Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service: Nuremberg – St. Giles Antiphonal/Excursus on St. Laurence painting

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

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Nuremberg: St. Egidien-kirche / St. Giles Church
Antiphonale selectum in usum chori ecclesiastici ad D. Aegidii autore J. M[atthesio], 1724.
Excerpt of Title Page.
Photo: Provincial church archive, Nuremberg, fig. 34

“When Lutheran pastors still ‘went to choir.’”

“The title page shows the church’s high altar, in front of which on the high double-sided stand sits the choir chant-book, and to the right and left choir stalls, each with three clergymen standing in white surplices, as worn in Nuremberg until 1810.” (Herold, op. cit.) “Johann Matthesius at the Schola Sebaldina [St. Sebald’s School] was assistant to Adam Rudolf Helm, choir leader and cantor of St. Giles, whom he later succeeded from 1746 to 1757. He wrote this noteworthy manuscript for the consecration of the church newly (after suffering fire) built in the Baroque style.” (Pilz, op. cit.)

“The choir book, which must needs have been based on a pre-Reformation model, being copied entirely in Gothic notation on a red five-line staff in conformity to ‘historic copying practice’ is literally bound into the appendix between the Old and New Testament. The metal trim on the front cover is decorated with Moses and four prophets, while the back cover depicts Christ and the four Evangelists with their symbols. Belonging to the extreme beauty of the manuscript are also the rich illumination in the form of pictorial initials which are gauged to the pericope or pertinent person for the Sunday or festival and which, by way of an important scene, vividly illustrate the appointed chants for the day: the consequence of the representations is a ‘picture-book’ of the Bible and a ‘gallery’ of saints.

“The contents, including the antiphons as well as a number of hymns and other pieces for the secondary services in St. Giles, impressively preserve the continuity of Latin chant in the active church life of the imperial Lutheran city of Nuremberg at the beginning of the 18th century, and betrays the sponsorship of patrician families for the establishment of a representative collection of worship music, since the title page includes the coat of arms of the families of Tetzel, Imhoff, Grundherr, and Ebner, which are also mentioned in the foreword.” (Schlager, op. cit.)

And Theobald Schrems’s dissertation, Die Geschichte des gregorianischen Gesanges in den protestantischen Gottesdiensten (Freiburg, Switzerland, 1928): “With even greater fidelity than Leipzig, the imperial city of Nuremberg safeguarded liturgical and hymnodic customs. The city’s countless churches and chapels were supplied with clergy in great number as they had been in Catholic times. The religious and worship life was accordingly one of great richness and multiplicity, and retained this form until the end of the 18th century.” Max Herold (op. cit.): “. . . it must not have been unfamiliar how Spener, the chief representative of pietism, otherwise viewed as small-hearted, outspokenly supported the Latin language of the choir in his Theologische Bedenken, partly because, with the ancient church and in his own ideal universalism he saw in its use a reminder of the first Christian Pentecost, with its multiplicity of languages and tongues, and an illustration of the church’s epithet as Mother of All Nations. Latin’s undeniable musical and melodic advantages for chanting certainly assisted in this. In our case it cannot be forgotten that the majority of the Nuremberg populace attended secondary school and elementary schools, in which the Latin language was certainly strong, and that, by the aid of a great variety of service booklets in Latin and German, the text of the coresponding chants found its way into the hands of hearers.” The present manuscript contains 177 pages of chants with notation.

“The Gaelic monastery [Schottenkloster] connected to St. Giles church was secularized in 1525, and in 1526 was handed over to the city council. With Melanchthon’s cooperation a secondary school was established. The destruction of the building by fire in 1696 necessitated its renovation, which was undertaken from 1711 to 1718. The year 1724, according to the prologue, saw the beginning of a promising and successful third century.” (Schlager, op. cit.)

“The number of antiphons for individual Sundays and feasts ranges considerably, reflecting the simultaneously rich and differentiated practice of secondary services at St. Giles during the course of the church year. From this it may be at least be seen that in Vespers, Matins (officium matutinum) and the Day-Office (the “choir”), antiphons were chanted with the psalms. In 1724, the time of the manuscript’s creation, the full spectrum of masses, chanted Matins, and offices was still existent in the churches of Nuremberg. Only at the end of the century did Matins, choral Matins, sung Vespers, and day-offices shrink in number as a result of the increasing replacement of tradition and rationalizing of church life, and in response to the diminishing participation of the congregation. In conjunction with these services, then, there was a concomitant ebb in the Latin chant still expressly presented in this Antiphonale.

Fig. 34. Title Page from handwritten manuscript: Antiphonale selectum in usum chori ecclesiastici ad D. Aegidii autore J. M. 1724; (Enlarged detail) Photo: Provincial church archive, Nuremberg


Karlheinrich Dumrath, Helmut Talazko, Kostbarkeiten aus Nürnberger Kirchen: Liturgische Bücher aus der Zeit vor und nach der Reformation (Nuremberg, 1967).

