Marienkapelle Levenhagen

Other Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

Hier entsteht die interaktive Führung für die Marienkirche Levenhagen samt Wallfahrtskapelle. Im Moment ist sie noch in der Entwicklung, wir hoffen aber, Ihnen bald ein ansprechendes digitales Führungsangebot präsentieren zu können.

Author: Kirchengemeinde Dersekow

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25 Stations


Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

Welcome to the Church of St. Mary with its pilgrimage chapel here in the village of Levenhagen. We, the protestant parish of Dersekow-Levenhagen, are pleased that you have chosen to visit us. In order to hear about the history and treasures of this special place you can use your smartphone or tablet at the various stops or at the audio-stop in the chapel.

Technical Introduction

Dorfstraße, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

First a few instructions on using the App "Digiwalk". If you choose to skip over this part, please proceed to Stop Number 1.
To use "Digiwalk" please download the App with your mobile device in the App Store from Apple ( or Google Play from Android ( On the flyer, poster or introduction in the display case you will find the direct link to both stores as QR codes, which you can use with any normal barcode scanner app. (Alternately, you can find the app by searching "Digiwalk" in your appropriate app store provided you are using Android or Apple. At present, other platforms are not supported.) If you don’t possess one of these, use the audio-stop in the chapel.

As soon as you have installed the App please find a small QR code sign to the right above the menu. Tap on this to open a camera with which you can scan the QR codes at the various points or stops along the audio-tour. At each stop you can listen to information by tapping the headphone symbol. An icon will provide you with more pictures and illustrations.

We hope you enjoy your tour of the Church of St. Mary and its pilgrimage chapel.

01 Levenhagen - to the history of the village

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

The place Levenhagen was first mentioned in 1280. Together with its surrounding villages it was under the auspices of the Cistercian monastery of Eldena. The site of Levenhagen may be identical with an earlier- mentioned settlement called Cyrcinogh.” Cyrcinogh” means “site of a church”. This word may be traced back to Danish settlers who arrived on the island of Rügen back in the first half of the 13th century. ( It was they who built the monastery of Eldena). If Cyrcinogh and Levenhagen are identical, then the origins of our church reach back to the first half of the 13th century.
In German place-names ending in “hagen“ indicate a site cleared of trees. Levenhagen began as a clearing in a wood. The meaning of the syllable „Leven“ has not yet been reliably established. It may be a Low German form of the surname Lion and would mean Lion’s settlement in the wood.
In the late Middle Ages our village became a well-known place of pilgrimage. To the right of the gate to the grave-yard you can see the remains of the pilgrimage chapel of around 1400 AD. It is the smallest preserved road-side chapel of its type in the North of Germany. The next audio- stop is at the chapel.

02 St Mary’s Chapel - Introduction

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

This pilgrimage chapel was built in the first decade after 1400, a good 600 years ago. But the tradition of the Levenhagen pilgrimage goes back to the 14th century. Repair work on the Church of St Mary suggests this was even as early as 1380. Sources reveal a wooden forerunner church to the present-day brick chapel.
But why should a chapel be erected here? Older villagers talk about legends handed down over generations.

03 Legend 1: The Appearance of the Virgin Mary

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

Long ago, when the people of Levenhagen were Catholic, there was a respectable man who did not feel worthy or religious enough to take Holy Communion. Others tried to persuade him to think differently and attend church. They succeeded, but just as he was about to receive the host his feeling of unworthiness returned. In great fear he took the host but did not consume it but kept it on his person. After mass in a state of turmoil he left the church and went and sat on a huge stone under the present-day chapel. He was a picture of misery, full of guilt for going to communion in an unworthy state of mind. Nothing could console him and when he looked for the consecrated host and couldn’t find it he was in despair.
Just then the Virgin Mary appeared to him above the stone and consoled him. After that people considered this spot to be a holy place and the devout parishioners decided to erect a shelter over the stone. This was done but in the course of the summer the cows coming from the meadow kept toppling the simple shelter.

