Darmstadt Princely Crypt

Beneath the choir of the Protestant Darmstadt City Church lies the resting place of the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt. In addition to the 17 coffins, the two vessels with the hearts of two princes who died far from home, as well as the epitaph for Landgrave Louis V, the founder of the University of Giessen, are remarkable.

At a glance

An der Stadtkirche 1
64283 Darmstadt

Visitable on request

A map of Hessen HESSEN


George I (1547-1596), the first Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, initiated the construction of the princely crypt under the choir of the city church. This probably was as early as around 1576, after his first-born son, Philip William, had died when he was barely five months old. The crypt initially consisted of an elongated room with an unadorned barrel vault under the northern choir wall.

A few years later, a second vault was added, extending across the entire width of the choir. George‘s second son and successor Landgrave Louis V (1577-1626) had both chambers decorated with originally coloured and gilded stucco in 1615.

The Ornamentation Tells the Christian Story of Salvation

The pictorial programme of the ceilings tells the Christian story of salvation: The front vault depicts the Entombment and Resurrection of Christ, the rear vault the Ascension and the Last Judgement. The landgravial family is also included in this scene: On the right below the judging Christ, Landgrave Louis V looks up to him as the chosen one, framed by the head of his father, Landgrave George I, and that of his wife, Landgravine Magdalene of Brandenburg.

The walls of the tombs are decorated with symbolic figures of faith and peace, as well as angels with trumpets. Louis’s brother, Landgrave Philip III of Hesse-Butzbach, was inspired by this for the design of his crypt under St Mark’s Church in Butzbach.

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, rear vault with epitaph

In the rear vault of the Darmstadt princely crypt are, among other things, the coffins of the first two Darmstadt landgraves who had the crypt built: George I and Louis V. In the background is the epitaph commissioned by Louis V in his honour.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Darmstadt Princely Crypt

View into the front vault of the princely crypt. The large medallion on the ceiling shows the resurrection of Christ.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, passage

A passageway with a lattice door connects the two vaults of the Darmstadt princely crypt.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Louis V regarded the crypt not only as a burial place, but also as a place of memento mori for the family. This explains why he had it connected to the palace by an underground passage and commissioned an epitaph of alabaster and Rhenish marble for himself and his family.

On plaques praising his life and work in Latin, he stages himself as the founder of the “Hohe Schule in Gießen” (today: Justus Liebig University Giessen) and as the guardian of the Lutheran faith.

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, detail of the vault

This detail of the stucco ceiling in the rear vault shows Landgrave Louis V, who is counted among the elect at the Last Judgement, framed by the heads of his father, Landgrave George I, and his wife Magdalene of Brandenburg.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, heart capsules

The brass capsule on the left contains the heart of Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt (1669-1705), the conqueror of Gibraltar; the one on the right contains the heart of his brother Philip (1671-1736), who was, among other things, governor of Mantua in imperial service.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, detail of the brass capsule

The brass capsule with the heart of Prince George in detail.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Darmstadt Princely Crypt, lion

Lion’s head with ring, detail from the head end of one of the coffins.

Foto: Michael Leukel, 2020

Two Hearts Are Also Buried in the Tomb

Today there are 17 coffins in the princely crypt, which can be reached via a stone staircase under a trapdoor set into the floor of the choir. Seven of the eight former reigning landgraves and seven landgravine ladies of Darmstadt lie in them. In addition, a son of Landgrave George I and a son of Louis V found their final resting place here, as well as a Braunschweig princess who died in Darmstadt in 1610.

A special feature are the two metal capsules hanging from the ceiling of the front vault: They contain the hearts of Princes George and Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, who died near Barcelona and in Vienna respectively.