Germany Holidays: Martin Luther

In these days of blogging and Twittering, it seems incredible that the nailing of 95 Theses to a church door could have had such a far-reaching effect.

There can’t be many individuals who have unintentionally had such a huge impact on European history as Martin Luther. That fateful day in October 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, a quiet town around 95km southwest of Berlin, sparked the Reformation, effectively ending the monopoly of the Catholic Church and splitting Christianity.

Luther could have had no idea of the consequences of his action. He was a devout man, whose path into the church was partly prompted by being struck by lightning at the age of 22, whereupon he became first a monk, then a priest, and eventually a Doctor of Theology in the University of Wittenberg.

In that position he became increasingly incensed at the church’s sale of indulgences (donating money in return for redemption), viz: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”

There can’t be many individuals who have unintentionally had such a huge impact on European history

His 95 Theses were effectively arguments against this concept, suggesting instead that the granting of forgiveness and salvation was in God’s power alone. Originally in Latin, they were quickly translated into German and spread throughout Europe, eventually arousing the ire of the Papacy. Legates were sent to arrest him, but Luther slipped out of town.

The intense debate that followed came to a head in the Diet of Worms, a town on the Rhine, where church leaders and national leaders assembled in 1521 to debate Luther’s fate. Given a guarantee of safe passage, he turned up to present his case, but the discussions went against him, and Emperor Charles V issued a warrant for his arrest that also permitted anyone to kill him with impunity.

Luther scarpered. Under the protection of the Elector of Saxony, he holed up in Wartburg Castle in Thuringia, where he translated the Bible into German, which was to form the basis for the first Bible in English. His words were eagerly followed particularly by lower levels of society, and his name was used in widespread peasant uprisings. He went on to devise Lutheranism, which spearheaded the Protestant Reformation, triggered years of religious wars, and ended eventually in the Treaty of Westphalia, a hundred years later, which effectively allowed states and individuals to choose their own religion, free from persecution.

He died in Eisleben, the town of his birth, in 1546, although his tomb is in Wittenberg.

Thuringia Tourism celebrates Luther.

The Wartburg Castle website.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Eastern Germany

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