A Mystical Experience

CULTURE,  10 Oct 2008  / By Romana Bohinc

The Škofja Loka Passion Play is back! A spectacular show with impressive visual and audio effects is coming back for Easter next year. It is not just one of the most beautiful Passion plays in the world, but is primarily a living story that bears important message, constantly re-opening the questions about the meaning of human existence—something that the modern world desperately needs.

When during the time of fasting and Eastern night descends upon the streets and squares of Škofje Loka’s old town centre, and when the squares are bustling with people eagerly awaiting the echo of footsteps and hooves of horses to be heard for the first time, coral music fills the air and the glow of countless candles lights up the ancient town. Expectations are rising, the show is about to start …

Nine years have passed since spectators last saw Škofje Loka’s rendition of the Passion. Now the scenes and images of the oldest Slovene play written in 1721 based on stories from the gospels with focus on Christ’s suffering come to life once again. The uniqueness of the play lies in unceasing motion; the entire play passes in front of the spectators as though on a movie screen and we can hear distinct regional elements in the play written in colloquial Slovene of the time.

The performers wear specially designed colourful Passion costumes reflecting the way of life in those days, symbolically adding emphasis to the play itself with form and colours divided into three main groups. Most costumes are monk and penitent frocks worn by the cross-bearers and carriers who carry the movable stage. The colour of the frock bears an important message as well; red, black, white and brown are the official colours of the Škofja Loka Passion Play. The next important costume group sees Baroque costumes highlighting status differences of the people from those days, from those belonging to the church and state to simple townsfolk and poor farmers. Especially exquisite and interesting are the exotic and fantastic costumes that are mostly linked to various Biblical personages and human representations of the spiritual world like the angels, the devil, etc. Masques endowing certain characters with unique temperaments and visibility—coming off the strongest in fantastic characters—lend the spectacle its special charm.

Actors in finely tailored costumes wearing original theatre masques come before the audience either on foot or on horses. Yes, the show features 80 horses of various breeds that are a real thing of beauty and endow the spectacle with a special kind of appeal and energy, highlighting the genuine link and symbiosis between man and beast.


A real gem of cultural-historic heritage

When plague was wreaking havoc across Slovene territories, forcing the people to turn their prayers to the skies, Friar Romuald Marušič from Štandrež in Primorska wrote the Škofja Loka Passion Play in a Capuchin Monastery and also staged it with the help of the locals, particularly guilds and inhabitants of the entire Freising estate. And so the town that was for nearly one thousand years the religious, administrative and cultural centre of both Selška and Poljanska valleys and the Sorško Field, and where rural and urban traditions met and intertwined, became the birth town of the Škofje Loka Passion Play. It is precisely this intertwinement that is so deeply reflected in the play, which is ranked among the so-called processional games that developed from medieval liturgical processions and were widely known in the High Middle Ages all over Europe; they were known for their almost complete lack of text, or the text was used only to explain the images.

The work was written in colloquial Slovene as was spoken at the time, also featuring regional elements and mediaeval-Baroque dramatisation. It is the only extant director’s book of the time in Europe and is also in terms of its execution a unique play. The Škofje Loka Passion Play thus represents an invaluable heritage due to its cultural and historic value, unique in Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe.

One of its more prominent features is the fact that it is always performed at the time of its conception—during Easter and in its original procession form and its original location at Škofje Loka’s town centre. The manuscript of the play is housed by the Škofje Loka Capuchin Monastery.


The ghost of the 18th century

The spirit of the time is reflected in the reconstruction of the original, which takes into consideration all the professional requirements and other important features of a folk play, particularly the language, scenes, actor interaction, music, costumes, masques and the accompanying offer—food, usable and decorative items, accompanying concerts, etc.

Coral music sends Škofja Loka into a festive mood, donning colours of the Passion
Play, while various stands offer scented and delicious Baroque local dishes like turnip that comes in many variations, sausages and meats, old kind of bread, indispensable pretzels, potica, etc. All the more reason to come to town before the show kicks off and take some time to really savour the ancient time with all the senses. It is an opportunity to get to know the culture of the day, which today seems rather remote and mysterious. We can get acquainted with the attitude of the Capuchins towards other people, since the show reflects their humble and mystical perceptions of life.


Volunteering

The Škofja Loka Passion Play is a unique tourist and cultural event (the largest theatre performance in Slovenia) based on a folklore and scientific reconstruction concept. In 1999 and 2000 the play was directed by Marjan Kokalj, in 2009 Borut Gartner is taking over the baton. Both of these directors managed to preserve the staging expansiveness of a Baroque spectacle, each in his own way and interpretation of direction.

There are many factors that make the play unique—the most important is its cultural-historic value, then the fact that all actors are volunteers and that shows are rare, not exempting the sheer spectacular nature of a major cultural event such as this.

The actors are all locals, coming from a wider area of Škofja Loka encompassing also its vicinity and the Poljanska and Selška valleys. Everyone who is part of the production participates on the principle of a folk amateur theatre—as was the case at the time of the play’s conception; in this way the old tradition is preserved, exhibiting signs of power and purity, which nothing can prevent. All 640 actors—80 of them are horsemen—and around 600 others who participate in the production are volunteers. What drives them forwards is their love for the theatre and respect for cultural heritage, and the only payment they get is that profound feeling of satisfaction and pride of being the bearers of a living heritage, the heritage of which Škofja Loka is extremely proud. The town should be and is proud of its actors and everyone involved in the production, since there is none who does not unselfishly devote his or her free time, talent and energy to the making of the Passion Play. This energy of voluntarism is today’s upgrade of the message of the play about the meaning of our lives. In this way a strong and unstoppable positive spirit of the Passion that is capable of preserving cultural heritage and connecting large crowds of people is felt once again as it once was such a long, long time ago.

The show will be performed again in 2015 and 2021 during the Great Fast and Easter. The play was last staged in 1999 and 2000, attracting 53,000 visitors.

You are therefore kindly invited to witness and experience the Škofja Loka Passion Play for yourself.


Schedule

The Škofje Loka Passion Play will be opened to public in the spring of 2009 on the following days:

Silent Saturday: 28th March 2009 at 8pm

Silent Sunday: 29th March 2009 at 4pm

Friday before Lazarus Saturday: 3rd April 2009 at 6pm, school play

Lazarus Saturday: 4th April 2009 at 8pm

Palm Sunday: 5th April 2009 at 4pm

Easter Monday:13th April 2009 at 4pm

White Saturday: 18th April 2009 at 8pm

White Sunday: 19th April 2009 at 4 pm






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