Lübeck's Dance of Death

The chapel today

Stained-glass windows in the chapel of the dance of death Alfred Mahlau at work

St. Mary's church was bombed the night before Palm Sunday in 1942, and the painting was destroyed. Between 1952 and 1957 Alfred Mahlau (1894-1967) created 2 stained glass windows in the chapel where the painting used to be.

The picture to the left shows how the chapel looks today (2001). Every person is allotted 70 * 140 cm. Notice the door in the bottom left corner: This is the one that was expanded in 1799 making it necessary to remove the duke and "his" Death.

The picture to the right shows Mahlau at work and is taken from the book Der Totentanz der Marienkirche in Lübeck by Prof. Hartmut Freytag et al.

Because of the design of the work, Mahlau had to reduce the number of humans from 24 to 18. The duke was removed (but this had happened already in 1799) together with 5 clergy. On the other hand, Death appears 26 times!

Both stained glass windows The monk and the hermit comforting Death The picture to the left is a postcard - bought in St. Mary's church.

Most of the work follows the original painting - but something new has been added towards the end: In one vertical row, Death covers his face in despair and is comforted by the Carthusian and the hermit.

The parish clerk The youth and the maiden Then comes the parish clerk who holds up a bunch of keys. According to Mahlau, the clerk is ringing with his church keys against his fear of death.

The youth is trying to pull Death away from the maiden.

The baby Finally comes the child. In the original painting the child was lying down - in Mahlaus version the baby stands up, catches Death's index finger and points to the word DEO (=God), which is written with large letters over his head. The star on the cradle is reminiscent of the star above Bethlehem. To the left, Death kneels before the cradle. St. Mary's church on fire (holy smoke!)

In the lower row of both windows, one can see Lübeck burning as a reminder of the bombing (the picture to the right shows St. Mary's church). Mahlau had experienced both world wars so the war was much more present to him than the plague of the Middle Ages.

Top of vault Right window Left window Every vault in St. Mary's church has a little round picture in the top. One of the vaults in the chapel of the dance of death has a skull.

Click the two photos on the right to see left and right window.

Further information


Up to the dance of death in Lübeck