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Pilgrimage to Oberammergau - 2010

At the end of May nine people from St. Mary's, together with groups from Woldingham and Leicester (plus a few independent travellers from elsewhere), assembled at Gatwick for the flight to Verona, the first stage in our pilgrimage which culminated in attending the renowned Passion Play in Oberammergau.

The first five days were based in Merano in Italy. A beautiful spa town bisected by the River Passirio. It was here that the Austrian Empress Sisi spent time in 1870 and 1872. Our first day in Merano was 'free' and many of us took the opportunity to walk to the beautiful Trautmansdorff Castle gardens using the 'Sisi' path. The Gardens were indeed wonderful and it made a pleasant relaxing start to our time away.

The next day we travelled a short distance away to Bolzano where we visited the Cathedral, and in the afternoon celebrated the Eucharist at a little orthodox Roman Catholic Church situated beside the Parliament building.

An unexpected extra at Bolzano (thanks to our guide) was the opportunity to visit the 'Ice man' exhibition. (Nicknamed by our guide as 'Frozen Fritz') 'Fritz' was found on a nearby glacier in 1991 by a couple of hikers and is thought to be about 5000 years old. It was an interesting exhibition, and gave us insight into the life of Neolithic man and his environment, his ability to adapt to it and even the clothing he wore.

The next day for us saw a dramatic drop in temperature as we headed for the mountains. A trip up Val Venosta (stopping at a couple of Churches and 'The Lamm' for a very enjoyable lunch) took us to Vinschgau, to the Benedictine Marienburg Monastery, and its marvellous frescoes preserved from the 12th century.

Back in Merano the next day we had free time once more. Some went walking. The St. Mary's group, plus a couple of friends, did a short walk (after a ski lift ride - where the picture was taken) and it was downhill all the way. We stopped off for a little light refreshment as we went. In the afternoon several of us sampled the delights of the thermal baths in Merano. With the water at 35 deg. swimming was very pleasant.

Next day saw us saying goodbye to the sunshine and warmth as we headed to Bavaria and our final destination of Ohlstadt where we were to be based for the last couple of nights. En route we had time for lunch at Oberammergau and the opportunity to orientate ourselves as to where things were in the village (important things like our restaurant for the next day). We also had time to visit the baroque style Catholic Church. Very ornate with plenty of gilt/gold leaf around, and a wonderful triangular representation of the Trinity which reminded me of Rublev's icon. The whole effect was supposed to give the peasants worshipping there a little taste of heaven!

We celebrated our Eucharist the next day in the little Protestant Church right next to the theatre. Much less ornate but just as beautiful in its own way. Charles' robes for this celebration consisted of a Geneva gown, very unlike what he is accustomed to!

After lunch we proceeded to the theatre for the first part of the play. The first part begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and ends with the arrest in Gethsemane.

In an attempt to counter claims of anti-Semitism a lot of the script has been re-written and is at pains to show the very Jewishness of Jesus. Early on in the play, at the time of the cleansing of the Temple, and once the traders have been ejected, the great Jewish prayer the Shma Israel is prayed in a sign that worship to God is restored.

Pilgrimage Group

For me the most moving part of this section of the play was the portrayal of the Last Supper. The table has a menorah on it, the Jewish words of the Passover are used and the traditional questions are asked recalling the history of the Jewish people.

.After our evening meal we returned for the second part (another two-and-a-half hours). This ended with a resurrection scene and a dialogue between Mary Magdalene and the angel and Mary's triumphant cry of 'Hallelujah. He is risen!'

The second half was of course very dramatic; I think most of us stopped following our scripts here for we all know the story! Much of the acting was very realistic, the suicide of Judas, and the scourging of Jesus had the audience gasping, as did the crucifixion scene with the soldier piercing Jesus' side with his spear.

At the end of the play we made our way back to the coach, finally arriving at our hotel at about midnight - we'd had to take a devious route back as the road was flooded!

A menorah

Our final day dawned sunny and warm and before leaving for Munich Airport we visited Linderhof Castle. A most beautiful palace, modelled on Versailles, built by King Ludwig ll of Bavaria. Stunningly ornate, it, and its grotto has left a permanent impression on my memory.

I finish with a big thank you to Charles for organising this week. Certainly, the experience of a lifetime, and a chance to journey with God through some wonderful scenery and experiences.

Reported by Frances Baldwin

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