In the 12th century a chapel was built here on the old trade route between Regensburg on the Danube and Naumburg on the Saale. The founders of this chapel are not known. In the 14th century the Order of German Knights raised this chapel into a church (St. Mary‘s) and enlarged it. In about 1500 the High Choir was built in late Gothic style, and a chapel, the Annenkapelle, was attached to the church building. The tower got its present shape then. It is 60 metres tall. A hundred years later the nave was expanded.
After the Reformation the interior of the church was decorated by order of the reigning prince, well-to-do parishioners, and especially by two superintendents, Hartung the Older and Hartung the Younger. In the church and its burial vaults many Reuss counts were buried.
Before you turn your attention to the artistically shaped details we recommend you to come closer to the altar for inner concentration.
The altar was completed in the midst of the Thirty Years‘ War, in 1635. The main part is dominated by a big crucifix. Above it, the Passion of Christ is represented by a pelican sacrificing itself for its young ones. In the upper part of the altar the risen Christ is portrayed having defeated death and the impious powers, thus giving proof of the victory of life over death. All the decoration in the church is meant to encourage in their lives those who contemplate it.
Retreating a few steps we shall be able to look at the portraits of the reformers and the superintendents of the parish of Schleiz from the 16th century down to the present time: Under them there is the parsons‘ lodge donated by the superintendent Hartung the Younger. On the roof of it the parable of the vineyard is portrayed. In the front there is Jesus as the Good Shepherd, to the left, John the Baptist, and to the right, the Apostle Peter. God is looking for signs of belief in him the way we live, the Good Shepherd Jesus intends to look after every man who has lost his faith in God.
Now let us turn to the Burgk Epitaph, the biggest wood carving in the church which can be seen in the arch in front of the tower chapel. The family of Heinrich II Reuss of Burgk are kneeling under the Crucified who has the look of the Victor on his dying face. Above them Heaven, the representation of Trinity. Heaven is shown as embracing the whole family.
To the right and the left of the family there are, protected by angels, two children of the family who died very young. The epitaph can be regarded as a typical representation of the piety of the time. It was created by Hans Balbierer and painted by Martin Jacobi, the most important artists of Schleiz. Other works of theirs can be found in the chapel of Burgk Castle near Schleiz.
Under the pillars of the epitaph there is a broad staircase leading into the tower chapel. In it there is the oldest, and at the same time, the fines sepulchre of the church, the tomb of Heinrich der Mittlere of Gera, built in 1500. We especially draw your attention to the leaf-tendrils and coat-of-arms which - carved from the stone - decorate the tomb. It is the most important work of stone of the late Middle Ages in the eastern part of Thuringia.
Opposite the Burgk Epitaph there is the lodge of the reigning princes. It is adorned with royal characters from the Old Testament, among them a valuable portrayal of the last day of judgement which is meant to remind the princes of their responsibility.
The benches under the Lodge of the Raigning Princes and a bench to the right of the altar are decorated with biblical subjects inspired by pictures of the socalled Merian Bible. They are the works of an unknown artist of the middle of the 17th century.
Let us now turn to the nave again. Above our heads there is an artistic chandelier made in 1697. On it there are the five Prudent Virgins with their burning lamps, and Jesus Christ, their fiancé. They are expecting him and admonish us not to miss the goal of our life, the communion with Jesus Christ. Among the many carvings in the nave there is one we especially want to draw your attention to. It is to be found in the direction of the organ on the side of the pulpit. This epitaph artistically shows how the fear of death can be overcome. Death‘s head and bones are a symbol of the horrifying reality of death which drives us to despair again and again. The fight to overcome it is represented in the figures on either side. On the left the sacrifice of Isaac, on the right Jacob’s fight with an angel. The angels are bringing help for the overcoming of the fear of death from above, while the pelican, in the middle of the painting, is feeding his young ones with his life blood. This is a symbol of the sacrifice of Christ’s life, and a source of help thereof.
The pulpit is adorned by a representation of Christ, the evangelists and the great prophets from the Old Testament. The followers of Jesus Christ cannot exist without the word of the apostles and the prophets. The lodges under the southern gallery were added in the 17th and 18th centuries, and were used by various burghers of Schleiz.
The outer appearance of the organ reminds one of an altar-piece with side wings. Both sides of the wings are covered with paintings. On the inside there are angels making music, on the outside there are scenes from the bible.
From 1979 to 1983 the church was renovated extensively under the superintendence of the Institut für Denkmalpflege Erfurt. The renovation of the paintings on the ceiling - and parts of the triumphal arch from 1897 - was made possible by substantial government funds. The traditional colouring of the furniture - black, white, golden - has been maintained.
We also recommend you to visit the Annenkapelle, the burial chapel of the Kospoth family, it contains valuable tombstones and a rare vault of stars above the altar.
In 2001 we began to dispose off the dry rot in the roof timbers of the south side of Choir. The new organ installed by the organ builder Bernhard Kutter from Ruhla, was formally consecrated on Oct. 7th, 2007. From October 2007 on removal of derelict Neue Burgksche Crypt behind the tower chapel.