History Of Passion Play

Since the early 1800’s residents of the tiny hamlet of Sordevolo in northwest Italy’s Biella province – with a population around 1,200 – have joined together to stage its own grand production of the Passion of Christ. Similar to Oberammergau in Germany, this moving production called “La Passione” or the Passion Play of Sordevolo represents the final days of Christ on earth and is performed every five years with the next events scheduled for June-September in 2015. According to local lore, villagers made a vow in 1634 to perform a passion play here in perpetuity because their town was spared the ravages of the plague.

Every five years, the entire town unites to bring this impactful production to life. Some folks make the costumes. Others design the stage and set. Roughly 400 residents perform, spending the better part of a year rehearsing their roles. The performance takes place in a 4000-square-meter, outdoor amphitheater with seating for 2500. The set is constructed to depict a corner of Jerusalem, dating back to 33 A.D, featuring Herod's Palace, Synedrium, Pontius Pilate's Praetorium, the Garden of Gethsemane, the cenacle, and Calvary. Here, locals participate in a two and a half hour grand production performed on weekends from June through September every five years. It is easy to forget that the children and adults performing are all amateurs, not professional actors…Roman soldiers ride real horses, the sound is clear and beautiful, and the actors offer simply moving performances.

This Passion Play Italy production pays close attention to every detail and encompasses the Passion of the Christ from the moment Jesus enters Jerusalem to the Resurrection. It is a major production by local residents who live normal lives, but every fifth year the townspeople transform themselves and the town itself to reenact the Passion of Christ. Many of the acting roles are passed along from generation to generation.

The Passion play of Sordevolo’s text was written in 1500 by Giuliano Dati, who served as chaplain of the church of Santi Martiri in Trastevere, in Rome. He wrote the lines of the play in an archaic form of Italian called “Laudi” that was used when the Via Crucis was reenacted every Good Friday in the Colosseum until 1539.

To date, how the "Roman" passion text reached Sordevolo is still a bit of a mystery. One hypothesis is that the original text may have arrived in Piedmont thanks to the relationships existing between the Roman Gonfalon Confraternity and Sordevolo’s St. Lucy Confraternity. A second hypothesis links commercial contacts between the family Ambrosetti, weavers and merchants of Sordevolo and buyers in Rome.

Over the centuries, the Passion of Sordevolo has earned vast acclaim. In 1892, Delfino Orsi, editor of the "Gazzetta del Popolo," expert in popular traditions and Professor of Literature at Turin University, published an essay on Sordevolo's Passion. Additionally, Professor Alessandro D'Ancona of Pisa University devoted an expansive section to the Passion of Sordevolo in his famed work entitled "On the origins of Italian Theatre." In 1934, Renato Simone, a "prince" of Italian drama critics, wrote about the Passion on "Corriere della Sera" and "Domenica del Corriere." Alighiero Chiusano, the most notable Italian drama critic from the 1960s to the 1980s, dedicated a number of articles to the Passio of Sordevolo on "Il dramma" and on other important national daily newspapers. Within the past five years well-known North American media outlets have covered Sordevolo’s Passion Play, garnering the events even more worldwide recognition via such publications as: The Boston Globe, Chicago Sun Times, Everett Potter’s Travel Report, Going On Faith Magazine, Travel Weekly, Vacation Agent Magazine, Recommend, Travel Agent Magazine and many more.

Since earliest records, the Community of Sordevolo in Piedmont has united every five years to perform this moving and spiritually enriching play that continues to touch the hearts of all that witness the performances. At present, the community of Sordevolo is undertaking the development of the next Edition of La Passione, which is scheduled for weekends from June through September of 2015.
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