The Holy Sepulchre Chapel at Freiburg Münster

The Cathedral of the German city of Freiburg im Breisgau conserves a particularly interesting piece of medieval holy week heritage. Built around 1330, the Heiliggrabkapelle can be found on the epistle side of the Cathedral, within the last bay before the transept. The exterior of the chapel is closed with an ornate arcade and canopy. Beyond it lies monumental stone effigy of the dead Christ over 7 feet tall, accompanied by smaller figures of the three Marys and angels.

On the chest of the statue is a small golden door. The effigy was in fact used as a reservatorium for the blessed sacrament during the Easter Triduum. While the typology of Holy Sepulchre ediculae and sculptural groups of the burial of Christ became quite common in Germanic lands in the centuries that followed the crusades, this instance of statue-tabernacle seems rare.

However, parallels can be found in pre-tridentine customs all over Europe. A notable example we previously explored is that of the Virgo Sacrario of the Cathedral of Palma.

Images by: Erzbischöfliches Ordinariat Freiburg

Update (05/06/2021)

The first written mention of this practice dates back to St. Ulrich of Augsburg (893-973) according to his biography, the Vita Sancti Uodalrici, composed by Gerhard of Augsburg. My gratitude to Fr Juan Tomas FSSP for providing this information.

Further reading:

Juhos R. The sepulchre of Christ in arts and liturgy of the late middle ages. 2018.

Brooks NC. The Sepulchre of Christ in Art and Liturgy. 1921.

Schmitt O. Das Heilige Grab im Freiburger Münster. 1919.

Schwarzweber A. Das Heilige Grab in der deutschen Bildnerei des Mittelalters. 1940.

Kroesen J. Heiliges Grab und Tabernakel. Ihr Zusammenhang im mittelalterlichen Kirchenraum. 2000.

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