This is an abbreviated version of the article that appeared in the June/July 2014 issue:
Every five years, a small hamlet nestled against the Italian Alps comes to life to tell the story of Jesus Christ. Sordevolo, in the region of Piedmont, is the host for La Passione Di Cristo (The Passion of Christ). The play, illustrating Jesus’ later life from when he arrived in Jerusalem until his resurrection, has run every five years since 1815, and will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2015.
Sordevolo is one of only three cities that host such an event. Other hosts include Oberammergau, Germany, where arguably the most famous passion play occurs every 10 years, and Kuopio, Finland. Legend has it that Sordevolo vowed to host the play after being spared from the plague in 1634. The actors put on 31 performances in 97 days, as the show runs every weekend from June 6 to September 27, 2015.
During the performances, the town’s population of about 1,300 doubles, as the 4,000-square-meter outdoor amphitheater can seat 2,500. The play involves the entire community, which spends nearly a year preparing for the event. About 400 locals perform, while 300 more serve as crewmembers backstage, making costumes, or designing the set; many specific acting roles — played by everyday citizens, not professional actors — are passed down through the generations.
Sordevolo’s play still uses the original script, written in 1500 by Giuliano Dati in an ancient Italian dialect called Laudi. Dati, a native of Florence and a chaplain of a church in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, used the scripts for the Colosseum’s annual Good Friday performance of the Stations of the Cross, which was held until 1539. The play is not only written in the ancient language, but also performed in it, presenting a challenge for both locals and visitors to follow
The amphitheater recreates a section of ancient Jerusalem in 33 A.D., using the city’s streets as the setting for places such as Calvary (Jesus’ crucifixion site) and Herod’s Palace (where Jesus’ trial was allegedly held before Pontius Pilate). In 29 scenes, the performance depicts the most important and most famous moments from Jesus’ life, including Judas’ betrayal, the Last Supper, and Jesus’ burial and resurrection.
Currently, reservations are only available through group tour packages (individual tickets go on sale in January 2015). Learn more at www.passionedicristo.org
Also in 2015: The Milan Expo