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

Historical Pictures of the Ev.-Luth. Divine Service

A Documentation
by Helmut Schatz

English translation by Matthew Carver

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Reformation Altar for the New Parish Church of Regensburg
Painter: Michael Ostendorfer (1490–1559), mixed media on wood panel.
Center panel: 136 x 146.5 cm. Sidei panels 136 x 86.4 cm each.
Now in the Regensburg City Museum
Photograph: History Museum of the Regensburg City Museums, figs. 39–45

It is noteworthy that Michael Ostendorfer’s altar destined for the New Parish Church, is no longer found in the planned location, but in the Regensburg City Museum. This had its reasons. Why it was removed from the church in the seventeenth century has not been explained. Frühinsfeld thinks that the exclusion of Confession from the realm of the Sacraments played a role. Confession, of course, plays a large role in other Reformation altars, e.g., the Wittenberg Reformation altar (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1547), which of course is a “Sacrament altar” (Harasimowicz): Baptism, Communion, and Confession are represented there (along with the preaching of Martin Luther in the predella).

The right panel shows Johann Bugenhagen, the city parson of Wittenberg and father confessor of Martin Luther, sitting in the confession throne; in his hand, the symbol of confession: the crossed keys of binding and loosing. In a prominent position, the central panel of Ostendorfer’s altar features a Confession scene. In the course of the years, evangelical private Confession (as distinct from Roman Catholic aural confession, so-called) had been abolished in Regensburg, having not been regarded as a “Sacrament” for a long time (as Neubauer and Frühinsfeld opine). I have expressed myself at length on this subject in “Der Berliner Beichtstuhlstreit und das Ende der ev. Privatbeichte” (unpublished MS). As in other places, after Pietism, the Enlightenment gained acceptance (among Catholics, too, it may be noted). Neubauer (op. cit.): “The form of the divine service stood no less under the marks of the Enlightenment. Disapproved, since the old liturgies were no longer in keeping with the times, the old divine service order with rich offering of words and adoration. God shifted from the center, man assumed his place. This exchange, plainly perceptible in the basic thematic of the preaching themes of that age, focusing on man, caused the traditional form for administering the Sacraments itself to unravel.

Fig. 39. “Altar of the Eternal Word”; Reformation altar by Michael Ostendorfer for the New Parish Church of Regensburg; Photograph: Regensburg City Museum

Example: “The court preacher of the crown princess Mathilde Therese von Thurn und Taxis, Georg Heinrich Lang, administered Communion with the words: ‘The virtuous effect lies not in this wine, it lies in Yourself, in the divine doctrine and in God” (also in Dollinger). Neubauer: “The sense of the confessional rite had in any case already been the subject of careful considerations since 1762.1 (The disputes) then finalized . . . the eventual introduction of general confession in 1797.”

With particular vehemence and sustained success, the promoters of the Enlightenment joined in the abolition of ministerial clothing. In actual fact, there had been no liturgical vestments in evangelical churches of Germany from perhaps 1780; there was absolutely no ministerial vestment. This state of affairs was first ended in Prussia in 1811 by King Frederick William III. By order of cabinet he introduced the black talar for judges, rabbis, and protestant ministers of religion. Bavaria officially followed suit in 1813.

Dollinger (op. cit.): “Less shocking, though indicative of the decadence of the period, was the elimination of the ‘priest’s chemise’2 A white mantle worn over the Sunday vestment or talar. In August, 1779, M. Gampert suddenly began preaching without it. Unilateral changes, however, as one document from the city hall observed, have an adverse effect on the common man; by it, decorum among higher and lower authorities. Dr. Jacob Christian Schäffer, of Querfurt, became superintendent . . . In 1799, under his successor, Jerome David Grimm, the ‘priest’s chemise’ was abolished by decision of the council.” (see Fig. 41, et al.)

Fig. 40: “Altar of the Eternal Word”; Reformation altar by Michael Ostendorfer, detail; Photograph: Regensburg City Museum

However, it was just these disputed rites which in the “Altar of the Eternal Word” (Harasimowicz) by Michael Ostendorfer were constantly set before the eyes of the congregation. In my own opinion, this was a constant offense [to them]. However, since the altar was of great significance—I think this fact was well known to the parson and parishioners of Regensburg—no steps were taken toward its destruction (as usually happened; e.g., of the many, many chasubles numbering by the hundreds, including from Lutheran times, nothing more is preserved from the St. Laurence church in Nuremberg). Instead, this altar was given to the guild of goldsmiths. In the illustration in Dollinger (op. cit.), it is still identified as “the Goldsmith Altar.” The city council of Regensburg commissioned this watar work (Frühinsfeld) and not the goldsmiths’ guild, as Dollinger observes.

