The following article is reprinted from The Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau. Isabel Burton. London: Hutchinson and Co., 1900.
For years I had wished to see that pearl of dramatic worship, the Passion-Play of Ober-Ammergau; and when, in August, 1880, my husband obtained a fortnight's sick-leave from his Consulate, and left the choice of place to me, I at last saw the opportunity of realising my hope, and chose Ober-Ammergau for our brief holiday.
Ober-Ammergau is the last resting-place of Religious Drama in the Christian world, where it is still acted in all its integrity, and with all the splendour and more reverence than even in ancient days; and whosoever abolishes it will act like the Wandering Jew who drove our Saviour from the last resting-stone of the last house of Jerusalem. The oldest known text-book dates from 1662, but it refers to a far older book. In 1633 the Play was already known and acted, for at least three centuries, under Ettal guidance, and before that no one knows how many centuries under Rothenbuch.
That year (1633) the village was struck with the Plague. The villages met and held a council, which concluded by a solemn vow to God to perform the Play as an act of devotion to the Lord (if the Plague was stopped) every ten years, "for thankful remembrance and edifying contemplation, by the help of the Almighty, of the sufferings of Jesus the Saviour of the World" So says the local tradition. The Plague did stop, since when the peasants have religiously kept their vow, beginning in 1634, and their decadal period was fixed for 1680. So this practice has been kept up for two hundred and forty-six years [as of 1880--the date this article was written]; and though many attempts have been made to put it down, by the special interposition of Providence it has always been spared by the King of Bavaria and the Pope.
To show the feeling that they themselves have about it, when peace was proclaimed in the Franco-German war, the Ammergauers performed their play "as a method of thanking God for bestowing on them the blessings of Victory and Peace"; and they generally choose Sunday as their training-day, because they look upon it as an act of Divine worship.
The learned monks of Rothenbuch or Ettal composed and perfected this great Drama in old times, and in our days Ottmar Weiss, the last of Ettal's monks, became, on the suppression of his monastery, parish priest of Jesewang, and kept with him his favourite pupil, Anton Alois Daisenberger, who was also afterwards parish priest, and was eventually transferred to Ober-Ammergau, his darling wish for many years. Ottmar Weiss, who died in 1843, aged seventy-two, recast the play; and at the same time Rochus Dedler, organist and schoolmaster, modified the music. He was a local Sebastian bach, born in 1779, composed in 1814, died in 1822. Then Father Daisenberger succeeded Weiss, his master, and still [as of 1890] lives for and works amongst his people, exercising great influence over them, although eighty-two years of age. Between 1840 and 1849 he recast the play again for the performance of 1850.
The text and music were never committed to writing -- i.e., given to the performers; they were obliged to learn and commit to memory from dictation and rehearsal both music and dialogue. So jealously were they guarded, that they would not suffer a word or a bar to be copied. This year  we have the text in German, and three specimens of the music, of which one is, "Wo ist er hin," accompanying the tableau of the Bride of the Canticles, which some years ago they refused to an Englishman who offered three thousand florins for it, for they will not traffic about their Play.
All the accounts of the four Evangelists are blended into one, and the Old Covenant and the New form a complete pendant, side by side, the latter the sequel to the former. The peasants train on Sundays and festivals. Father Daisenberger is the true model of a parish priest--pious, humble, simple, living only for his flock, and educating them up to their high calling, a most holy man, and a great author of some thirty or forty works, chiefly Biblical and historical plays and dramas.
There are seventeen principal performers, including the Choragus, or the Proclamator, and the Conductor--these are the intelligent, cultivated, artistic wood-carvers; between five and six hundred persons appear on the stage--these are the peasants; and the theatre altogether, with workmen, machinery, etc., etc., gives occupation to seven hundred out of the thirteen hundred inhabitants of Ober-Ammergau. The money that flows into the village through the Passion-Play is divided into four parts: the first to the poor; the second to the expense of the theatre; the third to their school of design, hospital, and all the other pious and useful institutions of their village; the fourth part is divided into a trifle for each actor; and the surplus is divided equally among the thirteen hundred inhabitants of Ober-Ammergau. Mayr, who performed the part of Christus both now, 1880, and in 1870, only received the sum of £20 in 1870, and £31 10s. in 1880; Judas had about £5. It is not even enough to compensate them for the time lost in wood-carving.
