Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Holy Sepulchre of Görlitz

Last Sunday, I made an excursion to the lovely town of Görlitz in the last bit of Silesia that has remained German. While it is a city altogether worth visiting, it has one unique monument which should be of special interest to NLM readers. This is the Holy Sepulchre. It was built around 1500, as a copy of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where its donor, the Görlitz merchant Georg Emmerich, had been on pilgrimage in 1465 (which is a fascinating story of its own). It is an almost exact copy (with slight modifications, which will be described below) of the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre as it was at that time, and had been since 1099. As the Jerusalem original was first much changed at the restorations of 1555, and then exteriorly destroyed at the fire of 1808, the Görlitz chapel is thought to be the best extant example of what the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre had looked like since the times of the crusaders. The Holy Sepulchre is part of a larger layout which inlcudes a chapel of the Cross, a Mount of Olives garden and a Via Crucis from the main church of Görlitz. All this has to be seen in the context of late medieval spirituality, for which it was paramount to relive as closely and as visually as possible, the Passion of the Lord.

Upon entering the compound, one first comes to the chapel of the Cross (built in stages from about 1482 and dedicated in 1504; all pictures were taken by me, which explains their rather poor quality):


While this is not an exact copy of Calvary in Jerusalem, its interior arrangement mimicks its main features and is meant to represent it spiritually. It is divided into two chapels, one above the other. The lower one, which is entered through the front door on the ground level, is the chapel of Adam, symbolising the burial site of Adam which tradition says was on Calvary:


The artificial split in the wall behind the altar leads up the Golgatha chapel above and corresponds to the crack in the rock in Jerusalem, which was caused by the earthquake at the death of the Saviour, which is underlined by the - unfortunately fragmentary - inscription of the altar of the chapel of Adam: "And behold the veil of the temple was rent" (Mt 27, 51, which continues "in two from the top even to the bottom, and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent."). Here in the chapel of Adam Masses for the departed were read (by an altarist); in this context it is interesting that the site where the Görlitz chapel was built was a burial ground for unbaptised children and executed convicts.

By the little stairway on the left of the chapel, one enters the Golgatha chapel above:


In the following picture we see two of the three holes in the ground which represent the holes for the posts of the crosses of the Lord and the two thieves. In front of the Lord's Cross, "INRI" has been carved in the ground. To the right of it, there is a drain in the ground, the "Blood drain", which is connected to the artificial crack in the chapel below. It symbolizes again the crack in the rock at Calvary where the Precious Blood run, and was used as a piscina at Masses celebrated at the altar to the left. Thus it gave a tangible expression to the graces of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass flowing to the souls of the departed. The altar, which like at Golgatha is in the corner, originally had a relic of the True Cross in its sepulchrum.


Later, after the Reformation, when people still came to visit, but the living tradition had been disrupted, they thought the altar was meant to be table upon which the soldiers had rolled the dice for the Lord's tunic, and so in place of the relic of the Cross which had been destroyed, they put three dice in the sepulchrum. As you can see in this picture, they began writing their names upon the altar:


Now for the Holy Sepulchre proper. As mentioned, it is a fairly exact copy of the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem of that time, in precisely the same distance from the chapel of the Cross.


In front of the chapel you see a big stone, which represent the stone which sealed the grave. One difference concerns the arches of the dome superstructure, which are pointed rather than round. Another is the entrance, which has late Gothic characteristics. The two rectangular slabs upon the roof with ointment vessels upon them are actually misinterpretations of an engraving depicting balusters:



Above the entrance you see again inscriptions. One of them is, as you can see, from 1522, although the Reformation was only introduced in 1525.


The interior is very narrow and therefore difficult to photograph. To the right is the stone on which the Angel announced the Resurrection with a baroque statue, and on the left is the door - only to be passed kneeling - to the burial chamber itself.


I am happy to say that the medieval tradition has been resumed by the Protestant parish, and the Via Crucis procession is held every year on Good Friday. This is how it goes (obviously from end to beginning, since we have started at Golgatha). It runs through this wonderful little street; in the background you can already see the main church of Görlitz, St. Peter's, where the Via Crucis begins:


Before the Reformation there were wayside shrines for the stations. The last to survive is this one; the name of the baker's alludes to this, and the baker takes part in the procession:


Now the way goes up this street:


past some beautiful portals:



and arrives at St. Peter's, where the procession begins. The entrance which we see here is therefore called the House of Pilate - like in Jerusalem, 1000 steps from Golgatha.


Some pictures of the interior of what is the largest Gothic hall church of Saxony:


The original Catholic interior, including 32 altars, was destroyed by a fire in the 17th Century, which entered through the "eye of heaven", an opening in the ceiling, thorugh which before the reformation a statue of the Lord was pulled up on Ascension, and a dove was let down on Pentecost. You can see it in this picture, surrounded by Seraphim:


The church also has a phantastic organ from 1703 by Eugenio Casparini (Eugen Caspar):


Lastly, and what might surprise many of you, it has three baroque confessionals. Confession was practiced by Lutherans before participating in the Lord's Supper well into the 19th Century. This is the confessional of the archdeacon (note the putti holding the keys):


And the confessional of the subdeacon:


To conclude, a nice view of the church and part of the beautiful town from the other side of the River Neisse:


More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: