As 2017 approaches, the Luther cities in central Germany are gearing up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Special events will include exhibitions, concerts, discussions and church services.
The cities of Altenburg, Eisleben, Eisenach, Erfurt, Halle, Magdeburg, Schmalkalden, Torgau, Weimar and Wittenberg are home to the most important Lutheran sites in Germany. They are members of Routes to Luther, a group that promotes the places associated with the life and works of the Great Reformer. Each city offers guided tours led by expert guides.
Following in Luther’s Footsteps
Luther came to Altenburg 16 times, often to visit George Spalatin. Spalatin was a close confidant and spiritual adviser to Elector Frederick the Wise and for many years he liaised with Luther on his behalf. Today you can visit Altenburg Castle with its impressive church, the Church of the Brethren with large sculptures commemorating Spalatin and his friend Luther, and St. Bartholomew’s Church, where Luther gave sermons.
Martin Luther spent five formative periods of his life in Eisenach. He had fond memories of attending St. George’s School and referred to Eisenach as “my dear town.” On his journey to and from the imperial parliament in Worms, Luther preached at St. George’s Church. While in protective custody, he translated the New Testament into German under the guise of Junker Jörg at Wartburg Castle, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Generations of visitors have scratched their name and the date into the wooden boards of the bare room where Luther worked.
Luther was born in Eisleben in 1483 and died there in 1546. His birthplace and the house where he died have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1996. Just a stone’s throw from the birthplace stands the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, where Luther was baptized in 1483. On the market square, St. Andrew’s Church, with its imposing bell tower, was where Martin Luther gave his last sermon and where his body was laid to rest before being taken to Wittenberg.
Erfurt was the young Luther’s spiritual home. In 1505 he graduated with a master’s degree in philosophy from Erfurt University. Founded in 1392, it is Germany’s third-oldest university. It is said that a violent storm close to Erfurt that year prompted him to become a monk at the Augustinian Monastery in gratitude for his survival. He stayed in Erfurt for 10 years and was ordained as a priest in the Cathedral. The monastery now serves as an internationally renowned Reformation and conference center.
In 1497, at the age of 13, Luther attended the Brethren of the Common Life School in Magdeburg. He returned in 1524, at the request of the mayor, to preach. He drew enormous crowds to the Augustinian monastery (now called the Walloon Church) and at St. John’s Church two days later. Several weeks later, nearly all of the city’s churches committed themselves to Lutheranism and the Catholic Mass was abolished. Magdeburg thus became a stronghold of Protestantism and its fame spread far and wide.
Because of the persistent struggle between Luther and Cardinal Albrecht, Halle can be described as the Cradle of the Reformation. In 1541 Cardinal Albrecht gave up on the city. Luther, meanwhile, went on to give three sermons at the Market Church between 1545 and 1546. The church has Luther’s original death mask. Other places with Luther associations are the Library of Our Lady (Marienbibliothek) and the Francke Foundations.
Schmalkalden is one of the finest surviving examples of a central European town in the Middle Ages. On instructions from the Elector of Saxony, Johann Frederick, Martin Luther presented his articles of faith, which were incorporated into the Book of Concord of the Evangelical Church as the Schmalkaldic Articles. Written at a time when he was close to death, Luther poured his heart and soul into the articles, which were often referred to as his “private confession.”
The town is one of the most beautiful Renaissance cities in Germany and was the political center of the Reformation. Martin Luther visited Torgau more than 60 times and consecrated the Castle Chapel himself as the first Protestant church building. Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora, died in 1552 in Torgau. She is buried in St. Mary’s Church. The Katharina Luther Memorial is dedicated to her life and work.
Luther’s sovereigns, who chose Weimar as their secondary residence in 1513 and as one of their prime residences in 1531, were the reason he visited the city so frequently between 1518 and 1540. The Franciscan monastery at the palace served as one of his places of accommodation, which is now commemorated by a plaque. During his visits Luther preached in the Palace Church and in the Town Church St. Peter and Paul. In the latter, now called the Herder Church, is Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painted three-winged altar (1552-53). The altar is a major pictorial representation of the Lutheran doctrine, in which the reformer himself is depicted.
In the 16th century Wittenberg was the focal point of religious life in Europe. Sites related to the Reformation include the Luther House and Philipp Melanchthon’s House. It is just a short stroll from the house where Luther lived to the Castle Church, which boasts the famous 95 Theses door and the graves of Luther and Melanchthon. Also in Wittenberg is St. Mary’s Church with its exceptional Cranach Altar and the Cranach courtyards.
News and events in Routes to Luther cities:
The city celebrates Luther’s birthday on Nov. 12-13, 2016 and Nov. 11-12, 2017 with a medieval market on the historic Market Place. Highlights will be a birthday party with Martin Luther, his parents and others in costume.
After several years of renovation and in preparation for the Luther Year 2017, the Wittenberg Castle Church will be reopened on Oct. 2, 2016. In 2017, a double exhibition will be presented in the Augusteum/Luther House in Wittenberg. The first part will take a look at the history of the Lutheran Church and Luther’s significant impact on the history of the world. The second part is devoted to Luther’s material legacy and will show valuable items that are directly related to Martin Luther.
The Luther House just reopened after renovation. Wartburg Castle is closely linked with Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, and from May to November 2017, the exhibition Luther and the Germans will define the meaning of “German” and describe the social situation in the Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the 16th century. Luther’s authentic living quarters, associated with the Bible translation, await the visitor at the end of the tour.