Max Herold, Alt-Nürnberg in seinen Gottesdienstes. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Sitte und des Kultus (Gütersloh, 1890).

Max Herold, “Ein Antiphonale von St. Egidien in Nürnberg” in Siona (no date or year), p. 93.

Kurt Pilz, Die St. Egidienkirche in Nürnberg und ihre Geschichte und ihre Kunstwerke (Einzelarbeiten aus der Kirchengeschichte Bayerns). Photo series of the Association für Bavarian Church History, vol. 4 (Nuremberg: Verein für bay. Kircheng., 1972).

Walter R. Rubsamen, “The International ‘Catholic’ Repertoire of a Lutheran Church in Nürnberg (1574–1597)” in Annales musicologiques, vol. 1957, p. 229ff.

Karlheinz Schlager, Theodor Wohnhaas, “Lateinische Antiphonen aus der evangelischen Reichsstadt. Das Inventar des Nürnberger Egidien-Antiphonars von 1724” in Jahrbuch für bayerische Kirchengeschichte, (Nuremberg, 2000).

Image for the Introduction of the Reformation to Nuremberg
“Professing Lutheranism,” fig. 35.

So might one describe a painting found in the evangelical-Lutheran church of St. Laurence (Middle Franconia). According to the inscription, in 1663, 139 years after its appearance, the painting was donated by Susanna Laurentij, a young widow, née Dietherrin.

The painter, Hans Springinklee, a pupil and colleague of Albrecht Dürer, made this painting on panel in 1524 presumably for a church of Nuremberg (cf. the later images for the Augsburg Confession in St. Ulrich’s, Nuremberg-Mögeldorf, a similarly named image in the “Museums of the City of Nuremberg,” illustration in Kubach/Reutter, op. cit.) or possibly for another building; we are thinking, e.g., of the city hall, such as that in Bad Windsheim. In 1524, Luther was still alive (died in 1546) and it was six years before the presentation of the Augsburg Confession (1530).

1524 — in this year, the free imperial city of Nuremberg decided by a vote of the council to adopt the Lutheran Reformation. Was this painting to commemorate this as an “everlasting memorial”? The theme of the image, Law and grace, a central theme of the Reformation, was brought into currency again in 1999 with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

On the image: As a motto it bears the Reformation device: VERBUM DOMINI MANET IN AETERNUM (“The Word of the Lord abideth for ever.”) In the architectural interstices at the top of the painting is the significant year 1524.

Examples of Law and Gospel from Holy Scripture: left, Abraham’s sacrifice; he is to sacrifice Isaac, the latter in a white shroud. Under them, Adam and Eve. Right side: Moses with the tables of the Law, with all those who, according to the Lutheran understanding, have been entangled in the Law: Pope, bishop, clerics, nuns. Above this, the crossed pole with the brazen serpent. “He that looketh upon this token by faith only,” says Luther, “need not fear the serpent’s deadly bite.

The main image in the center is flanked by Aaron, the first high priest (and brother of Moses) and King David with harp. In the exact same arrangement as Dürer’s “All Saints Day” image (1511) we see the mercy-seat: God the Father (as the “Ancient of days” after Daniel 7:9) portrayed with the imperial crown and gold-trimmed cope (or pluvial), and on the beam of the Cross the imperial orb and scepter, exactly like Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) portrayals in the Divine Comedy: God as emperor of the cosmos. And at the feet of the Crucified, the dove as symbol for the Holy Spirit in a starburst motif. This depiction of the symbol for the Holy Spirit at the foot of the Cross is quite rare. The Church did not have patience for such representation. Later, the representation of God as triangle with eye in starburst motif came to be preferred over this theme. Next to the Crucifix, portrayed as the mercy-seat, are the two thieves, the one on the left (from the image’s perspective) turning himself away.

The thief on Christ’s right receives the promise: “This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” The legend knows his name: Dismas. He is supposed to have been the thief who showed the holy family the way to Egypt in their flight and entertained them in his thieve’s den. On the good side to the right, the three Marys appear with hands raised. Behind them is the apostle John, represented as Martin Luther. At the foot of the Cross lies the skull of Adam, traditionally thought to be buried there. Beside this is the centurion, Longinus, opening Christ’s side with a lance. According to the legend he is supposed to have been blind, and can only perform the lancing by the guidance of an escort; Longinus’s sight is restored by a drop of blood. The lance is one of the greatest relics of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the lower part of the painting there are important historic references. To the right, the 1663 inscription of the aforesaid endowment, to the left the Dietherr family crest flanked by the apostles Peter and Paul. [Between them is] the Holy Supper is depicted as celebrated in the Lutheran church, viz., in two kinds. That there may be no doubt about this, the chalice is demonstrably visible on the altar next to the tables of the Law and the agenda. The ministers wear liturgical vestments, which were, as we know, not abolished by the Reformation.

Illustration 35: For the Introduction of the Reformation to Nuremberg; Painting by Hans Springinklee, church of St. Laurence, Roßtal (Middle Franconia); Photo: evangelical-Lutheran parish office, Roßtal