Sordevolo equals Oberammergau

Last Supper scene from the play

400 people perform in the Passion of Jesus in Sordevolo

Noting indicates that actors are local folks

The first time I heard the word Sordevolo was at a travel convention, but it didn’t catch my interest until a few months later when I read a story, in one of Italy’s largest travel magazines. I was attracted to the story because I recognized the author’s name, a well-respected journalist who I had met several times. Her story was professionally written and really drew me in.

A few months later Cindy and I happened to be near Sordevolo and we decided to see for ourselves what this event in Sordevolo was all about.

Sordevolo is a lovely small town with about1300 inhabitants, about an hour from Turin close to the French border. You probably would never hear about a small town like this under normal circumstances since it has no Roman ruins or Renaissance paintings to attract tourists.

But it does have something that goes back to the early 1800s, the “Passion Play of Sordevolo”. In an outdoor amphitheater of 4000 square meters with seating for 2400, 400 locals participate in a two and a half hour production performed on weekends from June 13-September 19th every five years. The play was written in 1500 by Giuliano Dati, the original manuscript is currently in Milan at the famous Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Dati, who worked in a church in Trastevere, wrote the play from antique scripts called “Laudi” that were used when the Via Crucis was reenacted every Good Friday in the Colosseum until 1539.

The reenactment pays close attention to every detail from costumes to direction from the moment Jesus enters Jerusalem to the Resurrection. Nothing in the play’s reenactment indicates that the actors are locals and not professionals. It is a major production by a group of local folks who live normal lives for the rest of the years, but every fifth year, the routine changes and the townspeople transform themselves and the town itself to reenact the Passion of Christ. Many of the roles themselves are even transmitted from generation to generation.

We asked why this play was being reenacted in Sordevolo of all places. It appears that the text of the play was given to textile merchants from Sordevolo (near Biella) who often visited Rome. The towns surrounding Biella were all involved in textile production since their high altitude location provided them with easy access to water power from the nearby mountains. Since 1816, the play has been reenacted in that small village and is as important to Italians as Oberammergau is for Germans.

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