See Some of That Old Time Religion at Good Friday 'Passion Play'

A scene from the 2010 Passion Play staged at the Church of Immaculate Conception, Bangkok

By Teeranai Charuvastra
Staff Reporter

BANGKOK — While one should not expect egg hunts or marshmallow bunnies in Buddhist-majority Thailand, Easter is still strictly observed in a 300-year-old Catholic enclave in one of the capital’s historic riverside quarters.

The community clustered around the Church of Immaculate Conception still marks each Good Friday with a dramatic reenactment of the crucifixion of the Christian messiah known as a Passion Play. 

Founded by some of the first Portuguese to reach the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the 17th century, the community and its members have staged Passion Plays for an uncertain length of time; locals say it has been generations.

Localizing the experience are variations including curtains of jasmine decorating Jesus’ tomb and a narrator speaking extensively in archaic Thai. At past events, audience members have been spotted noting the numbers when the Roman legionnaires cast their prophetic die for later use in the lottery.

 

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It starts at 7pm with residents gathering at a former school next to the church to recite the Stations of the Cross in front of a large theatrical set hidden behind a large black veil.

 

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The performance opens when the veil parts to reveal the scene of the crucifixion as budget pyrotechnics mimic the cataclysmic cacophony said to accompany Jesus’ death.

A representation of Christ is flanked by two thieves also hanging from crosses as Roman soldiers stand guard. 

 

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 "Let's decide by lot who will get it. (John 19:24)”, Roman soldiers struggle to claim possession of Christ’s garment before they settle the matter by casting die. 

 

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What follows is a biblical depiction of Christ’s body taken down from the cross and paraded around the church before being placed in an elaborate “tomb” in the church’s nave. 

 

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At that point Catholic community members kiss the statue’s feet in reverence, some taking the jasmines back home. The statue remains in the church over the weekend and is removed before dawn on Easter Sunday.

 

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The Passion Play starts at 7pm adjacent to the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Soi Samsen 13 in Bangkok’s Dusit district.

 

Teeranai Charuvastra can be reached at [email protected] and @Teeranai_C.

 

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