Two further stories are connected to the building of the chapel of stone.

04 Legend 2 - The scandal of Radolfesdorf

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

One winter a beggar in Radolfesdorf, present-day Alt Ungnade, stole some ham from the local stable-boys. They noticed the thief and followed him. They caught up with him at the edge of the wood and hung him upside-down over a strong branch. They didn’t intend to kill him but to teach him a lesson. No matter how much the thief begged for mercy, nothing could make them repent their action. Finally the poor devil cursed them saying if they didn’t show mercy their village would deserve the name “Merciless.” Just as the boys were about to help him down a hare ran past. In rushing to catch the hare the boys forgot about the suspended thief and when they returned, to their great consternation, the thief was dead.
People living a hundred years ago said they had seen the poor beggar’s oak-tree . It stood at the border to Heilgeisthof and was known as the oak of misery. Because of this tragedy the village of Radolfesdorf was henceforth called” Ungnade” which means “merciless”. The stable-boys were to make good their deed by begging for money to replace the wooden shelter in Levenhagen with a stone chapel. This they did, it took a long time and finally the chapel was built.

But the following story tells more about what happened.

05 Legend 3 - The horse boys, the devil and the woodstone

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

The stable-boys were supposed to build the chapel in one night otherwise they would forfeit their lives. Full of despair they made a pact with the devil promising him their souls if he had the chapel built before the first cock crowed next morning. Torn between fear of the devil and fear of being hanged they watched the devil at work. Then one of the boys had an idea. He crept into the hen-house in the middle of the night to imitate the crowing of a cock. The devil saw through him and carried on building. But the boy’s crowing alerted a real cock who began to crow and all the other cocks in the village joined in. Cursing in rage, the devil fled from his work but took the building material with him. Luckily only one stone was needed to finish the chapel. The stable-boys grabbed a wooden block to fill the gap thus finishing the building and saving their souls and their lives. To this day the wooden block in the wall of the chapel can still be seen.

Unless you have already done so, please enter the chapel and take a seat on the bench.

06 Healings, pilgrimages & legend 4 - The stingy Countess

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

Originally the chapel was open to the road. At the site of the present-day entrance there used to be a closed wall on which a picture of the Virgin Mary hung. It is no longer there. Popular tradition has it that miraculous healings through Maria took place around the chapel. The number of pilgrims grew. The lame and the blind in particular were healed. Those looking for help brought Mary, along with their prayers for healing, consecrated articles and gifts, often in the form of money. These were thrown into the chapel through a little opening in the door. A further legend around miraculous healings grew up and appeared in various versions. It is even mentioned in the Swedish type of Doomsday Book of 1697. It concerns a blind noble lady, some even call her a countess from far-away Paris.

This countess came to hear about the healing power of the chapel. She was very rich but blind. She set off for Levenhagen, promising Mary faithfully that she would donate an enormous sum of money to the chapel if she could only see again. The closer she came to the chapel, the more she realized that she was regaining her sight. Just before she reached the chapel, she could see perfectly well. However, the countess was miserly by nature. She thought now that she could see again she would turn back and keep her money for herself. That was what she did. But what happened? No sooner had she turned to go back home than she became blind again. In desperation, she travelled back to Levenhagen, however, to no avail. She was blind, and remained blind ever after.

07 Adoration of the Virgin Mary & pilgrimages attendant on the Reformation

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

Some scholars associate this legend with the end of the miracles in Levenhagen. But other reasons are more likely. For in the second half of the 16th century the Reformation was finally established in the villages. With it the invocation of saints became increasingly problematic. Protestant theologians considered it idolatory. Nevertheless the adoration of saints carried on for many generations in Levenhagen. This implies that the local clergymen were tolerant. It ma ,of course, show how deeply rooted the adoration of St Mary was in the population.