The spiritual originator of this altar may probably be regarded as the Regensburg superintendent Nicholas Gallus, since his Catechismus was illustrated by Michael Ostendorfer in 1554. These woodcuts are the prototypes of the painting of the Reformation altar (illustration in Dollinger 456).

On October 14-15, 1542, the Lutheran Reformation was introduced [to Regensburg] with solemn worship services, treated extensively in Schwarz, op. cit.

There being no desire to establish a new church, all the old usages were continued insofar as they did not contradict Holy Scripture. Naturally, the customary chasubles were retained as well.

Only in 1554 were these abolished by Nicholas Gallus (1516–1570). In any case, the surplices were retained, as may be seen on the altarpiece. If we examine the back of the altar, we will find that Ostendorfer was not interested in abandoning all traditional ideas in representations of salvation history. The angel in the vignette of the Annunciation, in keeping with his rank as ministerial messenger, is vested as a deacon: alb, collar as a white vestment, and the dalmatic in red, slit on the sides and trimmed with gold fringe! (Fig. 40)

Fig. 41. “Altar of the Eternal Word”; Reformation altar by Michael Ostendorfer, detail; Photograph: Regensburg City Museum.

The recessed center panel shows the Last Judgment. As already properly seen, people passed around the altar during Communion. Under the image of the Judgment the place for the confesssional chair is visible—as handed down from other churches and already attested in pre-Reformation times. That was doubtless the place for monetary donation. The term “sacrificial ­­­­course” [Opfergang] for this rite has been retained to this day in many congregations of northern Germany and elsewhere.

Jörg Traeger (Katalog Regensburg, op. cit.) believes that he has found a model for the central image in Raphael’s (1483–1520) “Disputa del Sacramento” form 1509 (in the Stanza della Segnatura of Pope Julius II, Vatican Palace, Rome): “Ostendorfer could have known of Raphael’s painting through an engraving by Georgio Ghisi. Since the symmetrical, axial composition with horizontal division in terrestrial and heavenly zones with the semicircular collection of figures in groups is not unusual and can have many pictorial sources, the similarity to certain details of Raphael’s painting . . . with the Ostendorfer panel is striking” (cit. after Frühinsfeld). “In any case, it must, I think, also be seen that the theme of the main panel, the Sending of the Apostles, had been presented in Christian art since 1130. From the 15th century, this representation was the most common theme found on the predella (the lower panel).” (cit. after Reclams-Lexicon der Heiligen und der biblischen Gestalten; Stuttgart, 1968). “The altar—as we know from the description of Nikolaus Gallus in the church order of 1567—was not kept intact. It lacks the predella described by Gallus with the illustration of the rich man and poor Lazarus on the back side.” (Distler)

The entire image was to teach the congregation and serve as a witness to the introduction of the Reformation. That the Reformation taught nothing new was attested by the ceremonies prefigured in the Bible (in the Old Testament as well as the New) and in the rites at present. God’s Word remains dependable and binding for the Church purified from abuses. An important mark of the Reformation is the representation ofi the Holy Supper under both kinds. And not to be overlooked: since the chalice was distributed, a new—Lutheran—church vessel was made necessary: the wine flagon, which standsa almost oversized in the middle of the lower right panel. This is no accident, but a confession. (Fig. 41)

Fig. 42: From the choir book of Emmeram conventual, Ambrose Mairhofer, of 1567”; Photograph: Katalog 450 Jahre Evangelische Kirche in Regensburg.

It was necessary, too. One became a Lutheran by partaking of the Supper—under both kinds. The Chorbuch des Emmeramer Konventualen Ambrosius Mairhofer von 1567 (Source: Katalog 450 Jahre . . . ), no. 151, shows a distribution of Communion “under both kinds.” It is not, however, a Lutheran celebration of the Supper as the author of the catalog supposes. In any case, Communion under both kinds was permitted in 1565 by a dispensation (indult) from the Pope, and was openly given in the diocese of Regensburg also. The initiative came from Emperor Maximilian II (1564–1576). Later, the papal permission was withdrawn.

The image in Mairhofer’s Chorbuch shows a similarity at first glance to the image of the same theme from Ostendorfer’s altar. In Ostendorfer, the congregation gathers before the altar, the predella of which is seen—very modern for that time. In the aforementioned Chorbuch, the congregation assembles before an altar containing a late-Gothic winged altarpiece with statuary of saints. In the right wing, likely Peter with the keys; yet on the altar, the Missal with the beginning of the Canon: “Te igitur . . .” The “T” in the Missale Romanum is illuminated as a crucifixion group. The Canon was rejected by Lutherans on account of the “sacrificial memorial” contained therein. In the middle of this altar stands the chalice—in Ostendorfer, as already mentioned, the wine flagon. Incidental in both illustrations is that the celebrant wears no stole. In Mairhofer also the distinct form and color of the talar (brown and black, cut narrow and wide). Ambrose Mairhofer entered the convent of St. Emmeram in 1550 and was made abbot in 1575. He dedicated his Chorbuch to the evangelical city council of Regensburg on September 8, 1567 (Catalogue) Fig. 42.

Fig. 43a: “Home Baptism”; 16th c., Regensburg; Photograph: Katalog 450 Jahre; Evangelische Kirche in Regensburg.

Fig. 43b: “Home Baptism”; 16th c., Regensburg; Photograph: Katalog 450 Jahre; Evangelische Kirche in Regensburg.

A few observations on the theme of liturgical clothing from the aforementioned Katalog: No. 198, two paintings in the Regensburg city museum portray a home baptism at the end of the 16th century. The clergy wear talar and surplice, and one, a stole. Since salt and chrism are absent, the author believes an evangelical Baptism is in view here. Fig. 43a and 43b.

The image by an anonymous painter, ca. 1700, depicts an evangelical Supper. I am pleased here to quote from the catalogue, no. 222: “Image inscription: ‘O ample love! O love without all measure / Which Thou hast left for my memorial-treasure / Lord, Thy body in the bread, and Thy wounds’ blood in the wine / For these my constant thanks and service I consign.’

“In this image also, the administration of the Sacrament is prefigured in their presence by a biblical event. Before the altar an evangelical cleric stands administering the chalice with wine to a lady kneeling before him, forming a visual mirror. Behind the female communicant, a second lady waits to receive the Blood of Christ. Above this scene is a crucifix flanked by the two Hermes of the altar structure. From Christ’s side and the wounds of His hands blood streams into two chalices on the altar. This is a reference to the sacramental significance of the Blood, which redeems the believer from his sins, who receives it in the Supper in the species of wine . . . The iconographic tradition of the Redeemer’s blood being caught in a chalice extends back to pre-Reformation times. The formal and contentual presence of the biblical event in the contemporaneous church interior on one and the same visual plain transcends the specific protestant visual concept. . . . The contentual conflict with the Eucharistic theme in this popular master led to a redemption allegory.” Fig. 44.

Fig. 44: “Abendmahl”; c. 1700, Anyonmous; Photograph: Katalog 450 Jahre; Evangelische Kirche in Regensburg.


Robert Dollinger, Das Evangelium in Regensburg. Eine evangelische Kirchengeschichte (Regensburg: Ev. Luth. Gesamtkirchengemeinde,1959).

Ulrich Distler, Christus—Mittelpunkt des Glaubens: Wesensmerkmale evangelischen Gottesdienstes dargestellt am Altarretabel Michael Ostendorfers in der Neupfarrkirche zu Regensburg. (Heilsbronn: Inst. Für Lehrerfortbildung / Museums of the City, 1984).

Gert Frühinsfeld, Ostendorfers Reformationsaltar für die Neupfarrkirche Regensburg 1554–55, in the supplement to the 1995–96 annual report of the Ostendorfer Gymnasium Neumarkt (Regensburg: Verein der Freunde des Ostendorfer-Gymnasiums, 1996).

Jan Harasimowicz, Kunst als Glaubensbekenntnis: Beiträge zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Reformationszeit (Baden-Baden: Koerner, 1996).

Catalogue: 450 Jahre Evangelische Kirche in Regensburg 1542–1992. An exhibition of the Regensburg city museum in cooperation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Regensburg (1992).

Edmund Neubauer, Das geistig-kulturelle Leben der Reichsstadt Regensburg (1750–1806) in the Munich city archive’s new writings series (Munich, 1979).

Arthur Carl Piepkorn, The Survival of the Historic Vestments in the Lutheran Church after 1555 (St. Louis: Concordia Seminary — St. Louis School for Graduate Studies, 1958); German tr., ed. Jobst Schöne and Ernst Seybold, Die liturgischen Gewänder in der Lutherischen Kirche seit 1555. (Lüdenscheid, 1987). Fig. 1 & 2.

Hans Schwarz, Reformation und Reichsstadt, Protestantisches Leben in Regensburg (Regensburg: Universitätsverlag, 1994), vol. 20.

Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Leipzig, 1889), vol. 24. [1889, vol. 28, or 1886, vol. 24]

Neue Deutsche Biographie (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1999), vol. 19, pp. 615–616.

Ulrich Thieme, Felix Becker, eds., Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler (Leipzig: Seemann, 1889).

Hans Walz, Franklin Littell, eds., Weltkirchenlexikon: Handbuch der Ökumene (Stuttgart: KreuzVerlag, 1960). Painting: “Themen der Reformation Spalte,” p. 749, with illus.


  1. No doubt also a consequence of the Confession disputes in Berling from 1680, which convulsed evangelical Germany and sent waves as far as Regensburg. —Author.
  2. Meaning the surplice. —Author.

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