Lübeck's Dance of Death

The dance of death chapel

The chapel ca. 1890.

The red area shows the location in the chapel St. Mary's church and the painting were ruined - together with a great part of Lübeck - under the bombardment in 1942. Fortunately we have detailed photographs - not just of the painting, but also of the chapel itself. The photo to the left shows the start of the dance of death (the visible area is marked with red on the drawing to the right).

The dance of death was a 30-meter long painting hanging on the 4 walls of the small chapel. The figures were almost life-size and the painting was placed over the stalls.

The photo shows the start of the dance with Death as a flute player, followed by pope, emperor, empress, cardinal and king. To the left of the photo, the dance is about to come to an end with hermit and peasant.

The dance of death and the Oldesloe chapel.
the chapel

The red area shows the location in the chapel The photo to the right shows the east-wall with merchant, parish clerk and craftsman. Above the painting you can see the base of the famous Totentanz Organ (the visible area is marked with red on the drawing to the left).

In the middle of the photo is the wall of the private Oldesloe chapel, which interrupted the painting. This chapel was quite small and situated between the nave and the dance of death chapel, but does not exist today. In the right side of the photo, the painting continues with the hermit.

No gossiping.
Warnung für der Plauderey in der Kirchen

Many were the names bestowed on the dance of death chapel: Todtentanz-kapelle, Kinderkapelle (children-chapel), Beichtkapelle (prayer-chapel) and Plauderkapelle. The latter (chatter/gossip chapel) referred to the chapel having its own entrance from the street - thus making it a popular place of chatter and gossip.

As the picture to the right shows, there was a painting above the Oldesloe-chapel. This painting was called "Warnung für der Plauderey in der Kirchen", (picture to the left) and depicted 3 gossiping men with 3 devils in the background and the text "Hyr an schoelen alle de gennen merken, de alle tyt gaen klaffen yn de kerken" - of this should they all take note, those who always go gossiping in the church.

The chapel ca. 1940.
The chapel

This was the gossip-chapel that Nathanael Schlott alluded to when he wrote the new dance of death in 1701: »Hier findest du keine Plaudercapelle, Sondern im Todtentanz deine gewisse Stelle«.

The red area shows the location in the chapel The picture to the right was taken a few years before the bombardment in 1942. It appears that the gossip-painting had been taken down by then.

Dance of death organ
The chapel seen from the outside
Chapel & organ

Above the painting, was the famous Totentanzorgel (=dance of death organ) - so named after the dance of death chapel. The organ was almost as old as the original painting, but perished under the bombardment. This is where the astronomical clock is placed today.

The picture to the right shows the chapel from the outside. The angle is as if you're entering the church from the main entrance. In the middle of the photo one sees the organ and further up there's a Danish flag, which was the oldest flag in the world until it too perished in 1942

Chapel, window and flag
Chapel, window and flag
Flag & window

To the left is another photo taken directly from the church's main entrance in south towards north. In the distance, one can see the old stained glass window, which today is replaced by a new window by Alfred Mahlau.

At the top of the window, we once again see the Danish flag. The big box in the right part of the photo is a rood screen that separates the main altar from the nave. The rood-screen also perished in 1942.

The photo to the right shows the window and the Danish flag in greater detail ( the Danish section of this site will tell you all you want to know about this flag).

Further information