mage Senageni and 'Aho mage senageni at Halpe, Katana (1990s)
  • Kurusiya Matha Miyadunemi, a modern Passion Play enacted in the villages of Katuwapitiya and Bolawalana in Negombo (1999, 2000, 2001)
  • Thambakande Paskuwa at St. Bruno's Church in Negombo with a large number of celebrities as actors (2012)[13][14]
  • Tharakayano, the first ballet style Passion Play, enacted in Negombo (2012).[15][16][17][18][19]


The Church of Immaculate Conception in Bangkok and Chanthaburi holds an annual Passion Play on Good Friday.

United Kingdom

Origin and history of the Passion Play in the United Kingdom

Passion Plays are biblical dramas that portray the Easter story. They depict the events of Jesus Christ’s trial, death and resurrection and may also extend to the events of his life, works and miracles. Today they are performed at Easter and often take place in public spaces such as city centres and town squares as free, community-led performances.

Popular biblical dramas of the Middle Ages - including liturgical drama, Passion Plays and the Corpus Christi cycles or Mystery Play - are the originators of modern Passion Plays. The Mystery Plays were epic play cycles were large-scale productions financed and produced by medieval guilds for the glory of God and the honour of their city.[20] The most well-known took place in York, Coventry and Chester.[21]

This dramatic heritage is acknowledged by modern Passion Plays. The similiarites between these community-led, Bible focussed plays from the Middle Ages and contemporary Mystery Plays and Passion Plays are recognised by artists involved in the plays, journalists[22] and academic.[23][24] The Passion Trust is a registered charity which supports, resources and researches Passion Plays in the UK.[25][26]

  • The Aberdeen Passion is stage biennially in the North East of Scotland. First performed in 2012, this Passion Play recreates 1st century Jerusalem in modern Aberdeen.[27]
  • The town of Abingdon Passion Play was a free, open-air production performed in 2013. The result of a community enterprise combining drama, music and dance which took place in different locations within Abingdon's historic Abbey Gardens.[28]
  • Members of Churches Together in Alresford, Hampshire produced a Broad Street adaptation from Palm Sunday to Good Friday through song, dance, mime and drama for the second time in 10 years in 2014. Costumes were chosen reflecting what Jesus may have worn if his lifetime was in the modern age; he wore jeans and those arresting him wore combat fatigues.[29]
  • Bewdley Passion Play took place in 2013 and was a promenade through the town in Worcestershire. Its central River Severn Bridge was closed for over an hour and the cast of volunteer and professional actors drew hundreds of spectators.[30]
  • The Old Joint Stock Theatre Company based in Birmingham presented a modern retelling of the Passion play in association with Birmingham Cathedral during Easter 2014.
  • Volunteers from local communities in Brighton dramatise the days leading up to Jesus' arrest, death and resurrection from a script faithful to original scripture. Local community volunteers are mixture of backgrounds, denominations and nationalities.[31] This Passion Play is part of the broader Easter celebrations of Soul by the Sea and has drawn crowds in the thousands since 2011.[32]
  • The town of Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan presented a Passion Play on Good Friday 22 April 2011 at Holy Cross Church with the cast drawn from each of the denominations of churches there.
  • A Passion Play takes place every ten years in the town in West Wiltshire; events from Christ's arrest to his crucifixion are depicted in a Jerusalem style promenade performance.
  • Since 2005, a Passion Play has been staged in Princes Street Gardens over the Easter weekend. Crowds of up to 2,000 people come to watch the community theatre productions portraying the events of the Easter story. The 2014 production was written by Rob Drummond with obvious reference to modern-day Scotland without taking political sides — the diverging behaviours and reactions of the split Jewish community in Jerusalem played served to point to the dangers of people letting the 2014 independence referendum public debate break down any of their normal relationships.[33]
Great North Passion
  • The Great North Passion drew a crowd of thousands and was televised on BBC One in a live one-hour event on Good Friday 2014. The twelve stations of the cross were the focus of twelve dramatic, artistic and musical interpretations from different local communities in Northumberland, Middlesbrough, North and South Tyneside and Gateshead.[34]
  • The town performed its first Passion Play in 2015 as a collective effort by its church congregations and their leaders in worship.[35]
Isle of Man
  • The Manx Passion was a promenade performance that took place in the Spring of 2014, often outdoors at scenic sites on the isle. Its Acts and Scenes selected important teachings and messages in the Bible from Creation to the Passion. It was adapted from the Mystery Plays of York, Chester and the Wakefield Cycles by Christopher Denys.[36]
  • The town of Leominster in Herefordshire holds a Passion Play on Good Friday every four years, performed by volunteers from churches of all denominations in the town. The play is performed outdoors with each scene in a different position in the streets and squares of the town centre. The 2008 performance included bespoke music by local composer Liam Dunachie.[37]
  • Liverpool Cathedral presents a Passion Play each year to dramatise the events of Holy Week. The 2014 production was written by Mark Lovelady and Dan Bishop hand included an extra act showing Jesus' resurrection.[39]
  • The Cowley Road Passion Play first took place in Oxford in 2012. Its 2014 production attracted national attention because it was cancelled at the last moment. City Council Licensing officials refused to let it proceed without a fully debated decision, having presumed the motive for notifying that authority regarding the 'Passion Play' would be that the play must, supported by its title, be a sex-related production necessitating full permission under the 2003 Act rather than the producers enquiring if the council would share the widespread view it fell within the meaning of "The provision of any entertainment or entertainment facilities for the purposes of, or for purposes incidental to, a religious meeting or service" following licensing deregulation by the Licensing Act 2003.[40][41]
  • The town of Poole stages the play viewed Through the Eyes of a Child every two years known as Poole Community Passion Play (PCPP). It has been performed since written in 2009. It is performed by a diverse inter-generational group of amateur and professional actors, actresses, singers and choreographed performers.[42]
Port Talbot
South Woodham Ferrers
  • The town in Essex performed its first Passion Play 2009 'to speak to all people of all times' &mdash the characters variously wore contemporary clothes or traditional costumes and the actor playing Jesus arrived in the play on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Its script is based on original accounts in the Bible, using modern language and realistic performances.[46]
  • Tonbridge Passion Play takes place in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle and Rochester Prison over the Easter Weekend since 2013.[47]
Trafalgar Square
  • Trafalgar Square hosts The Passion of Christ play twice on Good Friday afternoon, drawing up to 20,000 spectators and having a large cast with colourful costumes, horses and a donkey. The Wintershall Players' performance from Surrey is supported by the Mayor of London and compliments the one-week running The Nativity and The Life of Christ plays in June and December in Wintershall, Bramley, Surrey supported by the Diocese of Guildford, the Roman Catholic Diocese covering Surrey and Sussex (Arundel & Brighton) and ticket sales of the latter two plays.[48][49]
  • Woodstock Passion Play in 2014 saw a promenade performance in the town square and the Oxfordshire Museum Gardens; a local community production with a cast of over 70 people and hundreds of spectators in the crowd.[50]

United States

  • In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, The Great Passion Play is regularly performed from May through October by a cast of 170 actors and dozens of live animals.[51] Since its first performance in 1968, The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs has been seen by over 7.7 million people, which makes it the largest-attended outdoor drama in America according to the Institute of Outdoor Theatre of the University of East Carolina at Greenville, North Carolina.[52] Also on the grounds of The Great Passion Play was the Christ of the Ozarks statue (the largest Christ statue in the North America), the New Holy Land Tour, a full-scale re-creation of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, a section of the Berlin Wall,and a Bible Museum with over 6,000 Bibles (including an original 1611 King James Bible, a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, and the only Bible signed by all of the original founders of the Gideons. From time to time popular artists visit The Great Passion Play to perform in the 4,000-seat amphitheater where the play is performed.
  • The Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant Jesus the Christ began in 1928 as a small sunrise Easter presentation. The pageant is now the "largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world."[53] With a 450-member cast, the 65-minute pageant depicts the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ using song and dance.
  • The Glory of Easter at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California is an extremely popular Passion Play and family tradition to Southern Californians. It boasts a cast of hundreds, live animals, and flying angels, among other unique aspects.
  • Since 1998, The Thorn has been performing during the Easter season in Colorado Springs. Often described as The Passion of the Christ meets Cirque du Soleil, this epic portrayal of Jesus' life and death features indoor pyrotechnics, acrobats, aerialists, and a cast and crew of nearly 1000 people. Beginning in 2011, The Thorn started holding an annual national tour and has performed for tens of thousands people in cities that include Charleston, Austin, Denver, Nashville and Seattle.
  • Florida's Passion Play is held annually in Wauchula at the Cattleman's Arena, beginning Good Friday and for the next several following weekends. It has a cast of over 200 people and 150 animals.
  • Atlanta's Passion Play was produced by the First Baptist Church of Atlanta. It annually ran from 1977 to 2011.
  • In Bloomington, Illinois, The American Passion Play has been portrayed annually since 1924 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, and is one of the oldest continuously running passion Plays in North America. This play is unique in that it dramatizes Jesus' entire ministry, rather than only the events from Passion Week onward.[54][55][56]
  • In Zion, Illinois, the Zion Passion Play has been performed at Christ Community Church since 1935.
  • Central Christian Church in Mount Vernon, Illinois portrayed "The Gospel of Christ" in an Easter Drama, using members of the church and church staff, choir, and children's groups. It was directed by drummer and church member Jimmy Bass. Although the play was a huge success, it has not been restaged, and is instead copied onto DVDs available at the church.
  • Inverness, Illinois – Holy Family Parish teens put on a performance on Good Friday every year.
  • The North Heights Passion Play was a popular indoor musical stage production sponsored by North Heights Lutheran Church of Arden Hills, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says, "With 700 participants, dozens of live animals, flames, rain and 'lightning', North Heights Lutheran Church's annual Passion Play is spectacular." More than 400,000 attended the performances over 19 years before the production was discontinued. Over 20,000 attended the final season, including more than 150 tour buses and groups. Performances began April 1989 and ended 22 April 2007.
  • The New Melle Community Passion Play is presented by an all volunteer ecumenical group in a "theater in the round" indoor setting. The story of the last days in the life of Christ is told using a script and music, based loosely on the cantata "Then Came Sunday", by Rodger Strader. It has grown in size and popularity over the past 32 years.
  • The First United Methodist Church in Kosciusko, Mississippi has been performing their Passion Play for 30 years. It has been a mainstay in the community as well as the state. Members of the Church and community come together to share in fellowship and learn about the last days of Jesus Christ. This is an original script of the Passion, written by a former minister of the church.
New Jersey
  • The longest running Passion Play in the United States has been performed in North Hudson, New Jersey since 1915, and at the Park Performing Arts Center since 1931.[58][59] In 1997, there was a minor controversy when an African-American actor was cast as Jesus.[60][61]
  • The Jesus Story, presented by Bible Baptist Church in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, has been running for 20 years. First starting out as a small representation of the passion of Jesus, this production has developed into a full-time musical performance. Over the years, the play's format has changed focusing on the point of view of several different people including Mary the mother of Jesus, the Roman Soldiers, the Thieves on the Cross, and many others. The show is performed at Felician College in Lodi, New Jersey, and runs for approximately 7 shows per year. Every year it is general admission and there is no cost to view the play.
  • In Duncan Falls, Ohio, Cornerstone Full Gospel Church has put on the drama "Worthy Is The Lamb" for over 15 years. The drama features a cast of over 150+, is free to the public, and is presented on Good Friday and Easter Sunday of each year.
  • The Living Word Outdoor Drama in Cambridge, Ohio has been offered every summer since 1975.
  • One of the U.S.'s longest running Passion Plays is held at the Holy City of the Wichitas located within the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The Holy City started as an Easter Passion Play in the Wichita Mountains in 1926. The impetus behind both the pageant and city was the Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock. He was born in 1890 in Austria. In 1926, he took his Sunday school class up a mountain where a tableau of the Resurrection was presented. The popularity of this service led it to become an annual event. In 1927, the service became nonsectarian, and was referred to by the Lawton Constitution as Oklahoma's Oberammergau.
  • Since 1990, the Muskogee First Assembly of God has performed a widely popular version of the passion beginning Good Friday and running through Easter under the direction of Debra Rose. The drama utilizes acting, music, dance and live animals by a volunteer cast and crew of 50.
  • In Downingtown, Pennsylvania, the Hopewell United Methodist Church has performed a version of the play in a 1,000 seat outdoor amphitheater each year since 1963. The original version of The Passion Play, initiated in 1963, is based in the King James Version of the Bible, but a newer version, entitled The Power and The Glory was launched in 2005, based in several modern-language translations of the Bible. The church offers both versions on successive weekends in June each year as a free offering to their audience.
  • In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Harrisburg Christian Performing Arts Center performs annual Passion Plays during the two weekends before Easter. They have been doing this since 1973, with 2013 marking their 40th annual Passion Play. The Passion Plays produced here are written by staff members, and music under public domain is added to give it a musical aspect. A new play is produced every year, apart from the 40th Passion Play The Keys, which was previously produced in the early 90's.
South Dakota
  • The Black Hills Passion Play was performed every summer for almost seventy years in Spearfish, South Dakota; this production was an American version of the Lünen Passion Play that was brought over in 1932 by immigrants who claimed that it had been produced since 1242.[62] The production was Americanized by seventh-generation Passion Player Josef Meier, who toured it around the country before bringing it to Spearfish in the 1930s; until its last performance on 31 August 2008, the show was produced under the auspices of Meier's daughter Johanna, a world-famous opera singer who had her debut in the play at the age of five weeks. During the winter months from 1953 through 1998, the same cast also performed the play in Lake Wales, Florida.
  • East Tennessee has hosted many Passion Plays among them now in production is The Passion Play in Gatlinburg, Tennessee Musical Passion Play which closed in 1996.
  • The Passion is performed annually in downtown San Antonio, Texas, with a procession leading from Milam Park to San Fernando Cathedral.[63]
  • One of the most widely viewed Passion Plays in the United States is The Promise, performed near Glen Rose, Texas. Between Glen Rose, and its sister production in Branson, Missouri, over one million people have seen The Promise.
  • The Play has also been performed in Hughes Springs, Texas as The Passion Play.
  • The American version of the Oberammergau Passion Play was performed in Strasburg, Virginia, each summer from 1973 to 1986. This version was originally written by Val Balfour. Locals volunteered as extras, and church groups came from all over Virginia, Maryland, etc. to see the play. The same play toured all over the country in the fall and winter months.
  • The Loudoun Passion Play is an outdoor re-enactment of the Easter story that has the audience walk between scenes to follow the story. It has been performed every year since 1986 on Palm Sunday weekend in parks and other outdoor locations in and around Purcellville, Virginia.
  • The Passion Play is also played at St. Joseph's School in Seattle, Washington. A large group of 8th Graders perform on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Their piece involves several songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" including "Heaven on their minds" and "Trials and Tribulations". This story also involves some minor parts including the Women with Perfume, Mary Mother of Jesus, Peter denying knowing Jesus and The Prayer in Gethsemane. This has been tradition at St. Joseph's for over 30 years.
  • From 1990 to 2012, Lighthouse Christian Church's Impact Productions in Fond du Lac, WI performed The Promise during Holy Week with breaks in 1995, 2006, and 2009. Beginning in 2000, the show was merged with another production by David T. Clydesdale, The Power of His Love, and the production was entitled The Promise: The Power of His Love.