The whole thing is as perfect as can be. Christus (Mayr) and Judas (Lechner) stand far higher in excellence than the others, and Judas is also the best wood-carver.
The Play consists of four elements: chorus, tableaux, dramatic incident, and the actors. There is great excitement in the village the year before the Play. On December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, a chapter-day, as it is called in convents, is held to settle and distribute the parts. This is done by general election, forty-five house-holders presiding, headed by the priest and Geistlicher Rath Daisenberg, who has yet to be described.
The Play is cast and recast and the parts distributed. Some keep their parts for years. For example, this year, 1880, there are eight performers of 1870. Two others are also old actors, who have had their parts changed, and there are seven new ones. They can always choose new performers or fill up a blank, because they train the whole ten years. Mayr is now a king amongst them; firstly, it is a great thing to be an Ober-Ammergauer; secondly, it is a high distinction to be employed at all in the theatre; next to that, a person rises in value in proportion to what part he acts, and Christus is the king of them all. No Ammergauer can rise to a higher position than this. It is a thing to dream of and hope for from babyhood. The aspiration of the young generation is to rise to one of the principal parts. It is held for the girls as a reward for virtue, like the former Rosière of France. The slightest whisper against her good name bars a girl from the theatre. Then every actor must be an Ober-Ammergauer; there are only thirteen hundred to choose from.
My day [at the Passion-Play, Monday, August 23rd, 1880] began with Mass and Communion and a Blessing in the church, every performer receiving, and most of the Catholic pilgrims. The service began at 3 a.m. The first incident of my pilgrimage was yesterday to the Madonna of Ettal, and this was my second. People of every nation, tongue, creed, class, and occupation were assembled, from prince to peasant, and even Israelites. They were gathered together from the ends of the earth to witness the great drama of Redemption represented by these villagers; and some are very humble pilgrims, who have walked from far and scraped and hoarded up their pence. It reminded me of Jerusalem in Holy Week.
The music in the church was beautiful and devotional, and evidently proceeds from the same pen as that sung by Schutzgeister. The people are born with music in them. We could not get that out of an English village, perhaps not out of a great town; but to them it is a matter of course, with their refined art and simple devotion. They are unaware of the effect upon strangers. There is no ostentation or display; they have it even when they are quite alone. Later on, after the service, the band parades through the village, giving notice and collecting the pilgrims, and we proceed to the theatre through the little streets and across a bit of field -- for it is the last building in the village towards the plain -- and take our seats.
The village churchyard was used for the representation up to 1830; but the pastor, finding the crowd damaged it and demolished the gravestones, refused to let them play there. And so it was that fifty years ago the present theatre [this theatre has been rebuilt since the writing of this article] was first built, at the cost of £2,000, and covers a space of 20,000 square feet. It is only made of boards, and is shed-like. All is exposed save the actual stage and three rows of reserved seats called boxes. An umbrella or parasol would be put down at once. All hats are off, and a bonnet if too large. I was requested to ask the lady in front of me (in the reserved seats) to take off her bonnet, but she refused with some hauteur. I knew about it before, and wore a Jersey cap that fitted close to my head.
In July, 1880, it snowed. The day before we went it poured with rain, but the crowd never moved a muscle. We had a fine day; swallows and other birds and butterflies came in and fluttered round us; the open air, the magnificent background, and the side view of Nature in one of her most stupendous forms were something so novel and fascinating in a theatre that it seems like a poetic dream.
I recommend everybody to take a fan to keep off the flies, and for the heat; a pair of neutral-tinted spectacles for the glare; and opera-glasses, as the actors are come distance from the reserved seats. But although a large space of open air intervenes, I could hear almost every word. Taking notes is not allowed.
Precisely at 8 o'clock the booming of the cannon from the Kofel smote upon our ears, and announced that the Passion-Play was about to begin. I was at last in the presence of my desire of years. The musical overture began; but the curtain of the central stage was not at once removed. Behind it, unknown to most, the aged priest and father of the village and the whole company of the performers were engaged in a silent prayer, offering it up as incense to the Almighty, considering their Art only in the service of Religion. The sense of the Divine Presence was over all, and I too offered up unuttered prayer for those who were about to take part in, and those who came to see, the most sacred drama. The beauty of the morning, brilliant after the heavy rain of yesterday, seemed a token of the Divine Grace. Presently the chorus of the Schutzgeister came upon the stage, and the Play began.
The Schutzgeister, or Guardian Spirits, with a leader called the Choragus, or Proclamator, now stand before us. They have come up from both sides, and form a line right across the theatre -- eight men in the middle, and five women on each side. They are dressed in various-coloured brilliant mantles, whilst the orchestra are in Tyrolese dress. These Spirit-singers prepare us for what we are about to see. The Choragus, in a most dramatic tone, recites in a few words the history of what is coming, like an argument. The chorus, with their arms crossed upon their breasts at first, in a prayerful attitude, take it up in song--first faint and low, as coming from afar, and gradually swelling into thrilling harmony.
The music is ancient German (Bavarian) ecclesiastical, pure and classical, drawing from psalms, hymns, masses, and old church songs. It is soft, sweet, and sad, chiefly in the minor key, and a refrain or lament runs through the whole, dwelling on the same sad story. The voices are all true and correct, some very good, all very fair, despite the disadvantage of the open air carrying away much of the sound.
No one, I think, realises the hard work of the Schutzgeister. They come on between every one of the eighteen acts, and give the Prologue and the Epilogue. They sing forty-seven times, and often at great length, and that two days a week. They supply all the interludes whilst the scenes are being changed, exposed to sun, rain, wind, or snow, and get the least praise or thanks. Whether they come on the stage, fall back at the tableaux, close up again, or leave the stage, their deportment is perfect. They are really like sprites, every action is so quiet, slow, calm, and in unison; you do not hear them come or go off; their walk is natural, manly, and majestic; their actions large, graceful, and full of ease. You are affected by their dignity, and the whole effect is most artistic.
It will be best, I think, to give the programme of the Play, and then comment on it in detail. From 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. it proceeds without a break, and then an hour and a half is allowed for luncheon and rest. The Play resumes at the stroke of one o'clock by the cannon, and goes on for another four and a half hours to the end. Omitting the interval, the performance takes eight hours in all. The interval is between the first and second divisions in the following programme:--
1. Adam and Eve expelled Paradise.
2. The Redemption -- Adoration of the Cross.
Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
1. Christ casts out the money-lenders from the Temple.
2. Priests and people.
3. Dathan and the money-changers.
Assembly of the High Council
Joseph's brethren plot his death.
1. The Sanhedrin.
2. Caiaphas and priests.
3. Caiaphas and money-changers.
4. Caiaphas and Annas.
Leave-taking at Bethany
1. Tobias quits home.
2. The Bride of the Canticles.
1. Christ and the Twelve
2. Simon meets and invites him. They go in, and also Lazarus and Martha.
3. Simon's supper-chamber.
4. Christ with Martha and Mary (here Magdalen). The anointing. Evil enters Jusas's heart.
5. His disciples urge him not to go to Jerusalem.
6. The Virgin's farewell. Jesus desires Simon to take care of his Mother, and she goes into Simon's house with the women.
Last Visit to Jerusalem
Ahasuerus puts away Vashti for Esther.
1. Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sends on Peter and John to prepare.
2. Christ and Judas.
3. Judas does not follow.
4. Judas is tempted alone, and then by Dathan and other money-changers.
5. Judas alone and resolved.
6. Peter and John meet the man with the pitcher and go to the house of Mark.
The Last Supper
1. Israelites fed with manna.
2. The spies and grapes of Eschol.
1. The supper-chamber. Christ and the Twelve.
2. Christ rebukes Peter.
3. The washing of the feet.
4. The institution of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament.
5. Judas leaves.
Joseph sold by his brethren
1. The High Council
2. Judas before the Sanhedrin. Dathan and Judas before the Council.
3. Dispute of High Council. Joseph and Nicodemus leave them.
4. The High Council decides on its course.
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
1. Adam digging the ground.
2. Joab murdering Amasa.
1. Judas and his tempters, Silpha, Malchus, and others.
2. The agony in the garden.
3. The angel appears.
4. The kiss of Judas.
5. Peter and John come from their hiding-place.
Jesus before Annas
Micaiah struck for prophesying.
(Here begin the five trials of Jesus.)
1. Annas and three priests are on his balcony.
2. Annas is joined by four deputies of the Sanhedrin and Judas.
3. Christ before Annas. Balbus strikes him on the cheek.
4. Christ amongst his enemies.
5. Peter and John with a priest before Annas's house.
Jesus before Caiaphas
1. Naboth stoned by false witnesses.
2. Job tempted by his wife.
1. Christ led away by his enemies.
2. Caiaphas in undress. Priests and Pharisees.
3. Christ before Caiaphas.
4. Caiaphas and the priests. The soldiers insult Jesus in the ante-chamber.
5. Judas beginning to despair.
6. Denial of Peter.
7. Christ mocked.
8. The repentance of Peter, who is joined by John.
Christ before the Sanhedrin
The despair of Cain over Abel's dead body.
1. Judas alone.
2. Sanhedrin dooms Christ to die.
3. Judas rushes in and throws down the purse.
4. The Council resolve to buy the Potter's Field.
5. Christ before the High Council.
6. Three delegates of the Sanhedrin before Pilate's house.
7. Agony of Judas, who hangs himself.
Christ before Pilate
Daniel accused before King Darius.
1. Sanhedrin and money-changers and witnesses. Christ before Pilate's house.
2. Pilate and suite appear on the balcony.
3. Christ is brought upon the balcony, announces himself a King, and Pilate asks, "What is truth?"
4. Pilate's servant reports his wife's dream.
5. Pilate's dialogue with his suite.
6. Pilate descends under his balcony to the Sanhedrin party going to Herod.
Christ before Herod
Samson in the Dagon Temple, a sport for the Philistines.
1. Herod and court.
2. Enter Caiaphas, Annas, and priests, and Christ led in by soldiers.
3. Dialogue of Caiaphas and Herod. Christ is treated as a fool.
4. Dialogue of Herod and courtiers.
Scourging and Crowning with Thorns
1. Joseph's coat shown to Jacob.
2. Abraham sacrificing Isaac.
1. Sanhedrin, traders, witnesses, soldiers, and Christ before Pilate's house.
2. Pilate and suite on balcony. Proposes Barabbas.
3. Dialogue of priests under the empty balcony.
4. Christ scourged and crowned, mocked and ill-used.
Jesus Condemned to Death
1. Joseph's triumph in Egypt.
2. The scapegoat.
1. Christ appears before Pilate's house.
2. Christ brought in with the crown of thorns and shown to the people (_Ecce Homo_), and set beside Barabbas.
3. Dialogue of priests and people. The thieves are brought in.
4. Dialogue of Pilate and suite. Jesus' sentence is read out, and he is led off by soldiers.
The Road to Calvary
1. Abraham and Isaac. Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice on Mount Moriah.
2. The Israelites are bitten by fiery serpents.
3. Moses raises the brazen serpent and cures them.
1. The holy women, with Johh, Lazarus, and Joseph of Arimathea, come from Bethany to look for Jesus.
2. The procession (five hundred persons of all sorts) of the Cross, and the three falls of Jesus.
3. The Mother's party meet the procession, and she recognises her Son.
4. The Wandering Jew, Veronica, and the Women of Jerusalem.
5. Pilate's messenger stops the procession. They charge Simon the carpenter.
Jesus on Mount Calvary
1. The Crucifixion.
2. Caiaphas sends messengers to Pilate to have the inscription changed and the limbs broken, and receives a rebuff. The soldiers casting lots.
3. The penitent thief. The centurion clears a space for Mary and her friends. The vinegar and gall. The seven last words.
4. Consummatum est.
5. The piercing of the side.
6. The earthquake and rending of the Temple veil. The priests and people depart in fear.
7. The descent from Cross and burial.
1. Jonah and the whale.
2. The passage of the Red Sea.
1. The guard at the grave.
2. The holy women at the grave.
3. The priests and the guards.
4. John, Peter, Magdalen, Christ, and the angel.
5. Christ appears to Magdalen alone.
The Grand Hallelujah Chorus.
The tableau of the Adoration of the Cross at the beginning was exceedingly impressive. When the spirit-singers glide back to disclose the scene, they too, on beholding the Sign of Redemption, fall on their knees. The group of five hundred kneeling, motionless figures in costume, the audience of six thousand spectators, so still that you might hear a pin drop, the theatre shut in by a glorious amphitheatre of mountains, the sides disclosing valley, hill, river, green slopes, barren peaks, the far-off village of Unter-Ammergau, the tinkle of distant cattle-bells, made such a picture as to render theatrical scenery superfluous. It seemed not a play, but as if we were carried back eighteen hundred and forty-seven years ago, and that all was real, and we were taking part in it.
I should here remark that all the twenty-six groups or tableaux, which represent the Old Testament foreshadowings of the New, are most artistic, but I would single out the Israelites being fed with manna. The hundred and fifty little children, some looking up, and all collecting and catching it, is one of the finest.
But when Christ makes his appearance, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, gliding off the ass whereon he sat, and walking amongst the people, perfect as all the rest is, all your soul is concentrated on that one figure. You never take your eyes off him. I can shut my eyes and see him now.
Mayr, who plays this part, is a very tall, well-knit, splendidly made man, a model for a sculptor. He has long, dark, flowing hair, moustache, and beard, which he wears as our Saviour is represented to have done. We are used to think of a chestnut-haired Christ with beautiful features. Mayre is not that; but he makes you forget it by his manner, which is modest, gentle, manly, with an admirable dignity, which he never loses in his greatest humiliation. His sad, majestic melancholy, his expression of pain, sorrow, and patient endurance, his walk, dress, voice, manner, his natural, noble bearing, his stamp of refined intellect, all combined, make you feel as if Christ had stepped down from those innumerable pictures and images we know from our childhood, and was again walking about upon earth, and that you were following Him with His disciples.
The Cleansing of the Temple was too tame, and, indeed, every scene which should be brutal was too tame also; but I was told by a priest that the Church would no longer allow anything too appalling. I confess I would rather have seen the Play fifty years ago, before Ottmar Weiss began to refine and prune it to suit present fastidiousness; it would have been nearer the truth, and would teach us still more contrition for sin, a truer idea of what our Saviour suffered for us, and a still greater love for Him.
Every scene which represented the Sanhedrin, High Council, Jews, and people, the rage and excitement of the populace, was, I thought, exceedingly well done. I judge by what I have seen in Damascus and Jerusalem. The fury of the priests, the wild frenzy of the mob, were well portrayed. It was just as in the East, where the Shaykhel-Islam can so easily preach a Jehád or Holy War.
Jesus, during the enormous length of time (and you can now, for the first time only, realise the words, "He suffered part of three days"), preserves that same manner, that strong inward self-repression, not as of a man who does not feel, but as of one who knows all that must happen, no matter what he says or does. He is mostly silent, never unmanly in his humility.
The Ammergauers thoroughly understand Christ. There is a delicacy, a refined perception, and a true touch of nature in all their dealings with him, and delicate shades as well. One loved to see Simon come out and ask him to dinner, just as all Easterns do when any person of note passes by their house, and go miles out of the way to do it; also to see Jesus sitting amongst his chosen band of friends, whilst Martha waits, and Simon and Lazarus mingle with the disciples, also helping.
I should now like to add a few words on the effect of the Play, as I have heard that, since the Ammergauers have had the good and bad fortune to be known to what we call the world, there are people in it who wish to put their Play down. I should like, not to make excuses for what I think most beautiful, but to plead against the strong and cruel portion of that world which can always crush individuals, but cannot conquer Truth. Christ could not escape being treated as an impostor by it, and it would now fain work against this little band of faithful villagers.