It was only in 1633 that a decree was passed for the “idolatrous behavior” to be stopped. Whether or not this had any effect remains unknown because the door with its small hole through which people threw in their offerings remained. One hundred years later Gottlieb Samuel Pristaff, an energetic collector of Pomeranian history and stories complained vehemently about this idolatrous habit.

"This chapel is still standing, and is believed by some superstitious people to be so sacred that it is bestowed upon them by throwing money and flax through the door. These gifts are then used by the pastor and the leaders for the benefit of the churches. This hustle and bustle should be abolished quickly in order to ward off this vile bad habit and idolatry."

But Pristaff’s protests remained as unsuccessful as previous decrees. In 1749 the local clergyman was instructed to keep records of the donations, which were considerable. Around 1770 the chapel contributed to 1/6 of the church revenue. Only towards the end of the 18th century did the offerings quickly decline. The reason for this is attributed not only to the legend of the miserly countess but also to the following story.

08 Sage 5 - The godless squire and the end of the miracles

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

In a drinking-bout in Levenhagen a godless squire poked fun at the wonders that St Mary had brought about in the village. He was reprimanded severely but this made him laugh all the more at the stupidity of the villagers to believe such nonsense. Finally, in his drunken state, he laid the following bet: if St Mary had cured so many blind people, he would bring his blind nag to the chapel for her to cure it. This should be easier with an animal. If his horse could see, he would joyfully eat his words, for after all, his horse would be cured. If not, people should stop going on about that old nonsense and leave him in peace. Even though no one would bet against him, the mocker rode his blind nag to the chapel and roughly forced the poor animal to poke its head through the hole in the door. Legend has it that St Mary was so insulted that she never performed another miracle there ever since.

09 St Mary Chapel in the 19th and 20th centuries

Dorfstraße 10, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

The locked-up pilgrimage chapel gradually lost all purpose. During the 19th century it fell into decay. It would have shared the fate of most way-side chapels in the north of Germany and disappeared if it had not undergone fundamental restoration and re-consecration in 1921. Pastor Rahn, the clergyman at that time,noted how, since the beginning of his inauguration in 1904, he had considered various uses for the building . It was too small for a mortuary but could serve as a war memorial for those killed in action. This plan was carried out in 1921. The original door opening eastwards to the road was built up and moved to the west side. The old wooden door with the hole was replaced. A small dormer window was inserted on the west side to make the space over the arch accessible. Inside, wooden plaques bearing the names of the fallen were put up. Also there was a group of figures carved by Dietrich Rahn, one of the pastor’s sons. He had lost two of his brothers in war. The carving showed Jesus Christ as consoler and protector of widows and orphans represented by a young mother with her child. All this made the chapel stand out favourably against other war memorials of the time. Mounted on the wall facing the road was a relief of a German soldier with a wreath of honour as well as the inscription “To our fallen.” This was removed towards the end of the fifties. However, photos taken at the time still exist showing the changes made in 1921.

10 The pilgrimage chapel in the latest time

Dorfstraße 10, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

The last renovation took place in the years 2004/2005. Nonetheless there was some misunderstanding and dispute as to how to use the renovated chapel. As a result a magnificent but enormous statue of the Virgin Mary was placed in a niche along the wall of the tiny building. But it was soon removed. The provocative headlines appearing in Bild, the German yellow-press newspaper, did not help de-escalate the conflict. With distance and from today’s point of view we laugh at those headlines but they served to make the old long-forgotten pilgrimage chapel a real focal point of sensation far and wide, something which had long been lacking.
In 2015 when the brick walls were reinforced the walled-up window was opened up again and the 19th century stained-glass windows which had been stored in the tower were replaced. Since 2017 visitors can sit on the comfortable new bench. From there observant eyes can make out the remains of the medieval painting in the form of a small 600 year-old star between the windows.

11 The Tombstone of Beata Christina von Scheven

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

This tombstone is one of many of the 18th century which can be recognized in the landscape painting of 1884 by Gustav Pflugradt who was a great-nephew of Caspar David Friedrich. They were later placed near the church probably to preserve them. The inscription here has been well-preserved and easy to read. Have a go!

According to the inscription Beata Christina was born on 11th June 1784 and died not quite 8 years on 2nd March 1792. Cause of death was given as “consumption”. Attention is drawn to the fact that she could neither walk nor talk. The fate of this blind girl, in close vicinity to a pilgrimage chapel whose patron saint cured the blind and the lame, gains in significance when we realize that she was the daughter of the local clergyman Georg Gerhard von Scheven.

Engraved on the reverse of the tombstone is a verse poignantly expressing Christian hope for eternal life for this child. It is interesting to note that the inscription can only be read on certain days by particular light. Can you read it?

Free Translation of the German poem inscription:
"Here in the dark, but there in the light
in seeing God's face I will have my deligth."

12 Introduction Church of St Mary and John

The beginnings of the Church of St Mary in Levenhagen go back to the 13th century. It was first mentioned in 1280 at a time when Levenhagen was possessed by the monastery of Eldena. More than likely the church had a forerunner made of wood. Remains of a first stone building were discovered during excavations in 1966. Up in the roof-space above the arches looking eastwards the gable of the former exterior wall can be seen. Probably during the time when Levenhagen became a place of pilgrimage the choir was first enlarged and extended by an nave. The polygonal choir was built around 1340, with the nave following around 1375.More space was needed most likely to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims. The vestibule to the south of the choir and the present-day chapel of St Mary in front of the church were built around or slightly after 1400.

13 Font

The font is the oldest and most valuable artefact in this church. It was made out of limestone from Gotland around 1300. So this font stood in the fore-runner building to the present-day choir and is older than all the walls surrounding it. The outside of the font shows engraved silhouettes of the twelve apostles, though today only faintly visible. What is, however, clearly visible today is the former practice of immersing infants during baptism. That is why the font is much bigger and deeper than those of today. The font stood for many years unused in the church tower before being used in the parsonage garden as a flower-pot. In 1926 it was loaned to the museum in Greifswald.It is thanks to Pastor Dr. Norbert Buske that in 1967 the font was finally returned to the church of Levenhagen.

14 West Portal

What is especially noticeable is the big west portal which is bricked up today. Its original size can be clearly recognized. Do you see the ironwork high up to the right and the left of the portal?
These are the upper hinges of the former doors. But why should such a huge opening be necessary? Church historians assume this had to do with the processions in a place of pilgrimage. Perhaps the over-dimensional door was to allow the bearing of a greater statue of St Mary or of someone carrying an effigy of Christ on the cross into the church. And, of course, those pilgrims and believers standing outside the church could follow events through the open portal. The huge opening emphasized the importance of Levenhagen as a place of pilgrimage.
The present-day’s wooden tower came much later. The tower caused the great portal to lose its function and it was bricked up. The galleries erected in the late 17thcentury hid the walls of the portal. It was only in the 1960s that the west side became completely visible and with it also the medieval frescoes above the portal.

15 Frescoes on the west wall and ceiling

Two very well preserved late medieval frescoes are visible on the west wall. They depict the sudarium or sweat-cloth or veil of Veronica held in the middle by two angels. The legend of Veronica’s veil was very popular in the Middle Ages. Berenike—Latin for Veronica –is supposed to have wiped the sweat and blood from the face of Jesus on his way to the cross. An imprint of his face was left on the veil. Since then it has healed many of the sick. It is of little wonder to find this very motif in a pilgrimage church as it is typical of those times. Noticeable and unusually striking is the artistic design of the portrait of Christ in that he seems to look the viewer directly in the eye.
To the right and left of the portrait are the patron saints of the church. On the left is St Mary carrying baby Jesus in her arms. The church, as well as the chapel, are named after her. What is not well known is that strictly speaking this church is not called the Church of St. Mary but the” Church of St. Mary and John”. That leads us to the second figure on the right of the portrait. It shows John the Evangelist holding in his right hand his gospel and in his left a chalice. Legend has it that John, as an old man, was given the choice of either denying God and sacrificing to the goddess Diana or drinking from a poisoned cup out of which before his very eyes two criminals had drunk and died. John made the sign of the cross over the cup causing the poison to crawl out of it in the form of a snake. Then he drank from the cup. He was unharmed and using his coat brought the two dead men back to life.
The paintings on the ceiling and arches are also from the late medieval period. They had been painted over since the 17th century but were restored in 1966.