The Passion Play in motion pictures

  • 1989's Jésus de Montréal (directed by Denys Arcand) presented the staging of a very unorthodox Passion Play while the players' own lives mirrored the Passion.

Antisemitism in Passion plays

Many Passion Plays historically blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus in a polemical fashion, depicting a crowd of Jewish people condemning Jesus to crucifixion and a Jewish leader assuming eternal collective guilt for the crowd for the murder of Jesus, which, The Boston Globe explains, "for centuries prompted vicious attacks – or pogroms – on Europe's Jewish communities".[64] Time magazine in its article, The Problem With Passion, explains that "such passages (are) highly subject to interpretation".[65]

Although modern scholars interpret the "blood on our children" ( Matthew 27:25) as "a specific group's oath of responsibility" some audiences have historically interpreted it as "an assumption of eternal, racial guilt". This last interpretation has often incited violence against Jews; according to the Anti-Defamation League, "Passion plays historically unleashed the torrents of hatred aimed at the Jews, who always were depicted as being in partnership with the devil and the reason for Jesus' death".[66] The Christian Science Monitor, in its article, Capturing the Passion, explains that "historically, productions have reflected negative images of Jews and the long-time church teaching that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for Jesus' death. Violence against Jews as 'Christ-killers' often flared in their wake."[67] Christianity Today in Why some Jews fear The Passion (of the Christ) observed that "Outbreaks of Christian antisemitism related to the Passion narrative have been...numerous and destructive."[68]

The Religion Newswriters Association observed that

"in Easter 2001, three incidents made national headlines and renewed their fears. One was a column by [69]

On 16 November 1998, Church Council of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America similarly adopted a resolution prepared by its Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations urging any Lutheran church presenting a Passion Play to adhere to their Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations, stating that "the New Testament . . . must not be used as justification for hostility towards present-day Jews," and that "blame for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to Judaism or the Jewish people."[70][71]

In 2003 and 2004 some people compared Mel Gibson's recent film The Passion of the Christ to these kinds of Passion Plays, but this characterization is hotly disputed; an analysis of that topic is in the article on The Passion of the Christ. Despite such fears, there have been no publicized antisemitic incidents directly attributable to the movie's influence.

