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Following Martin Luther
Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia are currently celebrating the "Luther decade," preparing to mark the Protestant Reformation's 500th anniversary in 2017. A drive through Lutherstadt (Luther Country) allows for a deeper understanding of Martin Luther and the Reformation.
Dissatisfaction was already brewing, but Martin Luther (1483–1546) was the first to speak out against the Catholic Church. He took issue with the sale of indulgences—letters from the Pope purchased by wealthy Christians to absolve them of sins. His 95 Theses, which he brashly nailed to a church door, called for a return to faith in the Bible's teachings over the Pope's decrees, and an end to the sale of indulgences. Despite such so-called heretical beginnings, Luther overcame condemnation by the Pope and several other governing bodies. He continued to preach, building a family with Katharina von Bora, a former nun he controversially married after "rescuing" her from a convent. After his death, Lutheranism spread across Europe as an accepted branch of Christianity.
"I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self."
"[When] the Devil... sees men use violence to propagate the gospel[, h]e... says with malignant looks and frightful grin: ‘Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit... '"
On the Trail of Martin Luther
Start in the town of Wittenberg, the unofficial capital of Lutherstadt. The comprehensive Lutherhaus museum is in the Augustinian monastery where Luther lived twice, first as a monk and later with his family. This multilevel, bilingual museum will convince the skeptics that Luther is worth remembering. From the museum, it's a short walk down the main thoroughfare Collegienstrasse to two churches that felt the influence of his teachings. The first is Stadtkirche St. Marien (Parish Church of St. Mary), where Luther often preached. The second, Schlosskirche (Castle Church), is where Luther changed history by posting his 95 Theses. The original wooden doors were destroyed in a 1760 fire, now replaced by bronze doors with the Latin text of the 95 Theses. On the way from one church to the other, stop to admire the statues of Luther and his friend and collaborator Philipp Melanchthon—they are buried next to each other in Schlosskirche.
In the nearby town of Eisleben, the houses where Luther was born, the Luthers Geburtshaus (Lutherstr. 1503475/714–7814), and died, Luthers Sterbehaus (Sangerhäuser Str. 4603475/67680) lie 10 minutes from each other (the latter is closed for renovation until mid-2012). From there, it's easy to spot the steeples of two churches: St. Petri-Pauli-Kirche (Church of Sts. Peter and PaulPetristr.03475/602–229) and St. Andreaskirche (St. Andrew's ChurchAndreaskirchpl.03475/602–229). The first was Luther's place of baptism, while the second houses the pulpit where Luther gave his last four sermons. His funeral was also held here before his body was taken back to Wittenberg.
Continuing southwest the stunning medieval castle Wartburg is in the hills high above the town of Eisenach. Luther took refuge here after he was excommunicated by the Pope and outlawed by a general assembly called the Diet of Worms, famously translating the New Testament from the original Greek into German.
1517: Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg's Schlosskirche.
1521: Luther is excommunicated after refusing to recant his works.
1525: Anabaptist movement is founded, rejecting conventional Christian symbolism and ritualism.
1537: Christian III of Denmark declares Lutheranism the state religion, encouraging its spread through Scandinavia.
1555: Charles V signs Peace of Augsburg treaty, effectively ending the battle between Catholicism and Lutheranism and granting the latter an official status as one of two main branches of Christianity.
1558: Queen Elizabeth I of England supports the establishment of the English Protestant Church.
1577: After Luther's death, the Formula of Concord puts an end to disputes between various sects, thereby strengthening and preserving Lutheranism.
1600s and beyond: Lutheran explorers and settlers bring their beliefs to the New World.
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