Thomas Mann, or to be precise, Paul Thomas Mann, was born on June 6, 1875, in Lubeck and baptized as a Protestant on June 11 in St. Mary's Church...
The delivery of a baby is something intimate and private; in the case of Thomas Mann, it took place, as was usual at the time, at home, probably Breite Strasse 36. A baptism, on the other hand, is something public. It signifies not only acceptance into the Church, in this case the Lutheran, but also into middle-class society, with which this church was all-too-intimately connected. To be baptized in St. Mary's: Seen socially, that was the best place. While in the nineteenth century the Lubeckers let their cathedral fall into ruins, stored building rubble in their St. Katharine's Church, and tore down the magnificent Renaissance city gate still situated at the Holsten Gate, they kept faith with St. Mary's Church, located at the market place, and with city hall.
In The Magic Mountain old Hans Lorenz Castorp tells his grandson about the baptismal bowl that had for generations received the baptismal water trickling from the heads of the newborn Castorps or, as the case may be, of the Manns, for into this bowl the water from the little head of five-day-old Thomas had flowed. The sexton poured it into the pastor's hollowed hand, "and from there it ran over the crown of your head into the bowl here. But we had warmed it so you would not be startled and not cry, and you didn't either; on the contrary you had been crying before, so that Bugenhagen didn't have it easy with his homily, but when the water came, you fell silent, and showed respect for the holy sacrament, let us hope." It may also have happened like that at the baptism of Thomas -- we assume so. Admittedly, the roguish stylization of the scene by the author of The Magic Mountain is typical. In the wailing during the sermon he already hints at protest against the bourgeois church and its rhetoric, in the quiet during the flowing application of the baptismal water reverence for an indefinable something more sublime.
St. Mary's Church is not only a place left over from the nineteenth century. Mightier experiences half a millenium older fill its echoing breadth. It belongs among those places "where as you walked, hat in hand, you fell into a certain, reverential, forward-rolling gait, your heels never touching the ground." It conveys two things: the middle-class facade and its opposite, the atmosphere of death. Mann in 1921 calls his hometown a "Dance of Death homeland," with reference to "the humorously macabre thrills that emanated from the Dance of Death frescoes in St. Mary's Church," that late-medieval cycle by Bernt Notke, which burned in the Second World War.
When in California, Thomas Mann heard about the bombing attacks on Lubeck and had to assume that St. Mary's Church could have suffered damage -- he did not have much sympathy. "I think of Coventry," he said in a BBC broadcast, "and have nothing against the idea that everything must be paid for." That takes aim at the guilt of middle-class, National Socialist Lubeck. But after the war, when it is a matter of rescuing and rebuilding St. Mary's Church, he makes a genuine effort to raise the necessary funds. He does not do that for the sake of the citizens of Lubeck but because of the reverential rocking gait. St. Mary's, as middle class as it was mysterious, place of baptism and death, overshadowed besides a childhood dream, the Buddenbrook House in Mengstrasse.