Supporters of Passion Plays

Passion Trust

Passion Trust Logo 2014

The Passion Trust supports the resurgence of Passion Plays in the United Kingdom through resourcing, networking, advocating and financing new and existing plays. Established in 2011, its vision is to energise the growing number of Passion Plays taking place in the UK.[72]

The Passion Trust hosts an annual conference in various locations around the UK, drawing together actors, arts practitioners, producers, directors, fundraisers and journalists to explore new and time-tested approaches to Passion Plays.[73]

Keynote speakers at recent Passion Trust conferences include:

  1. Israel Oyelumade. Oyelumade played Jesus in Winchester's Passion Play in 2006 and is currently head of Character Development for Love Beyond, a musical based on the Bible story with vocal performances from West End stars and one of the biggest live orchestras of any musical theatre show in London.[74]
  2. James Burke-Dunsmore. Burke-Dunsmore is a writer, director and actor who has played Jesus for over 17 years. He regularly performs in Trafalgar Square, Guildford and Wintershall and is currently artistic director for Soul by the Sea in Brighton.[75]
  3. Sir Jack Stewart-Clark. Sir Stewart-Clark facilitates Passion Plays in Scotland and internationally, most notably in Angola jail in Louisiana[76] and in Rwanda.
  4. Suzanne Lofthus. Lofthus is a director with years of experience directing Passion Plays in local communities and in prisons. She recently directed the Edinburgh Passion Play which was described in The Scotsman as 'strikingly well-choreographed production'.[33]

The Passion Trust also develops and disseminates important resources for people starting new Passion Plays or wanting to develop existing plays, including advice with script-writing, fund-raising, working with local councils and engaging with local communities.[77]


Europassion is a large European organisation which supports Passion Plays in Europe. Established in 1982, this umbrella organisation draws together Passion Play communities from countries all over Europe, some of which have been performing their plays for hundreds of years. According to Mons. Fausto Panfili, the Chaplain of the Europassion:

The experience of the Europassion constantly lets us experience a so far unexplored pathway, so that we can continue to grow.Surmounting a self-referred vision of our own experience obligates us to confront a regional, national, European and universal horizon. That is why a new vision, not fragmentary, is necessary. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. A spiritual energy, stronger and more attentive to cultural elaboration, a more evident solidarity in order to be recognised as bearers of hope, to help the people and communities grow.[78]

See also


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  11. ^ Rohan, Wijith (26 April 2012). "Negombo ready for Passion Play in ballet form". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
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  33. ^ a b
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  38. ^ "The Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark-on-Trent", Retrieved 2011-04-12
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  40. ^
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  42. ^
  43. ^ "Michael Sheen's Port Talbot Passion Play to be filmed", BBC, 31 January 2011.
  44. ^ Passion in Port Talbot/clips " "Michael Sheen's Port Talbot Passion Play" clips BBC programmes. Accessed 2015-04-20.
  45. ^ "Southampton passion play brings Easter story to life", BBC, 23 February 2011.
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ Wintershall Plays Alpha Beta, March 2015 edition. Monthly publication of the (Roman Catholic) Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, page 10.
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  58. ^ Jay Romano. "Union City Journal; 2 Passion Plays Thrive On a 'Friendly Rivalry'" The New York Times 5 March 1989
  59. ^ Passion Play at Park Performing Arts Center
  60. ^ Briggs, David; "'I was looking at him and I couldn't see color'"
  61. ^ Stories on the Passion Play controversy at
  62. ^ "The Theatre: Black Hills Passion Play", 18 November 1940.
  63. ^ Photos of the 2012 re-enactment
  64. ^ Sennott, Charles M. "In Poland, new 'Passion' plays on old hatreds", The Boston Globe, 10 April 2004.
  65. ^ Van Biema, David. "The Problem With Passion", Time Magazine, 25 August 2003.
  66. ^ Foxman, Abraham H. "'Passion' Relies on Theme of antisemitism", The Palm Beach Post, 25 January 2004.
  67. ^ Lampman, Jane. "Capturing the Passion", Christian Science Monitor, 10 July 2003.
  68. ^ Hansen, Colin. "The Passion"Why some Jews fear , Christianity Today, 2004.
  69. ^ Evangelical Lutheran Church in America "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" 16 November 1998
  70. ^ World Council of Churches "Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations" in Current Dialogue, Issue 33 July 1999
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^

External links

  • Official English Website for the Oberammergau Passion Play 2010
  • Encyclopedia Britannica entry for Passion play
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