Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service: Halberstadt & Brieg

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

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From the “Temple of Friendship” at the Gleimhaus in Halberstadt comes a portrait of Ernst Ludwig von Spiegel zum Diesenberg (1711–1785), dean of Halberstadt cathedral from 1756 to his death, painted in 1756 by E. Bekly.


Fig. 8: Ernst Ludwig v. Spiegel, cathedral dean of Halberstadt, 1756–1785. Image: The Gleimhaus, Halberstadt.

The portrait depicts the dean in a white choir gown [Chorkleidung] with the Capital Cross conferred by King Friedrich II on February 15, 1754. Hanging from a red moiré band with black trim are a cross, royal crown, and a white (enameled) eight-pointed star, in the middle of which is a medallion with the gold-crowned black eagle of Prussia on a blue field. On the verso of the medallion is St. Stephen (patron of the cathedral) entirely in gold. A folded red biretta sits on a table.

Leopold Friedrich Goecking describes Halberstadt, ca. 1780 (?): “Halberstadt is a vibrant place, not merely because of its commercial industry, but because it boasts the territorial colleges of the principality, many benefactors and nobility, and many families who have nothing to do but pay or receive visits, or briefly put, spend their money. The city is built in the old manner and possesses only a few houses of good architectural style, of which the dean’s is the most splendid . . . Yesterday I went to the cathedral; a beautiful, Gothic structure. As I was admiring the church, the vicars were just going to keep their hours, and I saw a few in their white choir gowns walking across the cathedral square, which was somewhat striking to me as a foreigner; but here no one looked on. They sat and chanted in the choir-chancel exactly like monks, in the same tone and in similar fashion.

The ceaseless sound of bells which is heard day and night is due to the multitude of cloister churches in addition to the Cathedral and the three abbeys of Our Lady, St. Maurice, and St. Paul. (Findeisen, op. cit.)


Peter Findeisen: “Halberstadt, Dom und Liebfrauenkirche” (Königsstein i.T. 1995) in Neuer Familienkundlicher Abend, vol. 7 (Halberstadt, 1998).

Maximilian Gritzner: Die altpreußischen aufgehobenen Dom-Kollegiate und freiweltlichen Fräuleinstifter deren innere Verfassung und ihre Orden und Ehrenzeichen (typewritten), 1890 (?) [Biblio-Verlag, 1987].

Johannes Heckel: Die evangelischen Dom- und Kollegiatstifter Preußens (Stuttgart, 1924). (Reprint: Amsterdam, 1964).

Brieg (Brzeg)

Silesia (Brzeg) Poland

St. Nicholas church, altar predella ca. 1600

Image: Herder-Institut, Marburg/Lahn, fig. 9

An Altar Painting from St. Nicholas Church, Brzeg

To be able to understand a painting properly, it is necessary to provide some information concerning the circumcstances of its presentation and provenance, since the altar painting under discussion here in the predella is a rarity in evangelical churches.

Martin Luther was a friend of images in the churches. This was made clear when, in his absence (while he was at the Wartburg as “Junker Jörg”€) the Iconoclastic Riot raged in Wittenberg. To be sure, he wanted to see altars adorned with biblical motifs. The lives and legends of saints, which all sprang from Christian fancy, he found unfitting for the altar, the site of the gracious presence of God.

For us us modern evangelicals [Lutherans], it is striking that the officiating ministers are represented in distinct, liturgical vestments.

In 1811, Friedrich Wilhelm II introduced the black gown as the official uniform for evangelical pastors as well as for judges and rabbis. In Silesia, the white vestment (the choir smock [surplice or alb]) was still in use. The painting from St. Nicholas church is an image designed to confess Lutheranism. In the center, the Holy Supper is portrayed in the manner instituted by Jesus, surrounded by the Apostles. On the left we see an evangelical pastor dressed in white, administering Holy Baptism to a child; men stand to his right and women, parents, and godparents to his left; painted smaller in the background is the maidservant with a towel.

On the right side of the altar painting, two typical ministerial actions of the evangelical church are visible. On the right side of the picture a preacher stands in a pulpit, and in the center the pastor sits on a high-backed armchair, laying his hands on a kneeling man. At first glance this picture presents us with an enigma. What is this? A rare depiction of evangelical Absolution. A similar scene is found on a Reformation altar in the city church of Wittenberg. There, Johannes Bugenhagen, Martin Luther’s father confessor, is seated in the confessor’s seat. How does this differ from Roman-Catholic confession? In aural confession, there had to be a detailed account of one’s sins, while in the Lutheran private confession, the pastor asked the Christian who intended go to the Holy Supper on Sunday whether he rightly believed in the true presence of Christ in bread and wine. The penitent then recited a widely used confession of sins familiar to us from the Catechism, and then he received the Absolution with the laying on of hands—as depicted in the painting here. The name was entered into a record-book and the pastor received his confessor’€™s fee.

Great conflict concerning this [confessor‒s fee] arose in the eighteenth century, since pastors with large congregations had better revenues than pastors in small congregations. The confessor’€™s seat was eliminated around 1780.

Was the predella in Brzeg preserved? In Kunstdenkmälern um 1890€ it is described as having been damaged and worm-eaten. The altar is supposed to have been in the sacristy, and according to the Herder Institute, may now be found in Thorn.


Jan Harasimowicz: Historische Studien über die Reformation in Schlesien 1520–1650 (Wroclaw 1986).

Beitrag für die Zeitschrift: Briegische Briefe, vol. 23, August (2002).

Fig. 9: Altar retable from St. Nicholas church, Brzeg

Predella painting with Reformation content: Baptism, Supper, Private Communion

Image: Herder-Institut e. V. Bildarchiv, Marburg/Lahn

Fig. 9: Altar retable from St. Nicholas church, Brzeg. Predella painting with Reformation content: Baptism, Supper, Private Communion. Image: Herder-Institut e. V. Bildarchiv, Marburg/Lahn

Fig. 9: Altar retable from St. Nicholas church, Brzeg. Predella painting with Reformation content: Baptism, Supper, Private Confession. Image: Herder-Institut e. V. Bildarchiv, Marburg/Lahn