I felt that, however much you may meditate upon the Passion, and feel a shortcoming here and there, the Play brings you to an intimate personal knowledge of Christ on earth as Man-God such as you could never acquire by thought, prayer, reading, or sermons. It brings you into union with His daily life, and with that marked characteristic He possessed, and which is here so clearly depicted,--how much He felt and appreciated personal affection; how gratefully He rewarded the slightest act of kindness, of attention, of love; what a tender heart He had. So much the more must He have felt when all abandoned Him.
As religion, it is instructive, edifying, and devotional; as art, it is a powerful and absorbing drama, quite unique in the world, with nothing to shock the most refined and sensitive religious instinct, or yet the most ignorant. If any one objects, it will be the slightly educated, and that only to pose, for they probably understand not art, nor heart, nor religion. A thousand clergymen in England and years of schooling could never teach the Old and New Testament as one learns it there in those eight hours.
I thought the performance as near dramatic and artistic perfection as human acting could be, and that it could be done nowhere else than here, where such a peculiar combination of circumstances exist, generations for centuries having been brought up to it; but I am grateful also for the safeguards which exist--since the villagers' temptations are great and the sums they have refused are enormous--for preserving its simplicity, devotion, and art.
Firstly, the Ammergauers are quite cut off, by their geographical position, from the contaminating influence of the outer world. The Ettalerberg acts as a barrier. How strange it must be to live in retreat for ten years, and then to be brought into contact with perhaps 264,000 people in one summer! This is what I have calculated the visitors at; but it would be interesting to know the total when the Plays are over. I have allowed for two representations a week for five months, with six thousand persons for each.
Bad luck, then, to all those who would abolish the Passionsspiel. Do they fancy themselves better than St. Gregory of Nazianzen and other holy early Christians who dramatised portions of the Holy Scriptures upon the model of ancient Greek plays, which had their origin in mytholody and worship of the gods?--for all dramas, both ancient and modern, had a religious origin, just as the worship of God gave rise to the Early Mysteries and Convent Plays in the time of Charlemagne. Are they better than the Crusaders who acted the Passion? Better than the saintly Abbot of St. Alban's, who composed and acted them with his scholars? Better than holy, excellent Father Daisenberger, the priest-dramatist of Ober-Ammergau, the author of so many Biblical and historical plays and drams, the pious man who undertook this very play "for the edification of the Christian world"?
Forbid the people ridiculing the plays and players, as they should be held in veneration, but not from witnessing the plays, and least of all this Play, which is a something that should not be touched, which has a halo of its own, from its origin, its religious importance, its native refinement.
It must do a world of good; it cannot do any real harm. Whoever is scandalised or takes it in bad part was bad by nature before going to Ober-Ammergau. There are those who would pull down church, altar, and priest equally with this Play.
It is like our Midnight Mass; we are frequently not allowed to have it now because certain ill-conditioned persons misconduct themselves in church; so all Catholics must be deprived of it. In the good old Catholic time we had all our institutions and customs intact. Would it not be as easy to issue an order that only those should be admitted to Midnight Mass and Communion who bear a ticket from their Confessors? But no! it must be entirely swept away because of a few bad people, as if they were the strong and the majority the weak.
In this instance one must fear that God will manifest His displeasure. If the Ammergauers are forced by undue pressure to break their vow, a chastisement will probably fall on the author of the prohibition, or a scourge will come upon the village at the ten years if the Play is not acted.
Who would be such a spiritual iconoclast as to rob this bright village of its glory, its birthright, its romance, its support, its only interest in life? I, for one, should grudge to bow my knee before such an authority, and feel rebellious, heart ans soul, tongue and pen.
Let such a one go and see the Play before he injures it, and not take hearsay, and he will see that the people are not acting--they are living their lives naturally before us. They have seen this ever since they could toddle two steps--they know nothing else. They do not think of us spectators any more than the priests and their acolytes who are occupied at the Altar think of the people and strangers in the church. To them it is not a mere theatre with stage and scenery. They are in a church, doing an act of devotion, with their simple, innocent, unquestioning faith, and loyal fidelity to Bible history. The beauty of their lives speaks for its effect upon them. They are so unaffected whilst they do it, they seem to believe they are really the people they represent for the moment.
