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Passion Play

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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".

The theatrical versions of these date back to the Middle Ages, while artistic renderings of the Passion go back to Antiquity. 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.

The Passion story is perhaps most depicted in visual Art, since it is perhaps the most popular of the Art Subjects available in the Western tradition besides the Madonna and Child.

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.


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

  • Some of Alexandre Cabanel's earliest artworks (from before he braved to paint scenes from Greek tragedies) capture key scenes on the events leading to Jesus' passion. Two of his most at-the-time recognized pieces are "Christ in the Garden of Olives" and "Jesus in the Pretorium". The former depicts Jesus praying to his father on the eve of his execution. The latter is right when he's being subjected to trial by Pontius Pilate.
  • Rosso Fiorentino's The Dead Christ With Angels focuses on the episode of Christ's corpse after it has been taken off the cross. He portrays the corpse with Angelic Beauty surrounded by a gaggle of Winged Humanoid angels who are setting it up on the altar, just as the priest presents up the Eucharist.
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti's Pieta focuses on the grief Mary felt at the end of the Passion, specifically in the extra-biblical scene where she held the corpse of her son in her hands.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 
  • This Bites! has Luffy telling Magellan this tale when he compares Ace's upcoming execution as similar in nature. Magellan and Jimbei are both rather confused by the comparison, since while Jesus was a saint, Ace is a wanted pirate. Luffy clarifies that the connecting point is not the nature of the person who was executed, but rather, the motives of the people at the top who ordered it. He doesn't clarify anything beyond saying the reasoning is stupid, but since in canon the World Government wanted Ace executed purely because he was Gol D. Roger's son, the connecting point was that the people up top saw both those people as threats to their respective rule and status quo.

    Films — Animation 
  • The 2011 animated film The Lion of Judah is a kid-friendly re-telling of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection and serves as a major plot point. It's focused on a group of talking animals who have to save Judah the Lamb from getting killed on Good Friday. However, Judah is focused on "Setting people free" by freeing animals from getting sacrificed and still determined to find ways to set others free. However, Jesus' crucifixion occurs the same time Judah is about to get killed but survives after an earthquake cracks the temple seconds after Jesus' death. While the animals break the news that Jesus died, Judah quickly heads to the tomb that Jesus is laying in and even waits three whole days to meet him. Compared to other re-tellings, it ends on a much happier note where Judah meets Jesus before leaving earth and Judah returning back to the pasture to reunite with his mother.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • The Resurrection Of Gavin Stone is a movie about a washed-up Former Child Star who is forced to do community service at a local church and ends up landing the lead role in their annual Passion Play.
  • Son of God, which is basically parts of the episodes of Jesus from The Bible (2013) recut into a film, which contain scenes leading up to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
  • At the end of Snuff Movie, Wendy is crucified in a manner reminiscent of a passion play: nailed to a cross that then hoisted up, surrounded by a crowd of watching worshippers.

  • 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...)
  • The BBC also did The Manchester Passion in 2006, which took place on the streets of central Manchester and included songs by famous local bands. A 2020 version was planned for Cardiff, but due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, has been rescheduled to 2022.
  • In the Netherlands, a live televised version has been annual since 2011 featuring famous musicians in the cast and local citizens carrying an illuminated cross through the streets.
  • Inspired by the above Dutch and British examples, FOX televised The Passion: Live In New Orleans in 2016 featuring among others Seal as Pontius Pilate, Chris Daughtry as Judas, and Trisha Yearwood as Mary.


    Mythology & 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 in the Roman Catholic Church during Holy Week is to read the Passion Narrative as the Gospel reading for the day. The ideal is for it to be chanted by three deacons whose lines are voiced at different pitches: the Chronista (Narrator) sings his part in a mid or neutral pitch, Christ's part is sung in a lower register, and the Synagoga (literally Synagogue, but really all the non-Jesus dialogue) sings his part in a higher tone. In some churches Audience Participation is customary in the form of the choir and/or the clerics sitting in attendance singing the part of the crowd (Turba) — nowadays this custom is extended even to the lay folk in the congregation. Additional Audience Participation comes in the fact that all in attendance kneel for a few moments immediately after Christ's death is narrated.
  • It was traditional for Passion plays 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.
  • 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 had an open-air Passion Play as a daily attraction for tourists.
  • 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.

  • AD/BC: A Rock Opera would count as well, being a parody of the better known shows below. 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.
  • His Story: The Musical, in counterpoint to the above, is a concept album that plays the Passion extremely straight with hip-hop and reggae music on its soundtrack.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • South Park:
    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)
    • An earlier 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.
  • 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.