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Passion of Christ, Nova Jerusalém, Pernambuco

Lent, from a religious point of view, is the period between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday (40 days), when Holy Week begins, which commemorates the resurrection and victory of Christ after his suffering and death.

Passion of Christ, Nova Jerusalém, Pernambuco

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Last update: 24/03/2020

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Lent, from a religious point of view, is the period between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday (40 days), when Holy Week begins, which commemorates the resurrection and victory of Christ after his suffering and death.

During Holy Week, on  Fazenda Nova in Nova Jerusalém, in the municipal district of Brejo da Madre de Deus in the Pernambuco countryside (180 km from Recife), a spectacle is presented about the Passion of Christ, which today is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the state.

Inspired by reading a report in the magazine Fon-Fon (Rio de Janeiro) about the representation of the drama of the Passion of Christ in the German city of Oberammergau, a businessman and political leader from Fazenda Nova, Epaminondas Mendonça, decided to put together, along with his wife Sebastiana Mendonça, a similar play.

Beginning in 1951, the Passion drama of Fazenda Nova did not rely on professional actors. All the roles were played by friends, relatives and the inhabitants of the region, while the costumes were made from sheets of the Hotel Familiar, whose owner was Epaminondas Mendonça.

The first role of Jesus Christ was played by Luiz Mendonça, one of Epaminondas’ sons, who was author of the first script, a play in three acts entitled Drama do Calvário (Drama of Calvary), besides being its first director along with the radio disc jockey Osíris Caldas.

The play was first staged on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The public followed the actors through the town’s street, which served as the stage for the Passion’s re-enactment, as well as the church, the Hotel’s Salão Azul (Blue Room) and its spring-water fountain.

It was a huge success and the play was permanently incorporated into Fazenda Nova’s calendar.

Two years later in 1953, the event managed to draw actors, directors and theatrical technicians from Recife, bringing in quality and making the show less amateur than it had been in the first years.

From 1956 the spectacle’s direction came under Clênio Wanderley, who also played the role of Judas.

The rising professionalism of the show, however, was making the event become financially unviable.

The solution to the problem was found by Plínio Pacheco in 1962. Married to Diva, the youngest daughter of Epaminondas, Plínio, who already was familiar with its staging, had the idea to construct a city-theatre resembling ancient Jerusalem and selling tickets to the public to watch the play.

He assumed the project’s coordination, collaborated in the design of the scenery, secured financing to build the grounds and helped to transport material, water and food for the workers during the construction.

In the period in which the city-theatre was constructed, there was no performance of the Passion of Christ on Fazenda Nova.

In 1967, Plínio Pacheco wrote a play in two acts entitled Jesus, which in 1968 became, under the direction of Clênio Wanderley, the first Passion of Christ staged in Nova Jerusalém’s city-theatre.

The stage of the Nova Jerusalém Passion of Christ occupies an area of 70 thousand square metres, surrounded by a three-metre-high stone wall. The spectacle’s scenery is composed of granite stages with Herod’s Palace, Pilate’s Forum and the Cenacle, where the Last Supper was held, inspired by the old city of Jerusalem. 

The arid landscape of the Northeast Brazilian countryside is very similar to that of Judea, making it also an important factor in the grandeur of the show held in Nova Jerusalém.

The Nova Jerusalém Passion of Christ is a spectacle in which the public gets involved in the performance, as if they were on the ancient streets of Jerusalem. With the actors and characters, they walk the sceneries and stages where the scenes of the Passion are performed. It is an interactive spectacle.

Once the city-theatre was built, the show had a large increase in audience and several technical improvements had to be introduced systematically, such as sound and visual effects and a dubbing system.

In 1969, José Pimentel took over the show’s direction and made some cuts to Plínio Pacheco’s text, as he considered it to be too long.

From 1969 to 1977 the role of Jesus was played by the actor Carlos Reis.

In 1978, aside from the play’s direction, Pimentel began to also play the role of Jesus Christ. He received a lot of criticism for this and in 1996 he quit the group, as he could not stand the pressure from sponsors to cast television actors Rede Globo for the role of Christ.

From 1997, the spectacle’s direction went to Carlos Reis and Lúcio Lombardi and annually the show includes the participation of Globo actors in its main roles.

Currently, with 500 actors and characters, the Nova Jerusalém Passion of Christ, in Fazenda Nova, is presented daily from the Saturday before Palm Sunday until Holy Saturday, being watched by around 10 thousand spectators per night.

Considered to be the largest open air show in the world, it today constitutes one of the most important cultural tourist attractions of Pernambuco.

On 1 March 2009, the Governor of Pernambuco signed Law nº 13.726, giving the title of Cultural, Material and Immaterial Patrimony of Pernambuco to the city-stage of Nova Jerusalém.

Recife, 14 March 2007.
(Updated on 31 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.

sources consulted

BANDEIRA, Alexandre. Os caminhos da Paixão. Continente Multicultural, Recife, ano 2, n.15, p.33-37, mar. 2002.

PAIXÃO de Cristo de Nova Jerusalém, Pernambuco. Disponível em:
<> Acesso em: 7 mar. 2007.

REIS, Luís Augusto. Paixão de Cristo: o sonho, o verbo e a pedra. Continente Multicultural, Recife, ano 6, n.64, p.55-58, abr. 2006.

SANTOS, José Batista dos. A Nova Jerusalém. In: _____. Pernambuco histórico, turístico, folclórico.[Recife: s.n.], 1989. p.271-275

how to quote this text

Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Passion of Crhist, Nova Jerusalém, PE. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.