The holy sepulcher in the Schöntal monastery church

A message of faith as a Baroque stagingThe holy sepulcher

A holy sepulcher like that found in the Baroque monastery church at Schöntal was a place where Catholics could go during the Holy Week to experience the story of the Passion. In the 18th century, such large-scale sculptures were dramatic stagings, a particular medium used by the Counter-Reformation.

Holy sepulcher in Schussenried Monastery

Holy sepulcher in Schussenried Monastery.

Dramatic staging of the Passion

The religious custom of the holy sepulcher can be traced back to the early Middle Ages. Inspired by the period's frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem, places of worship were erected in side chapels at many locations. After the Reformation in particular, Catholic churches placed emphasis on popularity, passion and pathos—antithetical to the Protestant anti-image position—in order to appeal to the emotions of devout.

The holy sepulcher in the Schöntal monastery church

Used for Easter services until 1955.

Examples from the Passion of Christ

Around 1790, Georg Schäfer created the holy sepulcher for the southern transept of the monastery church. It was used for services between Maundy Thursday and Easter until roughly 1955. The death of Christ, his burial and resurrection, were presented to believers in a dramatic fashion.

Detail view of the holy sepulcher in the Schöntal monastery church

The realistic depiction makes a stronger statement.

Baroque staging

The Baroque staging of the holy sepulcher and the realistic presentation of Christ dead in the tomb reinforced the Christian message. The tomb’s construction is based on the story of Christ's resurrection. The upper half of the tomb includes an open tabernacle, surrounded by clouds and cherubs’ heads. The tabernacle can be rotated to show three different scenes and can be converted to match the other scenes.

Lighting intensified the effect

The holy sepulcher offers impressive lighting with candle arms and lamp holders. Candle niches were hidden in the sidewalls of the sepulchral niche to highlight the dramatic scene with yet another lighting effect. Tiny glass shards have been attached to the sepulchral rock to reflect the flickering light, thus intensifying the candlelight effect.

The holy sepulcher on Maundy Thursday, Schöntal Monastery
The holy sepulcher on Good Friday, Schöntal Monastery
The holy sepulcher on Holy Saturday, Schöntal Monastery

The holy sepulcher on Maundy Thursday (left), Good Friday (center) and Holy Saturday (right).

A crane is used to position the holy sepulcher

The holy sepulcher is placed on its original site.

The holy sepulcher once again on its historic site

After 1955, the holy sepulcher was relegated to a gallery as an old fashioned prop. Following an extensive restoration, the giant sculpture is once again on its historic site in the transept behind the choir screen. The Catholic church of Schöntal has since reintegrated the holy sepulcher into its Lenten services. The holy sepulcher can be viewed as part of a monastery tour.

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