Restless bones

Bach’s church and statue in Leipzig today

Can you believe Johann Sebastian Bach was buried in an unmarked grave and wasn’t even considered important enough in his day to have a headstone?

Near the end of Bach’s life, his eyesight started to fail and he became increasingly blind. The noted British eye surgeon, John Taylor, visited Leipzig in the spring of 1750 and operated on Bach’s eyes. A newspaper reported “the unhappy consequences of the very unsuccessful eye operation” as the cause of his death just a few months later. Modern historians speculate that the cause of death was a stroke complicated by pneumonia. On the early morning of July 31, 1750, Bach was buried in St John’s Cemetery which stood one block outside the town’s Grimma Gate. His grave-site was left unmarked, and in the absence of any tombstone his grave was soon forgotten.

Bach’s grave today in St. Thomas Church

When St. John’s Church was rebuilt in 1894, a few Leipzig scholars and Bach admirers succeeded in having what were believed to be the composer’s bones exhumed. In the process of trying to find his bones, 47 graves were dug up. Partial identification was established by a series of anatomical measurements and other tests. The bones were then laid to rest in a stone sarcophagus next to the poet Gellert in the vaults of the Johanniskirche (St. John’s Church). Many people went to pay homage to his tomb until the church was bombed in WWII. Once more his remains were rescued and in 1949 he was buried again in Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) where they remain to this day.

The rich musical legacy that Johann Sebastian Bach left behind is being rediscovered all over again today. When you hear Bach’s profoundly spiritual music sung by singers who feel that same personal conviction in their hearts, there is also an understanding that Someone else is listening to their worship too.

Read the story about Bach’s final resting place:

Research on Bach’s remains: