Finish of the Passion Play Off to See the Castles
( Originally Published 1903 )
AT one o'clock in the afternoon the great performance was resumed, and Jack and I were again enthusiastic over the wonderful scenes we witnessed. There were some tableaux which surpassed even those of the morning. The first one represented the Prophet Michaiah being smitten on the cheek, because he had told the Arab the truth, and after the curtains had been drawn together the chorus told us how this incident was fulfilled in the life of Christ when-he was taken before Annas and smitten. This scene was then, enacted with great realism. It gave us a shock to see Christ struck in the face, even in a drama, and we were rather glad when this scene was over. But all those which followed were equally touching. The actors portrayed one scene after another representing the incidents preceding the crucifixion, each being pre-ceded by an Old Testament tableau, as in the morning. There was before us the trial of Christ before Caiaphas, who declared him guilty, and then we saw the familiar scene where Peter thrice denies his connection with the disciples.
One of these scenes which most impressed us was the one where Judas wandered about in despair because he had betrayed his Master. The man who took this part was a wonderful actor, and his despair was so real that we could almost feel it ourselves. He finally hanged himself with his girdle as the curtains were closed, and every one in the audience breathed a sigh of relief. No one could help getting a lesson from such a wonderful portrayal of insane despair.
The events followed very rapidly from time of Christ's betrayal to his crucifixion. We saw him taken before Pilate, who refused to judge him, and sent him to Herod. Then we saw Herod command that he be returned to Pilate, After this came the touching scene in the prison, where Christ was scourged and crowned with thorns. The crown was pressed down tightly over his forehead, and we shuddered to see the pain depicted on the calm, patient face. After this came the most touching scenes of all. The next scene showed Christ on the way to Calvary, bearing his cross, at the head of the mob. On the way he falls down under its weight, and Simon of Cyrene, who is passing by, is compelled to bear it for him. As the procession continues, Christ's Mother appears from the left of the stage, and falls fainting into the arms of the disciple John when she sees her Son. This incident was so well performed that half the audience was in tears at the sight, and it was more impressive than words can describe. Once seen, it could never be forgotton.
A Horrible Spectacle
The curtain was again drawn together, as the procession passed out of sight in the streets of Jerusalem, and the chorus came out, dressed in black robes, and wearing girdles and sandals. There was a long prologue describing the crucifixion which was about to take place, and then a sad song by the thirty-five choristers. During this part of the performance we could distinctly hear the sound of nails being driven into Christ's hands and feet behind the scenes. It was a horrible sound, and we shuddered when we recognized its meaning. When the curtains were drawn aside, we sat up very straight in our seats, for there before us were the three crosses on Golgotha. Christ was crucified on the middle one, and on either side were the two thieves, who were merely tied up, not nailed. Nothing could be better arranged than was this scene. We could actually see the nails in the hands of Christ, though of course we knew that they couldn't be real. We couldn't imagine how it was possible for a man to support him-self on a cross for such a length of time. There was nothing to hold him there, that we could see, except those artificial nails, and we knew that they didn't enter the flesh. It was most remarkable stage-work, and would do credit to any theatre in London or Paris.
Every incident mentioned in the Bible in connection with the crucifixion was carefully gone through with. The Roman soldiers stood about, mocking the Crucified One, and there was the famous conversation with the repentant thief. We saw the soldiers prepare a sponge soaked with vinegar and gall for Christ to drink, and, what was most horrible of all, one of the soldiers stabbed him in the side. We saw the red blood come gushing out, and half expected that some of the women about us would faint at the sight. The soldiers cast lots for Christ's garments, and before the scene is finished the disciple John approaches the cross with the two Marys. As soon as Christ dies, there follows the tremendous earthquake mentioned in the Bible description of the scene, and the people are terrified. Some of the audience was terrified, too, from the exclamations which were heard about us, and I'm not sure but what Jack and I were among the number.