16 Crosses marking graves

To the right and left of the old west portal are wrought-iron crosses from the 19th century. They had been originally erected in the Levenhagen grave-yard. Can you work out what the dead did for a living? You will find the answers beside the illustrations at this audio-stop.

17 Confessional and Church interior

In front of you is an open-work filigree wooden screen: the wall of the former confessional-box. It stood originally to the right of the altar in the choir. Historical pictures of the inside of the church before 1966 show a completely different layout. Opposite the confessional-box was a pulpit, in front of the altar a railing and a separate chair. Another picture shows tight rows of closed pews in the nave, and balustrades all along the sides. The west pilgrimage portal is blocked off by the organ-loft. Changes in the interior were due to different perceptions and style after the Reformation. They were made in the 17th century and lasted two and a half centuries. The organ was added in 1875. Today it is hard to believe that there were galleries even in the small spaces at the sides. They were removed in the 19th century. The rest of the baroque fittings which remained until after the Second World War disappeared during the restorations made in the 1960s. It was only through these that the medieval frescoes on the west wall became visible. The confessional-box was moved from the choir to the back of the nave and serves today as a vestry. It shows, however, how important confession was also in Lutheran theology—something which hardly features today.

18 Group of figures “Christ consoling a war widow”

The figures were made by Dietrich Rahn who was the third son of the Levenhagen clergyman Eduard Rahn. Originally they stood inside the pilgrimage chapel between two wooden plaques bearing the engraved names of the parishioners of Levenhagen who had fallen in the First World War. The title of the group of figures speaks for itself: “Christ consoling a war widow.”
The figures combining mourning with consolation differ from the many heroic, glorifying monuments of the time. Pastor Rahn preferred to give priority to trusting in the consolation of Jesus Christ. He had lost two sons in the war. More than likely Dietrich Rahn remembered his brothers and his mother as he worked on the figures.

19 The altar (Stipes)

The original altar has not been preserved in its whole. If you go to the right of the altar you will see that the side is open. Look inside. What do you notice?
As you can see from the picture the walls of the altar have several round arches leading up to a type of cruciform vault. Originally both sides and perhaps the front were open making it possible for people to crawl under and through the altar. This was what pilgrims and the sick used to do in order to come as close as possible to holiness. Whereas we today tend to worry about the effects of infectious diseases, the medieval person believed that proximity to holy relics helped in the healing process. This medieval practice has been verified over and over. The grave of Otto von Bamberg who missioned in Pomerania is a famous example of this. Whether or not the church in Levenhagen possessed an open altar is still unsettled.

20 The altarpiece (retable)

Originally the north side of the altar was broader. We do not know whether it was shortened when the polygonal choir was built or after the Thirty Years War. What is certain is that the altar had its present-day size by 1646 for in this year the baroque altarpiece was added.
Its overall theme is Holy Communion, which is quite clear from the central picture. Also the upper picture refers metaphorically to Communion. Can you work out what is referred to there?
It is the Old Testament manna miracle in the Sinai desert. According to the second book of Moses, also known as Exodus, God provided the Israelis during their forty-year wanderings in the desert with bread from heaven, Manna. If Holy Communion is regarded as spiritual manna, the connection to this story is clear. Unfortunately the upper picture has suffered over the years and is in parts unrecognizable. But the original artist’s depiction of the Israeli camp is quite clear.