Every child is so trained and so at home that the babe holding its little skirt to catch the manna thinks that the whole Play depends upon its doing it well and with devotion, and to please God. Every one is natural; no one strives to shine; he does it as if he lived for that and nothing else. Thus it is a perfect whole; and this is the secret of the six hundred people all doing a natural act of devotion at one and the same time, falling into perfect harmony.
In 1870-71 the news spread abroad in our world for the first time that in a highland village of Bavaria a living picture of the Divine Tragedy was being given such as the world had never before seen, and the world began to rush there. What can the peasant players care for the habitués of London and Paris theatres sitting there criticising? It's not the same thing; they are unconscious of us. They did not ask us to come; they cannot hinder us from coming. They did it for two hundred and thirty-six years by themselves and for their fellow-peasants just as grandly, carefully, and piously as now. Would it not be unjust, because the world heard of it ten years ago and rushes in, to punish them for this, to deprive them of their birthright, heirloom, the glory of their village, their labour of love?
As individuals, if we are not pleased we ought not to go there, any more than we should go to a place of worship and mock at the worshippers. Such people would destroy the devotees and their altars; and such ideas only emanate from miserable rags of education, or bad Catholics, who think it fine to pass for free-thinkers, but never from well-informed, wholesome minds.
What impressed me most was the grace and dignity, the natural, manly walk, all being done with such calm, everything happening so quietly and naturally. I have seen all the best actors and actresses of my day, and I have never beheld this before. There is never a stage strut nor a loud emotion; save when the Jews grow excited and passionate over their revenge--it is quite an Eastern idea--the gravest woes are calm and dignified.
There is no tour de force, no thirst for reputation; it is their religious and dramatic training, from the cradle to the grave, which enables them in so artistic, realistic, and devotional a spirit to portray thus the life and sufferings of Jesus.
The ceremonial life of the Holy Catholic Church and the refinement and art of their calling as woodcarvers may account for much; also they have a School of Art and Design at Partenkirchen and a School of Design at Ober-Ammergau; but the great training-school is the village church, with its ceremonies, processions, music, and song. It is not mere theatrical drilling; they do not act, a great deal of it takes place in the church all year round. Take our processions on Palm Sunday or Corpus Christi, for instance.
The music is much the same. Their organist and their schoolmaster must be a musician and a composer; the children learn by heart and sing the music of the Drama in school, the same as many teach their children Watts's hymns. They play many other things--their favourite piece is "The Founding of the Monastery of Ettal"--and these private performances are attended by hundreds of the peasantry from the surrounding districts. In winter there are weekly plays.
It is recounted, that the great actor Lehmann, of Hanover, attended the performance of 1850, and was so struck at the way the Drama had been put on the boards that he asked to be introduced to the manager, and was amazed beyond measure when he was presented to the parish priest, Daisenberger.
We got back to Trieste and our pleasant home after an absence of seventeen days, and took up the daily round again. But the memory of the Passion-Play lingered with me for months, to the spiritual benefit and refreshment of my soul. In me, at least, were fulfilled the aspirations of the venerable priest of Ober-Ammergau, Father Daisenberger, in his "Words of Admonition"; I would also fain hope and believe in many, many others. I cannot better conclude than by quoting those earnest words, for they sum up the whole essence of the motive of the sacred Play:--
"Through the living remembrance of the Saviour's sacrificial death, many Christians will be moved and edified, strengthened anew in their faith and love to Him, and will return to their homes with renewed determination to be truer followers of Christ. Many of the lukewarm and light-minded will not be able to cast aside all the earnest impressions of what they see and hear; and these impressions may become in them the seed-corn of a zealous Christian life! Many a hardened sinner may be induced to shed tears of penitence at the sight of the dear Redeemer, at the sight of the bitterness He was compelled to endure for our sins; and, under the influence of Divine grace, these tears may be the foreboders of true conversion. The witnessing of the Passion may become the means of the Good Shepherd seeking and finding the lost lambs of His flock."
So may it be. Long may the Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau continue in this spirit to glorify the Name of Jesus the Crucified, and kindle new faith and love in Him!
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