After the crucifixion there was the burial, and we saw the stone placed at the door of the tomb. It was a great strain to witness all these things which we had read about all our lives. It was almost too realistic, too horrifying. After the burial an angel came and rolled the stone away, while Christ came out of the tomb with a halo about his head. We knew then that the play would soon be finished, and indeed the Ascension was the next and last act. It, too, was wonderfully arranged, after one of the paintings by great artists. We saw the Saviour rising slowly upward, while the disciples were grouped below him on the ground, and he was guided by a band of angels. We thought it one of the most remarkable scenes in this remarkable play, and we were not surprised when the great audience burst into thunderous applause. I couldn't help thinking, though, that it would have been better if they had dispersed quietly, for such a performance needs to be treated with reverence to be tolerable. As far as we could see, the Americans in the audience were all there with a reverent desire to witness a religious production, but some of the Germans behaved very badly. They not only sat through the performance with their hats on, but laughed at some of the most solemn incidents. If there had been many such persons present, the play would have lost its great attraction, which is the air of reverence so noticeable all through in the demeanor of both actors and spectators.
Our Impressions of the Performance
We boys left the theatre feeling that we had witnessed something very marvelous—something that we could never forget. We made up our minds then and there that if possible we would see it all again in ten years' time, for one cannot see anything so fine too often. We had expected to see an amateurish effort by the villagers to portray certain Bible incidents, and we had been moved by a series of pictures which could not be surpassed, if indeed they could be equalled any-where. I can't imagine any collection of people other than these of Ober-Ammergau doing justice to the Passion Play. It is their play, and they have acted it so long that they have learned, in a way, to live their characters. It would be a shame to have it suppressed, and it would be even more shameful for them to pro-duce it elsewhere than in their own little village. We were glad to know that they had refused rich offers from American managers, and that they had not even permitted any moving pictures to be taken of the scenes. It is evident that they do not produce the play for money-making purposes. The performers receive only a mere pittance for their work, and from the profits which naturally accrue, village improvements are constructed. They have now a school for carving, which has been erected with the money from the play, and they are trying to develop themselves along the line of their chief industry, which has always been the carving of woods. It was interesting to know that the wonderful man who portrays Christ in the play is at other times a repairer of stoves. The John, who so impressed every one with his charming demeanor, is a young man who " does odd jobs." The lovely Mary Magdalene is the daughter of an innkeeper, and the father of Mary, Mother of Christ, is the village postman. It is a little less than wonderful that these simple folk should be able to act so perfectly their parts, but our landlady told us that they practice constantly every winter, so that when the year for the play comes round they are well used to the action of the various parts. The famous village is very quiet ordinarily. It is only once in every decade that the eyes of the world are turned in its direction, and that Christians from every-where flock there to witness the play which has become so celebrated. The villagers profess to be surprised at its great success. They say that they never used to have any visitors from more distant points than Munich and the neighboring towns and villages. Now they are obliged to give supplemental performances in order to accommodate the crowds, and in 1910 they are expecting a still greater number of visitors.
Off for the Royal Castles
Jack and I remained in the village on Sunday night, and early on Monday morning we continued our journey on foot. We had heard much of the famous Bavarian royal castles, which are not a great distance from Ober-Ammergau, and decided to visit them before going to Munich. We were anxious to spend as much time as possible in these Bavarian Highlands, and we thought the trip to the castles would be a pleasant one.
We were off before most of the visitors in town were up. We had met the day before some very pleasant people from New York, whom we would have liked to see again, but we didn't feel that we could wait longer than five o'clock to start, as we wanted to get as far as possible on our way before nightfall. The first castle we expected to visit was that of Linderhof, only a few miles west of Ober-Ammergau, and we reached it about eight o'clock in the morning, almost before any one was about to let us in. We found it a building beautifully furnished, but not very much to look at from the outside. We found it very similar to the Trianons which we had visited at Versailles, only it was not as fine. The furnishings were more interesting. No king has lived in any of the castles for several years, but they are kept up just as in the days when they were used, and we found it delightful to wander through rooms which have been fitted up by the best decorators of Europe. Linderhof is located in the midst of fine forests, on a green knoll, and about it there are some very pretty gardens. We soon visited everything we wanted to see, however, and after drinking some good fresh milk in the neighboring restaurant, we continued on our way to Neuschwanstein, the next castle we wanted to visit. It lay far to the west, among the higher mountains, and it was a long, hard walk for us to reach it. But we were by now accustomed to the exercise, and as our feet no longer troubled us to any extent, we were able to proceed with more comfort than during our first two days afoot. And we found much to interest us along the road. The little villages which we occasionally passed through were the most quiet we had seen yet. Some of them seemed to have absolutely no life, and we were led to wonder what the people did to earn a living. There were a few shops in each hamlet, but, as far as we could see, none of the shops kept a regular attendant. Whenever we wanted to buy anything, we had to ring a bell, and after a long wait, some one would stick their head out of an upper window and ask us what we wanted. Then would follow another wait, and finally the door would be opened, and we could enter. We thought it the slowest way of doing business we had ever seen, but no doubt the customers are too few to pay any one to stay in a shop all the time.
