The Ducal Family Crypt in the Church of St. Nikolai – Schwerin, Germany - Atlas Obscura

The Ducal Family Crypt in the Church of St. Nikolai

Seventeen members of the local royal family are interred in this Baroque church in northern Germany. 


This burly, imposing Baroque church—one of the few from its era made entirely of brick—keeps its true wonder hidden: a crypt bearing remains of 17 members of Mecklenburg’s historic Ducal family, one of whom even went on to become Queen of Prussia.

Though records indicate that a church had been present at this site as early as 1217, the one that stands today was built from scratch in 1708. A 1703 storm had sent a spire collapsing down on the old church, rendering it unsalvageable. The new church—commissioned by Duke of Mecklenburg Friedrich Wilhelm—is believed to be the first church constructed here since the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648.

The Duke died shortly before the new church was consecrated in 1713, and his internment under the altar started a tradition that would last for 100 years. Twelve adults and five children from the Ducal family were buried in the church until 1813, and their coffins are still visible today. Poor preservation practices in the 19th-century caused the coffins and regalia to dramatically deteriorate, but they have been significantly restored since.

The Ducal Crypt in the Church of St. Nikolai —known as Schelfkirche—offers another reason for visitors to stop by while exploring the fairytale lakeside town of Schwerin. Its 19th-century organ is regularly used in concerts which, within the church’s austere elegance, are equal parts eerie and uplifting.

Know Before You Go

Don't forget to have some change in hand: The crypt is only illuminated with a coin system! The church is open every day from 11 AM to 4 PM.

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