Passion Play

A re-telling of the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Can be done in public (complete with Audience Participation on the "Crucify Him!" bit) or as a historical recreation on screen. In Medieval England, they were also known as "Mystery Plays".

These date back at least to the Middle Ages. The original purpose of the plays was simply to re-enact the Passion in drama as an extension of a Passion mass. Since most people couldn't read, Passion plays and Nativity plays were used to transmit the stories of Jesus' crucifixion and His birth to the general population.

A side note on etymology: the word passion in this case means "suffering" (from Latin pati: to suffer). "Passion" only took on the modern meaning of "intense love" after the pains of the crucifixion came to be associated with Jesus's love for all people.

Not to be confused with the art film Passion Play or with the album by Jethro Tull.


Anime and Manga
  • My Last Day focuses on Jesus' death, in the point of view of the "good" thief.

  • The Sistine Chapel fresco "The Last Supper" naturally shows the dinner at which Jesus announced that one of his followers would betray him. However, it manages to encompass the entire passion by showing the effects of his follower's betrayal in the room's three windows. The first window has a view of Jesus pleading to an angel in fear of death, the second shows an arrested Jesus order his followers not to violently attempt to free him, and the third window shows Jesus crucified before a crowd with two thieves being executed with him.

  • The early Grant Morrison graphic novel of the same name features some scenes of the actual passion play, but is mostly about the murder of one cast member by another.

  • The Empath: The Luckiest Smurf time-traveling story "Smurfed Behind: The Passion Of The Smurfs", with Judas Iscariot resembling Gargamel and having a cat similar to Azrael. Rather than hanging himself, Judas gets chased off a cliff by Puppy and is pierced through by a tree when he chases after the Smurfs.note 

  • The Green Mile tells the story of JC, a misunderstood prisoner who's been sentenced to death despite his innocence. Not only does he have the kindness and love of Christ, he also helps to ease the pain of several characters suffering from disease, similar to how Christ healed the sick. This sounds typical for a Messianic Archetype, even if JC's brutal death by electric chair comes much closer to a Crucifixion than most Christ-analogues, but one detail makes it far closer to a re-telling of the Passion than just a tale of martyrdom. This JC eases pain by causing miracles, curing cancer, bestowing nigh immortality, and blinding people with shining light. He even telepathically feels the pain and evil of everyone else in the world and wants to die because of that compassion: he dies for the sins of the world. It's not clear if JC's actually God or an angel or a prophet, but he's explicitly "a miracle of God" and it seems like he's supposed to be whatever Stephen King thinks Jesus was.
  • As a direct adaptation of one of the Four Gospels, Jesus (1979) ends with an account of Jesus's crucifixion.
  • Jesus of Montreal. Has one of the most challenging takes on the plot. In modern Montreal, Canada, a group of actors put a very different kind of passion play that riles up the church while the public eats it up. Meanwhile, the actors' lives themselves resembles the Passion after a fashion.
  • In the mid-90s, a direct-to-video movie called The Judas Project was released, setting the story of Jesus in modern America, with modern character names. Far from a perfect product, even leaving aside the anachronism of crucifixion in modern times, this movie has the high priest character stage-managing the crucifixion, as opposed to the Gospels having the Romans carry it out.
  • The Last Temptation of Christ: Subverted Trope. Just as Christ is put on the Cross, an angel rescues him and lets him live a life without the burden of being the Messiah. Jesus goes on to marry Mary Magdalene and lament the fact that people like Paul of Tarsus continue to use the story of his Passion as the center of a new religion. The Twist Ending plays with the trope further. The movie is a Double Subversion, because the angel Christ was the Devil wearing a disguise, who gave Christ a vision of what could be in order to tempt Christ not to fulfill his mission to save humanity from sin.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian is a comedy, so it shifts focus away from the brutal execution of Christ to a more humorous character who named Brian, who was born in the manger next to Jesus's. Because of their proximity, Brian ends up being mistaken for the real Messiah and gets sentenced to crucifixion by the Romans. Only for those being crucified next to Brian begin whistling and singing "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" to cheer him up.
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc is a play on this, focusing on the death of Joan of Arc instead of Jesus.
  • Each scene in Stations of the Cross is modeled after one Station of the Cross, following the Catholic tradition of how Jesus went from being condemned to death to his burial. The role of Jesus is played by the soon-to-be-Confirmed Maria, the Virgin Mary is played by her abusive mother, the righteous Simon of Cyrene is played by a sin-shaming priest, and the women of Jerusalem are condensed into a schoolboy who has a crush on Maria. Although each scene only loosely follows its respective station, it ends as one would expect a Passion to.
  • The Visual Bible: Matthew is a word-for-word recreation of the Gospel account from the New International Version.

  • Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill takes place against a background of a modern production of an In-Universe Passion Play.
  • The novel Christ Recrucified (1948) by Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis: a poor, remote village in Greece is preparing a passion play, and due to tragic circumstances, everyone ends up with the same fate as the part he or she is assigned. The novel was adapted by Bohuslav Martinů into the opera The Greek Passion. First performed in 1961.
  • The novel Passion Play follows a troupe of actors that put these on as they become wrapped up in an adultery scandal, punning on the title.

Live-Action TV
  • The Passion, a 2008 version by The BBC. Notable for trying to go more historically accurate, but still filling nearly the entire cast with white people (there's only one Jewish guy who gets a speaking part), a rather unconvincing Jesus and the Jesus actor changing twice for post-resurrection scenes (The Road to Emmaus is supposed to have two of the Apostles not recognising Jesus, but still...)
    • Knowing the Beeb, he must have regenerated.
      • Not quite. The passage here - Luke 24:13-35 - states that the two blokes on the Emmaus road didn't recognize Jesus _until bread was broken_. The Beeb used a different actor until the reveal.
  • The BBC also did The Manchester Passion, which took place on the streets of central Manchester and included songs by famous local bands.

