Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Living with Martin Luther (Wittenberg, Germany)

When Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses into the wooden door of a humble church of a small German town in 1517, Luther started the Protestant Reformation and altered European and Christian religious history forever. Almost 500 years later, the travel wonder of Wittenberg continues to thrive on the legacy of Martin Luther. Small plaques litter the town marking aspects of Luther’s life which is strung out along one long main street that changes name from Schlossstrasse to Collegienstrasse at the elegant town square.

Luther was an extraordinary man. Risking death and ex-communication from the church, Luther opposed the idea that people could buy their way from God’s punishment of sin. This challenging the authority of the pope himself who was raising money for rebuilding St Peters in Rome by selling indulgences. Luther also published a German translation of the Bible (while hidden in Wartburg Castle) providing the foundation of the modern German language and making it accessible to the general population rather than the educated few who spoke Latin.

Though its wooden doors have long since perished in a fire, Castle Church stands proudly off Wittenberg’s square, bronze doors inscribed with Luther’s theses (in Latin) commemorating this challenge to church power.

Nearby is Luther’s house, once a monastery and now a museum full of historic documents including original prayer and hymn books (with hand-drawn illustrations) and many of his authored works. The rooms include a lecture theatre where he taught, the main living room (with a superb tiled stove), Luther’s original desk and a number of personal possessions.

The two other main characters in the Reformation from Wittenberg were Cranach the Elder, a significant painter of his times (and the city’s mayor) and Philipp Melanchthon, a highly educated teacher, philosopher and moralist. Melanchthon spent time trying to encourage the more practical education of the youth of the day by not limiting classes to Latin (and extending education to more people). It was visionary thinking for the early 1500s. Melanchthon assisted Luther in his translation of the Bible. Both people have their fine houses on display as museums with fine collections detailing their lives. A superb early printing press that still functions sits in Cranach’s house. In a nice symmetry, all three are buried in Castle Church and two have statues in the main square.

The main church of St Mary's sits on the main square and is where Luther was married and where he did most of his preaching. Most stunning is the main altar painting (by Cranach) of the Last Supper including both Luther and Melanchthon.

Wittenberg is a day trip from Berlin and a wonderful journey back through one of the most significant historic periods in Europe. The work and thoughts of Martin Luther permeate every building, street and wall in this small city, marked on the World Heritage List. Wittenberg helps understand the dramatic historic change visualising Luther hammering his famed document into the church door.


BarbaraW said...

I've never had too much desire to go to Germany, but this kind of historic place is right up my alley. I'd love to stand in the church where he preached and see the old printing press first hand.

Heather on her travels said...

For the catholics he was the ultimate baddie, but I'd like to know about what he was like as a man.

Mark H said...

@BarbaraW: Germany has some fine history and it is a blessing that this fine city was not all that damaged by the wars, preserving so many treasures.

@heather: I'd love to know too. He was clearly quite popular to be protected as he was and clearly very intelligent and generous to the average person. He was strongly anti-semetic which was used for propogranda purposes before/during World War 2. I'd love to read of this man who had so much effect on the modern world encouraging translation, education and a split in Christiandom.

Gretchen said...

Great post. I didn't know very much about Luther beyond the basic school teachings, but this has definitely piqued my interest in a visit to Wittenberg. It's great to know that it can be done as a day trip from Berlin.

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

This makes Wittenberg a definite wonder that I would like to see.Thanks for the detailed description.

eunice said...

Hi Mark!
Great write-up as usual. I've only been to Munich before and have a good impression of Germany - friendly people,beautiful historic buildings,tasty beers..

I'm back from Tasmania! Awesome place with great scenery! Have u been to Tassie many times before?

Anil said...

It's interesting how many controversies translation of religious texts have caused throughout human history. You would think it would be encouraged as to reach more people.

Romantic bed and breakfasts said...

Germany is an excellent place and the best combination of ancient and modern architecture. It has splendid and fabulous churches and historic buildings to visit.

Mark H said...

@gretchen: Thank you

@vera: A great place as is Wartburg Castle where he stayed hidden for some years (and write his translation).

@eunice: I've been to Tassie four or five times, sometimes for work. I love the history and small city feel of Hobart especially near the waterfront.

Mark H said...

@anil: I think much of history is more about power than information. Think about how protective the church as been historically about its teachings and the cruel way that people who opposed their thinking were treated. Scientists often suffered as did the academics throughout history. Galileo was only recently forgiven for his teachings opening up our understanding of the cosmos.

@romantic B&B: I love the German architecture and its tie to history.

Cecil Lee said...

There are so many travel wonders in our world and the list of Heritage sites is growing longer and longer. I haven't been nor heard of Wittenberg of Germany, thanks for sharing this important notes of our history. :)

Philippine Travel Guide said...

It's cool you've seen it personally some of us only had chance to read it on books and watch it on tv. and a very nice and informative post.

Anonymous said...

I stilly can’t forget the time I went to France and Belgium, it was my finest festival ever. Western Europe countries are tremendous in the service of tourists, as there are remarkable attractions, breathtaking landscapes and you can comprise believable fun there. The prices could be not so dear, but pacific is quality seeing these places. Check out: [url=http://www.transport-warszawa.info/]ship warszawa[/url]

Mark H said...

@cecil: Martin Luther is huge in Germany - you can follow his life through various German cities.

@philippines: It is. Martin Luther had a major role in language and culture by translating the bible from Latin and making it more accessible.

@anonymous: Cheers.

Related Posts with Thumbnails