Traveling in the Rain
It rained on Monday afternoon. This was the first bad weather we experienced on our excursion, and, as we had no waterproofs or umbrellas, there was nothing for us to do but get under a tree or get wet. We waited for some time in a wood, hoping that the rain would cease, but as it bid fair to be a long-continued affair, we started out again in the wet. We found it rather pleasant than other-wise to feel the cool drops on our skin, and though our clothes did get damp, we found that they soon dried when the sun came out. After this we became so used to showers that we never thought of getting under cover, and I'm not sure but what getting wet is one of the most pleasant experiences which come to one when walking in the mountains.
We had hoped to reach Neuschwanstein before nightfall, but the rain delayed us, and we decided to spend the night in a little village, where we arrived about half-past six. It was one of the most picturesque places we had seen, built on a high plauteau among the mountains, instead of in a valley, and we found the people very pleasant in the gasthaus where we stayed. There was music there in the evening, and an informal dance in the dining-room. Jack and I refrained from joining in the festivities, for after my experience in the Village Suisse at the Ex-position we were both afraid to dance with Europeans. We enjoyed watching the others, however, and didn't go to bed until ten o'clock, an unusually late hour for us during these days.
It took us but a short time to reach Neuschwanstein in the morning, and we found it the most delightful castle we had ever seen—in England, France, or any-where else. Its location was superb, high up in the mountains, with a view of a blue lake and snow-capped Alps in the distance. But it was not the location alone which pleased us. The castle was constructed on a grand scale, and the furnishings surpassed anything we had ever seen before. We had often read of the great extravagance of the mad Bavarian King who built these castles, but Jack expressed the sentiments of many people when he said, " I guess the old King wasn't crazy when he built this castle." We thought each room more beautiful than the last we had seen, and left the place feeling that we would probably see nothing so exquisite for a long time to come.
From Neuschwanstein it took us only a short time to walk to Hohenschwangau, where there is another royal castle. Jack said he couldn't imagine how any-one could live in so many places at once, and I told him that these castles were not all built for the same king, and that they divided their time among their different residences. " Then it must keep them moving," said Jack.
The castle of Hohenschwangau was certainly very fine, but after having seen Neuschwanstein, we didn't admire it as much as we would have done had we seen it first. Its location was not so fine, and the furnishings, while in something of the same style, were not so perfect as in the newer building. We were glad to have seen it, however, and were very glad indeed that we had not gone to Munich with-out visiting these wonderful residences of royalty. My only disappointment was that there was no king about that I could interview. " You should have let them know you were coming," said Jack, " and the King would probably have been on hand to receive you." " I guess not," I replied, " because the King is insane, and doesn't receive any one." And we both said that it was too bad he was unable to enjoy these lovely homes belonging to him.
From the castle it was only a few minutes to the village of Hohenschwangau at the foot of the mountain. We found this quite a lively place, but they say it is not by any means what it used to be when the King was in residence at the castle. We took our dinner at an inn, where we had one of the worst meals served to us on the trip, and that is saying a good deal. They gave us some meat which, from its taste, must have been cooked in vinegar, and the potatoes were so sweet we couldn't enjoy them. We were not at all pleased with the German style of cooking; and longed for the Charlons of Paris, with their restaurant, where we at least had good soup and bread. Jack said he thought it very funny that the Ger-mans should grow so fat on the food they eat. " It wouldn't take me long to become a skeleton in this country," he said.
From Hohenschwangau we pushed on to Fussen, quite a large place, only a few miles west of the castle. Here we decided to spend the night and try to agree upon our plans for the next few days.