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Posts tagged ‘Reformation’

My Konstanz: Jan Hus’ last stand

Above/featured: Old Town from the Bodensee (Lake Constance): visible from left-to-right are respectively the broad-roofed Konzilgebäude (Council Building), Münster (tall Cathedral spire behind sailboat), and the Dominikanerinsel (Dominicans Island). Photo on 23 Sep 2017.

6 July is a national holiday in the Czech Republic; the formal name is “the day Jan Hus was burned at the stake” (Den upálení mistra Jana Husa).

I wrote previously about medieval Bohemian theologian and reformer Jan Hus (John Huss) whose teachings in the relatively novelty of the Czech language and criticisms about abuse and injustice within the Catholic Church predated Martin Luther’s own revolution for change by almost 100 years. Hus’ place within Czech history is fixed onto the nation with a giant memorial sculpture at the centre of Old Town Square in the capital city of Prague. His place is also assured in the European Reformation as seen in full display at the world’s largest Reformation Monument in the German city of Worms. Hus’ conviction and execution and the resulting armed conflicts would give rise not only to the concept of European unity (see also the prominent Czech historical figure George of Poděbrady), but would also give way to the European continental wars of religion.

As key historical aspects for creating unique Bohemian and subsequent Czech identity, Hus’ life, final days, and death are also a part of the historical record in the southern German city of Konstanz (Constance in English, Kostnice in Czech).


How Hus got here

The backdrop was the one of the largest conferences in the Middle Age. The Council of Constance met from 1414 to 1418, during which one key directive of the synod was to decide once and for all a single pope from three candidates. With the Council’s election of Pope Martin V in 1417, the Papal Schism which began in 1378 effectively came to an end; this would also be the one and only time a pope was elected on German soil. As the only meeting of its kind held north of the Alps, this massive medieval assembly gathered tens of thousands of people, including religious, political, civic, and social leaders; scholars and other civic officials; as well as traders and merchants from around the continent.

Constance had become a free Imperial city in the late 12th-century, allowing the city to prosper by trade of many goods around the European continent and onto the Mediterranean to destinations in Africa and the Middle East. The city was chosen to host the 15th-century conference, because the city as bishopric had sufficient space and resources to host, house, and feed a very large number of conference guests. Constance has the nickname “Stadt des Konzils” or the “Council City”, and has been included as part of the Hussite Cultural Route (Hussitische Kulturroute), which traces Hus’ final journey from Prague to Konstanz.

As follower of English philosopher John Wycliffe, Hus spoke out on flagrant abuse and corruption, especially on the sale of indulgences with the act of forgiveness for sin being used as a tool to increase church income. At a time when the church claimed complete spiritual, moral, and civic authority, Hus was an obvious troublemaker, and the central church authority punished him with censure and excommunication. Hus was called to travel from Prague to Konstanz and answer charges of heresy at the Council of Constance. He ignored the pleas of friends and colleagues to stay put (“it’s a trap!”), and armed with an apparent imperial promise of safe passage and conduct, he set off on his journey to Konstanz. Upon arrival in November 1414, the promise was naught and the betrayal complete; Hus was promptly arrested, imprisoned, and tortured in various places throughout the area for several months. In refusing to recant over his criticisms against the church, he was never given a fair trial. The Council convicted him of heresy inside the city’s cathedral on 6 July 1415. Hus was immediately handed over to the civil authority, who condemned him to death by burning at the stake on the same day. Jan Hus is revered as a key historical figure for Czechs and the Bohemian Reformation, just as Martin Luther would be for his role to kick off the German Reformation almost 100 years later.


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Martin Luther, Playmobil, Luther Bible, Lutherbibel, Pxhere, CC0

14 for 500 on 10-31: Luther & the Reformation

Above: Playmobil Luther on top of Luther-translated Bible. (Pxhere: CC0, source tog unknown).

October 31 and Martin Luther

In most years, October 31 is a statutory holiday in five German federal states. With 2017 as a special 500th anniversary year, all 16 federal states in Germany will observe October 31 as a statutory holiday.

On 31 October 1517, the story goes that Martin Luther strode up to the front door of the Castle Church and nailed his document called “95 Theses”. Luther’s friend and colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, relayed this story years after the fact, but there’s no evidence Luther walked up to Castle Church to pin the document. What’s clear is Luther was outraged by the Catholic Church’s abuse of power and its use of indulgences as a “guilt tax” or “get-out-of-Purgatory fee” to funnel money to Rome and finance the ongoing construction of St. Peter’s Basilica (started in 1506). What’s more likely is that Luther would’ve circulated his document among trusted friends and colleagues, and would’ve quietly sent his document as a letter to his regional Church superior, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. What cannot be denied is that his document was considered a provocation, questioning the supreme authority of the Church as the sole legitimate path to God and heaven. While he might not have initially guessed the full impact of his protest document, he eventually understood that it came down to matters of control and authority, and about personal choice, especially in matters of faith.


Quick list

The 500th anniversary merely begins in 2017, as additional quincentenary dates will continue for years to come. For now, I’ve written 14 posts about Martin Luther. I describe some of Martin Luther’s history; his birth, childhood, and death; the traces he left behind; and his influence on friends, colleagues, and descendants of the Protestant movement. As interested visitor, you can reach by train most of the places in Germany. I’ve labeled UNESCO World Heritage Sites with extra ‘U’s.

  1. Martin Luther’s traces in 16 cities & towns throughout Germany (link)
  2. Augsburg: 1518 Luther vs. Cajetan Debate; The 1530 Confessions (link)
  3. Eisenach: Wartburg at night (link, U)
  4. Eisleben: Martin Luther’s birth and death sites (link, U)
  5. Eisleben: where Martin Luther was baptized (link)
  6. Erfurt: Martin Luther’s start at the Augustine Monastery (link)
  7. Magdeburg: City of 2 Ottos where Romanesque meets Luther (link)
  8. Mansfeld: Martin Luther’s childhood home (link)
  9. Wittenberg: 13 highlights in the Old Town (link)
  10. Wittenberg: Castle Church, where Luther apparently pinned his 95 Theses (link, U)
  11. Wittenberg: St. Mary’s Town Church, where Luther delivered his sermons (link, U)
  12. Weimar: Cranach Altar at the City Church (link, U)
  13. Worms: the world’s largest Reformation monument (link)
  14. The Diet of Worms in 1521: Martin Luther on trial (link)

But as I’ll also write in the near future, marking the important quincentenary is only complete with the crucial acknowledgment of his anti-Semitism, an ugly taint to his legacy and in total opposition to the message of acceptance and inclusion.


This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-aDI.

Thanks to IMG- and Sachsen-Anhalt-Tourismus who supported my visit to the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt in 2016 with additional assistance from the cities of Eisleben, Mansfeld, Dessau, Wittenberg, and Halle (Saale); Thüringen entdecken during GTM2015; Romantic Germany (Gastlandschaften Rheinland-Pfalz) in November 2015; the city of Magdeburg in December 2015; and the city of Augsburg in March 2017.

•   “Wie die Feiertage in Deutschland verteilt sind”, Berliner Morgenpost, 30.10.2017.
•   “Luther’s hammer is still heard”, by Kate Connolly for Chatham House, Feb-Mar 2017.

Stadt- und Pfarrkirche St. Marien, St. Mary's Town and Parish Church, Wittenberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Sachsen-Anhalt, UNESCO, World Heritage, Luther Country, Luther 2017, Germany, fotoeins.com

Wittenberg UNESCO WHS: St. Mary’s Church

Above: West side illuminated by afternoon sun, 30 Oct 2016 (HL).

The Stadtkirche Sankt Marien or St. Mary’s Town and Parish Church is the oldest building in Wittenberg and is one of four sites in town as part of Wittenberg’s status as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Not only is this the location where Luther preached, the church also contains important relics by the Cranachs highlighting the young Reformation movement. As well as contemporaries and colleagues, the Cranach and Luther families themselves were close.

The east chancel (near the main altar) was part of the original St. Mary’s chapel built around 1280. By the early 15th-century, the chapel was incorporated into a triple-naved structure with two towers in the late-Gothic style at the west end of the new church; the Gothic tops were removed and replaced by octagonal shapes by the mid-16th century. The original pulpit from which Luther delivered his sermons has survived the centuries, and is now located in Wittenberg’s Luther House (Lutherhaus).

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Mansfeld: Martin Luther’s childhood home

Above: View of the town from Mansfeld Castle; numbered labels are described below.

I approach the ledge, and what appears is a typical yet modest German town: red roofs, a church steeple, green pastures, and endless hills rolling to the horizon. But this is no typical town. Five centuries ago, a young lad grew up in this town and ran through these streets. Though the area was dominated by mining activity, Dad was grooming the boy to become a lawyer, but the latter would make a life-changing decision. How was the boy to know his decision and subsequent work would eventually change religion, governance, literature, and culture in Europe.

Mansfeld is a town of about 9000 people in the southwest corner of the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. The town is dominated by the Mansfeld Castle situated on a rock spur above town. With origins to regional nobles, first mention of the town in official documents occurred in the late-10th century, erection of the castle’s foundations began in the 11th-century, and full charter rights of a city were granted to Mansfeld in the early 15th-century.

In 1484 one year after he was born and baptized in Eisleben, Martin Luder’s parents, Hans and Margarethe (née Lindemann), moved the family to Mansfeld, 10 kilometres to the northwest of Eisleben. Hans Luder earned good wages in a region rich with mineral ore and covered with mines. Hans first worked in the quarries, and worked up to managing smelting furnaces, and eventually, to owning individual mine shafts and smelters. Martin wandered these streets until he left town at age 14 in 1497 for further education. His parents stayed in Mansfeld for the rest of their lives, whereas Martin moved to Magdeburg, Eisenach, Erfurt, and settling in Wittenberg.

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Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, Emperor Charles V, Reformation, Reformation 500, Luther 2017, Worms, Rheinland-Pfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, fotoeins.com

Worms: Martin Luther on trial, 1521

For anybody strolling around a German town, a natural point of visual gravity is the spire associated with the town’s cathedral. That’s no different in the town of Worms on the Rhine river between Mainz and Mannheim. What is different in a walk through the gardens next to the cathedral is that “Martin Luther was here” and that events here put his life in danger.

2021 will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s trial at the Imperial Parliament (Diet) in Worms.

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