A Village Keeps Its Promise

By Gloria Gritz

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    Bubonic plague was once called the Black Death. It spread like fire, sometimes killing thousands of people a day. Only a handful of Americans got bubonic plague last year, and most of them recovered. Now doctors know how to treat people who get this deadly disease.

    In 1633 the Black Death came to a German village located high in the Bavarian Alps. In those days there was no cure for bubonic plague. The farmers and woodcarvers and shopkeepers of Oberammergau were very frightened.

    In just a few days, almost one-fourth of the villagers died. Most families lost at least one member, and many of the victims were children. Other people were so sick that it seemed like they, too, would die. The people prayed for Heavenly Father to help them—and He did. The Black Death visited them no more.

    The people had suffered greatly, but they knew someone who had suffered even more—Jesus Christ. They promised God that every ten years they would stage a passion play to show how Jesus had suffered. They wanted to thank God for saving their village.

    Passion plays tell the story of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. Hundreds of years ago such plays were performed in towns and villages throughout Europe. There were no television sets or movie theaters then, and most people couldn’t read. Passion plays helped them learn about Jesus.

    In 1634, the people of Oberammergau put on their first passion play. All of the actors lived in the village, and even though they weren’t professional actors, they worked hard and their play was very good.

    For hundreds of years the people in Oberammergau have kept their promise. Every ten years they have a passion play, and thousands of people come from all over the world to see it.

    It is now 350 years since the village’s first passion play. Once again, the people of Oberammergau are preparing their play. The men are growing beards, and none of them is getting a haircut. They want to look like people did in Jesus’ time. The play lasts 8 hours, and more than 1200 people perform in it.

    Many children are in the play. Someday they will be in charge of it. Like their parents and grandparents, they will keep the promise made by their ancestors so long ago.

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch