Passion play, genre of the miracle play that has survived from the Middle Ages into modern times. Its subject is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Passion plays were first given in Latin. By the 13th cent. they included German verses, and 200 years later the entire play was performed in German. Toward the end of the 15th cent. passion plays had become far more secular in content, having been degraded, in a religious sense, through their contact with carnival plays. Their production was forbidden by ecclesiastical authorities and only a few were revived after the Counter Reformation. The chief survival among the passion plays is the one performed at Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. This entirely amateur performance has been given every 10 years (last in 1990, originally in 1634, with only three interruptions caused by war) in fulfillment, it is said, of a vow that was made during a plague. Passion plays have been revived in a few cities in W Europe.
See S. Sticca, Latin Passion Play (1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.