While the morning is still morning, soon after 7 o’clock, hundreds and thousands of people, nearly all on foot, are moving in one direction, so that you do not have to ask for the place of mighty convocation. Through fourteen large double doors the audience enter. Everything in the immense building is so plain that nothing could be plainer, and the seats are cushionless, a fact which becomes thoroughly pronounced after you have for eight hours, with only brief intermissions, been seated on them.
All is expectancy!
The signal gun outside the building sounds startlingly. We are not about to witness an experiment, but to look upon something which has been in preparation and gathering force for two hundred and sixty-six years. It was put upon the stage not for financial gain but as a prayer to God for the removal of a Destroying Angel which had with his wings swept to death other villages, and was then destroying Ober-Ammergau. It was a dying convulsion in which Widowhood and Orphanage and Childlessness vowed that if the Lord should drive back that Angel of Death, then every ten years they would in the most realistic and overwhelming manner show the world what Christ had done to save it.
They would reproduce His groan. They would show the blood-tipped spear. They would depict the demoniac grin of ecclesiastics who gladly heard perjurers testify against the best Friend the world ever had, but who declined to hear anything in His defence. They would reproduce the spectacle of silence amid wrong; a silence with not a word of protest, or vindication, or beseechment; a silence that was louder than the thunder that broke from the heavens that day when at 12 o’clock at noon was as dark as 12 o’clock at night.
Poets have been busy for many years putting the Passion Play into rhythm. The Bavarian Government had omitted from it everything frivolous. The chorus would be that of drilled choirs. Men and women who had never been out of the sight of the mountains which guarded their homes would do with religious themes what the David Garricks and the Macreadys and the Ristoris and the Charlotte Cushmans did with secular themes. On a stage as unpretentious as foot ever trod there would be an impersonation that would move the world. The greatest tragedy of all times would find fit tragedian. We were not there that August morning to see an extemporised performance. As long ago as last December the programme for this stupendous rendering was all made out. No man or woman who had the least thing objectionable in character or reputation might take part.