Berlin's Dance of Death, Part 1

Berlin's dance of death, part 1
Preacher, sacristan, curate and official

The Franciscan in the pulpit

(Hyr ste)et dy bruder van sunte franciscus orden
(uppe) eyneme predickstul unde seeth ...
(leven wold)e gy sunder grot(e not)
(nu mute gi lide)n den bitteren doet
.............den konde an liuen
...............t syner....
............unde met myne..
........... redyen..ik......
.......... den pypen wike
(bytterlyken s)terven ys dy erste sanck
(dy ande)r alzo dy klokkenklanck.
(dy drudde van) frunden syn vorgeten
(al)tydes dat svlle gy weten
Here the brother of the order of St. Francis(1) is standing
in a pulpit and says ...(2)
You would live without great need
Now you must suffer the bitter death
.............could in life
.............and with my
...........give way to the fife
Bitterly dying is the first song
the second [is] like the ringing of bells
The third [is to] be forgotten by friends
This you should always know.(3)


Her koster van der kercken kamet h(er)
gy synt hyr gewesen alze eyn vorbeder
ik wil vor an den dantz met jw spring(hen)
dat jw de slotelle alle scholen klyngh(en)
legget dat tidebuck snel uth jwer hant
ik byn dy dot ik neme nymandes pant

Och gude dot friste my doch noch eyn iar
wente myn leuent ys noch ghar unklar
hadde ik wol....vel gudes ghedan
so muchte ik nu frolicken met dy gaen
och we sal ik nu nicht (lenger meyr) beyden
dat lydent jhesu muchte my nu scheyden
Mr Sacristan from the church - come here.
You have here been as a prayer leader.(4)
I will dance in front of the dance with you
so that all your keys shall ring.
Lay that book of hours(5) quickly out of your hand.
I am Death; I take no man's pledge.

Oh good Death - give me another year;
because my life is still not ready at all.
Had I well.....done much good
then I might now gladly walk with you.
Oh woe - shall I now not wait any more.
The sufferings of Christ must now redeem me.


..........ghetyde beden treden

.........n ghehauen
......dodde wnder ghan
..........e gheuen


Gy kluge wyse man her official
jw tidebuck ys yo dat decretal
got hadde jw vele wilkor gheuen
muchte gy nu hir ewichliken leuen
wat helpet dat gy vele appellyeren
gy muthen met my im dantz hauiren

Och dot ik hebbe dat wol eer gelesen
dat dynes richtes nymant kan ghenesen
dy richter ys so hoch besetin een man
dat van em nymant wol appellyren kan.
wat helpet dat ik vele blase den wynt
sunder help my nu jhesu marienn kynt
You shrewd, wise man - Mr Official(6)
Your book of hours is truly the decretal.(7)
God had given you much authority.
Would you now live here forever?
What does it help that you appeal a lot?
You must make merry with me in the dance.

Oh Death, I have well read already,
that your law court no one can evade.
The judge is a man so highly placed
that to him no one can appeal.
What does it help that I blow the wind a lot?(8)
But help me now, Jesus, Mary's child.

The start of the dance of death in Berlin.
The start of the dance of death in Berlin
Lübke: The start of the dance was in bad shape.
The start of the dance of death in Berlin

Notice the little monsters, one of which is playing a bagpipe - the same instrument used in Tallinn. In other dances of death the music is always supplied by the corpses.

Prüfer's drawing from 1883 at the top of this page was made following a ham-fisted renovation of the painting. As Lübke's drawing from 1861 shows, the reality was that the curate and the official and "their" Death's were all but obliterated. In fact it's only a guess that the second dancer was a curate.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

Giovanni Francesco Bernardone (Francis of Assisi - 1182-1226) founded several orders. Franciscans are preachers and these "grey brothers" are not allowed to possess any goods, but must live of alms, however, they usually built their own churches on ground conceded to them for that purpose.

It's interesting that the Franciscan is allowed to introduce the dance of death in St. Mary's Church, which is a parish church and does not belong to the Franciscan friary's complex.

It's not clear whether something is missing here. The two first lines don't rhyme, and as the drawing show there's room for another word or two.

On the other hand, this scene has 14 lines of text as opposed to all the other scenes, that have 12 lines. Thus the two first lines could be an (unrhymed) introduction, in spite of them being written with the same type as the rest of the text.

The "three songs" are reminiscent of the 3 songs in Dodendantz. See a comparison of Berlin's dance of death and Dodendantz
A slight pun: a "vorbeder" is a prayer leader. Death wants the prayer leader ("fore-prayer") to lead the dance as a fore-dancer. Who said Death couldn't be funny? (8=

The German word "springen" can mean jump, dance and run hastily.

Example of a book of hours.
Book of hours
Book of hours: Catholic book of prayers with prayers and psalms for the canonical hours throughout the day.

There's a separate section about books of hours.

Official: A deputy for the Catholic bishop at the church court.
Decretal: A papal decree (or a collection of papal decrees).
To blow the wind . . .: An expression designating a pointless act. Compare with Brant's Narrenschiff: »Wer bett, und weiszt nit was er bett, der bloszt den wint und slecht den schet« i.e. "He who prays and know not what he prays for, he is blowing the wind and beating the shadow".

Up to Berlin's dance of death