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Saturday, April 2, 2011



The red-brick Gothic style in Lübeck: St. Mary's Church
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Marienkirche, as seen from the tower of the Peterkirche (St.Peter's Church)

“Ein scharfer Wind trieb den Regen seitwärts herunter, und die alten Krögers krochen, in dicke Pelzmäntel gewickelt, eiligst in ihre majestätische Equipage, die schon lange wartete. Das gelbe Licht der Öllampen, die vorm Haus auf Stangen brannten und weiter unten an dicken, über die Straße gespannten Ketten hingen, flackerte unruhig. Hie und da sprangen die Häuser mit Vorbauten in die Straße hinein, die abschüssig zur Trave hinunterführte, und einige waren mit Beischlägen oder Bänken versehen. Feuchtes Gras sproß zwischen dem schlechten Pflaster empor. Die Marienkirche, dort drüben, lag ganz in Schatten, Dunkelheit und Regen gehüllt.” (Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, I, 9)

[A cutting wind was blowing the rain aslant, and the old Krögers wrapped in thick fur coats, crept hastily into their majestic equipage, which had been waiting for some time. An unsteady flicker came from the yellow light of the oil lamps burning on poles outside the house – and of those suspended from thick chains across the pavement farther down the street. Here and there the houses, some with bays, some with stoops and benches, protruded into the street as it sloped down toward the Trave. Wet grass sprouted up between the cracked cobblestones. Across the way, St. Mary’s Church lay wrapped in shadows, darkness, and rain.] (Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, John E. Woods trans.)

The Marienkirche before the war

The Marienkirche (St. Mary’s church) in Lübeck, was built between 1250 and 1350. During the first wave of German colonization of the ninth and tenth centuries, a wooden church had been built on the site, followed in 1156 by a larger Romanesque structure, but by the thirteenth century the increasingly prosperous merchants of the city demanded a more impressive building. The red baked brick Gothic church of St. Mary’s became the model for any number of such structures throughout the Baltic coast’s Hanseatic cities, and as far south as Hannover. The Marienkirche remains the most impressive of all in its style and in its size, as it has the highest brick vault in the world.

The church is located in the merchant's borough, which stretches from the docks of the River Trave to the church itself. The building on the right is the Town Hall of Lubeck (Rathaus) which is an equally extraordinary red baked-brick building in the late Gothic style.

On the night of the 28th. Of March, 1942, the church was almost completely burned and destroyed by British and American bombing raids. One of the large bells of the tower, which collapsed from during the fire, was left where it fell and remains there to this day as a memorial. Reconstruction of the church began in 1947 and was completed in the course of twelve years.

The photograph below shows the ruins of the merchant's borough and the Marienkirche after the bombing raids of March, 1942.

The engraving below shows the inside of the Marienkirche in 1820

Main nave of the Marienkirche

A High Altar from the Baroque period was destroyed during the bombing in 1942. It was replaced by an altar table made of limestone and a simple bronze crucifix (photo below), the work of Gerhard Marcks (1889 – 1981). Marcks works had been considered “degenerate art” by the Nazis.

Dietrich Buxtehude was organist at the Marienkirche from 1668 to 1707. His reputation was such that the young Johann Sebastian Bach walked all the way from Arnstadt, over 350 miles to Lubeck, to observe him and learn from him in 1705. A plaque in the church commemorates the event.

Built from 1561 through 1566, the Astronomical Clock, below, is one of the treasures of the Marienkirche. It was located behind the High Altar in the ambulatory but was completely destroyed in 1942. Only one dial (which had been replaced with an earlier restoration) remains in the St. Annen Museum (photo below). The new Astronomical Clock was constructed on the East side of the Northern transept in the "Totentanz" chapel. It is the work of Paul Behrens, a clockmaker in Lübeck. The clockface is a simplified duplicate of the original. With a complicated mechanical system, the clock shows planetary positions, phases of the sun and moon, and the astronomical signs of the zodiac.

The astronomical clock in the Marienkirche today.

Dial from the original astronomical clock of the Marienkirche, now at the St. Annen Museum in Lübeck.