3 Summer Tours to Revisit the Roots of the Reformation

Summer is the perfect time for religious music directors to take their groups on a relaxing and educational trip to recharge and explore the spiritual and conceptual origins of the music of the Reformation. Here are three tour ideas to get you started.

Northern Europe is known not only as the seat of the Protestant Reformation, but also as a greenhouse for the development of classical music and Christian hymns. Leaving the traveler refreshed and inspired, the history and music of this region provide a perfect getaway for religious music directors. From Wales to Wittenberg, you can visit majestic cathedrals and opera houses, medieval ruins and charming country cottages and gardens. You can also experience some of the greatest choirs and orchestras in the world, and even add your own voice to the familiar strains of such hymn as “Amazing Grace” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” that waft through nearly every church and cathedral. Check out the three religious and musical tours below to help you find the perfect summer retreat for your group.

1. Follow the trail of Martin Luther and J.S. Bach in Germany

The journey begins in Wittenberg, now officially named Lutherstadt Wittenberg (Luther City Wittenberg), where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the doors of All Saints’ Church (also known as the Schlosskirche, or “Castle Church”), sparking the Protestant Reformation. Other Wittenberg notables are Luther’s home and City Church, where Luther was married and baptized his six children. Continue on to St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, and discover its strong ties to Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn.

St. Thomas Church Bach Statue

A statue of Johann Sebastian Bach outside St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Credit

Make your way to Eisenach, the birthplace of J.S. Bach and childhood home of Martin Luther, where you’ll find the Bachhaus and Lutherhaus museums, dedicated to Bach and Luther, respectively. You’ll also visit Halle and nearby Eisleben, where Martin Luther was born and died. In Halle, you’ll find Handel House, a museum celebrating the life of George Frideric Handel, as well as Marktkirche (Market Church), an early center of Lutheran Pietism. View the remains of the original baptismal font where Luther was baptized at Eisleben’s Church of St. Peter and Paul, and the pulpit at St. Andrew’s Church where Luther preached his last sermon. You’ll end your journey in Berlin, where you’ll experience all the sights and sounds of modern German culture.

2. Hymns For All Time Tour: England and Wales

Visit quaint English cottages and tour majestic castles as you explore the homeland and music of hymn writers like John Newton, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. This 11-day coach tour across England and Wales provides ample opportunity for fellowship, relaxation and worship, and an expert tour guide will help you make the most of your experience. Imagine singing hymns in Bristol Cathedral or the famous Westminster Abbey. You’ll also get to see the birthplace of Isaac Watts in Southampton, explore the Newton & Cowper Museum in Olney and experience famous sites of the Reformation in London.

Westminster Abbey Interior

The interior of London’s famous Westminster Abbey. Credit

3. Symphony on the Blue Danube: A Classical Music Cruise

Depart aboard a deluxe river cruise ship from Budapest, Hungary, “Pearl of the Danube.” Enjoy the medieval, Renaissance and 19th-century architecture in Bratislava, Slovakia, before stopping in Vienna, Austria for a performance of the music of Mozart, in the city where the famous composer once worked and performed. Be sure to visit the majestic Vienna Opera House and Gothic Stephansdom, or St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

Vienna Opera House Seating

Pre-performance at the Vienna Opera House. Credit

Marvel at the castle ruins of Durnstein and stop in Melk for an organ recital at Benedictine Abbey’s Stiftskirche. Take a tour of Salzburg to see Mozart’s birthplace, the 17th-century Salzburg Cathedral and the Fortress of Hohensalzburg, central Europe’s largest fully-preserved fortress. Hear the pipes of the world’s largest organ at the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Passau, Germany, where the cruise ends. Then travel by motorcoach to Prague, Czech Republic for a guided tour of the “City of a Thousand Spires” and stop by the Estates Theater, where Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni made its 1787 debut. The trip ends in Krakow, considered the academic, artistic and spiritual capital of Poland.

How to Prepare for Your Trip

Traveling to Europe can be a rewarding experience, but it also has its challenges. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your travels:

  • Keep your passport with you at all times, and make copies to keep with your luggage in case your passport is lost. Having copies of a lost passport will not make getting a new one easy, but it will expedite the process.
  • Account for the monetary exchange rates and any charges that may apply in each country you visit. You may also want to notify your credit card company or bank if you will be using a credit or debit card so your accounts are not frozen due to unusual purchases.
  • Remember that cell phone use abroad can be very complicated and expensive. Make arrangements with your service provider for international coverage ahead of time or plan not to use your cell phone.
  • Make a list of everything you’ll need to bring. Make sure you have everything you need, but remember that packing lightly allows for easier travel.

From Reformation to Renaissance, Northern Europe’s musical and religious destinations make the perfect summer getaway for religious music groups. If you have any experience with these or other Reformation music tours, we’d love to hear from you below.

By Stephanie Schmidt