Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Canon and The Vicar

De Canonicus

Och, dat weth ik wol,
sy des bericht,
Dat ik to veler geyst-
licheyt byn vorplicht,
Der ick noch nicht ve-
le hebbe betenget.
Nu werde ick van deme
dode ghedwenget,
Des hadde ick noch
gantz kleynen loven.
Nu werde ick berovet
alle myner proven.

The canon

De pastor (parner)

O Criste, du storvest
umme my gantz wylligen,
Ick bydde dorch vor-
denst dyner hilligen,
Umme alle gude wer-
ke, de werden ghedan,
See my armen gne-
dichliken an,
Laet dyne hylgen wun-
den unde bittere doet
My yo nu helpen uth
aller noet.

Death with scythe

De doet tom canonik

Her domhere, profici-
at! bona dies!
Wordestu vorgetten,
dat were wat nyes!
Holth an, dantze mit
in den doet.
Dyne prebenden, rente,
kleyn unde groet,
Al dat tytlyk is, wer-
stu nu quyd,
Men gude werke belo-
net God to ewiger tyd.

A skullAnother skullYet another skull

De dot to dem parner

Her kerkhere, cum licen-
tia, ich kome to dy,
Holth hastyghen an-
unde folge my.
Dy is bevolen de ker-
ke, Godes tempel,
To geven dynem kaspel-
folke gode exempel.
Bystu eyn gud herde,
eyn recht prelate,
So kumpstu recht nu
vort to grotem state.

N.B.: The book should be read from right to left: First Death's admonition, then the answer of the dying person. The translation below is presented in the proper (logical) sequence. The Low German text in the "book" above has been modernized to make it more readable. Click here to read the original text.

Death to the canon(1)

Mr. Canon,(1) proficiat! bona dies!
If you were forgotten - that was something new!(2)
Hold on! Dance along in death.
Your prebends(3), interests, small and great
- all that is temporal - will you become rid of know
but God will reward good deeds in eternity.

Death to the parish priest

Mr. Vicar, cum licentia, I come to you,
hold on quickly - and follow me.
You have been entrusted with the church - God's temple -
to give your congregation a good example.
Are you a good shepherd - a real prelate(4),
Then you will go forth, right now, to great state.

The canon

Oh, I know it well - I'm aware of this -
that I am bound to much ecclesiastical
that I haven't yet started.
Now I'm being tormented by Death;
I hadn't really believed in this.
Now I'll be bereft of all my office income.

The parish priest

Oh Christ, you died for me all willingly.
I implore you through your holy [men's] merits -
for all the good deeds that are being done:
look mercifully at me poor [man] -
let your holy wounds(5) and bitter death
help me now out of all distress.

The parish priest does not participate in Des Dodes Dantz so there is no wall-and-hilly-landscape-picture of him. Notice to the two shields in the frame below Christ. The first one shows three poppy fruits and for this reason the printery is called Mohnkopf today (High German "Mohnkopf" = poppy fruit). The other one is also typical for this printery and shows the letter T with a cross.

The frame and the picture are two different wood blocks. The four pictures below are but a small sample of instances where the Mohnkopf printery has used the same frame.

The woodcut itself — with John leading the virgin Mary away from the crucified Jesus — is one that could easily have been used in the devotional books published by the Mohnkopf printery, but in fact Dodendantz is the only surviving book to contain this woodcut.

It's probably just a coincidence, but having a crucifixion scene in the middle of the dance is reminiscent of the dance of death in Berlin. This might be another example of the close relationship between Berlin's dance of death and Dodendantz. There was also a crucified Jesus in the middle of the dance of death in Kleinbasel and in Mors de la Pomme. The dance of death in Bern had a crucifixion scene at the beginning and Vogtherr's woodcuts had a crucifixion towards the end.

The printer has encountered a problem, since the image of Death with arrow had disappeared between 1489 and 1520, and so he only had three woodcuts of Death. Instead he has filled up the empty space with the three little skulls from the title page. For details: See the page about Making your own dance of death.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Canon . . .: a priest attached to a cathedral. The canons are so called because they lead a rule bound life, "vita canonica".
Death's strange remark is explained here.
Prebend: A stipend allotted from the revenues of a cathedral or a collegiate church to a canon or a member of the chapter (thank you, Mr. Webster).
Prelate...: Clergyman of high rank.
See the page about God's wounds.