Monday, 26 July 2010

The chapel of Vitt on the island of Rügen

Of the many peculiar churches and chapels found across the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea, the white chapel of Vitt is one of the simplest and most touching.
Overlooking a pretty hamlet nestled in a small ravine by the sea, it was only built in the early nineteenth century. Vitt was too small and the fishermen who lived there too poor to have a church of their own. However the need to have a place of worship arose when Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten revived the century-old tradition of sermons on the shore. During the pre-Christian era, tradesmen from the continent on their short visits to Rügen to buy herrings travelled with priests, who preached to the pagan population next to where the boats landed. The habit survived well into the sixteenth century, even if the tradesmen visited the island less and less as the Baltic's herring stocks shrank.
A poet and Lutherian priest, Kosegarten was appointed pastor of Altenkirchen, on Rügen, in 1792 after receiving his doctorate in theology. His dislike of cities was only matched by a deep love of nature, which he celebrated in his poems and sermons. Faithful to his belief that natural beauty was proof of God's immanence and to emulate Jesus, Kosegarten began preaching to the communities of fishermen outside. Soon his summer outdoor services, which were later published as Uferpredigten (Sermons at the Shore), became extremely popular. People travelled from across the island and even from the continent to listen to this enthusiastic pastor. Yet the weather could be capricious and sometimes they would have to retreat into a cottage. As attendance increased, Kosegarten decided by 1806 to build a chapel close to the sea at Vitt. The Romanticist painter Caspar David Friedrich, who corresponded with Kosegarten, is said to have submitted a drawing with an ovel chapel. Yet Kosegarten chose an octagonal plan, easier and cheaper to build. This plan may have been designed by Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Construction of the chapel was delayed because of the occupation of Rügen by the armies of Napoléon. It was finally completed in 1816 but didn't receive any furniture for some time. Originally the chapel had a shingled roof, which was replaced by a thatched rood after the First World War. More recently a small room was built by the entrance but this addition blocked the view towards the sea. In 1990 the artist Gabriele Mucchi painted a seascape on the chapel's wall. A small compensation for the lost view.
Kosegarten didn't benefit much from the chapel he built. From 1816 he spent more and more time in Greifswald, where he taught history and theology at the university. He died there in 1818.

On the day I visited the area the shutters had been removed to be either repainted or replaced. The marks left by the hinges are clearly visible on the white walls.

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