Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service: Burkersdorf

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

Original PDF // Previous Installments // Donate to Pseudepigraphus


Village of Schlegel

By Zittau (Saxony)

  • Church, altar painting, photograph by author, Fig. 12

Gurlitt (op. cit.):

Remnant of an early altar. Wood, about 230 cm [7.5 ft. ] high. In the center, an oil painting on wood measuring 113×192 cm [3’8” x 6’4”]. Below, the Supper with a few figures, reputedly of the von Gersdorf family; above, the Institution of the Supper; and in the corners of the painted area, Christ in Gethsemane and Christ’s Imprisonment. Painting in architectural frame with Corinthian columns; on its base, a Bible verse [Above: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him. Matt. 3.” Below: “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Him that Thou hast sent, even Jesus Christ.” John 17:3. —MC]; on its architrave, a cherub; scrollwork on the sides. The coarsely carved and sturdy altarpiece, as depicted in the painting, must have originated around 1600.


Early protestantism with some frequency represented the Lutheran rite as the biblical Supper, as it were rejoicing that the original form of both Species had been regained, with two pastors, one of them often in chasuble— which did not die out until the last century (and in Scandinavia has remained in use for the Divine Service to this day)— distributing the Bread and Wine to the left and right of the altar. An interesting juxtaposition of all these components is found in the altar of Burkersdorf near Zittau . . . which portrays the biblical Supper, painted above, as the prototype of the church’s distribution of the Elements, painted below. The Reformation era itself composed this theme in woodcuts, partly as positive representation, partly for polemical support (cf. Paul. Drews, Der evang. Geistliche. Jena, 1905, Fig. 22).

(Thulin, op. cit.) “Polemical note: The church of Luther stands in early Christian proximity to Christ, not outside the “tradition.” “Biblical realism”: all the details of the biblical meal are represented: communio sanctorum in Christo: The Communion table is the place of the Church’s perpetually new wellspring and her greatest visibility.” (Thulin, op. cit.)

This altarpiece is evidence for the use of liturgical vestments: red chasuble and alb set with parures [apparels]. In the middle of the white-clothed altar stand the chalice and flagon, symbolizing the evangelical confession. On top of the altar is a superaltar with predella, the Baptism of Christ, two allegorical figures (“Faith on the left, and on the right, ? Hope”) in scrollwork; within a sun, God the Father as a bearded man, as the Ancient of Days from Daniel 7:9, and adjoined to the top, a risen Christ with victory banner. Above this, as in almost all comparable paintings, Jesus with His disciples at the “Last Supper.” Also comparable is the Nostiz-epitaph in Görlitz.


Cornelius Gurlitt. Beschreibende Darstellung der älteren Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler des Königreiches Sachsen, vol. 29: Amtshauptmannschaft Zittau (Land). (Dresden: C. C. Meinhold u. Söhne, 1906).

Arthur Carl Piepkorn. (op. cit., with black and white illustration) [Die liturgischen Gewänder in der Lutherischen Kirche seit 1555, illus. [in English: The Survival of the Historic Vestments in the Lutheran Church after 1555 (St. Louis: School for Graduate Studies, 1958)]

Oskar Thulin: Reformatorische und frühprotestantische Abendmahlsdarstellungen in Kunst und Kirche (1938), p. 30ff.

Fig. 12: Altar painting from the church of Schlegel-Burkersdorf (near Zittau); Photograph taken by author.

Fig. 12: Altar painting from the church of Schlegel-Burkersdorf (near Zittau); Photograph taken by author.