Even in Rostock, hardly anybody knows anything about the founding legend of Rostock’s Marienkirche. The evidence is well “hidden” way up high.
As tale collector Albert Niederhöffer described the 14 clay figures on the western front of the tower of Rostock’s Marienkirche in a story in the middle of the last century, the obvious can be explained quickly: “14 man-like objects, which are built into the masonry as ornaments, depicting all 14 brothers or men who are supposed to have built the church”. Not much more is known about the 35m-high figural frieze.
However, as “an oak board in half-raised sculpture work, depicting seven male figures with different ancient robes” from the Marienkirche and of around four metres in length is described at the same time, some light is cast upon the legend’s relation to the statement of the former sexton of the Church of Saint Mary (Marienkirche): “In unclear, ancient times, 14 brothers, all rich men owning many properties in Mecklenburg, made the decision to construct a large, magnificent place of worship in Rostock. Seven of these men then gathered the money and building materials from across the country and sent them to Rostock, while the other seven remained in Rostock to oversee and manage the construction work.
From the seven brothers who remained in Rostock, only one had the money or the purse and he betrayed the others. However, he was found out and his brothers then killed him. The board in the
church now depicts the seven brothers who supervised and took care of the construction work in Rostock. In the middle the deceiver could be seen, with a purse in his hand.” The board does not seem to have withstood the test of time; today, the figural frieze is baffling to look at and best seen with binoculars from the Faule Grube street.
Steenbock, the official court photographer, could only take good photos during repair work on the tower in 1899, from a distance of two metres on the scaffolding. Two scaffolding beams and four vertical shadow lines are also included in the photos. in 1927 the figural frieze was described and interpreted by Gustav Dehn in the ‘Contributions to the history of Rostock’ book. This interpretation is spectacular, but was hardly spread to the people of Rostock.
The frieze with 14 sitting figures has a length of 11.8m, including a gap of 2.1m in the middle - enough space for three more figures. In the gaps between the baldachin curves, the shapes of 12 other upper bodies are built into the wall. Dehn repeatedly makes reference to recesses that are “simply plastered with a trowel” to express a piece of work done quickly. “The 14 main figures are just 75-85cm high, with their faces glazed yellow, and incidentally show the remains of a dark glaze like all the other frieze parts.” Only Petrus, with his key, is clearly identified. As the figures are wearing shoes, Dehn doubts that they are apostles (who were generally barefoot).
The high mounting, the very old form elements and the peculiar division of the frieze leads Gustav Dehn to conclude that this is a remnant of the first Marienkirche, which was first mentioned in 1231. It is possible that the row of figures was mounted in the choir room at a lower height and placed in the tower after the preceding building was demolished. This would make the figural frieze from around 1230 “probably the oldest set of figures in Rostock and all of Mecklenburg”.
The legend from the 19th century supports this date when it states the period of origin of the first church.
A good viewing spot would be The Faule Grube street, which stretches from the Kröpeliner Straße towards the Lange Straße and has a view of the approximately 35m-high western front of the Marienkirche - preferably with binoculars or telephoto lens.
Picture caption: Left part of the figural frieze with seven brothers at the Marienkirche
Text, photo: Dr. Hartmut Schmied, http://www.hartmutschmied.com/ (http://www.hartmutschmied.com/)
Further fables and legends about Rostock and the area can be found in: Hartmut Schmied, Geister, Götter, Teufelssteine (Ghosts, Gods, Devil’s Stones). Sagen und Legendenführer MecklenburgVorpommern (Fable and Legend Guide Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Hinstorff Verlag, Rostock 2011 (sold at the tourist information desk) and at www.cryptoneum.de (CRYPTONEUM Legend Museum Rostock)