  • Jethro Tull's album "A Passion Play" plays with this trope.
  • The "St. Matthew Passion" by Johann Sebastian Bach is a setting of one of the biblical accounts of the Passion interspersed with reflective hymns and chorales. It's generally regarded as some of the ultimate Crowning Music of Awesome.
    • As is his St. John Passion.
    • Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach wrote twenty-one settings of the Passions. Thus saith The Other Wiki.
  • Modern composer Osvaldo Golijov composed "La Pasión Según San Marcos," based on Mark's gospel and incorporating traditional Afro-Cuban music and dance.
  • There were a number of Passions set to music; many haven't survived to modern day, but Victorian composer John Stainer's Crucifixion still gets performed on occasion.
  • !HERO: The Rock Opera goes through the Passion play moment near the end of the story with Hero being taken into custody before he is crucified on a street sign.
  • John Elefante's "Not Just Any Other Day" talks about Jesus' death taking place on what seemed to be just another ordinary day in the lives of the citizens of Jerusalem, blissfully unaware of what significance that day held for them or for anybody.

  • AD/BC: A Rock Opera would count as well, being a parody of the above two. Just from the POV of the Innkeeper.
  • Godspell, a modernization of the Gospel accounts, ends with Christ being attached to an electric fence representing his cross, and giving his final words in the opening of the song "Finale."
  • Jesus Christ Superstar. This one ends at the Crucifixion, for some reason.

Mythology and Religion
  • The Ur-Examples are the accounts of The Four Gospels, since they serve as the source for future tellings of the Passion of Christ. Each of the four Gospels gives an account of how Christ was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the Romans, tried by Pontius Pilate, sent to carry his cross to Golgotha, and crucified until he died alongside two thieves.

Public Performances
  • A long-running liturgical tradition for the Catholic Church during Holy Week, the Passion Narrative is the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday (read from one of the three synoptic Gospels) and the Good Friday Service note  (read from the Gospel of John). Complete with Audience Participation.
    • It was traditional for these to be performed every Easter in Europe during medieval times, mostly as a tool of education as most people could not read, and the masses were performed in Latin. Few examples survive to the modern day, but some, like the English 'Chester Cycle', are still performed every other year or so with great pageantry.
  • Most of the main Medieval English cities had a local script (written in the local dialect) which was enacted every year. Typically, the play was subdivided into a number of scenes, each acted by a different city guild.
    • York's Mystery Plays are enacted every four years by local amateur actors, though the modern tradition only dates back to the 1950s when the plays were revived. Unusually, the plays are still performed by separate groups (even some by city guilds), on wagons that are moved through the city between performance spots.
  • The most famous example is the Oberammergau Passion Play, done as a five-month season every ten years (the latest in 2010, the next in 2020). This one lasts for seven hours and a meal is provided during the intermission.
  • The religious Theme Park "The Holy Land Experience" in Orlando has one of these as a daily attraction.
  • Hornchurch, a suburb of London, had one planned for Easter 2015, its fifth.

  • The Man Born to Be King, a cycle of twelve one-hour plays depicting key events in the life of Jesus, naturally includes an account of the Passion. The Last Supper, Jesus' arrest and trial, the crucifixion each get an hour to themselves.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000 has its own take: mystery plays are performed concerning the life of the Emperor, along with some less savory interludes for the amusement of the great unwashed masses. As noted by Inquisitor Vail, the Ecclesiarchs probably believe a few fart jokes are a reasonable price for actually getting people in the church.
    • Similarly, many Forge Worlds need a few days of essential maintenance done on the production lines, so plays are put on to prevent the populace from getting too rowdy while the machines are off.

Video Games

Western Animation
  • In the South Park episode "The Passion of the Jew", Eric Cartman dresses like Hitler and uses a group of Christians' love of The Passion of the Christ to get them to help him to exterminate the Jews, making them think that the German for "It is time for revenge. We must exterminate the Jews" is Aramaic. Hilarity Ensues. The episode is extremely critical of the movie, but it ends with An Aesop about Christianity.
    Stan: Your movie sucks!
    Mel Gibson: You can't say that! That's like saying Christianity sucks!
    Stan: No, it doesn't. Christians should focus on what Jesus said, instead of how he died. Lots of people were crucified in those days. Passion Plays are what people did in the Middle Ages, and it ends with really bad results.
    (Mel Gibson craps on Cartman)
    • Another episode, "Spontaneous Combustion" has a brief Passion Play in which Cartman plays the role of Jesus. Cartman is crucified on a hill and is left by Kyle and Stan, who forget about him for three weeks. When they return, Cartman has nearly starved to death and is clearly emaciated (NOTE: Crucifixion is mean to asphyxiate its victim, meaning that for someone, especially an extremely out-of-shape child to remain crucified for three weeks and nearly starve to death before asphyxiating would require serious lungs. That or Trey and Matt really don't know that much about crucifixion. Or they were trying to get a laugh.)
  • In the Moral Orel episode "School Pageant", Orel's school puts on one of these written by the oft-forgotten member of a band in an attempt to resurrect his career. For the most part, the play was forgettable. The Villain Song, however...
  • The Simpsons: In "Ned 'n Edna's Blend", Homer portrays Jesus in a Passion Play.
  • American Dad!: In "Season's Beatings", Stan wants to play Jesus in the mall's upcoming Passion Play like he did for several years, but he is deemed too fat for the role and is instead made a Mall Santa. To add insult to injury, Roger gets chosen to play Jesus (while drunk, no less), infuriating Stan enough to beat the crap out of him, resulting in him getting excommunicated from the church.