To the left of the Communion scene is John the Baptist. The scene depicts his prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 1, verse 29). On the other side is a person who has not clearly been identified. Some assume him to be John the Evangelist. As patron saint of the church, this is highly likely. But his attributes are missing. Others take him to be a prophet.
Moses is recognizable to the left on the upper level. This is not only due to the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandants are inscribed but to the “horns” typically attributed to him. Here they are hinted at through his hair. (Do you know, by the way, why Moses is often depicted with horns? This artistic tradition goes back to a translation error in the Latin Vulgate, which for a long time was the most important and authoritative Bible translation in the West. Since for a long time the Hebrew vowels were handed down orally, a wrong vowel could give a word a completely different meaning. In this case it was the difference between “karan” [horn] and “keren” [ray or beam]. So, the radiant face of Moses became the horned face of Moses. Yet, even after the mistake was rectified, famous artists continued to portray Moses with horns, for example Michelangelo who considered his portrayal of Moses to be one of his best works).
Standing opposite Moses, representing the priesthood is his brother Aaron. Because he is placed facing Moses’ Law he may be seen as a symbol of mercy or grace shown in Christ, the last and most unique of mediators between God and man.
Triumphing over all is Christ, who is recognizable by his sparse clothing, and seen as the risen conqueror of death whose sign of victory is his banner.

Now you are invited to leave the inside of the church

21 Tower and tower notches

Continuing our tour round the Church of St. Mary and John, we notice something unusual on the west side of the nave. Have you any idea as to the function of the bricks protruding from the wall?
These stones are proof of plans to extend the building. They serve to dovetail or join a tower to the main building. Such constructions are quite prevalent in churches nearby e.g. in Dersekow where the joints have been made in the erratic boulders used to build the church. The typical shape of churches built then without a tower can be seen in Sassen, about 9 kilometres south-west of here.
But why were these plans not carried out?
One possible reason is the great plague epidemic between 1348 and 1350. This was also known as “black death.” In many places a third of the population died. This loss affected church congregations both financially and economically. The intended towers were never built or, much later, erected as simple wooden towers.

The bells of the church in Levenhagen were cast in bronze between 1658 and 1668.

The bigger of the two bells was destroyed in the First World War. A photo of this time shows this quite clearly. In 1958 a new bell was cast in the same vein. Church bells today still ring out to call to worship, to announce peace and to make us think about what is essential to human existence.

The last stop on our tour is to be found to the left round the church towards the pilgrimage chapel.

22 Goodbye - the past, the future and the enduring

Dorfstraße 11, 17498 Levenhagen, DE

The last stop on our tour leads us to a point where past and future, earth and heaven meet again. You are bound to have noticed something on the external wall of the north side of the choir.
Sections of plasterwork show that something has happened on this part of the building. You will notice traces of a round window and round arch which indicate an earlier opening. This was the site of a sacristy or vestry dating from the 16th or 17th century. But it has been demolished.
Excavations at the end of the 1960s revealed old foundation stones which show that the original choir was rectangular and bigger than today. You can study this in detail on the drawings and photos at this audio-stop.
As well as documentation on the past of the church in Levenhagen there are plans for a new annex. The parish of Levenhagen was divided up in 1999 and merged with the surrounding parishes. The rectory (Dorfstr 16) was sold with the result that there is no meeting-room apart from the church. Whether and when a community hall will be built remains to be seen.
The traces of the sacristy and the old foundations show how matters of the past vanish and are demolished. What will be left of us? Which of our "buildings" will survive? Will the world we live in stand the test of time?
As Jesus said: Heaven and earth shall pass away. But my words will last forever.” A similar message can be taken from the parable of the house which Jesus told at the end of his sermon on the mount:

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him onto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7, 24-27)”

With these words of Christ we bid you farewell and hope you enjoyed your tour of the Church of St. Mary and John with its pilgrimage chapel and its many legends. We, the parish of the Protestant Church of Dersekow-Levenhagen, hope you will encourage others to visit our church.


We are very grateful for the generous support of the Bugenhagen-Stiftung, without which this project would not have been realized.